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ITINERARIES

Dublin Castle
The centre of British power in Ireland, built on the orders of King John in the early 13th century, Dublin Castle is more correctly described as a palace. Of the original Anglo-Norman fortress built on the Viking foundations, only the Record Tower remains. The most fascinating part of the castle is underground – a chunk of the old city walls and moat.

The most fascinating part of the castle is underground - recent flooding in the castle prompted excavations of the former Powder Tower, which revealed a chunk of the old city walls and moat.

Once the official residence of the British Viceroys in Ireland and now used by the Irish Government, access is by tour only. Sights include drawing rooms with their beautiful plasterwork, once used as bedrooms by visitors to the castle. The castle gardens end in a high wall said to have been built for Queen Victoria's visit to block the sight of the Stephen St slums.

The Figure of Justice that faces the castle's Upper Yard from the Cork Hill entrance has a controversial history. The statue was seen as a snub by many Dubliners, who felt Justice was symbolically turning her back on the city.

If that wasn't enough, when it rained, the scales would fill with water and tilt over, rather than remaining perfectly balanced. Eventually a hole was drilled in the bottom of each pan, letting the water drain out and restoring balance, of sorts.

Guinness Storehouse
Like a Disneyland for beer lovers, the Guinness Storehouse is an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza combining sophisticated exhibits with more than a pintful of marketing hype. The best part of the Storehouse tour is the rooftop Gravity Bar, where you can kick back with a pint of the black stuff.

Housed in an old grain storehouse, it's an impressive enterprise that milks the worldwide fame of Guinness for all it's worth. More multimedia installation than provincial beer museum, the Storehouse uses high-tech audio and visual displays to tell the Guinness story - and what a story it is.

Founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759, St James' Gate brews an astonishing 450 million litres of Guinness per year, which just manages to keep ahead of the 4 million pints per day consumed in Ireland alone.

Back in the 1930s St James' Gate and Guinness was the largest employer in the city. Its 5000-plus employees were paid well above the minimum wage, while receiving the extra perks of subsidised housing, health benefits, pension plans, longer holidays and life insurance.

While lounging in the midst of Irish conversation at a local pub, you might find yourself taking part in speculation on what constitutes the perfect pint. Arm yourself beforehand with the following favoured theories: the pint must be poured in Ireland, as close as possible to the St James's Gate brewery; it must be poured by an expert bartender who has mastered the technique for pulling the brew; and, after half the Guinness has been consumed, there must be a residue of thick white foam in rings on the inside of the glass.

Phoenix Park
Dwarfing New York's Central Park and London's Hampstead Heath, Phoenix Park is one of the largest city parks in the world. Along with gardens, lakes and 300 deer, there's hurling, cricket and football grounds, a motor-racing track and some fine 18th-century residences.

Near the Parkgate St entrance is Europe's tallest obelisk, the 63m (206ft) Wellington Monument, a tribute to the Dublin-born Duke of Wellington. The People's Garden dating from 1864, the Victorian bandstand in the Hollow and Dublin Zoo are all nearby. On the park's southern edge is the derelict, 18th-century Magazine Fort.

Heading northwest along Chesterfield Ave, the Aras an Uachtarain, the Irish president's residence, is on the right. Built in 1751, it housed British viceroys from 1782-1922.

In the centre of the park is the Phoenix Monument, said to mark the site of a spring of fionn uisce, or clear water, from which the park's name is thought to be derived.

The Phoenix Park Visitors Centre, housed in former stables, has exhibits on the history and wildlife of the park.

The park is a pleasant place to stroll during the day, but is unsafe after dark.

Temple Bar
Temple Bar could be dubbed 'Ibiza in the Rain'. One of the city's oldest areas, the once rundown buildings in this maze of streets are today the hyperactive entertainment and eating hub of Dublin.

Although the term 'bar' is a neat reference to the single, uninterrupted drinking establishment this area becomes on summer nights, it's actually the historical term for a riverside walkway.

