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The road rises up: autumn in Ireland, upon the arrival of same-sex marriage.


So many Americans--nearly 40 million--claim Irish ancestry that it's little wonder it's an incredibly friendly place for stateside visitors. We're practically nations of cousins. (In 2011, President Obama famously identified his great-great-great-grandfather, an Irishman named Falmouth Kearney who at age 19 fled famine-ravaged Ireland for America more than 160 years ago.) Add to that an unimpeachable reputation for friendliness, dramatic history, a way with whiskey and comfort food, and a very public show of support for LGBTs, and the Republic of Ireland makes for a warm and welcoming destination.

(1) Dublin Castle

The site was founded in 1204 on the orders of England's King John to defend the city and protect the king's treasure. It was the seat of English then British rule over Ireland until Irish independence in 1922, and since then it has hosted every presidential inauguration. Unless there are state events taking place, visitors can walk around the oldest sections of the castle (the Record Tower dates to 1228 and is the sole remaining medieval part of the castle) and into the broad courtyard. It's the site of a persistent mystery: The Irish Crown Jewels were stolen from the castle in 1907 and have yet to be recovered.

(2) The George Bar

The granddaddy (both in size and stature) of Dublin's gay nightlife is the George, a friendly pub and nightclub in the city center. It boldly opened in 1985, eight years before it was no longer illegal to be gay in Ireland, and it's been a fixture of gay nightlife ever since. On the night I visited, Phil T. Gorgeous and Bunny, a drag king and queen, respectively, were hosting a raucous "Win, Lose, or Drag" show onstage with prizes, comedy, and absurd challenges. The club anchors the gay scene on South Great George's Street.

(3) PantiBar

The Queen of Ireland, drag diva Panti Bliss (one of Politico Europe's 28 most influential people), is everywhere in her stylish, eponymous bar--in the neon lights, on the posters flanking the hallways, and on the chests of the sexiest bartenders in town. She's got the branding down pat. The thumping upstairs stage area and downstairs lounge are packed on the weekends but have an inviting atmosphere on weeknights, especially for after-work drinks.

(4) Literary Monuments

Near the Merrion Hotel, on the square for which it is named, are monuments to two of Ireland's literary giants. First is a sculpture of Oscar Wilde, designed and created by Danny Osborne, just a block from the site of his birth. Wilde, looking just a tad rakish, is sculpted from pieces of nephrite jade, thulite, Guatemalan jade, larvikite, and black granite; opposite him are two stone pillars engraved with Wilde's witticisms. Around the corner is Sweny's Joycean Pharmacy, the location described in lavish detail in James Joyce's Ulysses, in which his character Leopold Bloom buys lemon soap. No longer a working pharmacy, the landmark, which is run by volunteers, hosts Joyce readings and sells second-hand books and, of course, lemon soap.

(5) Fallon and Byrne

Downstairs in this central Dublin establishment are a wine cellar and a big, ground-floor gourmet deli. Upstairs in the beautiful former telephone exchange building is a high-ceilinged, convivial brasserie serving craft cocktails (or BYOB from the wine cellar downstairs), plus rabbit, venison, copious fresh fish, and oysters, as well as fresh, simple--though not unsophisticated--fare including stews and burgers. Fallon And Byrne. com

(6) The Merrion Hotel

The facade of Dublin's five-star hotel is composed of four beautiful Georgian townhouses--near the National Gallery and the National History Museum--and yet the scope of the hotel isn't evident from the street. Streetside is the older wing with suites, but beyond some beautifully manicured gardens is a wing of newer standard rooms. The Merrion draws some top-notch guests (Tim Cook and Timothy Dalton were also guests during my stay) and is home to the largest private collection of 19th- and 20th-century art in Ireland. The Cellar Bar is housed in a vaulted and deeply atmospheric 18th-century wine cellar, and the dishes at The Cellar Restaurant, under the direction of Chef Ed Cooney, are made from seasonal, local ingredients, while the drawing rooms are beautiful open rooms, perfect for afternoon Art Tea service, inspired by the hotel's collection.

Cliffs of Moher

For five miles along the Atlantic Coast of County Clare in the west of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher drop dramatically to the sea--over 700 feet at their highest point. It's one of Ireland's most-visited sites, and it features in Irish myths and fables from times of antiquity. On a clear day you can see as far as the Aran Islands.

