Culture, history and more. These shores have it all in 2014, says Tanya Sweeney
The year of The Gathering is officially over, but 2014 is already shaping up to be every bit as action-packed. If you're on the lookout for cultural weekenders, festivals and family-friendly breaks, there's no shortage of events already on the calendar. Here are 10 of the best.
The National City Of Culture in 2014, all year
Starting out as it means to go on, Limerick kicks off its big year with a New Year's Eve extravaganza featuring a procession of light, a countdown concert and fireworks. The events come thick and fast all year round and are perfect for fans of theatre, sport, fashion, architecture, literature and visual media. Highlights include the 20th anniversary of 'Riverdance' (January 16-19 at the Sport Arena of the University of Limerick, see riverdance.com or call 061 331 549 for tickets) and, direct from the Venice Biennale exhibition, Richard Mosse's evocative art comes to Ormiston House, Patrick Street, in March (see richardmosse.com for details). Find the whole programme at limerickcityofculture.ie
The Giro d'Italia Grande Partenza, May 10-12
One of the world's biggest cycle races descends on Ireland this summer, opening in Belfast and making its way down to Armagh before tracking along the east coast and finishing up in the heart of Dublin. With the eyes of the cycling world trained on Ireland, you can join the spectators and catch a glimpse of the cycling elite in motion. See girostart2014.com for more details.
You've heard of the Greenway cycling route, but 2014 marks the unveiling of a Blueway on the west coast. And in good news for snorkelling, canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts, the new marine trail will open later this year in time for the balmy(ish) summer months. Take in the marine gems at Achill, Old Head in Louisburgh, Killary Harbour, Inishbofin Harbour, Glassilaun Beach near Renvyle and Mannin Bay, just outside Clifden.
1,100th birthday, all year
Waterford may be getting on in years, but that doesn't mean it doesn't know how to have a good time. The city has devised a year-long programme teeming with events. No better time, then, to visit the Viking Triangle, the house of Waterford Crystal and the Waterford Museum of Treasures. To kick things off, a huge quayside party on January 4 will give locals and visitors cause for celebration. Be sure to hit the Waterford Writers' Weekend (March 20-24), too. Details of the events are at waterford1100.com
Kinsale Arts Festival, September 19-28
Kinsale's festival has established itself as one of the foremost events of its kind in the country, and organisers will no doubt be pulling out all the stops for their 10th birthday celebrations in September. No nook or cranny will be left untouched as creatives and artists use churches, boats, halls and harbours as temporary homes for theatre, music, literature, dance and art. Rising stars and big names alike will descend on the town to bring their work to a captive audience. Add to this the fact that Kinsale is a magnet for gourmands, and a great visit is guaranteed. The festival's glittering line-up has yet to be announced, but keep an eye on kinsaleartsfestival.com or call 021 470 0010 for details.
The anniversary of the Battle Of Clontarf, April
In a year packed with birthdays, the 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf -- at which Brian Boru lost his life -- is a highlight. April 23, 1014 is etched on the mind of everyone who studied history for their Leaving Cert, and this Easter a host of events, including a re-enactment of the battle in St Anne's Park, Clontarf, on April 19 and 20, will commemorate this great warrior and high king. Throughout the year, enjoy historical exhibitions and talks designed to bring the past back to life, as well as a chance to explore your heritage and see what part, if any, your family played in the battle. Families will also love the special Viking Big Dig in Dublinia at Easter. See irishtourism.com/brianboru or call 069 77686 for event details.
The World Flower Show, RDS Dublin, June 18-22
This has been referred to as the "Olympics of flower-arranging", and for good reason. As many as 1,200 floral artists from around the world will convene in Dublin for this event. Visitors will get to enjoy a feast for the senses as florists from as far afield as Japan, New Zealand and South Africa try to outdo each other with beautiful arrangements. A four-day ticket costs €75, while the admission for day-trippers is €20. See wafaireland.com for the lowdown.
Baboro International Arts Festival, October 13-19
Younger visitors won't be left out of the action as Ireland's biggest arts celebration for children, the Baboro International Arts Festival, is set to descend on the city this October. See baboro.ie or call 091 562 667 for information on the many all-ages activities on offer. Elsewhere, youngsters can tap into their creativity at the Aisling Children's Arts Festival in Longford (dates TBC, see aislingfestival.com for information). Or they can try the Roola Boola in Co Mayo (dates TBC, see thelinenhall.com/children/roolaboolafestival. php) and Feile Barraicini in Tralee, Co Kerry (dates TBC).
Free, all year
Those somewhat light of pocket needn't miss out: take a trip to Slieve League in Donegal for breathtaking views from Europe's highest sea cliffs. In Dublin, meanwhile, take in a host of free cultural spots, including the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham, (imma.ie), the Science Gallery in Pearse Street (dublin.sciencegallery.com), the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar (nli.ie/en/national-photographic-archive.aspx) or the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street (museum.ie). Those with a gra for the great outdoors might enjoy watching the eagles of Glenveagh National Park in Donegal (glenveaghnationalpark.ie), or soak up the scenery in Wicklow National Park (wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie). More active types can attempt the bracing walking trails of the Burren National Park in Clare (burrennationalpark.ie).
Wild atlantic way
As rambling and intrepid types are already doubtless aware, the Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500km route that stretches from the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal to Kinsale in Co Cork. More details on the route can be found at failteireland.ie/wildatlanticway. And for more ideas on things to do throughout 2014, visit discoverireland.com