The best things to do around Ireland this autumn and winter

Psychologist advises against hibernating, but to lengthen days by getting out and about

Achill Island: . Visit the disappearing beach of Dooagh on your wayv to Keem Breach

Achill Island: . Visit the disappearing beach of Dooagh on your wayv to Keem Breach

 

Animals may be preparing to hibernate, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to – or that we should.

Belfast native Prof Geoffrey Beattie, a former psychologist on the Big Brother reality TV show, says people should get out and about in autumn, as the days get start getting shorter.

“People tend to hide away during autumn, they reflect on the summer months and look forward to Christmas, but I encourage people to shake up their usual routine, take a well-deserved seasonal break and try a new place,” he told The Irish Times.

“The simple act of taking a short break can bring enriching benefits, as with this small change of routine, time feels elongated and people feel more satisfied with the use of their spare time.”

In his book Get the Edge, How Simple Changes will Transform Your Life, he explores how the passage of time seems to elongate when you do novel things and get out of your routine. When you do new things you have the anticipation of the event, then the fun of doing it and then afterwards, you have lots to reminisce about and to share with friends.

White Park Bay, Co Antrim. ‘You have to walk to get to the beach and when you get there it is breathtaking, bordering on the religious,’ according to Prof Geoffrey Beattie
White Park Bay, Co Antrim. ‘You have to walk to get to the beach and when you get there it is breathtaking, bordering on the religious,’ according to Prof Geoffrey Beattie

Beattie, who was speaking in Dublin as a guest of Northern Ireland Tourism, said his favourite place to visit back home in Northern Ireland is White Park Bay, on the Antrim coast near Ballycastle. “You have to walk to get to the beach and when you get there it is breathtaking, bordering on the religious,” he said.

Following Beattie’s advice, we’ve rounded up some of the best things to do around Ireland to make the most of the shorter days. 

In Cork, the Guinness Jazz Festival (guinnessjazzfestival.com) runs this weekend, from Friday, October 27th to 30th. Headliners for the 40th anniversary festival include Monty Alexander, Alison Moyet, Nicholas Payton and Booka Brass Band. Buy tickets online in advance or simply wander the streets to find music at every turn.

The Wexford Festival Opera (wexfordopera.ie) won the prestigious “Best Festival” prize at the International Opera Awards in May this year. Now in its 66th year, the festival runs until November 5th and features the world premiere of Dubliners, two one-act operas based on Joyce’s works, by Andrew Synnott. If you are a first-timer, dress up and take the leap. Adding to the vibe in the town is Wexford Fringe (wexfordfringe.ie), which runs alongside the opera fest. The arts festival features 300 events and many are free.

The Cork Jazz Festival runs in Cork from October 27th to 30th. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
The Cork Jazz Festival runs in Cork from October 27th to 30th. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

For many, autumn equals sport, and the Guinness Series rugby internationals kick off on November 12th when Ireland face the Springboks. We will also face Argentina and Fiji. Tickets (from ticketmaster.ie) aren’t easy to come by however, so a safer bet might be on the racetrack with the return of jumps racing. This weekend see the launch of the National Hunt Racing Winter Season at Cork racecourse. The meet features a €50,000 Grade B on Sunday, as well as family entertainment. The first Grade One of the season will be at the Punchestown Winter Festival on November 18th and 19th. Check out goracing.ie for all the details.

Autumn is the perfect time for food-lovers to travel, with festivals throughout the country. This weekend, Savour Kilkenny (savourkilkenny.com, Oct 27th-30th) brings together local and national food produce and chefs for food markets and cookery demonstrations with plenty of local restaurants, hotels and bars getting in on the act. The Savour Stage will feature discussions with chefs - Nevin Maguire looks at cooking for family Italian-style; Jackie Varley and Maria Raftery fuel the endurance athlete; Lynda Booth tackles Fearless Food; and Prannie Rhatigan introduces seaweed. Book tickets online.

Slow Food Dublin (slowfooddublin.com) will host its inaugural annual slow food festival on October 29th. “Slow in the City” will highlight the Dublin food scene collaborating with local producers, community gardens, restaurants and chefs.