It's best to approach Temple Bar with a little knowledge; the area is pleasant enough during the week, but on weekends and evenings it teems with drunken revellers intent on renaming the area Temple Barf. (In fact, many places have banned hen and stag nights as these were harming local trade). If you're looking for a purely hedonistic experience, this is your place, but the area's pubs, cafes and restaurants don't typically offer great value so choose your venue carefully before plunging on in.

On the western perimeter of Temple Bar is Dublin's oldest thoroughfare, Fishamble St, which was originally a Viking enclave. Read's Cutlers, at No 4 Parliament St, lays claim as the city's oldest shop, having been in operation for 240 years.

Trinity College
Ireland's premier university is both a tranquil retreat from the bustle of the city and the home of Dublin's biggest attraction, the Book of Kells. Established by staunchly Protestant Elizabeth I in 1592 in an effort to stop 'popery', the university's ancient ivy-covered walls crawl with history and a sense of occasion.

Trinity College was resolutely Protestant until 1793, when Catholics were theoretically allowed in (although the Catholic Church banned its faithful from entering the infidel halls until 1970), and determinedly masculine until 1903, when women were first admitted.

George Salmon, provost from 1886 to 1904, famously carried out his threat to allow women into the college 'only over his dead body', promptly dropping dead the moment the bluestockings walked through the door.

Apart from these early suffragettes, Trinity College has also played host to some top-drawer scholars including Edmund Burke, Wolfe Tone, Douglas Hyde, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde.

Walking tours will take you past statues of famous alumni-poets, iconic architectural features, majestic campaniles, and a few priceless bits and bobs by huge-name artists. And if all of that's not enough, there's still the Book of Kells that's ever-ready to impress.



Off the Beaten Track

Casino at Marino
The casino at Marino is a grand old 18th-century folly in the best tradition of follydom; an attempt by an eccentric earl to pretend he was still living in Italy. The building is fronted by a dozen Tuscan columns, and its interior is a maze of rooms cluttered with fanciful architectural touches. The casino is located just off Malahide Rd, north of the junction with Howth Rd.

Glendalough
The town of Glendalough is nestled between two dark lakes in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains to the south of Dublin, and is famous not just for its picturesque setting but also for its 6th-century monastery. St Kevin, who in doing so relinquished much of his isolated existence to cater to an influx of followers, founded the monastery. Prior to this he apparently lived in a tree, and then in a cave to which he often returned - the cave is at Upper Lake, not far beyond the monastic site. Also on the shore of the lake is a small building called Teampall na Scellig, which was used for private worship and is accessible only by boat. More information on the settlement can be found at the local visitors' centre, which includes a model of the monastery when it was fully functional. Various bus services depart daily for Glendalough from Dublin.

Kildare Town
About 45km (28mi) southwest of Dublin is scenic Kildare, a small cathedral and market town in County Kildare. The cathedral is St Brigid's, named after one of Ireland's favourite saints, with its origins as a religious centre founded in the 5th century. A west-facing stained-glass portrait of Brigid and fellow saints Patrick and Columbia is one of the cathedral's main features, although the most significant is the tomb of Walter Wellesley, a bishop of Kildare in the early 16th century.

A few kilometres south of town is the National Stud, the government-sponsored cornerstone of the country's horse-breeding industry. There are guided tours of the stud and there's also a museum, which pays homage to Irish equine greats and to the role of the horse in Irish history. Right next door to the stud are the Japanese Gardens, an attempt at philosophical landscaping, which uses a series of landmarks to signify the journey of life. The gardens are regarded as one of the best examples of the Japanese style in Europe. Bus services from Dublin take about an hour to reach Kildare; trains run about every 40 minutes from Heuston station and take about 30 minutes for the 55km (34mi) trip.


Other Ireland Attractions

Cork
The Irish Republic's second largest city is a surprisingly appealing place - you'll find time passes effortlessly during the day, and by night the pub scene is lively. The town centre is uniquely situated on an island between two channels of the Lee River.

