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13 Jun AA Roadwatch’s favourite Irish staycations

Main photo – public domain

While travelling abroad is wonderful, it’s all too easy to overlook the holiday gems that we have right here on our doorstep. There are countless good reasons why almost nine million people visited Ireland in 2016, and they are all available for Irish holidaymakers to enjoy at a fraction of the cost, hassle and travelling time of those glamorous foreign destinations.

From spectacular coastlines to picturesque villages, bucket-and-spade fun to vibrant nightlife, Ireland has it all. We asked the AA Roadwatch team to recommend some of their favourite ‘staycations’, most of which bring back fond memories of those hazy childhood holidays. So leave the passport in the bottom drawer, hop in the car or on the train and get exploring!

KILKENNY CITY

KILKENNY CITY

Photo by Aldebaran, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

IN A FEW WORDS:

Whether you’re in the mood for a raucous weekend or want something a little more sedate, Kilkenny is a city that has something for everyone.

HIGHLIGHTS:

If you’re staying in the city, a walk along the River Nore by Kilkenny Castle and a detour into the castle grounds is worth a few hours of your time. I’ve never done a tour of the castle itself but it’s on my list for the next time I visit.

Just over the road on The Parade, Ristorante Rinuccini serves delicious, authentic Italian cuisine. The Grapevine Wine and Tapas Bar on Rose Inn Street is another great spot but in each case I would ring ahead and book in.

Not too far away from Kilkenny City is beautiful Inistioge which looks like a movie set. In fact, a number of films have been shot there, including Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture in 2015. The village is a perfect place to have lunch, ideally before or after visiting nearby Woodstock Gardens which overlooks the River Nore Valley.

If you want to bring home a souvenir, then spending an afternoon in the Nicholas Mosse Pottery Factory should be added to your list. Located in an old stone mill in Bennettsbridge, just south of Kilkenny City and only two minutes from J9 on the M9 motorway, the views from the cafe are worth a visit alone.

GETTING THERE:

There are lots of public transport options available for Kilkenny City such as Bus Eireann, JJ Kavanagh & Sons, Dublin Coach and Irish Rail, all of which offer regular services. If travelling by car, exit at J8 Kilkenny or J9 Kilkenny South (if staying at Mount Juliet) on the M9, or J4 Urlingford on the M8.

WHERE TO STAY:

There are plenty of options for all budgets in Kilkenny, but if you are treating yourself, there are number of AA approved hotels to consider. A short drive from the city, the four-star Lyrath Hotel Estate is set on 170 acres of mature parkland and boasts two AA Rosettes. Alternatively, you may prefer Butler House on Patrick St, a stone’s throw from Kilkenny Castle. For the keen golfer, the triple AA Rosette-awarded Mount Juliet Hotel is an attractive option. Set in 1,500 acres of parkland, it boasts a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. This means nothing to me, which is why I would probably spend my time in the hotel’s excellent spa. Esther O’Moore-Donohoe

DUNMORE EAST, WATERFORD

DUNMORE EAST, WATERFORD

Photo by Flickr user karenandkerry used under CC BY 2.0 licence

IN A FEW WORDS:

Explore the picturesque fishing village where BBC drama Kat & Alfie: Redwater was filmed.

HIGHLIGHTS:

As well as half a dozen beaches and coves (my favourites are Lawlor’s Strand and Ladies Cove), sailing, fishing, kayaking and diving are all on offer in the village – check out the Adventure Centre in the harbour for activities for both children and adults. There’s also a cliff walk from Dunmore East to Portally Cove which takes about half an hour.

The biggest event in the village calendar is the Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival in August. Over the weekend, groups from all over the world perform in pubs and bars across Dunmore and turn the whole village into a toe-tappin’, roots and country music party.

If you’re looking for a pint any other time of the year, you’ll be well looked after in Powers Pub (“The Butcher’s”) and for a bite to eat, try The Lemon Tree and The Spinnaker (especially for seafood lovers).

As well as what Dunmore has to offer, the county’s newest attraction is the Waterford Greenway, a 45km walking and cycling trail which runs along the old railway line between Waterford and Dungarvan.

You could also check out The Viking Triangle, the cultural and heritage quarter in Waterford City – about 20 minutes’ drive from Dunmore.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Waterford City is connected to the rest of the country by the M9, the N24 and the N25. From there take the Dunmore Rd (R683/R684) – or if you’re using public transport, Suirway runs buses out to the village throughout the day.

If you’re coming from Wexford, there’s also a ferry to Passage East (15 mins from Dunmore).

WHERE TO STAY:

The Strand Inn sits right next to Lawlor’s Beach and is one of the most featured locations in Redwater. There are plenty of B&Bs and hotels in the village too, but if they’re all booked up, Faithlegg House Hotel is about 15 mins away and would be an AA-recommended alternative. Ruth Jephson

NORTH COAST OF ANTRIM

NORTH COAST OF ANTRIM

Photo by Chmee2, used under CC-BY-3.0 licence

IN A FEW WORDS:

A host of world-famous tourist destinations set in spectacular scenery.

HIGHLIGHTS:

There’s only one place to start here – the legendary Giant’s Causeway. The bizarre rock formation is made up of hexagonal columns of basalt which sweep down from the cliffs to the wild Atlantic. It’s a must-see, and I recommend making a day of it as there are some fantastic coastal walks in the area too.

