MY HUSBAND AND I ARE KEEN TO VISIT MY BROTHER IN DUBLIN IN 2016 AND WOULD LIKE TO KNOW THE BEST TIME OF YEAR. WE ARE THINKING OF DOING A SELF-DRIVE TRIP – ANY ADVICE?
M. MURPHY, GOONELLABAH
I like to visit Ireland when it's sunny, warm and not raining, which usually happens one day per year. I've heard the misty, light drizzle that is so characteristic of Ireland called "the soft weather" in the way that the Irish have of making poetry out of just about everything, but it's the reason that the whole country is so heart-wrenchingly gorgeous, and why there are so many pubs to provide shelter and fraternal warmth to sodden travellers.
As for timing, I like September because it's slightly warm and most of the crowds have gone, and Ireland does get packed during July and August. This applies particularly if you're thinking of getting behind the wheel and exploring, since a lot of the country roads are narrow and winding and getting stuck behind a row of tour buses is no fun. Second choice would be mid-May to mid-June.
Self-drive is definitely the way to go. From Dublin you could plan to head south into County Wicklow, continue south to Waterford, across to Cork, down to Kinsale and then follow the coast through Skibereen, Killarney, Limerick, Galway and all the way up to Donegal if time allows. You could do this in a week and get back to Dublin but 10 days would be much better, and two weeks ideal. This would allow you to take in the wild and majestic coastline, the repository of Gaelic culture that is the Aran Islands, the other-worldy landscape of The Burren, the savage beauty of the Cliffs of Moher, the island of Achill and the precise, poignant geometry of Connemara, where generations of families eked a living from tiny plots divided by dry stone walls.
Although it's a small country, don't be deceived, even a short drive ushers you into a different landscape, and sometimes even a different culture. I'd say plan to stay three nights in each stop, which gives you two full days for exploring the local region.
The official Ireland visitor website (ireland.com) has plenty of sound suggestions and advice. Take wet weather gear, a Driza-Bone cape is just about perfect, and shoes that don't mind the wet.