Ireland is the sort of country that could follow you into a revolving door and come out first.

It is an enigma; it is a little bit magical; it is possibly the most beguiling country that one can ever visit. Except Dublin, of course, which has, in the manner of European capitals, erased all character and “pedestrianized” all of the good bits. 

But it is the capital, and these days, this seems to be what capitals do.

The rest of the country, however, is truly remarkable. 

It is green; very, very green, and for a good reason. It rains. But not all the time, and the rain, “the Irish rain” does seem to fall more gently and refracts the light perfectly to create images, mirages and a sense of wonder.

And it is a country that embraces its culture in a manner that is different. Local pubs play music for local people, and if visitors want to join in the fun, so much the better. Singing, dancing and joking “The craic”, are the most
vital components of Irish life. It is impossible to be a stranger here, and impossible to leave an evening with the locals without a smile all over your face.

Like all small countries, it is deceptively compact. Easy to try and whizz around in a few days, but in reality, it is much better to spend a little more time exploring some of the small areas in between the mandatory prostrations to kiss the Blarney Stone (I am still not quite sure why I did it) or to recognize various leprechauns and elves.

It is a wonderful place that can bring out every visitor’s inner child. Ireland is a beautiful country with land and seascapes that simply stun one into silence. It is a country of villages painted in a wide variety of pastel colours and above all, it is a country of fun.

Ireland is cultured in a way that few destinations are. Irish people seem to be born with an innate sense of community, music, and laughter. As any visitor to Ireland will find quickly, the locals are more than happy to engage with tourists and an evening or two spent in a small local pub will be the highlight of the journey.

Southwest Ireland holds a particular fascination for me. Perhaps it is the astonishing coastline, battered by the Atlantic into a firm, stoic harmony. The villages lie along the coast protecting their inhabitants and offering an entry to the sea and its wealth. Sneem, Skellig, Doora and Portmagee are all fishing villages that keep their ancient traditions even as their shops are full of visitors seeking souvenirs.

Ireland is timeless. It is a country of contrasts and charm; it is a country of castles and nature, of cities and villages. It is most certainly a country that few visit only once. 

Driving through the countryside, along single-track roads that have evolved from horse tracks over the centuries, underlines the sense of history. The castles, ancient villages, and museums show the artifacts of the past; but it is by travelling through the country that you can really feel the thousands of years of history that have culminated in today’s Ireland.

A sheep cable car, Dingle. MAX JOHNSON
Dingle Peninsular roads are not always fast. MAX JOHNSON
Ireland hosts more sheep than you can possibly imagine. MAX JOHNSON