“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 and 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 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 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 dazzling 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 guides, both deeply familiar with Ireland, can’t wait to share their knowledge and their love of the country with you.
Day 1: Arrivals. Transfer from Dublin Airport about 20 minutes away and check in at the hotel, a 19th century castle on much older foundations, just outside Dublin.
Day 2: In the morning, we head for the Wicklow Mountains to visit the breathtakingly beautiful valley of Glendalough with its important Early Medieval monastery, founded by Saint Kevin. Its Round Tower, pre-Romanesque chapels and early High Cross, complemented by a fine archaeological exhibit, offer a splendid introduction to this important aspect of Ireland’s history. Later, we stop by the 9th century High Cross of Moone, one of the finest (and tallest!) in the country. On the way back to Dublin, we visit Russborough House, built in the mid-18th century by Richard Cassels, Ireland’s most famous Palladian architect.
Day 3: We set out into Ireland’s midlands, for the tiny village of Boher in County Offaly. Its parish church contains one of the most remarkable treasures of Irish Early Medieval metalwork: the 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 towers, churches and magnificently carved High Crosses. Later we stop at Galway on the Atlantic Coast to have a look at the centre of this tiny but lively and attractive city and its excellent historical museum before reaching our hotel, in a renovated 18th century manor house in the Burren.
Day 4: Today is devoted to the Burren, the extraordinary limestone landscape the makes up the Northern part of County Clare. Its karstified rock shelves, their clints criss-crossed by grykes (all will be explained) are a sight to behold. Beyond its sheer and outlandish beauty, the area contains monuments from all periods of Ireland’s history: dozens of Neolithic or Bronze Age tombs, the most famous of them the dolmen of Poulnabrone, countless fortified Celtic farmsteads, medieval castles and ruined monasteries. At the wonderfully restored Castle of Dysart O’Dea, we visit the medieval Tower House with its archaeological exhibits – a place where past and present seem to coexist seamlessly – before returning to our hotel and a free evening to dine at your leisure.
Day 5: We take the ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. The seaward continuation of the Burren limestones, Aran holds a special place in Irish culture, preserving the language and a traditional lifestyle that reaches back through centuries and beyond. 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. After returning to the mainland, we make our way to our hotel, a 19th century country mansion overlooking the quintessential Connemara seascape of Roundstone Bay.
Day 6: In the morning we explore the fabled beauty of Connemara, with its craggy mountains, patchwork of lakes and moors, its traditional villages and ever-changing vistas. We visit the 19th century “folly” that is Kylemore Abbey, an unlikely gem of intricate loveliness in a majestically wild setting, surrounded by wondrous Victorian gardens. On the shores of Ireland’s only fjord, Killary Harbour, we explore the history of sheep-farming and wool, so central to the Western Irish economy in the past, before continuing to pretty Westport. After a visit to Rockfleet Castle, home of the legendary pirate “queen” Granuaile (Grace O’Malley), we continue to our hotel in a 19th century estate outside Ballina, County Mayo. An evening free to dine at leisure.
Day 7: North Mayo is rarely at the centre of visitors’ attention, in spite of its immense cultural riches. We spend the day exploring this extraordinary landscape of immense wetlands with sheer sea cliffs, containing one of the densest distributions of 4th millennium BC Neolithic tombs in Europe, the unique Neolithic Céide Fields, as well as series of beautiful and romantic medieval monasteries and much more. Our leisurely itinerary permits us to experience this wild and remote corner of Ireland and of Europe properly, giving us deep insights into a region apparently forgotten by time. Eventually, we return to our estate near Ballina.
Day 8: We leave the West Coast behind and make our way eastwards. At Tulsk in County Roscommon, we visit Rathcrogan, one of the four Celtic “Royal Sites”, the Iron Age capital of Connaught and the mythical home of Queen Maeve (or Medb). Its mysterious mounds and earthworks are the living green theatre of ancient Irish myth and lore, evoking the great heroes and heroines of old Irish epics. Continuing eastwards, we reach the County of Meath, one of the heartlands of medieval Ireland. The superb Anglo-Norman castle of Trim, with its exquisitely preserved keep by the banks of the Boyne River, opens a whole new narrative on the English conquest of Ireland, starting in the late 12th century AD, and beginning centuries of conflict, but also of cultural contact, all of which contributed to making Ireland what it is. We spend the night at an 18th century manor house with many connections to this region’s history.
Day 9: Our day starts with a detailed tour of Brú na Bóinne, the great complex of Megalithic Passage Tombs at “the Bend of the Boyne”. At Knowth, we admire a gallery of Megalithic art, arguably the most significant such ensemble in the world, lining the perimeter of the enormous burial mound. 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 one again with the ancient past. Later, we have a look at the superb 10th century High Crosses at Monasterboice before continuing to our final hotel, set in a wonderful location overlooking a park and in the very heart of Dublin. An evening free to dine at leisure.
Day 10: Our last day is dedicated to Dublin itself. We engage with the city’s many pasts, Celtic and Viking, Anglo-Irish and Neoclassical, Georgian and Victorian, Joycean, Wildean and modern. Our tour includes the extraordinary Book of Kells, a superb illuminated manuscript from about 800 AD and arguably the most splendid book in the world, as well as the wonderful Long Room of Trinity College’s library. At the National Museum’s archaeological section, we draw the strands of our journey together and revisit much of Ireland’s early history, including an incredible collection of Bronze Age gold and a stunning selection of Early Christian metalwork, objects of sheer unbelievable intricacy. Lunch and the afternoon is free time for those who want to explore – or shop – by themselves before our final farewell dinner.
Day 11: Departures. Check out from the hotel and transfer to Dublin Airport about 30 minutes away.
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 using the link below.
Custom Tours If you are thinking of extending your trip to Ireland, please contact our office for advice and suggestions for bespoke travel plans.