Ireland has a magical quality all of its own. This can perhaps be appreciated nowhere more than in the village of Glencolmcille, County Donegal, home to Oideas Gael, a language and cultural centre, specialising in the teaching of Irish Gaelic.
High on the Atlantic Coast, not far from Donegal Town and the fishing port of Killybegs, Glencolmcille enjoys a glorious setting, close to Sliabh Liag mountain of the flagstones in English one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. “Sliabh Liag is an enchanted place,” enthuses Oideas Gael Director, Liam O’Cuinneagáin. “As children, it was a milestone in the growing-up process to be brought by our parents to see [this place], where the faeries in the stories of our early childhood lived, and those bedtime tales were relived.”
The name Glencolmcille, meaning “the valley of St Columba”, is a reminder of the area’s history. Another memorable activity is a turas (or pilgrimage walk) around the standing stones of the local St Columba’s Church, the seventh century underground caverns and the court cairns (megalithic tombs), which date back to 3,000 BC.
Traditional culture is no less at the heart of life in Galway, “A vibrant student city, bohemian by nature and full of character and characters,” according to Patrick Creed of Galway Language Centre. As he highlights, traditional music and dance form an important part of this culture, and can be enjoyed the city’s many pubs.
Alongside its experienced and highly qualified teachers, who “genuinely enjoy their lessons”, one of the special features of his own school is its city-centre location in an eighteenth-century water mill on the River Corrib, boasting “a superb view of the river below with its colonies of swans and wild birds, and, in the distance, Galway Bay and the hills of County Clare”.
Some of the neighbouring areas he describes as “possibly the most beautiful parts of Ireland” among them the natural parks of Connemara and The Burren. Also not to be missed are the spectacular views from imposing cliffs of Moher “A sight to behold!” according to Creed, “with seagulls swooping in and out of their nests.”
Surrounded by lakes and mountains, the town of Killarney in the south-west also provides “a magnificent back-drop for study and holiday-making”, according to Killarney School of English’s Feargal Courtney. A vibrant town, in a peaceful, safe and idyllic landscape, it is, he says, well provided with entertainment, eating venues, sport and cultural activities.
The school’s location, on the edge of the 26,000-acre Killarney National Park, is ideal for those who are keen on walking, trekking and cycling, Courtney points out. The park is also home to the popular tourist attraction, Muckross House and Gardens. “The gardens are wonderful,” he enthuses, “particularly [from] April to July, when all the pink and purple rhododendrons are in bloom.”
Also worth a visit is the “imposing and impressive” fifteenth century Ross Castle, which sits on a rocky outcrop on Ross Island by the shore of Lough Leane. It is just a short boat ride to Innisfallen Island, with its magnificent Medieval church ruins, on the site of an earlier monastery where, says Courtney, monks are said to have written the famous Annals of Innisfallen, a record of medieval history.
Home to the Ballymaloe Cookery School, the village of Shanagarry is set in the scenic farming country of rural east Cork. Standing in 100 acres of farmland, the school boasts gardens, which “are the best I have seen in Ireland, beautifully laid out and maintained”, comments spokesperson Susan McKeown. “The herb garden is planted in the classic old Victorian knot-style within 200 year-old beech hedging,” she explains. “In the summer months, the glasshouses are bursting with organic produce ready to be picked and taken straight to the eager students in the kitchens. Happy fat free range pigs greedily feed on any veggies left over.”
Deeply rural, Shanagarry is also close to the sea. The Blue Flag beach at Garryvoe is good for swimming, McKeown highlights, while the small harbour town of Ballycotton offers a cliff walk with spectacular views. “In the summer months, the fishing is excellent. I have seen people returning from a fishing trip on a boat with bucket loads of mackerel,” she reports.
Not far away is Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city. As such, says Richard McMullen of locally-based EFL Ireland, it is rich in history and culture, yet still much smaller than Cork, Galway or Limerick, and nothing at all like a big city. The language school itself is centrally situated “in a beautiful spot between the city’s largest public park and the waterfront”.
