From the dramatic, wind-lashed coastline and across its varied interior, Ireland is a country of diverse scenery and staggering beauty.
The best is west – from the lakes of Killarney and the spectacular peninsulas of the south to the ash-white beaches and tawny peat bogs of Connemara, via the rocky outcrop and huge skies of the Burren.
See it/do it: There’s more to Ireland than cosy pubs (though they’re good too). Get on the road and explore the countryside.
The luck of the Irish is their capacity to survive, given the chequered past they’ve endured.
Since the Vikings turned up, Ireland’s story has been one of invasion and suffering. Henry VIII pillaged the monasteries, Oliver Cromwell commandeered the land, and 1690’s Battle of the Boyne delivered a crushing blow. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 saw the birth of Ireland as a nation, but the legacy of the bitter struggle against English rule endures in the north.
See it/do it: Ireland is peppered with relics of its past. Look out for Celtic crosses, ruined churches and farms left derelict after the potato famine.
Gift of the gab
The Irish are not natural optimists: shaking heads and drowning sorrows are two popular national pastimes. But the fatalism is served with such panache and good humour it’s a pleasure to wallow in.
In fact, an Irishman will spin a meandering yarn to anyone willing to listen. Swallow your credulity along with your Guinness and sit back and enjoy the story – whether it be tall tales of folklore and leprechauns or limericks in praise of smiling Irish eyes.
See it/do it: You too can kiss the Blarney Stone for the gift of eloquence, in the ruins of Blarney Castle just outside Cork.
A ‘craicing’ good time
When the Irish talk about a ‘session’, they don’t always mean a night on the juice. Experiencing traditional folk music, played with gusto around a pub fire, is a must for any visitor.
Even if you’re not into the tunes, a night out in Ireland is guaranteed to bring good times. This is a nation that takes pride in its partying and cherishes its favourite tipples: Bushmills, Beamish, Baileys – and, of course, the black stuff.
See it/do it: Visit Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse to learn about the national brew. You can even pour your own pint.
Most trips to Ireland include a visit to the capital. Here’s the best of Dublin.
Shop till you drop
The shopping areas of O’Connell Street and Grafton Street give a feel for Dublin’s buzz. It’s also pleasant to wander across the River Liffey’s collection of pretty bridges
Set your sights
Culture vultures should make for the Book of Kells (an ancient manuscript) in Trinity College, Kilmainham Gaol and Dublin Castle.
A night on the tiles
There’s an atmosphere of eclectic fun in tourist central Temple Bar, a party zone with street performers, pubs spilling on to pavements and a general air of debauchery.
Dart out of town
Dart local trains serve the picturesque villages lining Dublin Bay. Head north to Howth, where seals bob at the wharf waiting for the catch of the day, or south to Dalkey and Sandycove.
» Claire Goodall travelled with Shamrocker (+353 1672 7651). The seven-day All Ireland Rocker tour is £279