Selling Ireland: Star Wars, Game of Thrones Travel Tips

Fans of “Star Wars” will recognize Skellig Michael from the epic final scene of the blockbuster “The Force Awakens.” // Photo By Raymond Fogarty
Fans of “Star Wars” will recognize Skellig Michael from the epic final scene of the blockbuster “The Force Awakens.” // Photo By Raymond Fogarty

If Ireland’s storied history, renowned culture and dramatic scenery aren’t enough to motivate your clients, you can show them specific ways in which the country caters to their special interests. There are also new “hooks” that Tourism Ireland and tour operators are promoting, most notably movie and TV tie-ins.

Young and healthy “Star Wars” fans, for example, may be eager to climb the 600 steep steps to the top of Skellig Michael, just as the heroic Rey does at the end of “The Force Awakens.” Fortunately for Earthlings, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not in a galaxy far, far away, but on an island off the coast of Kerry, Ireland’s southwestern-most county. Accessible by boat, it can be visited from May to September.

As HBO’sGame of Thrones” prepares to begin its sixth season in late April, it’s worth noting that, over the last couple of years, Tourism Ireland has been promoting the show’s filming locations, such as Dark Hedges (King’s Road in the series); Castle Ward (Winterfell); Ballintoy Harbour (Pyke Harbour); Cushendun Caves (birthplace of the Shadow Baby); Pollnagollum Cave (Beric Dondarrion’s hideout) at Fermanagh’s Marble Arch Geopark; and Tollymore Forest Park (Haunted Forest). Brendan Tours offers an eight-day, self-drive “Home of Thrones” tour that visits several of these sites and more.

In County Clare, the majestic Cliffs of Moher are popular in their own right, but movie buffs may recognize them as the Cliffs of Insanity from “The Princess Bride” and, more recently, the site where Harry and Professor Dumbeldore battled the forces of evil in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Hollywood magic: The rock the heroes stand on is actually Lemon Rock, a hundred miles south in County Kerry.

Cinema enthusiasts may also wish to visit Galway, which has been designated a UNESCO City of Film — one of only five cities in the world to achieve that status. Among the films that have been shot there are “The Quiet Man,” “The Guard,” “The Field,” “Into the West” and “The Matchmaker.” Visitors can now tour the region with the Connemara Film Trail. The Galway Film Fleadh, Ireland’s leading annual film festival, will be held this year from July 5-10.

Tollymore Forest Park in County Down, by Tourism Ireland // Photo by Chris Hill
Tollymore Forest Park in County Down, by Tourism Ireland // Photo by Chris Hill

Ireland’s Ancient East

Cultural travelers are prime targets of a new destination brand, “Ireland’s Ancient East,” which covers 5,000 years of history. In these lush, green lands, tales of feuding dynasties hide behind crumbling Gothic architecture; ghostly tombs predate the pyramids; and knights, kings, monks and Vikings loom large in intriguing tales.

Ireland’s Ancient East features three unique areas. In the Land of 5,000 Dawns, visitors will find the woodland trails of Belvedere House and the passage tomb of Newgrange, built way back in 3200 BC. The Historic Heartlands is where saints converted kings at the Rock of Cashel, Kilkenny Castle changed hands for a song and Iron Age victims were surrendered to Lough Boora Bog. Tales continue on the Celtic Coast, where Vikings looted holy treasures from the monastic city of Glendalough and the light of Europe’s oldest lighthouse sweeps across Ireland’s story-rich maritime history.

For Active Clients and Rail Buffs

Active clients who prefer something off the beaten track may appreciate Vagabond Tours’ small group (16 passengers max) guided tours that combine walking, cycling, kayaking, horseback riding and such with local historical and cultural experiences. Guests travel in 4x4 vehicles and stay in locally owned, quality accommodations.

