- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

Northern Ireland and Donegal are just awakening to their tourism potential — Northern Ireland because sectarian violence scared visitors away until recently and Donegal because it wasn’t easily accessible thanks to poor roads and an airport that in the late 1980s had a grass strip for a runway.

That is changing. Prompted by the peace-inducing Good Friday accords of 1998, Northern Ireland is blossoming into an attractive destination. Its coastal scenery is stunning, its people welcoming and its tourism entrepreneurs eager to make the most of the opportunities opening to them.

Donegal, the northernmost county on the island, gets just 6 percent of Ireland’s U.S. visitors but is preparing to attract more. With the accessibility that comes with improved roads and daily flights to and from Dublin in the modernized airport are coming more small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, more and better restaurants and greater promotional efforts. I’m glad I got to both places when I did.

Flights are available from all three Washington area airports to Shannon, Dublin and Belfast.

A driver can be a reasonable and pleasant option for a group. Ours, Barry Hogan, put about 900 miles on his van while making our trip easy and enjoyable. A group of eight that I met at Shannon airport had found a driver they liked very much through their travel agent. Mr. Hogan charges about $500 a day regardless of the size of the group, a good reason to travel with several friends; phone353-87-258-3405.

Good walking shoes, waterproof and not brand-new, are a must for hiking in Ireland. Light but warm clothing is recommended for any outdoor activity, plus a rain jacket, rain pants and a backpack. For biking, padded shorts or underwear make the ride more comfortable.

All the services below say they provide activities for a range of fitness and experience levels. The listed costs include B&B; or small-hotel lodging plus luggage transfers and transportation between sites as needed.

Walk on the Wild Side (aka Walk With Marty): Walking, camping, and climbing and rapelling outings in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with lessons for novice rock climbers. Friday-to-Monday weekend walks in Ireland last year cost about $330. One-day and half-day walks also available; www.walkwithmarty.com; e-mail [email protected]

Walking and Talking in Ireland: Weeklong itineraries in County Donegal or combining Donegal and the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland; about $900 per person, double occupancy. The price includes transportation to and from Belfast as well as between sites and meals as well as lodging; www.walktalkireland.com or www.walktalkdonegal.com; e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]

Irish Cycle Tours and Walks: Cycle tours in seven regions, guided or independent walking tours in four. Bike tours include map and detailed route directions and on-call backup service. Riders can request on-the-road backup at an extra cost. Groups can request a guide to accompany them, and that always includes on-the-road backup. Eight-day cycle trips, range from about $765 to $860 per person, double occupancy. Guided walking tours range from about $880 to $1,275. www.irishcycletours.com; e-mail [email protected]

Irish Cycling Safaris: Ten guided cycling itineraries throughout Ireland, plus self-led tours and family tours. The company also offers tours in seven other European countries. Weeklong guided tours cost about $725 ($795 for Glens of Antrim). Family tours cost about $875 for adults, $515 for children 5 to 10 and $125 for children younger than 5. Weekend tours range from about $325 to $435.

Our Irish Cycling Safaris guide, Johnny Daly, rode the route in his van, monitoring our progress and safety as each woman rode at her own pace, an important service.

Tourism Ireland represents the tourist boards of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: 800/223-6470 or www.tourismireland.com

— Mary Margaret Green

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