To see the real Ireland, get out of Dublin. Hit the back roads of the south and west and youll find the Ireland of postcards: thatched cottages, crumbling castles, pubs that havent 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 Plutos 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 days catch of salt ling, artisan sausages, and a mouthwatering abundance of cheeses. Admire the wonderfully Gothic St. Finbarrs Cathedral (Bishops Street) before heading south on the N27 and R600 to gourmet fishing village Kinsale and the legendary Fishy Fishy Caf (Crowleys Quay, Kinsale, +353-0-21-470-0415), a fine example of Irelands vigorous restaurant scene.
AFTERNOON: Make for the hills of West Cork, where twisting roads wind between 15-foot hedges. MacGillycuddys Reeks, Irelands 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 Estuarys southern shores. The current knight of Glin, Sir Desmond FitzGerald, still lives in the castellated Georgian great house, opening up 15 bedrooms, MarchNovember, to guests.
Day Two: Glin to Galway
MORNING: Join the surfers on the Shannon Breeze ferry across the estuary. When they turn off for County Clares rugged Lahinch beach, continue on the R478 to peer over the Cliffs of Moher, five miles of shale and sandstone cliffs that plunge to the moody Atlantic below. Stop in at the Burren Smokehouse (Ballyvaughan Road, Lisdoonvarna, +353-0-65-707-4432) for some local organic salmon or spiced apricot and orange chutney.
AFTERNOON: Dont be tempted to head directly to Galway. The detour through the barren Burren is one of Irelands most memorable drives. Fields gradually give way to amazing stretches of limestone karst. Its only an hours drive from this quiet wilderness to the boisterous heart of the west, Galway City, famed for its traditional music and lively bars. The vibrant college towns calendar is confettied with festivals. Top off your day with dinner at atmospheric Ard Bia (Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, +353-0-91-539-897), where a contemporary menu mixes Irish ingredients with French cooking techniques in a medieval rough-hewn stone building on the riverbank.
SLEEP: G Hotel (Wellpark Road, Galway, +353-0-91-865-200). A trio of frivolous lounges, 101 stunning guest rooms, and the sexiest spa in the land were all impeccably designed by gay milliner to the stars Philip Treacy.
Day Three: Galway to Dublin
MORNING: Stroll bustling Shop Street and adjacent twisting streets to the River Corrib before getting back on the road and heading east to Dublin. If you set out early enough, once in Dublin youll have time to sample the irresistible brownies at the gay-owned, eclectically decorated deli Gruel (67 Dame St., Dublin, +353-01-670-7119).
AFTERNOON: Walk the grand campus grounds of Trinity College (Dame St. and College St.), home to the eighth-century Book of Kells, and through the National Gallery of Ireland (Merrion Square West and Clare St.) to Merrion Street. Here youll find the strangely hued statue of Oscar Wilde astride a rock opposite the great wits childhood home, 1 Merrion Square. The elegant Georgian townhouse now houses the American College Dublin. Call ahead to book a tour of the Oscar Wilde House Museum (+353-1-676-8939). Dine at the Mermaid Caf (69-70 Dame St., +353-1-670-8236), an iconoclastic seafood and game haven helmed by chef and artist duo Ben Gorman and Mark Harrell. Cap off the night at the gay-adored Front Lounge (33 Parliament St., +353-0-670-4112), a sharp, white room that runs the length of the city block; red velvet sofas and classical statuary are scattered throughout.
SLEEP: Number 31 (31 Leeson Close, Dublin, +353-1-676-5011). Once home to controversial modern architect Sam Stephenson, Number 31s elegant four-story Georgian abode and two converted coach houses hide behind an ivy-clad wall. The living room in this boutique gem boasts a sunken conversation pit, mirror mosaictiled bar, and impressive contemporary art.