Step across to Ireland and be prepared to slow down as soon as you arrive. Eire is not for anyone in a hurry. Besides, you’ll miss all the scenery if you rush. Secondly, be prepared to return. For anyone that has been to Ireland will tell you – once you’ve been, you’ll want to return again, and again.
Of surprise to first-timers is the size of the island. Separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea, it is 32,598 square miles in area. 85% of the island is under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland, broken into 26 counties. The north east remainder is Northern Ireland, a part of the UK.
And Ireland really is a fabulous place to explore by motorhome. You’ll discover beauty never thought imaginable on a grand scale, whether it’s the Dingle Peninsula, the Aran Islands or the Wicklow Mountains. And, if you’re stuck for ideas as to what route to run, well you’ll find some ready-done touring routes that show the very best of Ireland. Try, for example, the Wild Atlantic Way. A finer signposted touring route, you’ll be hard-pressed to find for untamed, rugged natural beauty. The 1550-mile route takes in the entire west coast of Ireland – no mean feat so, unless you carve it into chunks, anticipate a three-week journey.
An alternative is the Grand Tour. It’s a great introduction to Ireland, being close to Dublin and Rosslare ports. And at a little over 200 miles, it’s easier to get your head round the journey. You’ll still find wild mountains, craggy coastlines and plenty of tourist attractions en route, through the counties of Kildare and Wicklow.
But then, if you wish to do one of the most famous driving routes of all, you’ll have to plump for the Ring of Kerry. Unsurprisingly, owing to its significant natural beauty through the Killarney National Park, the 112-mile circular route has been attracting visitors for hundreds of years. Beginning and ending in Killarney, day-tripping coach tours run anticlockwise and it’s therefore recommended that everyone else drives clockwise. Utilising main roads for the Ring, there are plenty of opportunities to head off-piste to explore what the day-trippers don’t see.
An alternative, however, to avoid the coach tours altogether is to walk the Kerry Way or pedal your way around the Ring of Kerry Cycle Trail, which uses quieter roads than those used by the official touring route.
Top five things to do in Ireland
Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin to learn more about one of Ireland's most famous brands. Discover the history, and enjoy a drink at the glass-housed Gravity Bar close to the top of the St James's Gate Brewery, the original home of Guinness.
Head to the Flying Boat Museum at Foynes, County Limerick, for a taste of Irish coffee. It’s where the drink was invented in 1943 on a cold and dismal night when flight passengers heading across the Atlantic needed a pick-me-up.
Pick up an Irish Golf Pass and you’ll no longer have to choose which golf course to play on; you can tee-off to your heart’s content for days on end, experiencing a selection of top courses across the country.
Step out on to the geological wonder that is The Burren, a vast limestone plateau in north west County Clare. The exposed layers of rock, sweeping down to the sea in parts, is a wondrous sight, especially when summer flora creep up through the cracks and crevices.
Discover Celtic art at the ancient Rock of Cashel. The most visited heritage site in Ireland, the Rock has an atmospheric spot on County Tipperary’s most famous hill. As the former seat of the High Kings of Munster, there is Celtic symbolism aplenty.
When to visit Ireland
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are lots of things to do in Dublin, the city seeing the largest number of big, annual events taking place, including the Six Nations rugby tournaments between February and April at Lansdowne Road, the Dublin Writers Festival in May, Ireland's premier literary event attracting the finest writers in the world, and also Taste of Dublin in June, a massive foodie fair. And the new kid on the block is NYF Dublin, a three-day music and arts festival taking place, it's hoped, annually, over New Year.
Elsewhere, The Gathering Traditional Festival held every February in Killarney (County Kerry) is the highlight of the Irish cultural calendar for traditional musicians and dancers, the Guineas Spring Racing Festival at Curragh (County Kildare) in March is the highlight for horse racing punters (though just one of many horse racing events throughout the year), while the Galway Food Festival in April rivals Dublin's food fairs for size and spectacle. Watch out too for Cork's Midsummer Festival in June. It is, however, just one of 23 festivals taking place in the city each year!
Of course the whole of Ireland goes crazy for St Patrick's Day on 17 March, with week-long festivals and events nationwide. National Heritage Week at the end of August is also celebrated nationwide.
Cheap overnight stops
The Republic of Ireland has limited continental-style Aires de Service, and councils seem to constantly change their mind over whether to install – or withdraw – such services. Currently there are overnight facilities at Cobh, Donegal and Limerick.
One of the best options for cheap overnight stops in Ireland is the Safe Nights Ireland scheme. With over 300 site locations, it's based on purchasing annual membership (though cheap enough to warrant purchasing for a one-week touring holiday) to receive the list of overnight stops. These are not campsites but safe, off-road locations specifically for motorhomes for one-night stopovers.
Motorhome access and information
How to get to Ireland
Stena Line has sailings between Fishguard and Rosslare, Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire, and Holyhead and Dublin. Irish Ferries operates between Holyhead and Dublin, and Pembroke and Rosslare. P&O Ferries sail between Liverpool and Dublin.
Travel to north west Ireland may be easier via ferry sailings to Northern Ireland. Stena Line operates between Cairnryan and Belfast, as well as between Liverpool (Birkenhead) and Belfast. P&O Ferries sail to Larne from Cairnryan and Troon.
The M1 tunnel from Dublin Port to access the M50 ring road operates a toll (currently €3 off-peak – peak time is 4pm until 7pm, Monday to Friday), but it is worth every penny to otherwise sit in traffic through the centre of Dublin and negotiate the mine of streets out of the port. There is also a barrier-free toll on a section of the M50 (Dublin ring road) between junctions six and seven (junction six required for the M3 to north west Ireland; junction seven needed for the M4 to Galway). The toll, currently €3, can either be prepaid online or otherwise must be paid by 8pm the following day of travel at a retail outlet displaying the Payzone brand, nationwide.
Other short toll sections of motorway, paid at source, include the M6, the M7/8 interchange and a short stretch of the M8 to the north east of Cork. Ireland was once notorious for poor road surfaces and desperately slow journeys. The upgraded motorways, radiating out from Dublin, have vastly improved the island's network with generally quiet routes that make journey times across Ireland quick, smooth and efficient. The road improvements have opened up more of the campsites in Ireland for people who can only spare a couple of weeks for their holidays in Eire.