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When St. Patrick's Day rolls around ever year, it's hard not to cringe at the contrast between the obnoxious stateside celebrations (I mean, really – green beer?) and the rugged, raw beauty of Ireland, where the holiday originates. But Ireland's craggy cliffs, sheep-dotted countryside, and 3,000 miles of coastline provide more than just stunning photo opps – the geography is tailor-made for adventure. Plus, the country's glorious pub culture offers endless opportunities to raise a pint to the day's activity and share in the craic – pronounced "crack" and loosely translated as a rollicking good time – with the locals.
Need more incentive? Flights and accommodations are usually cheaper in the off-season of late winter/early spring. (I visited in February, a usually cold, rainy month, but I enjoyed a week of sunny skies. The Irish eyes must have been smiling on me.) Here, some highlights you can easily recreate during your own trip:
Running in a local 10K: Ireland has a robust, longstanding running culture, which I discovered firsthand during a 10K that wound through beautiful countryside near the historic riverfront town of Enniscorthy. As I approached the finish line, I got tangled up in a shoving match with another girl – which we ended up laughing about afterward. Visit RunIreland.com for a goldmine of information about road races (including a handful in March with a St. Paddy's Day theme), duathlons, and triathlons.
Falconing at a 13th-century castle: OK, so I wasn't exactly an active participant in the falconing – lessons were all booked up that day – but just watching these majestic birds fly on command to and from a gloved hand was awe-inspiring. And I did stay at Ashford Castle, a magnificent lakeside fortress that dates back to 1228. In addition to falconry, other old-world pursuits on property include horseback riding and archery. (And a run along the breathtaking, 350-acre grounds is always an option.) Take advantage of a buy-two-get-third-night-free offer.
Exploring the southern shores: Shoppers flock to nearby Waterford for its world-famous crystal, but outdoor enthusiasts will love the island's southern coast for its sunny beaches and country roads ideal for cycling. By day, explore the charming seaside villages near Wexford by bike or foot (make sure to stop by the fascinating Hook Lighthouse). By night, tip back a pint or two at local watering holes. A great place to rest your weary bod is the Dunbrody Country House Hotel, an enchanting 1830s mansion that's run by celebrity chef Kevin Dundon and his wife, Catherine. (Experienced cyclists should check out WexfordWheelers.com, the website for a local cycling group that leads regular Sunday rides.)
Check out our Ireland Travel Guide for more trip-planning information.