This year is the year of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1500km scenic drive being sold as a rival to California’s Pacific Coast Highway and Australia’s Great Ocean Road.

Essential information:

Population: 6.4 million(4.59 million in the million in Northern Ireland)

Foreign visitors per year: 7.5 million

Capital: Dublin

Languages: English, Irish

Major industry: exports, mainly textiles, machinery and food items

Unit of currency: euro (€)

Cost index: pint of Guinness €5-6 (US$6.90-8.27), midrange hotel double €60-120 (US$83-165), daily midsize car rental €45 (US$62), round of golf at a top course €80-150 (US$110-206).

Why go ASAP?

O’Brien Castle – Aran Islands, Ireland

Separating blarney from bunkum. You know the songs – hell, you probably sang some of them after drinking a few beers and declaring yourself part-Irish on 17 March. Ireland is small, but it packs a big punch, thanks to those millions of emigrants who left to earn a crust so they wouldn’t have to subsist on one. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when that absence stretches across the generations, well… there’s a whole lot of love for the old country Which carries with it a burden of expectation, invariably skewed towards the sheep-on-the-road, thatched-roof-on-the-cottage variety. An image that is slightly at odds with the modern Ireland of motorways and macchiatos that the Irish themselves have worked hard to develop. There aren’t that many folk songs about broadband speed on the Aran Islands, but there’s plenty of debate about it.

But the Irish know which side their tourist bread is buttered and it’s all about scenery, tradition and the warm welcome – 100,000 of them, if you believe the spiel. Beneath the touristic tomfoolery, though, is the real deal: Ireland is stunningly scenic, its traditions – music, dance, whiskey and beer – firmly intact and the cosmopolitan, contemporary Irish are just as friendly and welcoming as their forebears were known to be.

Festivals &Events :

St Patrick's Festival
St Patrick’s Festival – Ireland

March 17 — St Patrick’s Day — is now such a big deal that it’s become St Patrick’s Festival and it’s spread over three or four days. Fireworks, gigs and parades for the kids, a long day’s ‘celebrating’ for the adults.

Fireworks at Galway Arts Festival

Summertime in Galway is festival madness — kicking off in July with the Galway Arts Festival, following on with the film festival and race week in August and the oyster festival in September.

All-Ireland Finals: the second and fourth Sundays of September are the biggest sporting days of the year, as the finals of the Gaelic football and hurling championships take place at Croke Park stadium in Dublin.

An irish band performing at Ennis Trad Festival

To keep the winter blues at bay, catch the best of the country’s traditional music and dance at the Ennis Trad Festival, five days of sessions, master classes, CD launches and a ceili (party), held in November in Ennis, County Clare.

Life-changing experiences:

Rossnowlagh Beach in County Donegal – Ireland

The Irish themselves are inevitably at the heart of the best the country has to offer. Attend a traditional music session in a small pub in County Clare. Hook up with a walking club and do a little cross-country ambling on a soft Sunday afternoon. Go surfing at Rossnowlagh Beach in County Donegal. Or just strike up a conversation over a pint with the gang sitting next to you in the pub. It’s these connections that will make you want to come back.

Trending topic:

The economy, stupid. And holding those who ruined it to account. The global financial crisis decimated the Irish economy, forcing it into an onerous bailout program it only exited last year. As the country reels from five years of body blows, it’s trying to figure out why, how and, especially, who.

Random facts

  • Halloween comes from the Irish harvest festival called Samhain.

  • America’s White House was designed by Irish architect James Hoban, who drew inspiration from Leinster House in Dublin, now the Irish Parliament.

  • The expression ‘by hook or by crook’, as in ‘by any means necessary’, refers to Oliver Cromwell’s attempts to capture Waterford in the 17th century, by Hook Head or the village of Crook.

Most bizarre sight:

This goat was chosen to be “The King” at August’s Puck Fair – Ireland

A goat is crowned king and everybody drinks for three days – it’s just another edition of August’s Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry – Ireland’s quirkiest festival.

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