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    Posted March 4, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Glorious Ireland

    The Old Sod keeps calling


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     kevintkane told me, 'I have many [memories] that involve James Joyce, Michael Collins, the Book of Kells, my Grandmother's cottage ruins - my great grandmother's grave when I named my soon to be born daughter after her on the spot upon visiting it. And countless others.'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    It started in the year 2000 when my then Fiancee and I, while preparing for our wedding and ambitious honeymoon a few months later, decided to piggyback onto a trip to Ireland that my Brothers were taking with their Wives. And so began a lifelong love affair with one of the most beautiful travel destinations on Earth. I’ve since been back 6 times, to nearly every county in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I’ve seen the famous sites, and the "off the beaten track" places only locals know of.

    Crawling through the Boyne Valley Neolithic tombs older than the Great Pyramid in Giza, walking through the remains of my Grandmother’s cottage in Dundalk, exploring recently abandoned islands off the coast of Dingle, dodging sheep well after midnight in the fields of northern Antrim on the way back to bed from the Pub, and countless priceless experiences in between. I’ve taken my Wife, brothers and Mother on various trips back to Ireland, and always find something new to experience.

    Without a doubt the Dingle peninsula would be my favorite destination, while staying in Dingle town itself is the main treat. The Glens of Antrim are spectacular in November, the Ring of Kerry cannot be described adequately by Joyce himself on a clear day in June, and the vibrancy of Galway and Westport are enough to recharge the soul as you wander joyfully from Tobercurry to Ennis.
    If this makes sense – get lost, but with a good map, otherwise you will fly right by on the narrow lanes some of the most amazing sites you would have never seen. I look forward to getting back next year, whether the Abbey in Wicklow, Malin Head in Donegal, or the simple brilliance of a walk at dusk on the Quays of the Liffey.
    Some advice for the first time traveler. Skip Dublin. It’s the least Irish spot on the entire island. It’s a typical mid-sized European city. Some good sites like Trinity College, St. Steven’s green and Temple Bar, but its not what you came to Ireland for. IF you must fly into or out of Dublin, do so, but if you plan to drive yourself, do not, I repeat, do not attempt to drive in Dublin if you have never done so before. A far better alternative is to fly in and out of Shannon International Airport on the West coast, it’s a major airport but far easier to navigate and much easier to drive for those of us used to driving on the left side of the road, and car. Oh, and most secondary and tertiary roads in Ireland are no wider than a small driveway. Yes you will often have to pull to the side to make room for an oncoming car. Or farm equipment. Or sheep.

    Don’t be overly aggressive on your first trip, pick a few towns to stay in and do several days in each. 100 miles between towns is not a 2 hour drive as you might expect. If there are no major motorways, it could easily become a harrowing 4 hour trip for the novice European driver. Pick a hotel directly in town so you can park the car upon arrival and spend the rest of the day/evening touring on foot without worrying about cabs or finding some Bed and Breakfast on the outskirts of town.

    When you get to each town, do find out the “traditional music” schedule at local pubs, usually once or twice a week you can find a “session” where local musicians come in and play various instruments. You will quickly find yourself tapping your pint of Guinness and wondering why you had not gotten to Ireland before.

    It’s going to rain, get over it. Bring reasonable hiking shoes that hold up well in the rain, and a good raincoat. Don’t let an hour of rain here and there stop you from visiting the ruins of some ancient castle or venturing out to find some good craic .

    When in the pubs, do engage the locals in conversation, but avoid politics. Trust me on this. Ask questions, don’t fake a brogue, and listen to the suggestions they are sure to make about what to see in that immediate area. The Irish are fiercely Parochial and love to show off their town’s hidden secrets to tourists.
    Do something off the beaten path. Take a ferry out to an island to walk around a bit, find an Abbey ruin in a field to explore, take a flask of Jamison and hike up a mountain. Get lost in what Ireland is, and has to offer.

    Do not expect a world class Gastro tour. While making enormous strides over the past few decades, Ireland is not a destination for those primarily seeking fine dining. Might I suggest Paris, or Brugge for you.

    Have no fear about adding Northern Ireland to your itinerary, you will not even notice crossing the border (except that your money is no longer any good). The crime rates for the entire Island pale in comparison to any major American city. Some of the most beautiful areas of Ireland are in the North, the Antrim coast, Malin head and the Glens of Antrim.

    Keep your itinerary reasonable, soak up every minute you are there, and make notes for your next trip, for you will surely be returning. It’s that kind of place.
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