After reviewing 12 general travel guidebooks on Ireland from publishers that included Insights Guides, Moon Guides, Fodor’s, Frommers, Lonely Planet, National Geographic, DK Eyewitness, Michelin and Rick Steves our team has come up with our Top 3 General Guidebooks and our #1 pick for specialty guidebooks for 2018.
INVEST IN A GOOD GUIDEBOOK – If you think about how much a guidebook costs- $20-$25, that’s the cost of a nice lunch in Ireland. One guidebook can make such a difference in planning your tour and enriching the experience once you’re at a sight. Do yourself a favor and pick up a guidebook or two before you take your trip. We’ve also got links for Books to read before you go to Ireland and Best recommendations for maps and apps.
#1 Rick Steves Ireland 2018
Rick is still our #1 choice and it’s not surprising that he is the #1 guidebook author in the world. His Ireland guide is the #2 best-selling guide on Ireland listed by Amazon (#1 is Lonely Planet’s 2018 guide – our #2). We like Rick’s Ireland guide because it’s the best book about general Ireland stuff with in-depth information on the sites covered. Because Rick Steves is a historian, his commentary on sites that he does cover is so thorough and rich, which makes the visiting experience so much more meaningful. His commentary on Dingle alone is worth the price of the book. He writes as if he is right there with the visitor, leading and guiding the tour. He also offers excellent commentary on the Burren, Galway and a near 40-page chapter on Irish history, language, and slang. All of Rick’s guidebooks are updated every single year.
We’re also excited that our friends – and favorite guides Dingle – Kevin O’Shea and Claire Glavin of Celtic Nature Walking Tours – are featured in Rick’s Dingle section. Kevin is also featured in episode 5 of our Thin Places Travel Podcast
Another perk of this book is that there is a pull-out map in the back. Several guidebooks have maps included but this book has the country map on one side and then a blow-up of 5 cities including Galway, Dublin, Belfast, Derry and Dingle AND the map can be used while still attached to the book, so it can be kept with the guidebook and not lost.
What we don’t like is that if Rick doesn’t like the site, he doesn’t include it. So you may want to look up a particular site and find that it’s not included. But the quality of what he does include is too good to not have the book. So a second guidebook that more like an encyclopedia (covers almost all of the sites) is needed. Which is why we recommend the next two books from Frommers and Lonely Planet.
Rick Steves Ireland 2018 is worth the $23.99 retail price just for the commentary on Dingle, Galway, Belfast and the Burren, which is no wonder it is rated #1 in Amazon’s travel books on Ireland for general interest. It’s also rated (today 3/25/18) as #479 in ALL books listed on Amazon (estimated to be in the millions). If you follow the consumer, this is the book people are buying.
#2 Lonely Planet’s Ireland Guide
Personally, I love Lonely Planet’s publications and love Fionn Davenport (one of their Ireland writers) even more. This guide is included in our Top 3 not because it’s more comprehensive than any other guide, but because of the uncluttered, organized and casual layout Lonely Planet guides offer. Their books are simple and easy to use. This book also features a Top 21 site list and a First Time in Ireland section, maps, suggested itineraries and a section on The Great Outdoors. In years past, Fionn Davenport offered such a unique, casual style – a great storyteller. Though the editors have tightened up on his entertaining, casual commentary, Fionn’s style still shines through. This is still the first guidebook I reach for when looking up sites in Ireland.
#3 Frommer’s Guide to Ireland 2018
Before this year, we weren’t big fans of Frommer’s. But they’ve outdone themselves with this year’s guide to Ireland. There’s great information about the country, the culture and what to expect as well as a comprehensive listing of most interesting general sites throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. It’s both comprehensive and diverse with suggested itineraries, maps and a whole section with the “Best of…” lists including Best Castle, Best Natural Wonders, Best Literary sites and Best Museums. This guidebook has serious “personal” appeal. It seems they’ve written it in a “peer perspective” rather than an authoritative perspective. It’s what people want these days .. the personal recommendation of peers. The book also has a compact, tear-out map that has a “town key” so you can easily locate the region of most towns. This would be our #2 recommendation for a comprehensive (all inclusive guide) to Ireland.
