Saturday 3 December 2016

Brendan O'Connor: The magical corners you must experience in Ireland

#GreatLittleCountry

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

Mystical Gougane Barra.
Mystical Gougane Barra.

Terroir is important to Irish people. Place defines us all. Wherever we go, we seem to stay rooted in the soil in which we grew up.

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Whether in America, Dubai, Australia or wherever, Irish people obsess about the place they came from. While we have embraced the global, we remain, at heart, local people. This week we put the final call out for our annual Great Little Country campaign. For the final week we want to know about places. What are the places in Ireland we should all experience?

When you get out on the road and reconnect with the real Ireland, the textures of the country that have always been there, or the patina of stone and history on the landscape that dates from the ancient times, you connect with a different Ireland, far away from the distractions and the distortions of modern life.

You can feel like Kerouac, when he set out to find the real heartbeat of America. We want you to tell us about the real Ireland, the magic out there.

And Ireland is full of magical places, full of places that transport you. Some places transport you back into the past, while other places transport you far away from the here and now, as nature's indifference reminds you what a tiny speck you are in the grand scheme of things.

And then some places root you very much in the here and now and offer a mindful reminder that you are alive and this is it.

So where is your magical place? Where are the places in Ireland that are like living poetry. Is it one of our islands?

There is something special about Ireland's islands, a wildness, an innocence, but a realness. Islanders were always different, like a version of the rest of us, but slightly set apart. Our relationship with the islanders has always been a bit strange as well. We put them on a pedestal while frequently abandoning them.

But there is no doubt that Irish people get a certain succour from going to the islands. It feeds our souls in ways we do not fully understand. One of only two Unesco World Heritage sites in Ireland is Skellig Micheal.

Aerial View.jpg
Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland

Not that you have to go to the islands to get that kind of soul nourishment. We get it in the Burren too, and in Connemara, and the Ceide Fields. There is an unsettling kind of beauty in these alien landscapes. It brings us back to where we came from, while simultaneously feeling weird and different to our house-trained, urbanised 21st-century selves.

Even driving through these places can lead you on an existential inner journey.

The others layers of the palimpsest that the church and various invaders have bequeathed us have left magical places too. Glendalough never ceases to inspire awe. If you really want to immerse yourself in it, swim into the middle of the upper lake, lie on your back in the peaty water and look around you.

It is a cliché to talk about the Irish landscape being mystical but it truly is at times. Cork people will tell you that Gougane Barra (pictured, top), at the source of the Lee, is a better version of Glendalough, and no doubt loads of you argue for the special qualities of your local ancient, or not so ancient, religious sites.

Then of course there are the big houses. Maybe you love the magic of Powerscourt with its impeccable gardens and its hints of the Orient, or Muckross among the lakes of Killarney with its fabulous collection of fauna from around the world.

There's Birr with its trees and telescope, Dromoland Castle, where the whole grounds constitute a massive natural calender and clock. And many more that we didn't manage to destroy.

Or is your favourite place a beach, a cove, a cliff walk? Is it some other area of outstanding natural beauty?

Bet you're surprised that Ireland has just two Unesco World Heritage Sites. The other one is Bru na Boinne. Britain and its territories have 29. France now has 41, Italy has 51, more than any country in the world.

The tentative list for upgrading in Ireland includes the Burren, Ireland's Royal suites, our early monastic sites, Clonmacnoise and Dublin. Maybe you think there are others, places of superlative natural phenomena, place that have that special magic.

Tell us about them. We will publish your favourite places in Ireland next week,

Tell us about Ireland's best places by emailing GreatLittleCountry@independent.ie, or tweet using the hashtag #Great LittleCountry. Or visit Independent.ie/GreatLittleCountry to submit your entry, or post it to A Great Little Country - Experience It, c/o 27/32, Talbot St, Dublin 1.

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