At this time of year folks are trying to distract themselves from the winter doldrums by planning their summer vacations, so what better time to offer a bit of advice if you happen to be coming to Ireland? (I'm writing this in the hope that I might snag a few random Googlers, so if that's you, you can read more about my guidebook here. The second edition doesn't come out until next year, I'm afraid. More on that later.)
1. Look beyond Dublin! So many visitors spend their entire holiday in the capital. You'll have to travel outside the city to see the real Ireland. I'm not saying you've got to spend a full day on the bus to Donegal—even just a day trip south into the Wicklow Mountains will add a whole new dimension to your visit.
2. Don't try to see too much. I hear people talking about renting a car and driving from Dublin to Galway to the Cliffs of Moher to Killarney and the Ring of Kerry to Cork to Waterford to Glendalough and back to Dublin...all in the span of a week! I say it's better to focus on two or three places in that week—relax, take your time, see it properly and leave yourself a couple hours to savor a pint at a cozy old-fashioned pub. You can always see the rest of those places on your next holiday.
3. Get off the beaten track, or visit popular attractions in the off season. The times I've most enjoyed traveling around Ireland have been the times I've stumbled upon a wonderful place it seems like nobody else in the world knows about. I try to encourage people to seek out the more wild and remote places (County Mayo, anyone?), rather than just going to the Cliffs of Moher or Killarney like everybody else does. That's not to say the most popular tourist attractions aren't deservedly so, but crowds can sometimes detract from your enjoyment of a place. Try spending a week in Donegal instead of Kerry for a more relaxing (but just as scenic) vacation. (Can you tell I really like Donegal?)
4. Buy handmade. If you're looking for an Aran jumper, it's worth investing €100 or more in a handknit garment. (I heard a rumor once about machine-knit sweaters in one of the larger, more commercial shops actually being manufactured in Guatemala. It might not be true, but when so many sweaters don't have a "made in Ireland" label it leaves room for doubt, doesn't it?) For a gorgeous handknit sweater you can wear for the rest of your life, I recommend O'Maille's on Quay Street in Galway or Sarah Flaherty at Dun Aengus on Inis Mór (the largest of the three Aran Islands).
5. Don't complain about the weather. You know it rains a lot in Ireland—that's why the grass is so green! When tourists complain about the rain, it just comes off sounding really ungracious. If you don't like the prospect of putting on a slicker and stout shoes and going for a walk in inclement weather, go to Greece or the Bahamas instead.
And a corollary, 5A: Don't let the weather dictate your itinerary. Put on your raingear and get to it!
And a further corollary, 5B: In my experience, April and May are the sunniest months. (The last couple of summers have been really wet!) Also, Wexford and the other south-eastern counties get less rainfall than elsewhere in the country (which is why the tourist board touts the region as the "Sunny Southeast.")
The weather here is sometimes gorgeous. Honest! I took this pic of a cloudless sky on 31 May 2006 in Ardmore, County Waterford.
And P.S.--please feel free to add your own advice in the comments section. You can also give me a recommendation (a pub, B&B, or what have you), and if I go there and like it I'll thank you on my second-edition acknowledgments page. Go raibh maith agaibh!