#1 Specialty Guide – Sacred Ireland, by Cary Meehan (out of print – but available on Amazon from Used book dealers – pricey but worth it)
It’s not often that we highly recommend an out of print book, but this year a buyer can at least obtain a used copy from book dealers out there. Even though the copies run $60 and above, this is the best resource for thin places and sacred sites of high energy. Last year there were none to be had. If you can snag a readable copy of this for under $100, do it. It reads like a guidebook with the sites grouped in counties and provinces with a map for each county showing the approximate location of the sacred sites. Even the smallest stone circles, standing stones, and holy wells are mentioned. It was in this book that we found The Giant’s Ring in Belfast (not mentioned in any guidebooks I’ve seen), and it’s an amazing site – a large dolmen set into an earth-work ring that now serves as a public park just outside the city center. The majority of the sacred sites and megaliths in this book are not listed in any guidebooks or on maps. It would take someone years to pull together a list like this. Cary Meehan also writes from a mystical perspective so those seeking the thin places will greatly appreciate her commentary and includes directions (I never depend on these, but they’re a good estimation). If you love thin places, this guidebook is a gold mine. Grab a copy while you can.
Ireland Travel 101 by Pat Preston
If you ever wanted to pick the brain of an expert on travel to Ireland, you’ll enjoy this book by Pat Preston. For years she worked for the Irish Tourist Board and later had her own tour operation bringing visitors from America to Ireland. Sadly, Pat has passed away, but she left a worthy legacy in this guidebook. She begins the book with all the tips and information people want to know – how electricity works, how to get around, how to plan your trip, what to take… then she highlights various regions offering her personal recommendations for attractions, accommodations and food based on years of experience. I love the sections “If You Have More Time” as options for attractions and sites that are somewhat off the radar. I could do a whole trip with just those recommendations. A very worthy book to have in any travel library.
Ireland from the Mysterious World series, by Ian Middleton
This book is similar to Cary Meehan’s Sacred Ireland in that his lists megaliths and places of mystery. Ian Middleton is a great historian and has laid out the book well. There are also color photographs of the sites which are fabulous. The sites are laid out according to counties so it’s easy to pick add on sites in an area based on what the inventory is. This book offers a good inventory of mystical places. Where Cary Meehan focuses on the mystical nature of a site, Ian Middleton (in this book) focuses on the site’s connection to Ireland’s legendary past.
Rick Steves’ Snapshot – Northern Ireland
Though we love Rick Steves, we’re rating his Snapshot of Northern Ireland as a Guidebook DUD not because it’s content isn’t valuable, but because the title is misleading. Rick’s “snapshot” books are merely sections lifted out of the full guidebook so people who only want a small portion can have just that piece of the book. In this case, there just isn’t enough representing this small country of Northern Ireland, and the content pretty much follows how the Irish Tourist Board markets Northern Ireland – Derry and the Antrim Coast with a little of Belfast for good measure.
There are four of six counties left out of this guidebook. It mirrors exactly what the Irish Tourist board (the Republic of Ireland) markets about Northern Ireland. There is so much more. It might have been better to do a “northern snapshot” and included Donegal and Sligo.
To be fair, the content Rick includes on the history of Northern Ireland and the difference in countries, government and currency is valuable. But one could get that same information in most guidebooks – and on Rick’s blog.
Read other posts in this series on books
Books to Read Before You Travel to Ireland
More Books to Read for Travel to Ireland
Here is a list books I found helpful in giving a good overall background of the southwestern region or understanding the sites we’ll be traveling to on the Places of Resurrection tour. Some of them are specifically targeted at mindful travel, making the most of traveling to thin places.
A visit to a mystical site is powerful whether or not you have any understanding of the history or legends associated with that site. But the more understanding you have about a site or about the landscape, the greater the possibility for inner transformation.
Prepare by growing your understanding of earth energy, ancient local traditions and the people of the place and you will be less curious about the facts associated with the site, and more able to absorb the power each site generates. These books are simply suggestions that might help you prepare.
Every Ancient, Ever New, by Dolores Whelan – This is a short book with a little over 100 pages, but Dolores gives a solid perspective on how to use the understanding of ancient Celtic traditions to create a new way of seeing the world – of being in the world. This is one of the best books for understanding thin places and what they mean today.