Rail aficionados can look forward to Belmond’s new train route, which is now accepting reservations ahead of its August launch. Belmond Grand Hibernian will be guests’ home for a two-, four- or six-night journey, with the latter perhaps being the best option to provide optimum time to see the countryside and coastal scenery of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. All begin and end in Dublin and include daily meals, drinks, excursions and guides.

For Culinary Travelers

For foodies, CIE Tours International’s vast array of Ireland offerings includes five-, six- and seven-day Taste of Ireland escorted coach tours. Highlights include Dublin’s Merry Ploughboy Pub Dinner/Show and a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet, visits to Blarney Castle and Cliffs of Moher, Sheepdog trials on Ring of Kerry and, not just for “Star Wars” fans, the Skellig Experience.

Culinary travelers may wish to time their visit to coincide with one of the many great food festivals, such as:

  • Westport Food Festival, County Mayo, June 24-26
  • Carlingford Oyster Festival, County Louth, Aug. 8-11
  • Taste of Cavan, County Cavan, Aug. 12-13
  • Waterford Harvest Food Festival, Sept. 9-11
  • A Taste of West Cork, Sept. 9-18
  • Dingle Food Festival, County Kerry, Sept. 30-Oct. 2 
  • Belfast Beer and Cider Festival, November (dates TBD)

Earlier we mentioned the film “The Matchmaker”; well, there really is one in Ireland. His name is Willie Daly and he’s just one of the attractions at the annual music-and-dance-filled Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival in County Clare. It runs for six weekends, this year from September 2 through October 9. The last weekend is devoted to The Outing, a gay and lesbian matchmaking fest returning for its fourth year, with top deejays, comedy and entertainment.

Be sure to let your LGBT clientele know that following a “yes” vote in Ireland’s referendum on same-sex marriage last May, Tourism Ireland rolled out a campaign targeting the LGBT community for weddings and honeymoons in the country.

The Irish Whiskey Museum, one of Dublin’s newest attractions, offers an interactive experience. // Photo Brian Morrison
The Irish Whiskey Museum, one of Dublin’s newest attractions, offers an interactive experience. // Photo Brian Morrison

In Dublin’s Fair City…

Cliffs, castles, rolling green hills and other gorgeous scenery may be fine for most travelers, but for urbanites who like to immerse themselves in the world’s greatest cities, Collette’s offerings include a seven-day Spotlight on Dublin program. It begins with an evening of traditional Irish entertainment and cuisine and ends at one of Dublin’s most iconic restaurants — O’Connell’s of Donnybrook. In between there’s a guided tour of the city, dinner and storytelling at Brazen Head (one of Ireland’s oldest pubs), a visit to the treasured Book of Kells at Trinity College, free time to explore on one’s own and shopping for traditional Irish goods at the Avoca Handweaving Factory

Other must-sees in Dublin include the interactive Irish Whiskey Museum, Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol and the National Gallery. For self-guided walking trails, clients can download the Dublin Discovery Trails App.

More Fests, More Fun

In addition the events mentioned above, here are some other celebrations on tap for this year. Whether your clients are into botany, fishing, literature, music or just want to have a good time, they’re sure to find something of interest to them.

  • Cork International Choral Festival, April 27 - May 1
  • Burren in Bloom, County Clare, May 1-15 
  • Ballinamore Coarse Angling Festival, County Leitrim, May 23-27 
  • Westport Folk/Bluegrass Fest, County Mayo, June 10-12 
  • Carlow Arts Festival, County Carlow, June 10-19
  • Bloomsday (James Joyce fest), Dublin city, June 16
  • Sea Sessions Surf and Music Festival, County Donegal, June 24-26
  • Happy Days Festival, County Fermanagh, July 21-Aug. 1
  • Puck Fair, County Kerry, Aug. 10-12 
  • 7 Hills Blues Festival, Armagh city, Aug. 11-14
  • Cape Clear Int’l Storytelling Festival, Sept. 2-4
  • Bram Stoker Festival, Dublin, Oct. 28-31