If you prefer to stay local, pack up the kids and forage for blackberries along quiet forest paths. Sloes are also ready to be picked and prepped for Christmas Sloe Gin - just be careful of the spikes.

If you’d like to bring some expertise to your foraging, chef Kevin Thornton has started his series of Wild Food Outings and joins Dr Bill Schindler of the National Geographic Show The Great Human Race on a forest trail to cook wild and edible wonders on November 5th. The meeting point is at the Kooks base in Ranelagh with travel from there – your own transport is required, as is booking (kevinthorntonkooks.com, €75).

Go foraging with chef Kevin Thornton on a forest trail to cook wild and edible wonders on
Go foraging with chef Kevin Thornton on a forest trail to cook wild and edible wonders on

Exploring the west coast in the autumn and early winter light and without the summer crowds is well worth the drive and many hotels offer off-season rates before closing for the winter.

Bervie guesthouse (bervieachill.com, from €60pp), a restored coastguard station on Keel Beach in Achill has stunning views of the Cathedral Cliffs of Minaun across the water. Elizabeth and John Barrett welcome guests with west of Ireland warmth and fine dining. After dinner, sip an Irish coffee in their sittingroom, in front of the turf fire, surrounded by local art and reading about the landscapes of Paul Henry, and his wife Grace. Visit the disappearing beach of Dooagh on your wayv to Keem Breach. British novelist Graham Greene and actor Angela Lansbury played on Dooagh beach before it disappeared after a storm in 1984. In May this year, it re-appeared and garnered global attention. Walk on it quick before it disappears again.

Achill Island: . Visit the disappearing beach of Dooagh on your wayv to Keem Breach
Achill Island: . Visit the disappearing beach of Dooagh on your wayv to Keem Breach

Staying west, Connemara Sea Week (Ceecc.org) runs this week, and celebrates the marine heritage of the area. Expect kite making workshops, story and song nights, guided shoe walks, sean nos dance workshops, readings and, of course, sean nos nights throughtout the area. There will be three live weekend concerts in the Gothic Church at Kylemore Abbey (booking essential, tickets €10). A highlight is the fire-filled “After the light” parade which brings myth and magic to Letterfrack on Wednesday, October 25th, at 7.30pm.

Speaking of myth and magic, Halloween is creeping closer. Carlow’s Rathwood Express (rathwood.com, €7-€10, booking essential) – known for its Santa train – takes a seasonal twist until October 31st. Join Captain Jack and follow a treasure map to find Redbeard’s ship, just look out for Captain Hook on the way. The journey ends in the Pirates’ Pumpkin Patch with pumpkin carving.

Ireland’s whale-watching season kicks off in autumn and continues through winter. Look for minke whales off the Cork coast until November and humpbacks and fin whales should visit later in the season. Dolphins and porpoises are more common around all our coastline. Whale Watch West Cork (whalewatchwestcork.com, €50) runs trips from Baltimore Harbour and Cork Whale Watch (corkwhalewatch.com, €50) leaves from Reen Pier in Union Hall.

Further north, the CS Lewis Festival (eastsidearts.net) will be held in the author’s native Belfast in November. His legacy will be explored through story-telling talk, lectures, tours, exhibitions and workshop, from November 18th, to November 22nd.

Savour Kilkenny (Oct 27th-30th) brings together local and national food produce and chefs for food markets and cookery demonstrations with plenty of local restaurants, hotels and bars getting in on the act
Savour Kilkenny (Oct 27th-30th) brings together local and national food produce and chefs for food markets and cookery demonstrations with plenty of local restaurants, hotels and bars getting in on the act

The Atlantic Sessions (atlanticsessions.com) have emerged as a feature on the cultural calendar across Portrush, Portstewart and Port Ballintrae in Co Antrim. From traditional, to electric and acoustic, music will pour out of the pubs, hotels, coffee shops and town halls on the Causeway coast. The free music festival will feature over 40 live gigs from November 16th to November 19th. /

Get a taste of Europe at the Listowel Food Fair (listowelfoodfair.ie)from November 9th to November 12th . The open air market will have stalls offering a variety of delicacies from home and Europe. There will be cookery classes, demonstrations and fun competitions. You can always run off the excess food at the Kerry Crusaders half marathon in Listowel on Saturday, November 11th.

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