NOTE: The price for this book on Amazon.com fluctuates based on their ability to get the inventory from Ireland. So try ordering directly from Dolores Whalen’s website ($23) of the Amazon price is high.
Ley Lines and Earth Energies, by David Cowan & Chris Arnold – This was the first book I read about the concept of earth energies and how the ancients may have been able to sense those pulsating movements when they built their stone circles, passage tombs and other monuments. We will be doing some dowsing on our tour, so an understanding of this concept will be very helpful.
Awakening to the Spirit World, by Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman – This is one of the best and simplest books on understanding Shamanism and Shamanic practices, which are a way to “journey” to otherworlds in order to gain wisdom. It’s a great primer for understanding the “otherworld” concept and being sensitive to other realms as you move through thin places.
Walking With the Sin Eater, by Ross Heaven – This is a might lighter look at Shamanism and can be read in a few hours. It’s set as a personal memoir of journeying, but reveals some great truths about earth energies and spiritual transformation through journeying.
These books, written by local Irish and travelers to Ireland reveal the hidden landscape, culture, history, folklore and traditions of places in the southwest particularly Dingle, the Aran Island and the Beara Peninsula.
Peig, by Peig Sayers – This is out of print, but you can get used ones from Amazon for a good price. It’s an autobiographical account of a woman who grew on the Dingle peninsula in the early 20th century, but married and moved to the Great Blasket Island and lived a hard life. She only spoke Irish dictated her life’s story to her son who wrote down. It was later translated and is now considered one of the great publications in Irish literature. It also gives insight into the culture and landscape of Dingle, the Blaskets and southwest Ireland in general and the harsh life that formed much of the Irish perspective that we see today.
Twenty Years A-Growing, by Maurice O’Sullivan – First published in 1933, this book, like Pieg is a memoir of O’Sullivan’s life on the great Blasket Island. But this book has a much livelier slant. It’s rich in storytelling, folklore of the southwestern region, and impeccable at describing the landscape and our connection to it.
Climbing Brandon, by Chet Raymo – Raymo is a science writer out of Boston who spent summers on the Dingle. He writes about the holy mountain on Dingle named for St. Brendan the Navigator. His eloquent writing style alone makes the book worth the read, but he gives great insights on the Dingle Peninsula, its legends, culture and the conundrum of making sense of religion with such a strong background in science. His perspective is “in the portal between knowledge and mystery, between the commonplace and the divine.”
THE BEARA PENINSULA
At the Edge of Ireland, by David Yeadon – A travel writer’s perspective of the Beara Peninsula, which is the least traveled of all the southwestern peninsulas. Yeadon and his wife spent time on the Beara and he wrote a funny account of that travel which encompasses everything that is the Beara Peninsula – the villages, the ancient megaliths, the mountains, culture, music, bar scene and more. It’s a comprehensive view of what Leon Uris called “the Terrible Beauty.”
McCarthy’s Bar, by Pete McCarthy – a very fun book written by travel and screen writer Pete McCarthy who traveled from the west coast of Ireland from Cork to Donegal obeying one rule of travel – “Never pass a bar with your name on in.” The cover of this bestselling book shows McCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbere on the Beara. Lots of humor. An entertaining read that reveals the magic of Ireland and its people, but also a good account of the Beara Peninsula and the southwest coast.
THE ARAN ISLANDS
The Aran Islands, by John Millington Synge – Between 1898 and 1901, the great Irish literary figure, John M. Synge traveled to the Aran Islands to observe the landscape and culture of the islanders. This short, little book is a beautiful account of the old folklore, language and traditions that were once at the heart of all of Ireland. One can get a good sense of the Aran Island landscape and people – even the Aran of today by reading this book.
IRELAND IN GENERAL
Legendary Ireland, by Eithne Massey – This book focuses on the myths and legends of Ireland that are associated with places. While several of the sites listed such as the Hag of Beara and Áine of Knockainey but the book itself gives an understanding of how the Irish linked the landscape to the stories, and their perception of a mystical chord that knits that mystical world of myths and legends to our present world.
