Gems of Europe 2009: Ireland

The Emerald Isle beckons travelers with its rich culture and amazing, one-of-a-kind sights

By: By Jane Lasky

Gems of Europe

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Before jetting off to Ireland this year, a good friend reminded me that Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse just turned 250 years old, and he insisted I see it firsthand.

It didn’t sound very tempting at first — I hate beer — but my friend insisted that Guinness is not just a beer but a way of life in Ireland. When I found out that the former fermentation plant is actually a museum with noteworthy architecture, I was fully convinced.

Gems of Europe 2009: Ireland // (c) 2009


Built in 1904, the imposing structure resembles a giant pint glass, serving up stunning panoramic views and fresh pints of Guinness. Each floor delves into a different aspect of the Guinness story, making it a cultural and historical experience, all rolled into one.

Ireland, as a whole, is filled with experiences that combine its vibrant culture and rich history in ways that your clients won’t soon forget.

Culture Club
Another way to take in Ireland’s pub culture involves a Dublin literary tour. Available through local tour operators, these walking excursions lead to establishments once frequented by famous writers such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

Apart from indulging in the national drink, clients can soak up Irish culture with a dance lesson. I took a traditional Irish dance class with Gaelchultur (, located in Temple Bar, Dublin’s cultural center. The instructor was a young hoofer who insisted that even the most senior in our group (me) try the traditional jig. My performance wasn’t magnificent, but by the end, I was able to dance the basic steps.

Another way for clients to immerse themselves into Irish life is to learn a bit of Gaelic. So, I gave that a try, as well, by way of a singing lesson from a very patient teacher, who remained ever encouraging, despite the fact that our class wasn’t so musically gifted.

As an intrinsically artistic nation, Ireland offers some of its most enjoyable entertainment for free — or, at the very least, for the cost of a gratuity. At Dublin’s famous Grafton Street, clients can stop by and listen to a child protege playing bagpipes or a boy band emulating the Beatles.

Going Prehistoric
Even with all the enchantments of urban Ireland, the Emerald Isle beckons with the promise of not only a green countryside, but a distinctively historical one. With the help of Ganter Chauffer Drive ( co-owner Ciaran Ganter, I got out of town and headed to the prehistoric site of the Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange.

Built around 3200 B.C. and reportedly older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids of Giza, this serious archaeological find is the largest and best preserved of Irish mythology’s fairy mounds — home to the god of love, Oenghus. Newgrange was buried for centuries, only to be rediscovered in 1699. Major excavation of this UNESCO World Heritage Site started in 1962, with a rebuilding of the original mound out of local white quartz. During the winter solstice, the rising sun shines down a long passage at Newgrange, magically lighting up its chamber to form the shape of a cross. Clients who wish to see this in person must apply to the annual Newgrange Winter Solstice Lottery ( by the end of September.

Walking in the Wicklows
Another alluring day trip involves the famous Sugarloaf Mountain in County Wicklow. For a grand view, clients should seek out The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, County Wicklow, where, through a picture-perfect lobby window, they can see the beautiful peak in all its glory.

A surprising treasure hidden in the Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough, is a prominent Monastic City in the wilds of one of Ireland’s most popular national parks. Hailing back to the sixth century, these ruins surprise visitors with their round towers and old church remains. Nearby graves belong to those who lost their lives to the many droughts, famines and diseases that plagued the Irish from 775 to 1095. Many walking trails lead to the downtrodden Monastic City and beyond for a cultural and healthful experience.

County Wicklow’s countryside is what I have come to expect from Ireland. Its wild fields, rolling hills, violet-hued glens and ancient granite mountains were
captured on film in the Mel Gibson epic “Braveheart,” where Ireland stands in for Scotland.

Lovely Lismore
In County Waterford, located in the Northeast, villages perch on the edge of beautiful bays. One is Lismore, with its namesake Lismore Castle, the Irish home of the Dukes of Devonshire since the mid 1700s. This revered structure was built in 1185 by King John as the namesake castle of the Heritage town. During the 1580s, the grand property was leased to Sir Walter Raleigh, where he enjoyed enormous hallways, awe-inspiring tapestries and mesmerizing gardens now landscaped with sculpture by contemporary artists such as Anthony Gormley. One castle room is set aside simply for the pleasure of playing cards, while another is for billiards. However, the most impressive is Lismore’s banquet hall. Designed by Pugin, the name behind the English House of Commons, it resembles a miniature of the same, complete with a marble fireplace and musicians’ gallery.

While poking around Lismore, clients will come to realize that people do indeed live in this castle, whether your clients spot a personal photograph framed on a desk or notice a walking stick left clinging to a castle wall. Clients will leave Lismore clinging to a happy memory of an amazing Irish castle, one of many to be found throughout Ireland.

Now that’s the craic (enjoyment), if there ever was any.