Ireland: Horseback Riding

For equestrian vacations, the Emerald Isle is a natural choice.

As Karen Lancaster, president of Cross Country International Equestrian Vacations (800-828-8768) in Millbrook, N.Y., said, "Horses and the Irish have a long and rich history, and the Irish hunter is an ideal breed for riding."

Cross Country International offers a choice of five trail rides and two training programs in the Republic that accommodate all levels of proficiency. All are commissionable at 10%.

Three of the trail rides are "inn-to-inn" programs with riders able to choose from among B&Bs and three- or five-star accommodations. Accommodations for training programs are at accredited equestrian centers.

"Everything is taken care of," said Lancaster, "including luggage transfers and packing of the horses. It's all very easy for clients."

Clients can ride along the sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, across green fields and streams and through forests and mountains. Inn-to-inn rides are available in Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, County Wicklow and County Galway; staying-in-place riding is available at Kinnitty Castle in the Irish Midlands and County Sligo (there is also an inn-to-inn option in Sligo).

Prices for cross country (general skills) or hunt-seat training (jumping and other hunting skills) start at $1,680 per person, double, including six nights' accommodations, two meals daily, training and riding.

Sample trail rides: A three-day trail ride program with stays at Kinnitty Castle starts at $850 per person, double, including accommodations, two meals daily, all riding and taxes. A Killarney Ring of Kerry Ride costs $1,450 for six nights' hotel/guest house accommodations, including three meals a day, horses, equipment and guides.

In Northern Ireland, opportunities for equestrian vacations continue to expand. For example, a new equestrian center is slated to open in April in southern County Armagh, providing access to the culturally rich and scenically beautiful Ring of Gullion, a mountainous area that's laced with historic bridle paths.

There are a number of horseback riding facilities elsewhere in the province as well, including the Ulster-Lakeland Equestrian Center, a top-notch facility in County Fermanagh.

Among U.S.-based wholesalers who now offer riding vacations in the North is Destinations Ireland & Great Britain in New York. For 1998 it has introduced a six-night equestrian trip available for individuals or groups.

The package features accommodations at the family-run Drumgooland House and Equestrian Centre, located in the village of Seaforde, County Down, 10 minutes from the seaside resort of Newcastle. The century-old country house hotel sits on 60 acres of land that has its own trout-stocked lake.

Included in the package are six days of guided trail rides, as well as accommodations, all meals, roundtrip transfers from Belfast airport, horse and tack and guide. It is priced from $1,495 per person, double. Call (800) 832-1848.


Irish Historical Attractions

For clients interested in Ireland's industrial heritage, a region in the North known as the Linen Homelands is apt to prove especially rewarding.

Bridging the three counties of Down, Armagh and Antrim, the Linen Homelands encompasses the heart of the region where linen-making once flourished.

It was in this area, especially in the Lagan and Bann valleys, that the linen industry ranked as Northern Ireland's most important industry in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, linen manufacturing is making a comeback in the province, though most of the textile companies in the region now import the flax from which linen is made.

There are a number of visitor attractions in the Linen Homelands area that illuminate the region's linen heritage, including the social history and culture that developed around the linen industry.

One way for clients to explore the heritage is by taking a guided Irish Linen Tour. From May through September, the six-hour tours (including a lunch break) leave from the Banbridge Gateway Tourist Information Centre on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Highlights on the tour include:

  • McConville's: a water-powered scutching mill in Dromore where dried flax undergoes a process to make it more fibrous.
  • Irish Linen Centre/Lisburn Museum: an award-winning museum that spotlights the story of Ireland's linen industry through audiovisual displays, the re-creation of factory scenes and a weaving workshop where weavers produce linen on restored 19th-century hand looms.
  • One of four working linen factories: these include the Ferguson Linen Centre in Banbridge, where double damask linen is produced; Blacker's Mill in Portadown, where a preserved weaver's cottage is now a factory shop; Ewart Liddell in Donaghcloney, Ireland's largest damask linen weaving company, and Dunmurry Print in Dunmurry, where linen is screen-printed.
  • For information on the Irish Linen Tour, contact the Banbridge Gateway Tourist Information Centre, 200 Newry Road, Banbridge, Northern Ireland, BT32 3NB, (011) 44 18206-23322, fax (011) 44 18206-23114.

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