(7) Ashford Castle

On the banks of Lough Corrib--Ireland's second-largest lake--in County Mayo is a hotel of unparalleled grandeur With a foundation dating to the 13th century, the castle was later home to the Guinness family. After a $75 million renovation, it is now a grand hotel with 82 guest rooms, several restaurants, a cinema, a spa with a gorgeous mosaic backdrop to the pool, a sumptuous billiards room and bar, 350 acres of grounds (with gardens, hiking trails, and Ireland's first falconry school), attentive and friendly service, and a stunning guest list that includes heads of state, celebrities, and royalty. And in 2015 it was named the world's best hotel by luxury travel agents from around the world. The castle and nearby village Cong were the shooting backdrop for much of The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara and directed by John Ford. AshfordCastle. com

George V restaurant

Ashford Castle's showcase restaurant was named for a superstar guest: the Prince of Wales (who subsequently became George V of England) visited in 1906, and the Guinness family specially built the dining room for his visit. Think paneled walls, dinner jackets, Waterford crystal, fine wines, slow-roasted rib of beef, and an array of exceptional dishes by Chef Philippe Farineau, plus a spectacular cheese trolley, aperitifs, and digestifs. It's a rare, opulent treat.

(8) Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery

Ireland's oldest distillery, on the River Brosna in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, has had a license to distill since 1757, and while some of the place has changed over the years, Kilbeggan has the oldest working still in Europe. The facility updates include a water wheel that dates to the 19th century--still in use today--and now The Pantry Restaurant. Tours end with a taste of the good stuff.

(9) The Great Western Greenway

The longest bike trail in the country (26 miles) stretches from Westport town to Achill Island on Ireland's Atlantic coast. With mostly easy stretches though stunning landscapes and small farms (through herds of sheep at times), the bike path is an invigorating way to view picturesque villages and islands in beautiful bays.

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge

This small, genial hotel and acclaimed restaurant make their home in the rural countryside near Ballingarry, County Limerick, in the west of Ireland--on a site that was once an abbey; a rather serious looking nun looms in a portrait in one corner. The hotel has homey rooms and lavish suites, and the dining room is always packed with epicureans attracted by owner Dan Mullane's passion for fine dining marked by homegrown produce. Echo is a great central location for exploring the region's picturesque villages (especially nearby Adare) and the natural wonders of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, a vast limestone national park of geologic and botanical oddities.

(10) Newgrange

Older than Stonehenge, older than the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Newgrange prehistoric monument, the most prominent of the Neolithic Bru na Boinne complex in County Meath, was very possibly the largest human construction on earth when it was built--and for a few centuries thereafter. The large circular mound covers a long, low, dark passageway with a transept of chambers. The intricate carvings on the engraved kerbstones are as yet undeciphered, and though the purpose of the moment is still unknown, it was built in alignment with the winter solstice. The morning sun on the solstice floods the floor of the chamber for about 18 minutes--assuming clear skies. A total trip, but not for the claustrophobic.

(11) Lisdoonvarna

There was a time when rural Irish farmers didn't have Grindr, Tinder, or Scissr. In September each year this smalltown (like really small: 822 people) in County Clare attracts 40,000 people for a month-long matchmaking festival. For the past several Octobers, The Outing Lisdoonvarna LGBT Matchmaking and Music Festival has gotten queer folks into the spirit of things, with entertainment, club nights, DJs, comedy--and some matchmaking,

Brendan Vacations

Specializing in Ireland and Scotland, four-plus-decades-strong Brendan Vacations is not a one-size-fits-all outfit. With offices in Anaheim, Calif., and Dublin, Brendan offers vacations customized based on budget (from bargain to Ashford Castle), intensity (from guided to just-point-me-in-the-right-direction), group size (from just two to more-the-merrier), and interests (food, whiskey, Neolithic monuments, filmscapes, history).

Marriage Equality Arrives

Ireland's marriage equality victory is unique in all the world. It is the only such advance in rights made by referendum: The entire nation voted on whether same-sex couples should be permited to marry, and after a hard-fought campaign that encouraged many Irish living abroad to come home and vote, in May 2015, the Republic of Ireland said yes! Marriages began in November of the same year.
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Author:Breen, Matthew
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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