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Originally published in OUT March 2009, issue 182
To see the real Ireland, get out of Dublin. Hit the back roads of the south and west and you?ll find the Ireland of postcards: thatched cottages, crumbling castles, pubs that haven?t changed their window displays in a hundred years. While the rainbows you see are mostly meteorological, no one blinks when you check into hotels with your same-sex partner. Ireland has grown up, but kept its charms. Each year a new Pride celebration brightens up the calendar of a small town or city, but the emerald fields, colorful pubs, and even more colorful characters shine year-round.
Day One: Cork City to Glin
MORNING: The compact city that produced Tudors star Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Cillian Murphy, who played Breakfast on Pluto?s doe-eyed transgender orphan Kitten, is home to stylish, gay-popular bars, chic restaurants, and the English Market (Princes St. and Patrick St., Cork), which traces its roots to 1610. Get a taste of the city over breakfast at the mezzanine-level Farmgate Caf? (+353-0-21-427-8134), where dishes are created from wares of artisans and vendors below. Stands groan with organic produce, slabs of wild salmon, the day?s catch of salt ling, artisan sausages, and a mouthwatering abundance of cheeses. Admire the wonderfully Gothic St. Finbarr?s Cathedral (Bishops Street) before heading south on the N27 and R600 to gourmet fishing village Kinsale and the legendary Fishy Fishy Caf? (Crowley?s Quay, Kinsale, +353-0-21-470-0415), a fine example of Ireland?s vigorous restaurant scene.
AFTERNOON: Make for the hills of West Cork, where twisting roads wind between 15-foot hedges. MacGillycuddy?s Reeks, Ireland?s highest mountain range, looms to the north. The R600 and N71 will take you through charming Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Bantry, and on to bustling Kenmare. From here the road skirts the west hem of the 105-mile Ring of Kerry, dipping into 25,000-acre Killarney National Park, home of the lofty 3,406-foot mountain Carrauntoohil. Hikes along the edge of Muckross Lake range from 15-minute ambles to two-hour treks. Continue to Killarney and Tralee, before driving northeast to the slow-paced village of Glin.
SLEEP: Glin Castle (Glin, +353-0-68-34173). Glin sits on the Shannon Estuary?s southern shores. The current knight of Glin, Sir Desmond FitzGerald, still lives in the castellated Georgian great house, opening up 15 bedrooms, March?November, to guests.