Braving the showers, many people come to Ireland in springtime to enjoy some of its unique features, as Seamus O'Murchu outlines.
After the cold, dark winter months of January and February, Ireland slowly begins to blossom in the springtime. Many people come to the country at this particular time of year to admire and feel inspired by the spring colours of Ireland or to engage in a range of outdoor activities, from walking to fishing and whale spotting.
As the days grow longer and the temperatures pick up, Ireland's springtime is a welcome relief from the winter months and even the rain fails to dampen the atmosphere. At this time of year Irish towns from Derry to Dingle hold their annual ‘Feis' a festival of traditional Irish music and dancing, to celebrate springtime and the rebirth of nature.
For places like the Burren in western Clare and the Aran Islands, spring is the best time to visit. The Burren really comes into its own during the spring season, as the unique mix of alpine, arctic and Mediterranean flora begins to blossom. 75 % of Ireland's native wild flowers are found here, from orchids to Burnett rose and cranesbill, tucked in the narrow cracks or grykes across the limestone landscape of the Burren. This quiet, rugged corner of Ireland is also renowned for its prehistoric dolmens that dot the landscape, while criss-crossing the area are the narrow paths of the Green Roads. These ancient highways make up part of the Burren Way, an excellent 32km walking and cycling route, which allows you to view this unique landscape up close.
Just off the western coast of Ireland, the Aran Islands follow the same geological fault line as the Burren, and their rugged beauty is similar, with the added charm of being Islands, apart from the rest of Ireland. In the summertime these islands, particularly the largest, Inishmor, become congested with tourists and day trippers from the mainland, but in the spring time visitors get to sample the sense of remoteness and island character along with the natural beauty of the Aran Islands.
Many people take to the hills in spring with walking festivals can be found throughout the country. One of the most popular walking areas in Ireland is the Wicklow Mountains, where the Wicklow Way snakes along the peaks and glens for 132km, from the edges of Dublin to County Carlow via such beauty spots as Glendalough and Avoca, from the BBC's Ballykissangel. The Killarney National Park is another of Ireland's most popular walking area, amidst this Lakeland beauty are the MacGillycuddy Reeks and Ireland's tallest peak, Carrantuohil (1041m). And if you don't like the idea of walking, you can always view the scenery by horse and cart. In Northern Ireland, the Mourne Mountains present equally scenic walks amid spring blooming flora and lush forestry overlooking the Irish Sea. There are also walking routes and springtime festivals through the Twelve Bens of Connemara and the lesser trampled paths of the Slieve Bloom Mountains a 77km waymarked trail in the centre of Ireland, the Ballyhoura Mountains of Co. Limerick and the wonderful Glenveagh National Park in Donegal.
Springtime also ushers in the fishing season and people from all over the world come to Ireland to fish in the famous waters of Ireland's western lakes, Lough Corrib, Lough Mask, Lough Conn and Lough Inagh. Ireland is renowned for its coarse fishing and game fishing, covering bream, pike, trout and of course salmon. The fly-fishing season peaks around the start of May, when the May Fly hatches and fishermen descend on towns like Oughterard, Portumna and Pontoon, which have plenty of lakeshore B&Bs, sturdy boats and knowledgeable ghillies to look after them.
But those in search of bigger fish should head for the coast, where boat tours from ports on the south west and south east coast of Ireland, depart in search of the variety of marine life that passes through Irish coastal waters at this time of year. Visitors can expect to see, dolphins, seals, orca whales and even the occasional shark, basking shark that is.
So if you want to experience something a little out of the ordinary, a little off the beaten track and to escape the crowds, a vacation to Ireland in the spring could be just what you're looking for - just be sure to bring a rain coat!
Until this time next month...
Conor B & Seamus.