In these days when we're enticed by the promise of being able to explore distant and exotic places more easily than ever before, there's a distinct danger that, for many of us, the sights and delights which lie much closer to home get overlooked.
After all, many of us consider ourselves citizens of an ever-shrinking world, thanks to technological and transport innovations, so it seems natural that we would want to go out and find out for ourselves whether this phenomenon really exists.
In this quest to clock up the miles, however, it's too easy to overlook journey and holiday destinations which are so special simply because they continue to be 'beneath the radar' of the mass market.
And large parts of Ireland certainly fall into this category.
The jewel that is the 'Emerald Isle'
Few countries can boast a landscape which veers from the spectacularly ancient to the awe-inpsiringly modern in such a small area in the way Ireland can. Interwoven with all these natural and man-made sights is a culture which celebrates individuality and distinctiveness, as well as having a real 'edge' to it which comes from its people long being considered outsiders. The country's 'Emerald Isle' epithet comes from the fact that the generous amount of rain it sees, along with the influence of the wind flow of the warm Gulf Stream winds, with little land lying between it and north Africa, gives its substantial, unspoilt rural areas a lush, green tinge. In this respect, it looks lusher and fresher than lots of other places, and when you couple this with the fact that so much of its landscape, and even its man-made settlements, are largely as they have been for centuries, you have a recipe for a holiday destination which offers a tempting proposition.
Here then, is a short, and by no means complete, list of great Irish attractions which have bewitched visitors, often for many centuries.
The Giant's Causeway
A megalithic site, just off the County Antrim coast, which consists of 40,000 giant columns of the mineral basalt, it has a major role in Irish folklore. The columns were said to have been placed in the sea by the giant Finn McCool, so that he could challenge his Scottish rival, Benandonner, to a duel.
The reality, that they were the remnants of rock from a volcanic explosion, is far more prosaic, but nevertheless detracts from the mischievous Irish sense of humour which is another of the country's great attributes.
A far more other-worldly sight is provided by this area, in the north-west of County Clare, which has been shaped by the dissolution of soft rock formations over many centuries. This has led to the area becoming home to a remarkable variety of rare flora and fauna, which have found a safe haven in the criss-crossing cracks which have opened up by the passage of time.
St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
This is Ireland's biggest church, and is believed to have been where the country's patron saint, St Patrick, baptised many pagan converts to Christianity. It houses the grave of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels. It is still, though, very much a 'working' place of worship, with two services being held on most days featuring the resident choir.
The Guinness Storehouse
No other foodstuff epitomises Ireland more than Guinness, the stout which has become the nation's staple drink – despite the fact that it actually originated in London!
The storehouse has been turned into a living shrine to the 'black stuff', outlining its history. And the Gravity Bar right at the top of the building lets you partake of a pint and at the same time take in some of the best views in Dublin.
The Ring of Kerry
If you're driving – or being driven – through Ireland, this route is one not to miss. Take it easy and stop off regularly to see the real beauty of Ireland in its unspoilt villages, and the diversity of breathtaking scenery in which they lie. You'll pass many notable archaeological sites, such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the ruined Skellig Michael monastery, while the much younger, but no less remarkable town of Kenmare looks as though it hasn't stepped out of the 19th century.
The Cliffs of Moher
This rugged landscape shows how the western coastline of the country has been shaped by the untamed Atlantic Ocean which laps – and occasionally batters – its shore.
Rising up to 700 feet above the ocean, the cliffs welcome nearly a million visitors a year, yet their popularity in no way spoils the experience of being so close to nature, and able to appreciate its raw power.
Ireland presents a beguiling mix of landscapes, which can be appreciated at just about any time of year. And when you add to this appeal the warm welcome its people are renowned for offering visitors, you have a destination whose appeal is hugely diverse, and truly offers 'something for everyone', making it somewhere that, once experienced, will fill you with lasting memories.