Editor’s note: it is such a treat for me that Sam Spector and I were in Ireland at the same time, even meeting for a quick pint in Belfast. My article about Western Ireland will be coming out shortly, and it gives a great chance of comparison with two writers doing many of the same things and having different takeaways. I hope you enjoy that unique aspect to The Royal Tour, as we try to feature varied points of view. For more of Sam’s adventures, click here to visit his index page.
In 2022, nearly 28 million passengers flew in and out of Dublin International Airport, making it the 15th busiest airport in Europe. By comparison, less than 1.5 million passengers flew through Shannon International Airport in Western Ireland. This year, my family and I will be counted among the ones who flew through this airport, which I recommend flying either in or out of if you plan to visit the beautiful western coast of the Emerald Isle. Doing so is not only a quicker experience since it is a smaller airport, which still has daily nonstop flights from American cities such as New York, Chicago, and Boston, but will save you time as well so that you do not have to drive back across the entire country to return to Dublin.
After flying into Shannon, our family rented a car and headed through some of the narrowest roads we had ever been on up north along the coast to the charming village of Doolin. Doolin is a small, coastal village of about 500 people, which displays what an old, rural Irish town is like. It has a couple of nice pubs, and there is a beautiful castle outside the village. Stroll through the colorful cottages and shops in the town, making special note of the bright pink Sweater Shop with its thatched straw roof. This town is in a rock formation that takes up much of County Clare (the county that Doolin is in) called the Burren, that is made of a giant sheet of limestone.
Doolin is also right next to the Cliffs of Moher, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is one of Ireland’s most famous attractions and the second most visited site after the Guinness Storehouse. The Cliffs of Moher are sea cliffs that tower over the ocean and stretch for nine miles with heights ranging from 390 feet to 702 feet with dramatic drops. The cliffs are home to many types of wildlife, with 30,000 birds living in the cliffs, including a colony of puffins, and colonies of seals and packs of feral goats among other creatures. You can view the cliffs via an 11-mile Cliff Walk, with perhaps the best panorama views being from the highest spot of the cliffs, atop of O’Brien’s Tower, which dates to 1835. Another way to view the cliffs and the rock spires jutting out from the sea is by means of the Doolin Ferry. From the ferry, sightseers will get to go the entire length of the cliffs from the water looking up at them, helping get the full scope of the size of these geological wonders. Cutting through the cliffs are 300-million-year-old rivers whose outlets drop hundreds of feet below as waterfalls.
From the Doolin Ferry, you can visit not only the Cliffs of Moher, but also the Aran Islands, either separately or as a joint trip. There are three islands that make up the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland in Galway Bay. From the coast, visitors will encounter the islands in ascending size starting with Inis Oirr (Eastern Island), then Inis Meain (Middle Island), and finally Inis Mor (Big Island). The islands have been inhabited for thousands of years and, as they are isolated, the inhabitants still speak Irish to each other as opposed to English. Supposedly, each island is different and has its own attractions and cultures; however, I opted to take a 45-minute boat ride to the farthest away island, Inis Mor. Inis Mor is the largest island at 12 km by 3 km and also the most populous with 820 inhabitants.
Upon arrival, you will inevitably encounter some pushy tour guides trying to get you to climb onto their bus or carriage ride. We took the bus ride for 20 Euro per person and were given an entertaining tour of the island by our guide. There are numerous attractions on the island, such as Kilmurvey Beach, with its seal colony, and the perfectly circular stone fortresses at Dun Eochla. The most famous spot to visit on the island is Dun Aengus, a 3000-year-old fortress that is a short hike up a hill after a visitor center explaining the history of the fort. At Dun Aengus, visitors will be treated to some of the most spectacular views in all of Ireland. I would not recommend bringing small children up to the top as the edge of the fort is on 300-foot cliffs that plunge straight into the ocean below without guardrails in all places. While I even felt a bit of nervousness at the height up there, the view is comparable to the Cliffs of Moher and is stunning. While on the Aran Islands, make sure to visit the many shops that are selling – at reasonable prices – the famous Aran Island wool sweaters, gloves, scarves, and other wool items. These clothing items are sold throughout Ireland advertised as coming from the Aran Islands, so if you get one, you might as well buy it straight from the source.
Back on the main island of Ireland, travel up to Galway, the fifth largest city in Ireland at 80,000 people. This city is charming, beautiful, colorful, and full of kind people with a young vibe and music culture. It is a great base city for exploring Western Ireland. In the city are numerous beautiful churches and the fast-moving River Corrib. There is a nice river walk that features one of Galway’s most famous attractions, the Spanish Arch, dating back to 1584. Galway is known as the City of Tribes as many family clans built castles throughout the county, and you will see flags representing these tribes in the city. However, if nothing else, there is one street in Galway that is worth the visit to this city alone, and that is Quay Street. This beautiful medieval street is full of fantastic restaurants and lively pubs playing music and offering drinks. Quay Street is known to be one of the best nightlife streets in all of Ireland.
While many people cannot name a single city in Ireland outside of Dublin, visitors to the island will tell you that there is so much more to the nation than just the eastern capital city. To experience the most scenic beauty of Ireland as well as perhaps its richest, most authentic culture, make sure you head west and visit these places that I mentioned and more.
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