Isle of Love

Romantic Ireland is alive and kicking. Poetry is the language of love, but our Nobel-prize winning poet WB Yeats got it wrong when he said in his poem `September 1913` romance was dead in Ireland and with O’Leary in the grave. Yeats was talking politics, but he later went on to write some of the greatest love poetry ever written.

Irish myth is full of romantic tales. Oisin left Ireland with his sweetheart Niamh of the Golden Hair on a magical white steed to go to Tir Na Nog, the mysterious land of eternal youth beneath the seas. The legendary couple Diarmuid and Grainne found eternal happiness together when they were transformed into magical swans. Oenghus of the Birds was the Celtic God of Love and he helps lovers solve any little problems they may have. His home is at the entrance to the passage tombs at Newgrange in Co. Meath, but there won’t be any need to call on him during a romantic stay in Erin.

Springtime is the most significant time of the year for romance and of course St Valentine’s Day is the most special day. Gifts of roses and cards filled with love messages are equally the rage in Ireland as anywhere else in the world. For some Dublin lovers it is also the time for the blessing of the rings at Whitefriars Church near the city centre, as it is the last resting place of St Valentine himself. You can take a peak at the saintly remains if you visit the church.

There are so many options for those who take a romantic break on the Emerald Isle, be it the first time away together to while the night away in the dance clubs of Dublin or Belfast or for that unforgettable honeymoon, or even to mark the emerald anniversary of twenty years together. For those who desire consummate luxury, then the ultimate treat is to stay at one of a myriad of plush Irish castles with levels of comfort beyond you imagination. Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo has an incredibly scenic location on the shores of Lough Corrib. The 13th century castle was where Pierce Brosnan tied the knot. Kinnity Castle in Co. Offaly in the centre of the country offers supreme period elegance and four-poster beds. The great Country Houses are not much less salubrious and provide legendary warm Irish welcomes, but are much less heavy on the wallet. Rosleague Manor with its roaring log fires and antique furniture is in the wilds of scenic Connemara. Sheen Falls Lodge has a health spa and is near the colourful and lively town of Kenmare, a gateway to the famous Ring of Kerry.

Restaurants are the most traditional place to propose. Many Irish castles and country houses have their own award-winning restaurants. Alternatively, a night out in one of those wonderful small restaurants dotted all over Ireland will provide a more intimate experience and could spur some unorchestrated spontaneity. The Pangur Ban in Letterfrack, Co. Mayo is a cosy thatched restaurant where you can dine on local fare from the freshest Atlantic fish to Irish stew. The restaurant at the Bushmills Inn in Bushmills, Co. Antrim has intimate snugs and offers tasty cuisine in a traditional setting. You can even end the evening with a glass of triple distilled and smooth Bushmills whiskey from the ancient distillery down the road.

Those looking for a slightly unusual location to propose could try popping the question on a balloon flight over the green hills and valleys of Ireland. To date Irish Balloon Flights boast a 100% success rate for those who go on bended knee in the basket way above the treeline.

The precarious rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede in Co. Antrim is an equally vertiginous place to make the decisive move. One adventurous man did with champagne corks a popping and he was accepted. Perhaps the thrill of it all and the excitement of the prospect ahead was what moved him to be original and choose the middle of the gently swaying bridge with its spectacular backdrop of cliffs and foamy sea.

Oysters are renowned as an aphrodisiac; as is Guinness stout. At the International Oyster Festival held in September in Galway the oysters are plentiful and the Guinness flows freely, so you never know what might happen. The unique blend of the two is guaranteed to get the juices going even in the most unromantic of souls.

Those looking for that elusive ideal partner should visit Lisdoonvarna in Co. Clare. The local matchmaking festival runs through September and guarantees a better chance of meeting an ideal mate than using Internet dating. The professional matchmakers boast years of experience and much success and sure if you’re not lucky, the music, dancing and merriment lasts all day and all night for a whole month.

You can make a romantic wish when you interlock your hands in an embrace around St Kevin’s cross in the monastic village of Glendalough in Co. Wicklow. Glendalough is a wonderful mystical valley with two serene lakes one of which is rumoured to be home of an Irish Nessie. St Kevin, the local hermit monk, lived here long ago in a small hut high up on the hillside above the lake with the monster serpent. Given the romantic power of the cross it is a great irony that he rebuffed the only amorous advance ever made to him by a young novice nun and threw her down the cliff and into the lake to her death. A recluse he preferred the company of the serpent, animals and birds to humans. He famously stood in the freezing lake with his arms outstretched until a crow that had landed on his hands and built its nest had hatched its young.

One of the most romantic drives in Ireland is immortalized in the Van Morrison song Coney Island. His early Sunday morning drive along the western shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland with his loved one in the seat next to him seems idyllic in the Autumn sunshine. On their journey they pass through Downpatrick, where St Patrick is buried, Ardglass, St John’s Point, Portaferry (where they buy some fresh mussels from the lough), and Killyleagh. The crooner enthuses “wouldn’t it be great if it could be like this all the time”.

To cast a magic love spell should really be the last option and is not recommended if you don’t want to run the risk of turning your loved one into a toad. In ancient times, the Celtic Druids used all kinds of plants and herbs for their love potions. It is no great surprise that rose petals were used, but strawberries, apple blossoms, cherries, lavender and vervain were also common ingredients. The most sacred druidic herb was mistletoe, which is still hung in Irish houses over Christmas, and a kiss underneath a bunch will seal a love forever. Collect it from a magical oak tree to get the best effect, but avoid puckering distant aunts with well “rouged” lips early in the evening if you planning to be successful later. Christmas is also the time to cradle a couple of traditional hot toddies (hot whiskeys with lemon and cloves) in front of a turf fire in a country pub.

Sunsets are special times for couples and Ireland has some spectacular fiery displays all year round. For many there could be no more romantic feeling than gliding across a mirror ocean towards the end of a perfect day. The best sailing craft to experience this on is of course the elegant Galway Hooker, a traditional wooden sailing boat with red sails.

The famous Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy (Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Gracie Fields and Elvis all had hits with his songs) was inspired by such a trip out of Portstewart in Co. Antrim to pen his most famous of songs: “Red sails in the sunset,

Way out on the sea,

Oh carry my loved one

Home safely to me . . .”


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