A couple of miles from the causeway, you can pay a visit to the historic Old Bushmills Distillery to find out about how their world-famous whiskey is made – and to sample the goods. The tour is great but a weekday visit is best as the bottling plant falls silent at weekends. If you’re a golfer, you’ll be spoilt for choice – Darren Clarke’s home course Royal Portrush will host the The Open in 2019, while Graeme McDowell’s home links Rathmore is just next door.

Game Of Thrones fans shouldn’t miss the chance to see the eerie Kingsroad for themselves. Also known as The Dark Hedges, the beautiful avenue of beech trees is a key filming location for the show, and it’s situated at the entrance to Gracehill House near Stranocum – about half-an-hour’s drive from Portrush. Then there’s the ruined Dunluce Castle, glorious sandy beaches, Carrick-a-Rede’s hair-raising rope bridge… Lots to do.

HOW TO GET THERE:

From the south and east, take the M1/A1/M1 to Belfast, then follow signs for Derry to join the M2. Exit at J6 Antrim and take the A26 to Coleraine. From there, it’s a short drive to the coast.

From the west, take the N17 Galway/Sligo Rd and then the N15/N13 to Derry. From there, take the A2 to Coleraine and onward to your destination. Use AA Routeplanner for exact directions, travel times, fuel costs and traffic information from AA Roadwatch.

WHERE TO STAY:

Bushmills Inn is a perfect base for a north coast holiday – situated right in the centre of Bushmills and walking distance from the distillery, it’s also just three miles from the Giant’s Causeway. The hotel is described as “spotless and welcoming” by AA inspectors, and I can vouch for the excellent food and cosy bar.

If you’re on a budget, there’s a Premier Inn in the nearby town of Coleraine. Chris Jones

LAHINCH, CLARE

LAHINCH, CLARE

Photo – public domain

IN A FEW WORDS:

Lahinch is a seaside town with all the essentials: a 2km beach, fun activities and plenty of pubs!

HIGHLIGHTS:

One of the first things people think of when they hear ‘Lahinch’ is surfing. Lahinch Surf School and Ben’s Surf Clinic are based on the prom and offer lessons whether you’re a pro or just starting off. The latter also offers rock climbing, kayaking and archery in his adventure centre.

Lahinch is a great spot for a night out. Kenny’s usually has some great live music and The Nineteenth or The Shamrock are welcoming pubs. If you’re in the mood for some dancing, The Claremont is certainly an experience… O’Looney’s also boasts a late bar, with live music or a DJ. Finally, no night out in Lahinch is complete without a visit to the Chinese where Billy will look after you.

From Lahinch, it’s less than a 15-minute drive to the Cliffs of Moher (pictured). It’s a beautiful spot for an Instagram and the fresh breeze will sort out any hangovers. There’s also a visitor centre there if you’d like to discover more about the geology and wildlife of the area. I’d definitely recommend doing (at least some of!) the cliff walk down to Doolin to really experience the rugged beauty of the cliffs.

HOW TO GET THERE:

You can get to Lahinch from Dublin using the M7 southbound and then the N18 northbound until you turn off at J12 Killow. You’ll bypass Ennis on the N85 and continue along the road to Ennistymon, where you’ll turn left at Blake’s Corner and head out the N67 Lahinch Road to your destination.

WHERE TO STAY:

If you’re looking for a treat, Moy House is a five-star AA lodge overlooking the bay. You can also dine in the restaurant, which has two AA Rosettes.

For a budget option, Lahinch Hostel is located at the top of Main St. At weekends, it’s €18 per person per night with a light breakfast included. Róisín Nestor

SALTHILL, GALWAY

SALTHILL, GALWAY

Photo by Terence wiki, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

IN A FEW WORDS:

Head west to one of Ireland’s best seaside destinations.

HIGHLIGHTS:

With sandy beaches, beautiful scenery and great craic, there’s plenty to do in Salthill. A dip in the world famous Galway Bay, a stroll along the promenade or a flutter in the iconic casinos are just a few of the activities on offer in this charming old seaside resort.

If you fancy something different, though, there are also some less conventional options. Salthill is the home of the Galway Atlantaquaria – Ireland’s largest native species aquarium. With tours and talks throughout the day that include big fish feeding, touch pool tours and freshwater fish feeding, this is the perfect spot to combine education and fun. There are plenty of knowledgeable and friendly staff on hand and it’s affordable, with tickets priced from €7.50 to €12.

One of my favourite ways to spend a day in Salthill is to catch a match in Pearse Stadium. Galway is one of Ireland’s most successful GAA counties and on a sunny day it’s hard to beat the colour, noise and atmosphere of the Tribesmen’s home ground in the heart of Salthill. Whether it’s football or hurling you’re into, with the Championship running from May to September there are lots of opportunities to catch a game.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Located at the western edge of Galway City, Salthill is easy to get to by road and well served by public transport. Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and a number of private companies run numerous train and bus services from various locations around the country to Galway City every day. From Eyre Square in the city centre, the 401 Bus Eireann City Service will bring you right to the heart of Salthill in 15 minutes.

WHERE TO STAY:

The smart, country-house style Ardilaun Hotel in the nearby area of Taylor’s Hill is one of west Galway’s best hotels. With friendly staff, exquisite food and landscaped gardens, it’s a great spot to relax and unwind. Ann-Marie Donelan

DON’T FORGET!

Take out or renew your AA Membership before you start packing the car. For just €8.25 a month, you get 24-hour breakdown cover in Ireland and the UK (meaning you can take the car to Northern Ireland in confidence), personal cover (which covers you in any car) and Home Start, which means you’re covered at your home or very near your home address.

Chris Jones
jonesc@theaa.ie