Discovering Ireland

The Hot Ticket: Derry

Discovering Ireland

When Cork made Lonely Planet’s Top 10 cities in 2010, we knew the city had well and truly arrived on the global traveller’s grid. In 2013, it’s Derry’s turn.

Northern Ireland’s second city isn’t just on Lonely Planet’s radar. Derry is the inaugural UK City of Culture, hosting Primal Scream on Mar 19, a visit from Dingle’s Other Voices from Feb 8-10, a graffiti jam with some of the world’s leading street artists in July, and even a point-to-point sailing race at the Peace Bridge.

Other reasons to visit? Derry is Ireland’s only walled city, hosts a brilliant Halloween carnival, and the Bogside’s murals make for a fascinating political tour.

Details: Beech Hill Country House (+44 287 134-9279; beech-hill.com) is offering B&B and a three-course dinner from £55/€68pps until Jan 31.

The Presidential Suite: West Wexford

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but also his historic visit to Ireland. In June of 1963, the US President visited Dublin, New Ross, Cork and Galway, but Wexford looks set to be at the heart of the events.

A ‘JFK 50’ programme centres on New Ross (which Patrick Kennedy emigrated from in 1849), and includes a summer school, homecoming parade, the lighting of an eternal flame and the re-opening of Dunganstown’s Kennedy Homestead after a €1.5m refurbishment.

West Wexford is also home to the Dunbrody Experience, the highlight of which is a tour of the replica famine ship.

Details: The Brandon House Hotel (051 421703; brandonhousehotel.ie) has two nights’ B&B plus one dinner from €158 per couple. See also jfk50ireland.com.

The TV star: Roscommon

In 2012, Moone Boy sprinkled the pixie dust over Boyle. In 2013, what’s stopping the whole county turning into Chris O’Dowd Country?

Within weeks of the Sky TV series, after all, Hotels.com reported that accommodation searches for Roscommon had tripled.

The flurry of interest coincided with the launch of visitroscommon.com, encouraging visitors to “revive, refresh and rewind” in the midlands. Highlights? Lough Key Forest Park, the Arigna Mining Experience and the Suck Valley Way, to name just three.

Details: Gleeson’s (061-662-6954; gleesonstownhouse.com) has a Suck Valley Way walking package, with three nights’ B&B, dinners and packed lunches from €250pps.

The Budding ‘Burb: Clontarf, Co. Dublin

It’s 999 years since the Battle of Clontarf, when Brian Boru’s forces routed the King of Leinster and his Viking mercenaries in North Dublin.

And though we have to wait until Apr 23, 2014, for the big anniversary celebrations, Clontarf’s time is now.

This affluent ’burb has always made a lovely daytrip from Dublin, whether you’re kite-surfing on the Blue Flag beach at Dollymount Strand, walking on Bull Island, or enjoying the rose gardens and markets in the former Guinness estate at St. Anne’s Park.

Add to that a foodie buzz (try Moloughney’s or Downstairs, recently awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand), famous residents (Brian O’Driscoll and Cian Healy are locals, and Bram Stoker was born on Marino Crescent), and you’ve got every reason to get on that Dart.

Details: Throughout January, Clontarf Castle (clontarfcastle.ie) has B&B with a bottle of wine from €99 per room. Two nights’ B&B with dinner start from €189pp.

The Comeback Kid: Fermanagh Lakelands

Two months ago, things looked ominous for Lough Erne Resort.

The flailing five-star was on the market for a fraction of its €35m cost, and its spa and pool area had caught fire.

Happily, David Cameron (not to mention several fire engines) came to the rescue, dousing the flames and announcing that the 345-acre resort would host this June’s G8 summit, with likely attendees to include President Obama, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel.

Obama for Fermanagh? It has a ring to it. The US President is a keen golfer, after all, and Lough Erne boasts a Nick Faldo-designed course. Throw in 700km of waterways, the Marble Arch Caves and bustling Enniskillen, and you too can holiday like a world leader.

Details: The Lough Erne Resort (+44 (0)28 6632-3230; lougherneresort.com) has two nights’ B&B with dinner from £145/€180pp.

The King: Kilorglin, Co. Kerry

This year, King Puck isn’t just presiding over any old Puck Fair. He’s presiding over the 400th anniversary festival, and a super-duper, extra-specially curly-wurly-horned event is planned to celebrate — the perfect excuse to act the goat from Aug 10 to 12.

Other anniversaries to watch in 2013 include the 40th Kilkenny Arts Festival and the first ever Dublin Beatles Festival, which takes place from Nov 7 to 10, 50 years after the band’s legendary Adelphi Cinema concerts.

Meanwhile, Portmagee enters 2013 as Fáilte Ireland’s first-ever National Tourism Town, with a €10,000 kitty to develop its potential.

Watch this space...

Details: puckfair.ie, kilkennyarts.ie, dublinbeatlesfestival.ie; discoverireland.ie.

The Sporting Chance: Athlone, Co. Westmeath

For years, we were told Athlone was the ideal base for an Irish break — a central location from which to explore the country’s top attractions. That notion had one fatal flaw, however. It was predicated on people getting the hell out of Athlone.

2013 could be different. This year, on foot of regular triathlons, Under-20 Six Nations matches and other events, Athlone has been hailed a European Town of Sport by ACES Europe, the Federation for the Association of European Capitals and Cities of Sport.

Not only that, but Athlone’s Norman castle has just re-opened after a multi-million euro refurb, it sits right on Lough Ree and the River Shannon, and hostelries like The Left Bank Bistro or The Wineport and Fatted Calf in Glasson are worth a journey in themselves.

Details: The Sheraton Hotel (090 645-1000; sheratonathlonehotel.com) has a Shop & Stay package with B&B and a €30 shopping voucher from €89 per room.

The Main Course: Dublin City

In the mid-noughties, Dublin flew too close to the sun. Visit today, however, and you’ll find a new perspective and contagious can-do attitude emerging from the embers.

Nowhere is Dublin 2.0 more evident than its booming restaurant scene. A city with no right to be exciting has suddenly found itself the engine of Ireland’s ongoing foodie revolution, with new openings like Damson Diner, Bite, Fade Street Social and the Fumbally flying in the face of recession. In 2013, I’m betting, The Greenhouse will bag a Michelin Star.

Throw in a rash of new collectives, cafes, markets, bars and marketing initiates like the brilliant DublinTown.ie, and you can party like it’s 1999.

Details: For last-minute deals, check out the new Hotel Tonight app. In Dublin, it sources late deals in hotels like Bewley’s, The Gresham and The Westbury.

Cruise Control: Cobh & East Cork

Thought 2012 was a Titanic year for Cobh? Think again. Last year, the Port of Cork had its busiest season to date, welcoming 57 liners (and almost 100,000 passengers and crew) to Ireland’s only dedicated cruise berth. In 2013, it expects 62.

Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas will welcome passengers to embark at Cobh for the first time ever, for a cruise around the Norwegian fjords.

Beyond the port town, East Cork is making waves — with a marketing initiative, ringofcork.ie, highlighting attractions from the Midleton Distillery to Ballymaloe, and Fota Wildlife Park celebrating its 30th birthday.

Fota Island Resort (fotaisland.ie) has two nights’ B&B and one dinner from €139pp. For Independence of the Sea cruise details, contact Lee Travel (leetravel.ie).

The Big Dog: The Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way, a guided driving route following the coast from Donegal to Cork, will become a reality in 2013.

Currently in its development phase, and expected to be complete by 2014, the long-distance trail, or “shopping aisle of experiences”, should catapult the Atlantic seaboard to the top of the traveller’s to-do list.

Details: failteireland.ie

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