In association with: Tourism Ireland
Uncover Ireland’s ancient history and celebrate its festivals this autumn
The island of Ireland is a land steeped in history and culture – from Newgrange in County Meath, a burial chamber older than the Pyramids of Giza, to the 18th-century Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, whose gardens were voted the third-best in the world by National Geographic. Attractions steeped in heritage can be found across the island, giving visitors the chance to uncover the stories that have made the destination what it is today.
Those with an interest in religious history could head to Downpatrick, County Down. Legend has it that Saint Patrick is buried in the town’s cathedral. Or at Hook Head, County Wexford, visitors can climb the 115 steps up the second-oldest operational lighthouse in the world. It is said that a beacon of light was first set up here by a monk in the sixth century, while the current building dates back to the 1200s.
But for a special trip exploring heritage across the island of Ireland, suggest clients combine a trip to Derry~Londonderry with Donegal, giving them the chance to embark on both a city break and a top year-round coastal spot in the same visit.
In Derry~Londonderry, recommend clients get their bearings by exploring the city’s magnificent walls. These 400-year-old structures make up the only example of a completely intact walled city on the island of Ireland and are some of the finest in Europe.
The Guildhall is another iconic landmark that has been a feature of the city since 1890, with its stunning stained-glass windows representing people from all walks of life. Its imposing clock is also modelled on London’s Big Ben. St Columb’s Hall is another fine example of the city’s heritage, with not only an impressive architectural design, but with some renowned trailblazers, including women’s rights campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst, and world-famous performers, having made appearances under its roof.
The coastal path
Head out of the city and west to Donegal to visit Fort Dunree. A defensive stronghold on the Inishowen Peninsula, it not only offers a glimpse into the area’s military history, but is surrounded by natural beauty and abundant wildlife.
Another Inishowen fort is Grianán of Aileach, one of the most famous monuments in the region, which originally dates back to 1700 BC. The centrepiece of the site is a circular stone cashel that, on a clear day, offers breathtaking views of Lough Foyle, Lough Swilly and of the surrounding counties – the perfect spot to reflect on the island of Ireland’s ancient history.
Visitors to Donegal can also take a trip to the magical Fanad Lighthouse, a still-operating watchtower that’s considered to be among the most beautiful in Ireland, if not the world. For a truly unique experience, suggest they spend a night in the carefully restored lighthouse keepers’ cottages, which offer peaceful vibes and stunning sea views.
The traditions of the county, and the wider island, can be discovered at Doagh Famine Village – a unique, thought-provoking attraction that tells the story of Irish life from the time of the Great Famine of the 1840s to the present day.
Visitors can walk through a typical village for the area, which includes thatched cottages that were occupied as recently as the 1980s, and learn about the island’s fascinating history. The guided tours prove particularly enjoyable, and kids will appreciate a day out here as much as adults. Whether it be exploring rural castles or walking a city’s streets, your clients are bound to uncover something magical in the must-visit hub of Derry~Londonderry and Donegal.
Three of the best Halloween-themed festivals
Derry Halloween, Derry~Londonderry, October 28-31
With spooky season upon us, why not take part in Europe’s largest Halloween festival in Derry~Londonderry. The walled city revels in tales of ancient spirits, with folklore and food at the heart of the celebrations.
Púca Festival, County Meath, October 28-31
Head to Ireland’s Ancient East to ring in Celtic new year at Púca Festival, celebrating 2,000-year-old traveller traditions. Watch as the creatures of Samhain, Ireland’s ancient Halloween customs, come to life.
Bram Stoker Festival, Dublin, October 28-31
Celebrate all things Dracula on the 125th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s legendary gothic novel. Across Dublin there’ll be talks, readings and screenings all centred around the world’s most famous vampire.
PICTURES: Tourism Ireland, Tom Archer, Gardiner Mitchell; Gareth Wray Photography; Failte Ireland; Ste Murray