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Seven Days on the Emerald Isle

Ireland's highlights--Dublin and the counties of Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Galway and Mayo--might be dotted all around the green country, but they can be visited on a weeklong road trip. Just watch out for flocks of sheep on the roads.

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Day 1-3: Dublin


James Joyce famously said, "When I die Dublin will be written in my heart." Indeed, the city, dissected by the River Liffey and filled with noble Georgian architecture and squares, deeply impacts visitors. Joyce's "Dubliners" is the oeuvre to read in preparation. Pick up copies at Books Upstairs in Dublin.

A walking tour of the city should encompass such architectural sights as the Bank of Ireland, Christ Church Cathedral, Custom House and The Four Courts, General Post Office (site of the Easter Uprising) and Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares. Must-see museums include the Hugh Lane (which features Francis Bacon's fully reconstructed studio), National Gallery of Ireland, National Museum of Ireland-Decorative Arts and History, Little Museum of Dublin, National Museum of Archaeology and the kid-friendly Dublinia and Number 29, a restored Georgian house. The Kilmainham Gaol portrays the history of the Irish penal system.

Founded in 1592, Trinity College has educated authors such as Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde, so it comes as no surprise that it is home to one of the world's most famous libraries, the Old Library, which houses the Book of Kells and more than five million other books.

Both traditional and contemporary Irish art has seen a recent surge in popularity, due in no small part to Dublin's well-curated galleries. Contemporary works can be found at Green on Red, Kerlin Gallery and Sebastian Guinness Gallery; paintings from the 18th through 20th centuries are the specialty at The Oriel Gallery. Visitors and locals take afternoon breaks at Butler's Chocolate Café and Queen of Tarts. Two other fun stops are the Guinness Factory and Old Jameson Distillery; to buy some whiskey to bring home, stop into Celtic Whiskey Shop & Wines.

Dublin's impressive culinary scene is constantly one-upping itself and its pubs are arguably Europe's liveliest. Restaurants to check out include Michelin-starred Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, L'Ecrivain or Chapter One for a "big night out", the contemporary Irish Thornton's Restaurant or Greenhouse Restaurant and The Winding Stair, a cozy spot on the river. It is said that Guinness tastes better in Dublin, and some choice pubs include the authentically Victorian Long Hall, the traditional McDaid's, John Kehoe's, which has excellent view of the city from its top floor, the quiet Palace Bar or Gravity Bar and Dublin's oldest pub, Brazen Head.

Oral tradition and story telling has always been highly revered in the Irish culture. Visitors should plan to try to get tickets for a show at Project, The Abbey Theatre or The Gate Theatre.

Day 4-5: County Kerry

County Kerry

Drive three hours, forty-five minutes to Killarney, stopping for a meal or cooking demonstration at the legendary Ballymaloe Cookery School. Alternate lunch stops can be made further along the drive in Cork, at Ballyvolane House or Farmgate Café.

The stunning landscape of County Kerry boasts a dramatic combination of lakes, mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its remoteness, the county has remained relatively isolated, and thus provides the purest examples of Irish language and culture, particularly evident at the Victorian Murckross House. Active pursuits in the regions should include walking the Kerry Way, Dingle Way or Beara Way, or cycling or horseback riding the Ring of Kerry. Boat excursions can be arranged to the Skellig Islands for an afternoon, especially recommended in good weather.

Day 5-6: County Limerick

County Limerick

Drive one hour, twenty minutes northeast to Adare. Along your way, test your Irish luck with a visit to the Limerick Racecourse. Alternatively, golfers will delight in the area's fantastic offerings, including the woodland Adare Manor Golf Course, constructed around a 14th-century Franciscan Abbey. Fishing is also available nearby, in the River Maigue.

Enjoy lunch at the tranquil and luxurious Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge before exploring Ireland's rich history at Carrigogunnell Castle, Adare Castle and the Viking-era King Johns Castle.

Saturday mornings bring the 150-year-old Milk Market, offering gourmet treats directly from the farm. If you've enjoyed one too many artisanal chocolates, head to the Cliffs of Moher, a UNESCO park with fabulous hiking.

Day 6-7: County Mayo

County Mayo

Drive three hours to Cong, stopping along the way at the 13th-century Corcomro Abbey. County Mayo is known for its excellent hiking and horseback riding, especially in the Connemara National Park or up Croagh Patrick alongside religious pilgrims. Scattered around the region are haunting reminders of the Irish Potato Famine, wherein one million people died and another million fled the country. County Mayo was badly hit by the epidemic, and ruins of abandoned houses, village, workhouses and graves remain. Older remains from the Neolithic era include megalithic tombs and ritual stone circles.

Many abbeys in the area provide good examples of fort architecture from the 8th century, when the Irish were protecting themselves from Viking raids. Top examples include Aughagower, Balla, Killala, Turlough, Ballintubber and Meelick.

Stop for lunch at Cronin's Shebeen in Westport. Have drinks while admiring the view from Lishloughrey Lodge or for after-dinner drinks, head to Matt Molloy's Pub to listen to Irish music.

Depart from Knock or Shannon airports.

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