North of the river, in the Shandon area, is an interesting historic part of the city, although it's a bit run down today. Sights to the south include the Protestant St Finbarr's Cathedral, the Cork Museum (largely given over to the nationalist struggle, in which Cork played an important role), the 19th century Cork Jail, the City Hall and numerous churches, breweries and chapels.

Derry
The River Foyle curves picturesquely around the old walled town of Derry, creating a cosy setting which jars horribly with the reality of this city's recent troubled history. The old centre of Derry is the small walled city on the west bank of the river, with the square called the Diamond at its heart. Barbed-wire barriers detract from the magnificence of the city walls while giving resonance to their history. From the top there are good views of the Bogside and its defiant murals - 'No Surrender!' - and the Free Derry monument. Inside the walls, the Tower Museum tells the story of Derry from the days of St Columcille to the present. St Columb's Cathedral stands within the walls of the old city and dates from 1628; it's usually surrounded by barbed wire and surveillance cameras. Last century, Derry was one of the main ports from which the Irish emigrated to the USA. The Harbour Museum has a small collection of maritime memorabilia on display. Derry is only just over one and a half hours from Belfast by bus.

Galway
With its narrow streets, old stone shopfronts and bustling pubs, Galway is a delight. It's the west coast's liveliest and most populous settlement, and the administrative capital of County Galway. Its university attracts a notable bohemian crowd, and its boisterous nightlife keeps them there.

Waterford
Waterford has a decidedly medieval feel, with city walls, narrow alleyways and a Norman tower. Georgian times also left a legacy of fine buildings, in particular those on the Mall, a spacious 18th-century street. Important buildings include the City Hall (including a remarkable Waterford-glass chandelier) and the Bishop's Palace.

Aran Islands
The three Aran Islands - Inishmor, Inishmaan and Inisheer - are long, low, limestone moonscapes of bleak but rare beauty. They are home to some of the most ancient Christian and pre-Christian remains in Ireland. Irish is still the native tongue, and until recently people still wore traditional Aran dress.

Clonmacnoise
Situated in County Offaly, this is Ireland's most important monastic site. It consists of a walled field containing numerous early churches, high crosses, round towers and graves. Many of the remains are in remarkably good condition and give a real sense of what monasteries were like in their heyday.

The site is surrounded by low marshy ground, which is home to many wild plants and bird life. The museum at the site exhibits graveslabs, original crosses and other artefacts uncovered during excavation.

Connemara
The wild and barren region northwest of Galway City is known as Connemara. It's a stunning patchwork of bogs, lonely valleys, mountains and lakes, with only the odd remote cottage or castle hideaway for company. The hills offer views of the sea and its maze of rocky islands, tortuous inlets and sparkling white beaches.

The Burren
In northern County Clare, the Burren region is an extraordinary place. Miles of polished limestone karst stretch in every direction, and settlements along the coast are few; they include the popular Irish music centre of Doolin and the attractive coastal village of Ballyvaughan. Underground caverns, cracks, springs and chasms are the major features of the Burren, which is ringed by caves. Flora includes a bizarre mix of Mediterranean, Arctic and Alpine plants, and the region is the last bastion of the rare pine marten. In Stone Age times, the Burren was covered in soil and trees and supported quite large numbers of people. At least 65 megalithic tombs remain from this time; however, the vegetation was destroyed in this early version of land clearing, resulting in today's eroded limestone mass. Iron Age stone forts (known as ring forts) dot the Burren in prodigious numbers, and castle ruins add a touch of medieval mystery. Unpaved, green roads crisscross the region, reaching the most remote places; they date back many thousands of years.

Buses run to the Burren area from Limerick, Galway City and Ennis. Services in summer are fairly regular, but in winter you'd do well to plan your journey carefully to avoid getting stuck in a timetabling black hole.



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