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Along with robust outdoor adventure, West Ireland welcomes visitors with traditional music, dance, festivals, celebrations, cuisine and hospitality.
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Set with postcard-perfect villages like Doolin and Lisdoonvarna, the lunar landscape of the Burren, and the towering Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, is pure tourist gold. Its capital, Ennis, is renowned for its annual Fleadh Nua (Fla-noo-a), in which hundreds of traditional Irish music and dance performers compete. Less formal sessions take place in Doolin's three pubs. Along the mouth of the great Shannon River, and just across the border from County Limerick, the so-called Castle Country is dotted with ruins.
Before you ask, there's no direct connection between Limerick and the five-line verse form known as a limerick, which was first popularized by the English writer Edward Lear in his 1846 Book of Nonsense. Limerick City, at the head of the Shannon estuary, is the republic's third-largest (population 75,000). It has undergone considerable revitalization since the days recounted in Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes. The area around its cathedral and castle is dominated by mid-18th-century buildings with fine Georgian proportions.
Cong, County Mayo is Ireland's third largest county, with coast on three of its four sides, and the River Moy and the huge expanse of Lough Conn and Lough Cullin on the fourth. Bright lights are to be found in Castlebar and Westport, lively towns of great charm. The rest of the county has long empty roads leading to isolated shorelines, stunning vistas from remote peaks, and silent ghostly valleys that stretch along for miles. This is a relatively undeveloped destination, where the natives still provide a glimpse of the Ireland of old.
Content provided by Fodor's Travel. ©2014 by Fodor's Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.