The remnants of a village older than the pyramids of Egypt can be found on a cliff about 30 km north of Ballina. Céide Fields was a community of farmers who lived over 5,000 years ago and cultivated plots of land separated by straight stone walls. The site was discovered in 1930 by a local teacher cutting away peat for use as fuel. The true significance of the discovery did not become apparent until 1970, however, when the teacher's son, an archaeologist, began exploring the site. A visitors' Centre (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) provides important information without which the visible remnants of the Neolithic village would be relatively meaningless to most observers.
A hiking path leads along the coast from Ballina past sculptures created by various artists to commemorate Mayo's 5,000 year heritage (Sculpture Trail). The sculptures are designed to illustrate the rugged beauty of the landscape. Additional information on activities in and around Ballina is available here: www.ballina.mayo-ireland.ie.
The fascinating ruins of an ancient monastery lie on the River Shannon south of Athlone. Constructed in 548, the monastery quickly rose to prominence due to its central location along major waterways and land routes. A succession of churches were built on the site over the next 700 hundred years. In the 12th century the facility was the cultural and religious center of medieval Ireland. The monastery began to decline in importance with the arrival of Vikings in the region and was later torched by the Normans. In the 17th century Oliver Cromwell ordered Clonmacnoise to be destroyed along with numerous other Irish monasteries. The best way to approach the site, a national monument, is by boat from the River Shannnon.
Southeast of Cork, the third largest city in Ireland, is Great Island, which is now connected to the mainland by a bridge. At the south end of the island is the small port of Cobh, the point where countless impoverished Irish citizens left for the New World. The Heritage Center in Cobh contains information on the periods of famine and emigration and on the Titanic, whose last stop was Cobh.
Connemara is a sublimely beautiful region northwest of Galway consisting of lakes, mountains, cliffs and beaches. The popular tourist destination is one of the few remaining areas where Irish is still spoken, and road signs are in Gaelic only. Travelers who take a scenic drive along the coast should stop in Clifden for a walk along the incredible Sky Road (12 km altogether) that leads west along the coastline.
The capital on the east coast with its 500,000 residents is without doubt the political and cultural center of Ireland. Around one-third of the island's total population lives in the Dublin metropolitan area. The layout of the Dublin was determined by the River Liffey, which runs straight through the city and splits it into a poor northern half and a rich southern half before flowing through the harbor into the sea. A settlement called "Dubh Linn" ("black pool") must have existed even before 450 AD, when many of the citizens were converted to Christianity by St. Patrick. The city was ruled by many different invaders throughout its long and eventful history. Much of the architecture that dominates in the old town dates back to the 18th century, when Ireland enjoyed a brief phase of peaceful respite and the population of Dublin soared from 65,000 to over 200,000. Most of the buildings that make up Trinity College were constructed during this period, such as the stately Old Library, as were numerous other famous landmarks, like St. James Gate Brewery, home to Guinness beer. Fresh samples of the famous brew are available at the visitors' center, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Of the three Kerry Peninsulas, Dingle is the most barren and remote. The stark landscapes make it a favorite among artists and photographers. A number of prehistoric stone monuments in addition to early medieval churches and Bronze Age fortresses can be found on the peninsula. Mount Brandon, the highest peak, soars nearly 1,000 m above the coast. The town of Dingle is a picturesque fishing village with colorful houses and friendly pubs.
The island also known as Ilnacullin in the Bay of Bantry covers about 37 acres and is famous for its gardens. In the subtropical micro-climate of Glengarriff harbor exotic trees and shrubs thrive that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe. The gardens were designed by the English architect landscaper Harald Peto in the 1920s. The island can be reached by ferry services operating from Glengarriff during the season that runs from March to October. The fare does not include entrance to the gardens but does usually include a tour of the nearby seal colony.
The community on the banks of the River Nore was founded by monks in the 7th century and is still famous today for its medieval old town. Historical buildings made of black Kilkenny sandstone, also known as black marble, line the winding streets and the stately squares at St. Mary's Cathedral and Black Abbey. Considered the most picturesque town in south-east Ireland, Kilkenny is home to numerous craftsmen and design firms. Kilkenny beer, a red ale that is milder than Guinness, fuels the town's vibrant nightlife.
Killarney National Park protects some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Ireland within its 25,000 acres. At the center of the park are three blue lakes surrounded by an almost subtropical ecology. The rolling hills of the park are covered with tree ferns, "strawberry trees", bamboo forests and rose trees, among other things. Visitors can explore the park on their own or book a guided tour, some of which include boot and horse-drawn carriage rides.
Just a few miles southeast of Donegal, across the border to Northern Ireland, is Lough Erne, considered one of the most beautiful lakes on the island. Nearly 20 miles long and 5.6 miles wide, the waterway with the highly convoluted shoreline and countless islands is a paradise for waterfowl and migratory birds. There are various ways to explore the area: on foot, by bicycle, by car on the narrow, curving roads leading around the shore, and of course - the best method - by boat.
The port in southeast Ireland was established by the Vikings in the 8th century, making it Ireland's oldest city. Much of the impressive architecture stems from the 18th century, however, when the glass and ship-building industries thrived in Waterford. Its most famous landmark is Reginald's Tower, a massive 10th century fortification regarded as the oldest civic building in Ireland.