“The Emerald Isle”, “the Island of Saints and Scholars”, “the Home of the Rainbow” – so many clichés have been used to describe Ireland, all of them based on some element of truth but none of them sufficient to capture the enormous fascination of this most unusual island. At Peter Sommer Travels, we are excited to present Exploring Ireland: The Heart of the Emerald Isle, our first tour in a country that is spectacularly rich in beauty, in history, in character, in hospitality and – most of all – in stories.
In the Irish countryside, layers of history are often situated not – as one would expect – one above the other, or one superseding the other, but side-by-side. A Neolithic tomb may share a field with a Celtic fort, remnants of an Early Christian monastery may stand in the grounds of an 18th century “Great House”, a medieval Round Tower may overlook a traditional fishing village. Each monument comes with its own legends, stories or myths attached to it, but all are embedded in the peaceful beauty of the Irish landscape and its many shades of green. Likewise, Ireland’s towns and cities and their architectural and cultural heritage reflect the turbulent history of a country that has contributed so much to this world’s music and literature and to our shared human imagination.
Exploring Ireland is a unique escorted tour, created on the basis of an intimate acquaintance with the country and a passionate love for it, gained through many years of living and travelling there. Designed to present a rich and insightful panorama of Ireland’s heritage, tradition and culture, it takes in some of the famous “must-see” sights, such as the Megalithic tombs of Newgrange and Knowth, the stupendous “Celtic” cliffside fort at Dun Aonghasa in the Aran Islands, the great monastic centre of Clonmacnoise, the pristine Norman castle at Trim and, of course, the teeming heart of Dublin with its excellent museums. These are matched and complemented by places more off-the-beaten-track: stone-carved crosses, windswept tower houses, mysterious “royal” sites of Gaelic mythology, plus a never-ending array of extraordinary scenery, ranging from the heart-achingly lovely to the stark, lonely and wild.
Another central aspect of the tour is the range of carefully-selected hotels, among them renovated castles, manors and town houses. Each of them evokes the country’s history and exemplifies the remarkable Irish hospitality. We of course encounter the latter day by day on meeting the astonishingly friendly and communicative locals who make Ireland such a pleasant and unforgettable place to visit, a place brimming over with words, stories and songs. The experience will be rounded off by enjoying the many fine qualities of Irish gastronomy, including some of Europe’s best seafood and meats, as well as local cheeses and the island’s famous beers and whiskeys. The surprising originality and excellent craftsmanship of modern Irish cooking are an attraction in themselves.
Exploring Ireland aims to offer the perfect introduction for travellers newly discovering the country, but also a new and deep insight for those already in love with Ireland. Our tour experts, deeply familiar with Ireland, can’t wait to share their knowledge and love of the country with you.
Later, we tour Russborough House, built in the mid-18th century by Richard Cassels, Ireland’s most famous Palladian architect. Its splendid but restrained exterior conceals the extraordinary luxuries within, which we explore as a private tour.
In the afternoon, we stop by the ninth century High Cross of Moone, one of the finest (and tallest!) in the country, before returning to Dublin, where your evening is free to dine at leisure.
Then, we set out into Ireland’s midlands, for the tiny village of Boher in County Offaly. Its parish church contains another of the most remarkable treasures of Irish Early Medieval metalwork: the twelfth-century Shrine of Saint Manchan, a superb mixture of Celtic and Viking styles. Next, we explore the wonderful early monastery at Clonmacnoise set on the banks of the broad majestic Shannon, with its Round Towers, churches and magnificently carved High Crosses.
After some free time for lunch at Shannonbridge, scenically set by the country's greatest river, we stop at the uniquely well-preserved ‘Workhouse’ in Portumna (Co. Galway), to learn about the lives of the poor in famine-struck 19th century Ireland, before making our way to our next accommodation, in a renovated 18th century manor house in the Burren.
Beyond the Burren's sheer and outlandish beauty and its immense geological interest, which we discover by walking through Ailwee Cave, the area contains monuments from all periods of Ireland’s history. There are dozens of Neolithic and Bronze Age tombs, the most famous of them the dolmen, or Portal Tomb, of Poulnabrone, which we explore and explain in detail. There are also countless key examples of the fortified Celtic farmsteads known as 'ringforts' or 'raths', the most common site-type in Ireland, and we see an earthen and a stone example of them and learn how people inhabited these well-defined spaces.
At the wonderfully restored Castle of Dysart O’Dea, we visit a key example of the medieval Irish Tower House and its archaeological exhibits – a place where past and present seem to coexist seamlessly. We stop by the Burren's most scenic stretch of Atlantic coast before returning to our hotel.
The island provides the dramatic setting for a whole series of monuments, including the vastly impressive and stupendously atmospheric fort of Dun Aonghasa, set on the very edge of a tall vertical cliff overlooking the Atlantic and dating to the Early Iron Age. The rocky island’s landscape is a monument in itself: it is criss-crossed by thousands of kilometres of drystone walls, created in endless toil by generations of islanders who eked out a meagre living from what the barren land and the violent sea had to offer.
