From its ancient and preserved castles to its stunning seaside panoramas, Ireland is pure pleasure to explore. The small size of our Discovery Tours group lets you take in the nation’s historic and natural treasures at a less hurried pace. Here are four Irish wonders you’ll visit with us:
Downton Abbey has nothing on Powerscourt. Its entry drive just outside Dublin seems torn from a storybook, lined with hundreds of centuries-old beech trees. When the classical Palladian castle appears in the distance, flanked by two domed towers, you are transported back centuries. Originally, it was a 13th-century medieval castle that perched here, giving its owner Baron La Poer (from whom the castle gets its name) strategic views of the Dargle, Glencree, and Glencullen rivers. La Poer’s elegance would have been grand even by today’s standards with its 68 rooms, a 60×40-foot entrance hall adorned with heirlooms, and that same long avenue of beech trees.
Powerscourt has changed hands many times during its history, including one occasion in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth awarded the castle to Richard Wingfield for his military achievements. But don’t let its rich history fool you; today, it is far from a quietly preserved artifact hosting hushed tours down venerable corridors. Quite the contrary, the multi-use treasure would make its founder proud as locals and visitors alike stroll its pastoral river walk, admire 47 acres of lavishly manicured gardens, dine at its outdoor Terrace Café, shop at its Global Village, and browse the precious dollhouse collection at the Tara’s Palace Museum of Childhood.
Rock of Cashel
Don’t be fooled: the Rock of Cashel is much more than a rock. The fabled origin of this castle-topped promontory in County Tipperary rests 20 miles away. There, legend says that the devil took a bite from the side of a mountain that today goes by the name “Devil’s Bit.” In the process, he broke his teeth and a large rock fell from his mouth onto this spot. The ancient Kings of Munster recognized the potential of this limestone outcrop in defending and surveying the comings and goings of merchants and troops, so they built their mighty castle on the rock’s plateau. It’s believed that St. Patrick converted one of those kings to Christianity on this very site. So powerful was the pull of the church that a subsequent king donated the fortress to it in 1101. The Romanesque Cormac’s Chapel and the Cathedral were constructed in subsequent years and today the Rock of Cashel stands as one of Europe’s most incredible collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture.
One of Ireland’s most breathtakingly scenic corners, the farthest reaches of the Dingle Peninsula comprise Europe’s westernmost point (if you discount Iceland). Some locals call it the “next parish to America,” an understandable assessment when you consider how very inspirational its landscape is. This is some of the most rugged and magnificent scenery you may ever see—some 300 square miles of unspoiled and pure coast blanketed with soft olive and emerald greens and sparsely vegetated rocky-strewn slopes rising from the white-crested surf of the sea. A drive around its perimeter reveals not only this spectacular beauty. You will also glimpse Ireland’s agricultural roots as you pass livestock grazing in pastures squared off by stone walls laid centuries ago. And you’ll learn a bit about the beliefs of ancient tribes as you pass by Celtic monuments.
Cliffs of Moher
Rising dramatically up to 390 feet above the crashing Atlantic surf, the Cliffs of Moher have long stood as Ireland’s iconic beauty. These sheer rock faces afford stunning ocean views and glimpses of the Aran Islands. About 20 bird species live among the nooks and natural platforms of the cliffs, totaling some 30,000, including Atlantic puffins, which has led BirdLife International to designate this as an Important Bird Area. During your visit, see if you can make out the figure of a seated woman in the distance at Hags Head, one of the cliffs’ natural promontories. You’ll have time to stop by the Visitors Center, an award-winning facility for its non-intrusive construction into a hillside approaching the cliffs.
Experience the best of Ireland firsthand during our Irish Culture trip.