With monastic structures that date back over a millennium and some picture-postcard settings of its countryside, Ireland has more to offer to visitors than its Guinness, whiskeys and pubs it is otherwise famous for.
Formally called the Republic of Ireland- with a population of some 4.6 million people, occupying about a five-sixth of the island located northwest of continental Europe, with the remaining area being a part of the United Kingdom- this tiny country is dotted with museums.
The more popular among them is one dedicated to novelist-poet James Joyce of Ulysses fame. The country, which is separated from Britain by the Irish Sea, also offers some other energizing options to visitors like river cruises, visit to the over-four-centuries-old Trinity College or watching a riveting tap dance performances.
Adding to the lure are the homely people of this country-warm and welcoming-and the appetising cuisine, all of which make Ireland a delight for a visitor, irrespective of his or her taste, budget and expectations. More than 6 million tourists visit the Republic of Ireland each year.
There are no direct flights as yet from India to Ireland, which was also under British and formally gained independence Dec 6, 1921. But there are numerous options to choose from, including a comfortable journey with an overnight stopover in Dubai on an Emirates flight that has connections to 10 Indian cities.
For those who love to be amid nature, a visit to Wicklow County, about a 30-minute ride from here, is truly invigorating. It is also home to the ancient monastic settlement of Glendalough that dates back to the 6th century.
There is much to do at Wicklow, including a host of walking trains along its pine, birch and oak woodlands, meadows dotted with grazing sheep and cows, the rural settlements to pick some artefacts, the coastal setting besides the Irish sea, or its gentle hills.
As one goes along there is a feast of fauna to enjoy — red squirrels, foxes, badgers, deer, rabbit, feral goats, hedgehogs, geese, swans, ducks, robin, raven, owls, falcons, hawks, warblers, tree creepers and egrets.
If you are lucky, you can also spot dolphins, porpoise, otters and even whales, besides flora such as pine trees, oak, woodrush, spruce, eucalyptus, ivy, ferns, bluebells and bright wild mushrooms.
County Wicklow is also home to the highest pub in Ireland, named Johnnie Fox’s, which was established in 1798, where you can enjoy some excellent stout, lager or ale, with some traditional Irish cuisine, including the stew simmering overnight.
The pub also boasts the longest running Irish shows in the country.
Back in Dublin, with a largely Victorian setting, where you hardly find any high-rises, unlike the capitals of other European countries, the best way to savour the city is on the hop-on-hop-off bus tours — for which you pay for a day and get the second free.
The central district of Dublin, where most of the must-see places are located, falls within a rather small radius. So walking is another option, especially during a tour inside the famous Temple Bar area for shopping or pub-hopping.
One also has the option of visiting the Guinness brewery and the old Jameson distillery to learn about the heritage of these world famous products of Ireland and time-tested processes involved, culminating with a tasting session of the stout or whiskey.
Among the museums, the most visited is one dedicated to James Joyce inside a Martello tower — built in the 19th century to withstand an invasion by Napoleon — in which the famous novelist spent six nights and made it the setting of Ulysses’ first chapter.
Others include the National Wax Museum for a journey into Irish history, the National Leprechaun Museum for sights, sounds and stories of mythical Ireland, and the Glasnevin Museum that seeks to preserve the country’s past for the future.
For children, there is the 180-year-old Dublin Zoo on some 28 hectares that is home to over 600 animals from across the globe and the fun-filled National Aquatic Centre with exciting water rides, waves pool and surfing decks.
Evenings are best spent at the pubs and discotheques for shows — better known among them being the Taylors Three Rock where one can savour live traditional Irish music, soulful ballads and lively tap dance by performers. Cabaret is also an option.
With so much to offer, Ireland also considers Indians a focus tourism group. Promoting that is its Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Leo Varadkar, who is a physician of Indian origin. So, Slainte to Ireland, as the Irish would say as a common toast!