There is free time for lunch and also a chance to shop for the famous Aran knitwear in the island's main town of Kilronan. After returning to the mainland, we make our way to our hotel in Connemara, the scenic western peninsula of County Galway.
Later, we visit the 19th century ‘folly’ that is Kylemore Abbey, an unlikely gem of intricate Neo-Gothic loveliness in a majestically wild setting, accompanied by formal Victorian gardens - visiting them, we discover aspects of the social contrasts that dominated Victorian Ireland. We offer our guests free time for further exploration and for lunch.
Having passed Ireland’s only fjord, Killary Harbour, we explore the dark history of Ireland's catastrophe, the mid-19th century Great Famine. We stand on the bleak shores of Doo Lough, where a local tragedy stands witness to the suffering of a whole country. Passing below the slopes of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain, we continue to our hotel, a Neo-Gothic castle outside Ballina in County Mayo.
We spend the day exploring an extraordinary landscape of immense boglands with sheer sea cliffs at the stunning Downpatrick Head, a place linked with the mission of Saint Patrick, also with the French invasion of 1798, the rebellion of the United Irishmen and its gruesome aftermath, and finally with Ireland's unusual position during the Second World War: history has swept over this unlikely place in slow waves.
We visit the unique Neolithic Céide Fields, an agricultural system built to tame this tough landscape set up over five thousand years ago, and one of the most extensive prehistoric sites in Europe. Later, we walk the aisles of the Late Medieval monastery of Rosserk, fully preserved but for its roofs. After an impressive day, we return to our hotel near Ballina. The evening is free, for you to relax and dine as you wish.
Continuing eastwards, we reach the County of Meath, one of the heartlands of medieval Ireland. Here, we stop to walk the hills of Loughcrew, where a stunningly beautiful landscape of green slopes and distant views across the most fertile part of the country is the setting for a superb prehistoric monument: a Neolithic Passage Tomb cemetery, with complex monuments over five thousand years old, some decorated with Megalithic art. Later, we continue eastwards to our hotel in the heart of Meath.
At Knowth, we admire a veritable gallery of arguably the most significant ensemble of Megalithic art in the world, lining the perimeter of the enormous burial mound containing two opposed passages and chambers. At Newgrange, we enter the most celebrated of all Passage Tombs and witness a demonstration of the annual winter solstice phenomenon that makes the tomb one of the world’s oldest sun observatories: a truly memorable experience putting us in touch with the ancient past, when people celebrated the moment that the days started getting longer again, marking the annual cycle of the world they lived in - and we still inhabit.
After lunch we visit another highlight: The superb Anglo-Norman castle of Trim, with its exquisitely preserved keep by the banks of the Boyne, opens a whole new narrative on the English conquest of Ireland, starting in the late 12th century AD, and beginning centuries of conflict – and of cultural contact, all of which contributed to making Ireland what it is. We return to our hotel; the evening is free to dine there or in the nearby town of Navan.
Next, we have a look at the superb 10th-century High Crosses at Monasterboice (Co. Louth), arguably the best in Ireland. Biblical narratives rendered in the characteristically simplistic fashion of these monuments, reflects both on Irish Christianity of the Middle Ages and on the politics of the era. On our way back to Dublin, we stop to visit the city’s largest and most historic cemetery at Glasnevin, for a lively (!) tour of the many famous Dubliners, writers, statesmen, rebels and more, laid to rest here.
We return to our hotel in Dublin for a free afternoon, yours to explore the city, engage in some shopping or just relax.
Your evening is free for a final opportunity to explore the city's restaurants.
After a bit of free time to explore the city's commercial centre and have lunch, we take a final stroll through the heart of medieval Dublin. Here, the street network and the various historic buildings such as Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle permit us to engage with the city’s many pasts, from Celtic and Viking, via Anglo-Irish and Neoclassical, to Georgian and Victorian, Joycean, Wildean and modern.
In the evening, we venture a short distance outside the centre to Howth for a glorious finale. At Howth Castle, medieval in its foundations, but restored to and added to many times since, we enjoy a visit to the structure and its grounds, followed by a superb cooking class, a chance to learnt about the island’s fine ingredients and how to use them. We dine in a historic setting before returning to the centre.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Dublin International Airport
Departure Airport – Dublin International Airport
Our transfer vehicle will collect from Dublin International Airport at 17.00, should you wish your arrival at your hotel to be organised by us. If you prefer to arrange your own arrival, check in time is set for 14.30.
Check out time is 10.30. We will arrange a transfer from your hotel to Dublin Airport leaving from your hotel at 09.30.
Booking Flights The cheapest way to book flights is directly with the airline online.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
Travel Insurance Travel insurance is a requirement of our booking conditions and we recommend you investigate the options thoroughly to make sure that your trip is properly covered. Please be advised some insurers may require you to take out a policy within 15-20 days of booking your holiday to receive all of their insurance benefits.
Visas If you are not from an EEA country you must have a valid passport to enter Ireland. It must be valid for the whole of your stay. You may also need a visa, depending on which country you are from. You can check if you need a visa by visiting the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service website
Custom Tours If you are thinking of extending your trip to Ireland, please contact our office for advice and suggestions for bespoke travel plans.