As children, we all watched, wide eyed, as our favourite movie knight perched high on his warhorse, thrusting a broadsword skyward as he rode up and down his seemingly endless ranks of soldiers, all the while shouting words of inspiration in anticipation of the charge. Before him, an evil king cowered in his castle as his terrified guards manned the watch towers in preparation of the inevitable assault.
The action, romance and intrigue of such a classic castle siege scene leads to millions of little boys donning suits of cardboard armour and yielding plastic swords, all in a courageous endeavour to rescue young fair maidens who don’t need much convincing to assume the role of the princess trapped inside a castle tower.
Few of us can claim to be entirely unfamiliar with this type of story and perhaps it’s the boundless sense of adventure and romance surrounding it that lingers in our minds into adulthood. Either way, the opportunity to walk ancient misty mountain paths, gaze out over rolling hills and – best of all by far – explore an ancient castle bearing the scars of real life battles, is an opportunity that few adults would turn down.
It’s classic, rich scenes like this that drive more and more tourists to Ireland year after year. There are very few places in the world where a person can so truly immerse themselves in a bygone era. Whether you’re an amateur historian, a chronic romantic or an action chasing adrenaline junkie, Ireland is brimming with unique opportunities to forge memories that will last a lifetime.
Ireland is an island to the north-west of continental Europe and is the third largest island in Europe. Geographically, it comprises relatively low-lying mountains which surround a central plain. Most areas are covered by lush vegetation, which thrives in the mild oceanic climate. Ireland rarely experiences extremes of temperature.
For many visitors, Irish culture is one of the biggest draw cards to the beautiful island and with a history as complex and colourful as Ireland’s, this is no surprise. The Ceide Fields is an extensive field system that has been preserved beneath a blanket of peat in what is now County Mayo. It has been estimated that these fields were farmed between 3500 and 3000BC, representing what is arguably the oldest such site in the world.
During the Iron Age, Ireland was colonised by the Celts, the first of whom are believed to have arrived on the island around 600BC. Celtic history is truly fascinating and many museums, relics and sites of interest make exploring this ancient culture an adventure.
By far one of the richest and most fascinating periods of Ireland’s history is the period between the Norman and English invasions. It was during this period that some of the most spectacular battles took place, the locations of many of which can be visited on guided tours. Nestled in the picturesque County Meath, the remains of Trim Castle, the largest Norman castle in Ireland, is open to visitors and makes for an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. The area was also one of the most severely affected by the Black Death, and investigating the history of this makes for a harrowing experience.
Exploring just a few of these fascinating sites is more than enough to work up a healthy appetite and Irish cuisine and the incredible host of inviting places to eat will have even the hungriest covered. Great poverty during the mid-19th century encouraged a subsistence approach to food and potatoes and milk became the staple for the majority of families. Possibly because of this age old relationship with the humble potato, the Irish are the unchallenged masters of potato dishes. Try potatoes included in a traditional Irish stew, a boxty (potato pancake), or a colcannon (a delicious combination of mashed potatoes and cabbage) to experience a new flavour sensation.
For many, though, Ireland’s long history as one of the world’s most respected producers of premium whiskey is reason enough for a visit. Award winning single malts like Buhsmills, Locke’s Single Malt and Tyrconnell all have their origins in Ireland and a visit to any of these distilleries is a truly memorable experience for the whiskey connoisseur.
The old world charm, incredibly complex cultural heritage and the unrivalled warmth of the people of Ireland make it an essential inclusion in any traveller’s must see list.