If you've dreamed of visiting the Emerald Isle, tips from our local experts may help send you on your way.
"The entire place is everything, mythologically and magically speaking, everyone says it is," said Allen Tatman, owner of Paddy Malone's Pub, 700 W. Main St. in Jefferson City.
Tatman has long been fascinated by Irish culture since taking a graduate-level class in Irish immigration and tracing his own family's roots in Ireland back to the 1600s. After going on a bus tour of Ireland with his wife, Marilee, Tatman couldn't wait to go back. He soon began arranging tours with pub customers using Adventure Ireland Tours.
He now works for the company, giving tours during his off-time from the pub. He's been to Ireland 11 times since 2003, and has space on his June tours. Twenty to 30 people join Allen on these trips, which travel by bus throughout the country. But this isn't a whirlwind sight-seeing trip. "I'm not going to show you all of Ireland in seven to 10 days. We go to specific places," Tatman said. Separated into counties, Ireland offers big-city attractions in Dublin, Cork and Belfast, as well as quiet getaways along the coasts in Dingle and Donegal. Galway City and Cork City, located in counties of the same name, are two of the stops along Tatman's tour.
"They're a beautiful mix of medieval and modern," he said.
County Galway dates back to the Norman and Welsh invasions of the 1200s, but it has modern amenities like golf courses and restaurants.
A short ferry ride away are the Aran Islands.
After arriving on the main island, you'll want to "hire" or rent a bike to see the island at your own pace. A grocery store near the bike hire can provide a picnic lunch.
Riding through the Irish landscape, you'll see a lighthouse, a circular Celtic stone fort dating back to 2000 B.C., a seal colony (best seen at low tide) and a tiny church, measuring only 12 feet by 6 feet.
Back in the city, Galway features castles and museums like many larger cities in Ireland, but Tatman suggests going off the beaten path.
His tours make a short stop in County Cork where the famous Blarney Castle is located, but he prefers Ross Castle in Killarney National Park in County Kerry, or Athenry in County Galway.
Matt Riggins, who backpacked throughout Ireland in 2007, went to Blarney Castle because it was expected, but he says there are plenty of other castles to see, if that's what you like to do. By the end of his three-week trip in Ireland, he was tired of seeing castles.
Biking Aran Islands and climbing Croagh Patrick, a small mountain in County Mayo, were more his style.
Riggins also visited the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, home of Ireland's famous brew.
From Dublin, Riggins traveled by bus to County Cork and then on to Killarney, a smaller town.
Though the Irish scenery and architecture were unmatched, Riggins' most memorable moments happened when he was getting to know locals at area pubs and during sightseeing trips.
He traveled on a whim, which was fun and carefree, but he wished he had known about the film festival he missed in Galway. Cliff sides
"I was either a ing vie week early or a week late for a few things," he said, but not planning was best for this soul-searching trip. "The unknown can bring some really, really good things," he said. Valerie and Eddie Mueller have arranged a trip to Ireland for their 20th wedding anniversary. Paddy Malone's regulars, the couple is working with Tatman to customize a trip for just the two of them, rather than taking a group tour. "We've never been to Ireland, and this will be our first vacation in four years that is a true vacation," Valerie said.
The pair plans to mostly relax, but they'd like to spend time in quaint towns and possibly do some trout fishing, one of their favorite hobbies.
Brown trout is native to Ireland and the most widely distributed freshwater fish in the country.
"We have friends who are sort of non-travelers. They went to Ireland and loved it, so it seems to be the kind of place everyone can enjoy," Valerie said.
The Muellers will spend most of their time in Dingle, a small city in County Kerry. They'll stay at an inn that provides a continental breakfast - a nice perk many Irish hotels are providing since the economic downturn. "Since the crash, restaurants and hotels are becoming more accommodating because they want people to come. Some are even throwing in dinner," Tatman said.
After breakfast one morning, the Muellers will spend a day driving the Ring of Kerry, a spectacular route through Irish countryside along craggy coastlines dotted with towns and world-renowned spas.
Eddie worries a bit about driving on the "wrong" side of the road, but Tatman assures him he'll be fine.
If you plan to take advantage of public transportation, Riggins said there are some erratic bus drivers, but for the most part bus service is convenient, cheap, and one way to keep from getting lost.
Although, Riggins admits to getting lost on purpose a number of times.
"You see so many things you wouldn't normally see, and meet so many great people," he said.
Riggins got lost one evening looking for a family friend's pub, but after roaming the town for an hour and half with a complete stranger who offered to help him find it, Riggins had more fun chatting up the stranger than actually finding the pub.
Ireland claims nearly 80 million people throughout the globe as its descendants, many of whom emigrated to the United States. "So the Irish have a great affinity for Americans," Tatman said. Asking the locals is the best way to find the tastiest food, too. Known for its bland, boiled meat and potatoes, Ireland is traditionally not a culinary mecca. "But it's getting better because of the influence of the European Union," Tatman explained. There are now French, Italian and German chefs in many restaurants, but if you can't wait to try the traditional food, ask around to find something worth eating. Lord Baker's in Dingle does traditional food well, and there are many fish "n' chips stands throughout the country - and you can bet the fish was caught fresh that morning. Asian, Tandoori and Indian food is popular in Cork City, which was voted the European Capital of Culture in 2005. If you opt for "self-catering" accommodations like those featured at bed and breakfasts or condos, you'll cook your own meals in your own kitchen. And you can find plenty of fresh fish at open air markets. "Ireland has moved well into the 21st century, but it still has 18th and 19th century practices," Tatman said. "You'll see a fisherman at the market selling fish out of the back of his truck while talking on his iPhone," he explained. "And I always hope for this on a tour: Irish shepherds herding their livestock across the street, backing up traffic. You won't see that on Route C in Cole County."