Flung onto the foggy fringe of the Atlantic pond like a mossy millstone, Ireland drips with mystery, drawing you in for a closer look and then surprising you. An old farmer cuts turf from the bog, while his son staffs the tech helpline for an international software firm. Buy them both a pint in a pub that’s whirling with playful conversation and exhilarating traditional music. Pious, earthy, witty, brooding, proud, yet unpretentious, Irish culture is an intoxicating potion to sip or slurp — as the mood strikes you. Among the romantic preconceptions visitors bring to Ireland, it is their expectations of the landscape that are most likely to be fulfilled.
An uncommon geological richness and the warming effect of the Atlantic produce an astonishing diversity of terrain on this small island, which is splashed throughout with lakes and primeval bogland. In the east, the crumpled granite of the Wicklow Hills sits in utter contrast to the horse-grazing plain of the Curragh just a few kilometres away, and in Connemara on the west coast, you can walk from beach to mountain to fen, from seaweed-strewn inlet to lily-covered lough, in a matter of hours. Everything you’ve heard is true: Ireland is a stunner. The Irish need a little prodding to proclaim theirs the most beautiful land in the world and will support their claim with examples, from the brooding loneliness of Connemara to the dramatic wildness of Donegal and the world-famous scenery of counties Kerry and Cork.
It’s become almost trite to declare that Ireland operates a cultural surplus. Its main strengths are the literary and musical fields, where Ireland has long punched well above its weight, but Ireland is well represented in most other fields too. Wherever you go you will discover an abundance of cultural expression. You can attend a play by a literary great in Dublin, toe-tap your way through a traditional music ‘session’ in a west-of-Ireland pub or get your EDM on at a club in Belfast. The Irish summer is awash with festivals celebrating everything from flowers in bloom to high literature.