Four days travelling along the west coast of Ireland gives a taste of the welcome that awaits visitors
Ireland was hit hard by the global recession 10 years, forcing me, like thousands of others, to head overseas to find work in new, far flung sunnier locations like Dubai.
Tourism suffered too, with double-digit declines in both 2009 and 2010. A decade later, the trend has completely reversed, helped by a global marketing campaign that’s now worth over $50 million.
So when I got the chance to tour the home sod last summer, I jumped at the opportunity to share a sample of what the country has to offer with friends from Dubai who had never stepped foot in on the green grass of home.
The decision was taken long before the trip began to get outside the capital and head west, before returning to explore the delights of Dublin.
Much of Ireland’s rich and varied history can be found in Dublin; from the Book of Kells in Trinity College (one of the world's most famous and oldest book), to Kilmainham Gaol, the scene of some of Ireland’s most heroic and tragic events. There’s plenty to do for a weekend break.
But, if you have time, get outside the city and head west where the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ awaits. Cleverly marketed and clearly signposted, the 2,500km of coastal road – stretching from Malin Head in County Donegal in the northwest to Kinsale in County Cork in the southwest – is a tourism trail that maps out a route that includes world famous cliffs, hidden beaches and buzzing towns and cities.
The Wild Atlantic Way website has all the information and suggested routes, with options based on time and location.
Our trip started in the midlands, where we had congregated for an event. But, disaster struck before we had even started off down the road. One of our party was delayed in joining us, and had to find his way from Dublin Airport. Should we leave him to fend for himself?
After an extensive search, including public transport and taxis, we found a private service called Blacklane – an executive car hire that meets you at the airport – to be the best option. The price is quite similar to that of a regular taxi service, but has the added bonus of offering a meet and greet in the terminal building and a chauffeur driven service to the exact meeting point 120km away.
Our driver for the four-day tour around the country was Paul Smith, of Setanta Chauffeur Tours.
When you’re going to travel around a new country and you need someone knowledgeable, flexible and entertaining, Paul will nail every one of these traits and more. He often brought us to more interesting places than we had planned.
With the group finally all together, the first stop on our journey was in Galway. With a strong student population, it’s a city that’s always vibrant and has a strong arts feel to it, with music a core element to this, as evidenced in the multiple venues we explored around the city.
We stayed in the centrally-located Galmont Hotel & Spa, a waterfront venue that is within walking distance of the city centre. We also booked a walking tour guide to give us an insight into the history of the city that very much sounded like something from The Game of Thrones.
For those with extra days to spend in Galway, head even further west to Connemara for the sheer wild beauty, and maybe take in one of the islands – Aran Islands, or the quieter Inisbofin.
From Galway, we travelled south to County Clare and to the Cliffs of Moher.
Stretching for 8km along the Atlantic Coast, the Cliffs of Moher is one of Ireland’s most visited natural attractions. Midway along the cliffs, the large visitor centre marks the access point for 800 metres of protected cliff-side pathways with viewing areas – including O’Brien’s Tower, a 19th-century viewing tower.
If you have time, or you’re staying locally, there’s a 20km coastal walk between Liscannor and Doolin. Shorter walks between the two points are available. Check the Cliffs of Moher website for more details.
On leaving the cliffs, Paul suggested a hidden gem that was on our way to our next stop – Doolin Cave. Home to the ‘Great Stalactite’, at 7.3 metres (23 feet) it is the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe. The tour involves descending a steel staircase 500 metres, through a number of tunnels before the big reveal of the stalactite at the end.
From there we drove south to our next stop in Ennis, the main town in County Clare. We stayed in The Old Ground Hotel, the centrally-located hotel that was formerly an 18th century manor house. The hotel has a very cosy feel to it - the welcome being equally warm.
Like Galway, music is on offer in venues throughout the town, despite it being a Tuesday when we arrived.
The next morning, we continued south to County Kerry, to the bustling town of Dingle, which is the start and finishing point to one of the great drives in Ireland – Slea Head Drive. The 47km route has numerous stop-off points, as well as some interesting driving, with sheer cliff on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
The route takes you past Coumenoole Strand, where some of the filming of Ryan's Daughter took place and eventually to the village of Ballyferriter. Aside from the rich local history, which dates back to the Iron Age, the modern-day village celebrates hosting filming for Star Wars –The Last Jedi.
For the final day of our trip, we returned to Dublin, where most people tend to go and stay for holidays – almost 70 percent, according to the most recent statistics.
Aside from the aforementioned Trinity College and Kilmainham Gaol, there’s plenty of museums and walking tours to introduce you to the city.
Ireland hasn’t changed or lost its charm towards tourists. And even when disaster strikes, there’s even options there to help make it a memorable holiday – things that weren’t around 10 years ago.
For more information on what to do in Ireland, visit www.ireland.com
UAE nationals can travel to Ireland without a visa. In total, Ireland offers visa free or visa on arrival to 89 countries. All other nationals need to apply for a visa beforehand.