The People Ireland's most valuable asset, the Irish people have often been described as the "world's friendliest". While the county has modernised and grown prosperous over the last decade or so, the cheerful disposition of Irish folk has not succumbed. You are still likely to be greeted with "céad míle fáilte" - a hundred thousand welcomes!
The Gentle Pace of Life It's hard not to wind down in the Irish countryside, which offers many stress-reducing pastimes, such as golf, fishing, boating, horse riding and hill walking. The laid-back attitude to life made famous in films like "The Quiet Man" is still alive and well - but be sure to travel beyond Ireland's larger cities if calm and solitude are what you seek.
Bustling Cities Not everyone wants peace and quiet, of course. If shopping and clubbing are your things, then Ireland's main cities won't disappoint. Indeed, Dublin is fast becoming Europe's number one short-haul destination (pubs and restaurants in its Temple Bar area are busy every night of the week); while Cork is European Capital of Culture, 2005. Galway, Ireland's bohemian Mecca, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the EU, while Belfast has been transformed into a vibrant party town.
Great Drives Each region of Ireland boasts magnificent scenery, and you won't have to drive very far to have your breath taken away, at any time of the year. Notable beauty-spots include the Ring of Kerry; the Causeway Coast; the Dingle Peninsula; Connemara - but there really are too many to mention.
Celtic Cuisine Long associated with dreary potatoes and simple meals such as bacon and cabbage, Ireland has recently developed a taste for finer foods and locals now eat out in large numbers. Fresh ingredients and creative chefs are de rigueur these days. Seafood is a speciality of course, but you can find international menus in almost every town, to suit most palettes.
History and Folklore Every nook and cranny of this ancient island is steeped in history and legend - indeed, it's often hard to distinguish one from the other! The Irish pride themselves on being a nation of storytellers, and its history and folklore are still largely passed on in the oral tradition. You may just have to buy some knowledgeable local a pint of Guinness to coax those legends out! The county is dotted with national parks, heritage sites and interpretive centres. Our Government has a policy of ensuring that its history remains rich, inviting and accessible to visitors.
Ancient Magic The links to the ancient past are so prevalent in Ireland that locals often fail to notice them. The countryside is littered with megalithic tombs, dolmens, standing stones, and ring-forts (often called "fairy forts"); as well as middle-age military and ecclesiastical structures such as forts, churches, abbeys and, of course, castles.
World Class Golf While famous clubs such as the K-Club or Portmarnock host many international competitions, almost any golf course you choose in Ireland (and there are many!) will have excellent playing conditions. If you take a golfing tour, part of the fun is discovering those lesser-known gems. Links courses are particularly popular.
Words of Wisdom One of Ireland's greatest claims to fame is that it has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Irish (Gaelic) poetry represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe, with examples dating from the 6th century. Budding writers seeking creative inspiration will discover why Ireland has been the muse for so many great talented scribes, past and present.
The Craic It is sometimes said that the pub is the living room of the Irish household. Locals of all ages and from every social background head to the public house for drinks, conversation, food and craic (crack), an Irish word that - translated loosely -means "fun". In the evening, some rural pubs host traditional music, singing accompanied by fiddles, guitars, tin whistles and bodhráns, sometimes in impromptu "sessions", with a mixture of regular and visiting players. But even if you're only in the pub to enjoy the chat and laughter, the craic is guaranteed to be "mighty" (great)!
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