To soak up the local history, McMullen recommends the Viking Triangle tour, which, he explains, includes Ireland’s oldest Viking building, Reginald’s Tower, the award-winning Waterford Treasures and a new underground Medieval Waterford Museum. This can be combined with a tour of the famous Waterford crystal factory, located just across the street.
According to McMullen, Waterford enjoys the best weather in the country. It is also well positioned for enjoying the seaside, being close to Tramore Strand, “Ireland’s premier surfing beach”, where the school offers a weekly surfing club among its many optional activities.
For those attracted by a bustling metropolis, Ireland’s capital, Dublin, beckons. In this relatively small, but lively city, “Tourists can enjoy the great atmosphere of the busy shopping areas, with their street performers and colourful flower stands, as well as traditional pubs, beautiful parks and great museums,” reports Anna Machowska of city-based Your English language school.
As a small language school priding itself on its student-centred approach, it is conveniently located in the city centre, “just a stone’s throw” from the busy Temple Bar shopping and entertainment area. Also nearby is the Portobello Institute, a private college “providing real courses that lead to real jobs”, according to spokesperson, Elaine Rickard, which offers one-year diploma and certificate course in a range of vocationally oriented subjects. Portobello is also on the doorstep of the Henry Street shopping area, while the trendy fashion district of Grafton Street is just a short walk away.
Recommended excursions in the city include the famous Trinity College, which houses the “infamous and impressive” Book of Kells, and is steeped in history, says Rickard. She also highlights the National Museum of Ireland, with its “impressive display of decorative arts”.
All Hallows College specialises in the undergraduate teaching of theology, philosophy, psychology and English literature, as well as offering programmes in personal and professional development. Situated to the north of the city, it is convenient for visiting the Megalithic tombs at nearby Newgrange. Also recommended by college Marketing Manager, Carolanne Henry, is the city’s Glasnevin Museum. Presenting “a who’s who of modern Irish history”, from Gerard Manley Hopkins to Eamon de Valera, “the tour guides are great,” she adds, “and make the visit so real and exciting.”
Those seeking the best of city and country life may find it in Lucan, “a charming rural village”, according to Peter Lawless of the local International School of English (formerly Active English), that combines “rustic rural life” with direct access to Dublin’s city centre, just 12 kilometres away.
In terms of activities, he notes, “Shopping centres such as Liffey Valley vie for attention with five local golf courses, while the Liffey walks and surrounding countryside make people feel relaxed and at home.” Furthermore, seasoned riders are well catered for on the border of Kildare, which, he points out, is noted for equestrian excellence.
“There is a wonderful spirit of community in Lucan,” Lawless observes. “We may be in Dublin, yet there is still a charming rural feel about it. Summer students feel safe here; everybody knows everybody, and the locals know how important international students are to the economic survival of the community, so they are welcomed cheerfully.
“It is easy to fly to Dublin from most Spanish airports. Ireland is very lively people are friendly, they are good fun, very extroverted, warm and relaxed, and the social life is fun. Towns are not very big, and it is easy to get around.”
Christine Top, Top School, Spain
“There is a high quality of schools and host families, it is a beautiful country and the Irish are very friendly. An extra advantage for Latin American students is that they do not need a visa to study in Ireland. What really surprises students about the country is St. Patricks Day our students really enjoy it! They enjoy seeing Ashfore Castle, Kylemore Abbey, Cliffs of Moher, Dublin Castle, and my personal favourites, Kylemore Abbey and the Aran Islands.”
Efraín Orozco, GDL Travel, Mexico
“Students often chose Ireland based on price in the past, but now they have an awareness for or an idea of Irish culture. Students are most surprised by the friendly people in Ireland, and while they are there they enjoy discovering legendary Irish hospitality for themselves. I have been to Ireland myself, and my favourite highlight was the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, as it is Ireland pure and simple, in many ways the same for locals and tourists alike.”
Denis Baker, Aventure Linguistique, Switzerland