Travel

Foreign Correspondence: Ireland Is Festive, Affordable All Year Long

What's it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit.

Marian Kelly, 55, is a native of Dublin, Ireland, who is a tour guide for Brendan Vacations (www.brendanvacation.com). Most groups she leads are tours of up to two weeks, between April and October.

Q. St. Patrick's Day may be wild in New York and Savannah, Ga., but it's traditionally a religious celebration in Ireland. Is that the case?

A. St. Patrick's Day celebrations have changed over the years. In Dublin, there's a festival that goes on for a whole week, with free concerts and fringe events. It culminates in a parade and fireworks display. It has become a festival where people let down their hair — as well as a religious event.

Every town in Ireland now has a St. Patrick's parade, and we have quite a few Americans who come to participate — especially high school bands that spend the week here and tour around the country.

Q. Other festivals at other times of the year?

A. Most towns have a festival that celebrates something unique and special to them. Galway City has an arts fest during the summer. There's also the Galway Racing Festival, an oyster festival and other sorts of events.

My favorite is in County Kerry, in a town called Killorglin ("kill-ORG- lan") on the 10th through 12th of August. It's called the Puck Fair, and each day has a name: Gathering Day, Fair Day and Scattering Day. It's a festival that goes to pre-Celtic times: They capture a wild goat — this sounds bizarre but really isn't — and crown him King Puck. He is then paraded up the town and presides over the fair. On Scattering Day, the goat is released into the hills again.

It's a big livestock event, and restaurants and shops are open 24 hours a day. There are street musicians and traders. It's an ancient celebration of harvest time. Q. The goat is released to the wild? A. Yes. Q. And nobody tries to recapture it? A. No. People wouldn't do that. Q. So there are wild goats in Ireland? A. Oh, yeah. Some wild people, too. Q. Other festivals worth seeing?

A. The Strawberry Festival in Wexford. That's in June or July and goes on for several weeks in the biggest strawberry-growing region in Ireland, which has the most delicious berries in the world. There are lots of events. All these festivals have musicians and events at different hotels, pubs and venues.

Probably the biggest event is in August: the Rose of Tralee Festival. It's based on the old song of that name, which tells of a love story. The original Rose was a girl named Mary O'Connor, and Irish communities all over the world — quite a few from the U.S. —will nominate a girl to come here as their Rose.

Not always the most beautiful girl wins. It's more about finding the equal of the original Rose.

Q. The Irish economy is in trouble. What does that mean for tourists?

A. There's a silver lining to everything. A Euro costs $1.28, a 24-cent improvement for you. Plus, prices are lower than they have been in a while. ... There are some fantastic deals to be had.

Q. Is food cheaper?

A. There's a lot of competition between restaurants. That's driving prices down.

Q. Is one season more prime than another for visiting?

A. Not really. While the climate is quite unpredictable, we don't have a huge change between winter and summer. Winter average temperatures are about 45 Fahrenheit.

Everything looks so fresh in spring. In summer, it's about 65. Ireland is so far north that we have these wonderful days in midsummer with only four hours of darkness. The fall can be pretty as well.

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