Living Abroad in Ireland: Prime Living Locations
© Steenie Harvey, from Living Abroad in Ireland, 1st Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.
The buzz of the big city? Those looking to indulge in a nonstop social whirl—or who are planning to insert themselves at the very heart of the country's arts, political, business, music, and student scenes—will undoubtedly be tempted by Dublin's siren song. But don't write off Ireland's other two main cities, Cork and Galway. Certainly on the arts and educational fronts, both have much to offer. The cities and regions highlighted have properties in all price ranges. So, what makes these particular places so special? To be honest, choice has been influenced by the qualities of folklore, walking, and wildlife. While I've included some urban options, many people who dream of a home in Ireland often seem to want the kind of environment that attracted me. Maybe to live in a village with wild seascapes all around, or one where the view is of green fields, golden gorse, and distant mountains. I'm also drawn to anywhere that sends out murmurs of long ago—pilgrim paths, prehistoric forts, holy wells—and you don't find those kind of places in cities.
Sprawling either side of the River Liffey, Ireland's capital is an eclectic mix of the old, the new, the brash, and the genteel. It's no longer considered a second-string European capital, and prosperity has resulted in bringing the city right to the forefront of fashionability.
But although Dublin and its handsome Georgian squares are now firmly on the traveler's radar screen, most of the people you'll encounter here are local residents enjoying their city. The pubs and coffee shops of the Rathmines neighborhood teem with students. Families are out feeding the ducks in Herbert Park, shopping down Henry Street and Grafton Street, walking and taking bike rides along the seafront at nearby seaside villages such as Dalkey and Howth.
And, of course, chatting—in pubs, in cafés, on buses, on street corners. One thing you'll very quickly discover is that Dubliners are noted for their irreverent wit. And one favorite pastime is to immediately rechristen any new monument or sculpture that appears with a new name.
The Western Seaboard
Strung with offshore islands, the western seaboard counties of Galway, Mayo, and Clare have a wildness about them, and it's no exaggeration to say the changing lightscapes of the mountainous Connemara area are an artist's delight.
Renowned for its music and folklore, this is another region that has given me immense pleasure through the years: searching for rare spring orchids in Clare's Burren; climbing the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick in Mayo; going to Galway to eat oysters; experiencing the fun of the Ballinasloe Horse Fair; taking the ferry to the Aran Islands.
It's a great place to live if you want to immerse yourself in traditional ways, but with Galway city within easy reach, you don't have to eschew any of the benefits of the 21st century.
The southwest—which takes in the counties of Cork and Kerry—is one of the most sought-after areas with foreign buyers. Put it down to the tourism factor. Outside of Dublin, the southwest attracts more foreign visitors than anywhere else in the country. Some visitors are so smitten that they decide to extend their vacation into a lifelong commitment. Often it's a vacation home that's the target, but sometimes it's a decision to move here permanently.
It's not hard to understand why. The southwest region has some of the most varied and beautiful landscapes in the whole of Ireland—golden beaches and rugged peninsulas, mountains and lakes, colorful villages where houses are painted in a riot of rainbow colors.
As you drift down the coastline, there are just so many places that tug at the heartstrings: harbor town Kinsale, Clonakilty, Kenmare, Dingle—dozens of friendly little towns and villages that are very easy to fall head over heels in love with. And unless you're especially seeking solitude, there's no need to live the life of a hermit. Skibbereen in County Cork and Tralee in County Kerry feel like real towns, not overgrown villages. When you need it, Cork city can provide you with the big-city, bright-lights factor. Culturewise it can give Dublin a good run for its money.
In the southeastern section, you'll find details about the counties of Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny, and Tipperary. Wexford, a former Viking stronghold, is renowned for its October opera festival and winter bird-watching. While most people tend to associate seaside counties with summer pleasures, the great swaths of golden beaches that extend around the corner into County Waterford are an absolute joy to walk during the late fall and on a clear crisp winter's day.
The southeast hinterland is pretty special too—one of the most enjoyable vacations I've had in Ireland was a walking holiday around Waterford's Nire Valley and Comeragh Mountains. Kilkenny, a town with a real medieval feel to it, is another favorite location. I came here to research an article on Irish witchcraft, but I spent just as much time exploring the surrounding countryside of green river valleys and tumbledown monasteries. County Kilkenny acts like a magnet to craft workers and you'll find lovely villages here such as Inistioge and Graiguenamanagh. In this southeastern section you'll also find one of the lesser-known counties—Tipperary. Although it doesn't have a sea coast, its gentle pastoral scenery is very appealing and full of historic interest, too. It's here you'll find the awe-inspiring Rock of Cashel as well as the Silvermines Mountains and the still waters of Lough Derg.
The Northwest and Lakelands
If I had to sum up the northwest and Lakelands in three words, I'd use unspoilt, uncrowded, and undiscovered. This is my own home region and so far it has largely managed to escape the notice of the crowds. I can't understand why. County Sligo, named by the poet W. B. Yeats as “The Land of Heart's Desire,” is beautiful—full of wistful landscapes and fascinating legends. Donegal has more than 200 miles of spectacular coastline and an intriguing Gaeltacht (Gaelic-speaking) area where the old music, songs, and dances are preserved and celebrated.
Delve into the Lakelands counties of Roscommon, Cavan, and Leitrim and you'll discover quintessential Ireland…country Ireland, if you like. These three counties of quiet laneways, sparkling loughs, and small villages are what I think of as the real Ireland: the kind of place where everybody knows everybody else's granny as well as every third cousin twice removed. And again—full of historical interest. The Tain, one of Ireland's oldest epic legends, begins at Cruachan—the present-day village of Rathcroghan in County Roscommon. According to the annals, this Neolithic site of earthen raths, standing pillars, and a circular bullring enclosure was the location of Queen Maeve's palace.