Poets call it the Emerald Isle, antiquarians opt for Hibernia (meaning "winter's land"), and natives prefer Éire, the Irish equivalent of the trident-wielding Britannia. But what everyone can agree on is that Ireland possesses ebullience, swagger, and a character that few nations have and none can imitate. Visiting for the first time? Thanks to our buddies over at Insight Vacations, we've mapped out the key highlights you shouldn't miss.
Founded by Elizabeth I to prevent the Irish from being "infected with popery" at continental Catholic universities, Trinity College was originally intended to host several colleges in the style of Oxford or Cambridge. However, as no more were built in or near its tranquil 47-acre grounds, the college name became synonymous with the University of Dublin. Counting famous names like Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke and Samuel Beckett among its alumni, Trinity is perhaps most famous for its old library, which houses not only internationally important texts such as the Book of Kells, but also the "Brian Boru" harp, one of only three surviving medieval Gaelic harps.
The Cliffs of Moher
Standing at 702 feet in places and stretching for five miles along the Atlantic coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher attract almost one million visitors per year and have featured in several movies, from The Princess Bride to Harry Potter. If all the cliffs give you is vertigo, however, there are also ferry trips that allow visitors to get a view from sea level. And while you're in the area, Doolin - one of Ireland's musical sanctuaries - is only a few miles away and certainly worth visiting, too.
Pass by the spectacular Derrynasaggart Mountains, spanning over 40 miles in length, and dip down to Blarney Castle. Built in the 15th century, its crenelated walls contain the famous Blarney Stone - the rock that gives whoever kisses it the "gift of the gab". People around here have always had a reputation for smooth talking but their reputation for being golden-mouthed entered historical records when Elizabeth I coined the term "to talk Blarney" when referring to the lord of Blarney castle's circumlocutions.
The Giant's Causeway
The only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland, the Giant Causeway's colossal columns of basalt are the result either of volcanic eruptions occurring millions of years ago or the consequence of a bored Irish giant who went by the name of Finn McCool and lived in the area, leaving random bits of clothing and furniture around the place in the form of gigantic stones. Take a stroll around the place and see which explanation captures your imagination.
Three limestone islands off the west coast of Ireland, the Aran islands (Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer) are home to just over 1,000 residents, who all tend to prefer Gaelic to English and are proud to sustain their traditional Irish ways of life. Littered with Celtic monuments, churches, dry stone walls and over 250 species of birds, the little archipelago offers a heavenly retreat to any who feel burdened by the pace of mainland life.