Let us know your favorite books that reveal the mystical nature of Ireland’s southwestern region including counties Cork, Kerry, Clare and Galway. Put your thoughts in the comments.
Before traveling to Ireland it’s good to have some background on the country, its landscape, its heritage and its people. For our tours which focus on “thin places” or mystical sites, its also good to have an understanding of the legends, the lore and the rituals that compelled people to build cairns, stone circles, and mark sacred places.
Here are some books that helped me learn about mystical Ireland.
Red Branch by Morgan Llywellyn – this is the best book I’ve read that describes the Irish trilogy. It’s the story of Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster and the Knights of the Red Branch that were based in Emain Macha – now Armagh, specifically the Navan Fort both of which are sites on our tour. It’s an entertaining saga and one that taught me a lot about Irish history and lore.
“Powerful . . . A lusty, poetic and legendary world based on Ireland’s mythical warrior-hero Cuchulain.” according to the New York Times Book Review. In a land ruled by war and love and strange enchantments, Cuchulain — torn between gentleness and violence, haunted by the croakings of a sinister raven — fights for his honor and his homeland and discovers too late the trap that the gods have set for him in the fatal beauty of Deirdre and the brutal jealousy of King Conor.
Finn Mac Cool by Morgan Llywellyn – another fictional account about the escapes of an Irish giant. He’s associated with many of the sites we’ll visit including the Giant’s causeway. Another great account of Ulster lore and legend.
Somewhere in the shadowy borderland between myth and history lies the territory of Finn Mac Cool. Mightiest of the Irish heroes, leader of the invincible army of Fianna, he was a man of many faces: warrior, poet, lover, creator, and destroyer. Finn Mac Cool is a man taken from one of the lowest classes of Irish society, driven by ambition and strength to rise above his birth and bring new respect and status to his people. He had it all and lost it all, but in the end he gained immortality. Finn Mac Cool is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and awesome adventure.
Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherford – gives a great account of Irish history starting with Cuchulain all the way to the Cromwellian invasion, Great Hunger and Eastern Uprising. It’s a long book, but it’s gives the reader a great background.
From the internationally bestselling author of London and Sarum — a magnificent epic about love and war, family life and political intrigue in Ireland over the course of seventeen centuries. Like the novels of James Michener, The Princes of Ireland brilliantly interweaves engrossing fiction and well-researched fact to capture the essence of a place.
A Traveler’s Guide to Sacred Ireland by Cary Meehan – my all-time favorite book on thin places in Ireland. This is a guide book to mystical sites, sacred places and their associations with the Irish legends, folklore and people. It’s divided by provinces and counties. Hundreds of sites are listed.
This amazing book is the result of years of research of historical and archeological detail, legend and folklore, and current information on earth energies for each sacred site. Before the author’s rediscoveries, most of the vast number of ancient sites were unknown or almost forgotten except by locals. Features: *Simple wells and stones *Local pilgrimage spots *Holy mountains, lakes and rivers *Sites created by the Auld Giants *Pre-Celtic Temples *Ancient churches and round towers
Legendary Ireland by Eithne Massey – an entertaining account of Ireland’s myths and legends. This is a book you’ll reach for time and time again. It addresses both the places and the myths behind them. Many of the sites we’ll be visiting are featured in this book.
This title visits 28 richly atmospheric sites and tells the mythological stories associated with them. Woven into these landscapes are tales of love and betrayal, greed and courage, passion and revenge, featuring the famous characters of Celtic lore, such as Cu Chulainn, the children of Lir and Queen Maeve. The historical and archaeological facts, and the folk traditions of each ancient site are explored. Some are famous such as Tara and Newgrange; others are less well known but equally captivating such as the Beara Peninsula in Cork. In a world where many have lost touch with the land and their past, the legendary Irish landscape still survives and the stories are never quite over as long as there are people to tell them.
Wisdom of the Celtic Saints by Edward Sellner – A quick study of some of Ireland’s greatest saints, their insights, their contributions and the benefit of being a pilgrim or traveler moving within the context of a story.
Faithfully presenting the lives and legacies of twenty Celtic saints of the sixth to ninth centuries, Edward Sellner reveals their wisdom in a way that can be understood and appreciated by contemporary readers. The stories recounted range from the well-known — Patrick, