The West of Ireland: plenty of raw beauty and top golf

February 23, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

Ireland will always be associated with its warm, friendly people and their gift for story telling. Think of Ireland and images of pubs and Guinness, thatched roofed cottages, castles and quaint fishing villages; green, rural landscapes and rugged coastlines, filled with natural beauty, all spring to mind. To any golfer the picture also brings up visions of glorious links courses - golf is as much a part of Ireland as anything and golfers continue to be drawn to the Emerald Isle in ever-growing numbers.

Co Galway's Connemara Golf Club is an outstanding links course and as tough as nails.
Aran Islands Sweaters stonewalls and more history than you can shake a stick at.
Enniscrone offers rugged beauty and a test to match.
Kylemore Abbey belongs on every visitor's must-see list.
Donegal's Murvagh Links - alone with nature on the eighth green.
Irish Festivals of every kind take place all summer long throughout the west so join the fun.
Rosapenna's historic Old Tom Morris Course.
Waiting for the cloud to settle is an Irish pastime much-loved by visiting golfers.
For other ideas on golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, British Open, Spain & Portugal, click here or call Golf International at 1.212.447.5003.

The first time visitor will probably be chasing after a few of the more famous names located in the southwest, such as Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville, or Northern Ireland's top ranked Royals at County Down and Portrush. Excellent as each of these courses are, the true gems of Irish golf are to be found in other parts, most notably in the far west and northwest of the country.

The names may not be as familiar, but the challenge and the maintenance of the courses, is every bit the equal of the household names and the genuine welcome waiting for visitors, perhaps even greater. This is the Ireland of yester-year and a part of the country to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest.

For any who yearn for the good old days and Ireland the way it used to be, it's still here and can be readily found in these less populated, westernmost reaches. In Counties Mayo, Sligo, Galway and Roscommon, extending north to the very tip of County Donegal, life goes on much the same as it always has. That's the way the folks out west like it, showing little regard for whatever century the rest of the world may be in.

Unspoiled and uncluttered with no hustle and bustle or thronging masses, this is where Mother Nature still reigns supreme. The coastline is ruggedly handsome; the landscapes breathtaking, the air crystal clear and life is laid back and easy going. This is the Ireland of old, steeped in tradition with a history reaching back 5,000 years.

Any golfer should relish the opportunity to come to this side of the Emerald Isle; the golf courses remain very much undiscovered, but the quality is outstanding with a number of beauties that will tickle the fancy of even the most jaded golf traveler.

Connemara, Westport, Enniscrone, Carne and Rosses Point are only the beginning of the west coast chain of courses that extend non-stop to the most northerly point of County Donegal. Bundoran, Donegal's Murvagh, Rosapenna, Port Salon and Ballyliffin are layouts that simply must be played by any serious golfer. Each is a treat and guaranteed to provide a genuine Irish golf experience ranking alongside the very best.

This is the undiscovered side of Ireland containing some of the country's most stunning natural beauty and because it's less known and less visited, the golf courses are never crowded, even in peak season. The people you meet on these courses of the West will be the local Irish and not other visitors from your home club, adding another dimension to your trip.

But don't limit your experience to only the golf, as big a temptation as that will be, there is a lot more to see and do. With more history to tell than most places in Europe, there is every reason to spend a little off-course time discovering some of this rich past for yourself. You don't have to be a history buff to quickly develop a real appreciation and respect for how life was, so long ago.

Pre-historic sites abound and even those with only a passing interest level in such things, can't fail to be impressed by Ceide Fields in North Mayo, a 50 centuries old, complete farm settlement, considered the oldest and best preserved such example in all Europe.

Visit the Aran Islands, a bastion of traditional Irish culture and language. In the 5th century, St. Enda brought Christianity to Ireland, establishing a long monastic tradition in Aran that would be protected for centuries. The intriguingly austere landscape of the three islands is crisscrossed by a never-ending maize of dry-stone walls, stunning coastal views and a succession of large, prehistoric stone forts. The islands are famous today for their distinctive knitwear and for the traditional Aran costume, still worn by many of the locals.

The most impressive monastic remains in all Ireland can be found at Kilmacduagh in the South of County Galway. Founded in the early 7th century, the centerpiece is a huge round tower that leans precariously over a roofless, but otherwise, almost perfectly preserved cathedral. Nearby are the remains of several other churches that once depended upon the monastery.

Take time to visit the city of Galway, center of the Irish speaking regions and a lively university town. In Anglo-Norman times Galway was a thriving trading post and a stronghold surrounded by warring Gaelic clans. After the Cromwellian victories of the 1640's, many Irish, stripped of their lands were dispatched here to hell or Connaught as the province is called, to start new lives. Today Galway is a charming, lively town, filled with shops, pubs and restaurants and many fine examples of 16th and 17th century architecture.

Imposing Kylemore Abbey, a 19th century fantasy of a wealthy English industrialist, is now run as an elite girls boarding school by Benedictine nuns. World famous for its walled Victorian gardens, Kylemore is one of the West's most popular visitor attractions.

Founded in 1750, the lovely town of Westport, nestled on the shores of Clew Bay, may be the prettiest in County Mayo and is well worth visiting. Wide tree lined streets with elegant Georgian buildings bring an unexpected air of charming sophistication to this, one of the few planned towns in Ireland and a tribute to 18th century urban development. Not far from town is Croagh Patrick, the 2,500-foot Holy Mountain where in 441 A.D., St. Patrick is said to have prayed and spent the 40 days of Lent. Among the many reasons to visit Westport is Westport Golf Club, one of the must-play courses in this part of Ireland.

The West is also famed for its colorful festivals that run virtually throughout the year, but with an especially heavy schedule starting in March and running full tilt through October. There's hardly a small town or village that doesn't have at least a couple of festivals during the year and chances are there will be a few going on during your trip. There are festivals for Irish music, dancing, singing and folk drama; there are literary festivals and art festivals, fiddle festivals and classical music festivals. There are festivals for poetry and story telling and so it goes, the list is endless. Take advantage and join the fun.

So if you are in search of the Ireland of your dreams, the old traditional Ireland that may be more difficult to find around the major cities, be assured it's still here, alive and thriving in the West of Ireland. Go West and you will not only find the Ireland of an age gone by, but you will also discover some of Ireland's finest and still undiscovered golf.

Why this part of Ireland has remained a secret for so long is something of a mystery. Granted, it takes a little more effort to reach, but Ireland is still a small country and the deviation required will be no more than an extra hour or so of driving, but the rewards of experiencing such a very special part of the country will be immeasurable.

For more information on the real Ireland and a few ideas on how to include a few of the best courses in your golf trip, contact the Ireland experts at Golf International by calling toll-free, 1 (800) 833-1389 or click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.