St Patrick’s Day. Three words, which are now more often connected with raucous nights in all manner of loosely themed fancy dress, than with Padraig, the patron saint of Ireland, and ‘The Enlightener of Ireland’.
According to widespread interpretation, Patrick was a Romano-Christian missionary in Ireland in the second half of the fifth century. However Patrick’s first trip to the island wasn’t of his own accord. At sixteen he was captured by Irish pirates, and taken from Great Britain as a slave to look after animals. He lived in Ireland for six years, before escaping back to his family. In later life, he returned as a cleric to northern and western Ireland, before being ordained as the first bishop of Armagh. By the seventh century, Patrick had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
So whilst you could spend March 17th celebrating in an Irish bar, why not follow in Patrick’s footsteps and head over to The Emerald Isle instead. In case you need some inspiration, we’ve come up with a whole host of alternative ways to spend St Patrick’s Day.
How about spending the day in St Patrick’s diocese, Armagh? The religious capital of Ireland, Armagh is also the county town of County Armagh in Northern Ireland. The city is home to not one, but two cathedrals named after the patron saint. Of the two, the Roman Catholic cathedral is arguably the more impressive. Built in two phases between 1840 and 1904, the stunning double-spired cathedral stands upon a hill, overlooking the city.
If you’d rather look up to the stars than to God, take a trip to the city’s Planetarium, the longest-serving planetarium in the UK. Opened in 1968, it was the first planetarium in the world to show moving images by projecting them on the dome.
No trip to Armagh would be complete without a visit to the beautiful Gosford Forest Part. The open parkland and woodland spans 240 hectares and offers camping grounds and caravan sites, eco-trails, and numerous walking and cycle tracks.
Armagh is 45 minutes drive from Belfast via the M1, or an hour and a half from Dublin, also by the M1.
If you’d rather spend the day out of the city, Northern Ireland is also home to one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions – Giant’s Causeway. The Causeway is an area of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. Roughly three miles from the town of Bushmills, on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, the area is recognized as one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the United Kingdom. According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway, built by a giant, hence the name. Millions of years of weathering has resulted in a number of naturally occurring structures which resemble everyday objects. Some of these structures have become landmarks in the area, including The Giant’s Boot, The Giant’s Eyes, and The Chimney Stacks.
The Giant’s Causeway can be reached in just over an hour from Belfast, via the M2.
Heading south of the border, County Clare also offers stunning natural scenery.
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, rising 214 metres above the Atlantic Ocean. Near the midpoint of the cliffs is a round stone tower, built in 1835. From this tower visitors can see the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, the Twelve Pins mountain range to the north of County Galway, and Loop Head in the south. Ferries out to the Aran Islands can be boarded in the nearby coastal village of Doolin.
Doolin is a three-hour drive from Dublin, via the M7.
Ireland is truly a land of beautiful castles, and a number can be found to the west. Firstly there’s King John’s Castle is at the heart of Limerick. Located on King’s Island, on the River Shannon, the 13th-century castle offers a new multimedia visitor experience. For visitors seeking evening entertainment, Bunratty Castle, Knappogue Castle and Dungaire Castle all play host to medieval banquets, where you can truly appreciate the lifestyle of medieval Ireland. Bunratty was built in the 15th century and is close to Shannon Town. The castles sits on Folk Park, an ancient Viking trading park. Knappogue was built around the same time, but is more remote, in the parish of Quin. Meanwhile, Dungaire is a 16th-century tower house on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay.
Alternatively, check out the newer Ashford Castle, a fairytale castle in County Galway, once owned by the Guinness family. Built 800 years ago, it was converted into a 5 star luxury hotel in recent years, allowing you to spend the night in a traditional Irish castle.
Limerick is just over two hours from the capital, taking the M7.
Galway is two and a half hours, directly across the centre of the island, via the M6.
Blarney Castle and Gardens
If you’d rather visit a more famous Irish castle, why not take a trip to the home of the famous Blarney Stone? Built almost six hundred years ago, Blarney Castle was once the home of Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster. Cormac is believed to have supplied four thousand men from Munster to supplement the forces of Robert the Bruce, at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Legend has it Robert gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in thanks. This stone is now known as the Blarney Stone, and was incorporated into the battlements of the castle, where it can be kissed. For over 200 years, millions of pilgrims have climbed the steps to kiss the Blarney Stone and gain the gift of eloquence.
Aside from its famous stone, the stunning castle is home to regular events, including Bird of Prey experiences and Outdoor Theatre performances.
Blarney Castle is less than three hours drive from Dublin, via the M7 and M8.