Galway City. The City of the Tribes is a 3-hour drive straight across the country from Dublin. If you want quirkiness this is the place for you. The epicentre, Eyre Square, is a virtual student encampment during the summer months. The main shopping street – Shop Street – is mad with tourists, buskers and other street entertainers. (Question – why does every busker on God’s earth think they can sing and play like Mark Knopfler?) Great medieval buildings (e.g. Lynch’s Castle and the Spanish Arch). A beautiful riverside walk past the great Cathedral up to the weir.
And, a pleasant walk away, the Salthill seafront for families, children and joggers. A lovely view of Galway Bay.
Ballina, Co. Mayo. Huh? you may ask. It doesn’t have many fans but I love this little town perched out in the wild West. Keep your overrated Westport and go to Ballina. Dominated by the fish-heavy River Moy, Ballina was the starting point for General Humbert’s ill-fated 1798 rebellion. Across the river from the town lies the posh Hotel Belleek Castle and not-so-posh Belleek Woods, a great venue for a run. In the evening enjoy a crawl through the town’s comfortable and quiet bars.
Achill Island, Co. Mayo. Cross the little land bridge and you are in another world. Here be wildest Ireland with just a few scattered settlements to welcome the visitor. Keel, the ‘capital’ attracts the camping crowd during the season and it’s where you’ll find the ceilidh and the craic, otherwise it’s just magnificent hills and cliffs.
Avoca, Co. Wicklow. From wild to rather twee. The village of Avoca was where the TV series Ballykissangel was filmed. It’s a while now but the village used to be full of TV fans gawking at the church, shop etc. featured on the telly and even having a drink in Fitzgerald’s Bar. Nearby is the Meeting of the Waters, where the Avonmore and Beg come together and made famous by Thomas Moore. Tourist attraction or not it’s a perfect place to stop and stretch your legs.
Howth, North Co. Dublin. A favourite escape for city dwellers, the picture-postcard fishing village of Howth is at the northern end of the DART line. Here is a commercial fishing harbour but also market traders of all types, especially at the weekend. One enterprising fish merchant used to offer a ‘champagne and oysters’ bar in his establishment, possibly he still does. Out in the bay lies the uninhabited Ireland’s Eye, familiar to those flying in to the city.
For those requiring more exercise the Howth Peninsula offers cliff walks and views to die for. But don’t take my word for it, read Arran Henderson’s brilliant blog post.
Best thing in Howth – the cliff walks.
Bonus place. Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. This is a cheat as I’ve only ever driven through. But if you are a farmer seeking a wife now the harvest is in, or a maiden seeking marriage to a man with a satisfactory number of cows, this is the place for you. And your man is matchmaker Willie Daly who has been responsible for countless marriages.
Best thing in Lisdoonvarna – it’s your turn to tell me! But before you do have a listen to Christy Moore’s great song about the place.