Ireland is stunning. It’s rural beauty is something to behold in all climates. Whether you see the Wicklow Mountains through gently sweeping, misty rain; or Roaringwater Bay living up to it’s name; travel over the awesome Macgillycuddy’s Reeks in warming sunshine; or just dabbling your toes on a vast and deserted beach, you cannot fail to appreciate it’s charm. ** The Towns** The one thing that is most noticeable about an Irish town, is the amazing ratio of pubs to shops. I didn’t begin to count them, but it was clear to see we were in the region of 3 to 1 in favour of the pubs. Most men’s idea of shopping heaven, I’m sure they’ll agree. The majority of towns are clean and well looked after, and where we stayed in Clonakilty, it was painted in Mediterranean pastel hues in contrast to the more usual crisp white. There is a wide variety of shops, serving you the familiar in amongst the unfamiliar, and a couple of places were proudly announcing the arrival of a new Curry House, or Chinese Take Away. Most places will provide you with a more than decent eatery, from either a very informal café to a top-notch restaurant, or once again, the good old local pub. Traffic can occasionally be the source of great aggravation, especially in and around Dublin. The bigger the town, the busier it will be. Some roads weren’t built with volume of traffic in mind, indeed before the concept of a car was actually envisaged, so patience can be a real virtue in this situation. The towns that we visited, and can therefore recommend in particular, are Kinsale (particularly if you’re a food fanatic), Clonakilty, Macroom and Bantry in West Cork, Killarney in County Kerry, Skerries, and Malahide in County Meath, and Howth, which is to be found on a promontory in Dublin Bay. All of these places provided us with something special, either in terms of friendliness or beauty, in some cases, bot h. There are many, many, smaller places that are worthy of a visit. Places like Union Hall, Schull, Ballydehob, Glandore and Crookhaven in West Cork, Kenmare and Glengarriff in County Kerry, Kinvara in Galway, Arklow, Wicklow and Avoca in County Wicklow. For people that have visited these places in Ireland, they will recognize that almost all of them are in and around the coastal areas, this was because we had our then 4 year old daughter with us who was (and still is) fascinated by the sea. Also, fans of ‘Ballykissangel’ may like to know that it’s filmed in Avoca, something we found out after suddenly finding ourselves driving down the high street, and confronting disgruntled tv people who were trying to set up a shot. ** The Roads** Being that we like to be independent on holiday, we always take our own car on holiday with us. The car that we had at this time was a Rover 820, big, comfortable and a surprising problem on the Irish Roads. Because it was big. The journey across MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, (a heartbreakingly beautiful ridge that rises to over 1,000 metres at Carrantuohill) was a thrilling experience, just as long as being half scared to death is considered thrilling. Some of the corners rise steeply and are very tight, especially so when being challenged for space by a coach coming down the other way. The actual road surface for much of the roads in Ireland is pretty poor. Uneven and potholed, be prepared for a bumpy ride. The motorway provides a good, smooth ride, but get off that and start driving round in general, and your car’s suspension will have to work hard. There is also a little peculiarity that also caused a few arguments between me (the map reader) and my husband (the driver). The roads rarely run straight, nor straight towards a place. They will meander and lead you around where you want to get to, which means you can find a road sign, pointing left and announcing Dubli n to be 10 miles. A few miles further down, you can find another sign, pointing right, and announcing Dublin to be 15 miles. One problem that did take a lot of getting used to is the lack of street lighting. We discovered this on the first night we arrived in Ireland, and had to drive from Rosslare to Clonakilty in rapidly fading light, along country roads that were descending into total darkness. The lights would start to appear along the roadside as you approached a village of any substance, but would then stop abruptly when you passed through and out the other side. ** Activities & Places to See ** For the sporty minded people, there are Golf Courses aplenty (although I can’t abide it so I can’t supply any other information than there are loads of them and they’re apparently of a good quality), and the even more relaxing sport of Fishing. My hubbie is a very keen Angler, but sadly was suffering from Tendonitis in the wrist and was unable to fly-fish. It didn’t stop him from torturing himself by driving alongside some of the finest Salmon and Trout streams he’s had the pleasure to witness. He would wistfully identify stretches of water looking either very “Tenchy” or “Perchy and even “Pikey”. Irish Football is obviously extremely popular, and we visited when the final was being held between Co. Clare and Co. Tipperary. I’ve rarely seen a display of flags and loyalty like it. We even watched the match in a hotel in Howth, and the atmosphere was electric. Muckross House was a particular favourite of mine. No sport, but a very interesting complex made out of a large tract of land that contained original farm housing from over the many centuries. People dressed in the clothes of the time would show you how food was made and life was lived, and it made me very glad to be a child of the electronic age. There were lots of animals living on the farms, which my d aughter really enjoyed seeing and in some cases, playing with. It’s about a three mile round walk, but seeing as how you could get excellent refreshments back at the actual House, I had no problems with it (I should also explain that I was 6 months pregnant at the time, and waddled for all I was worth!). ** Getting There ** We traveled by Irish Ferries, from Fishguard to Rosslare, but you can also land in Dublin or Cork. The English ports are Liverpool, Holyhead, and Pembroke. If you want to fly, the airports are at Dublin, Galway, Waterford, Cork or Shannon. ** Value For Money** Currency is Irish Punts, and the rate of exchange meant that not a lot of stuff was cheaper than England, but in terms of unmaterialistic things, I had a fantastic time that you couldn’t put a price on. The people, the food (be prepared to come back addicted to Carrot and Potato Soup with Soda Bread), the scenery, and the sheer peace that Ireland gave me was an unforgettable experience.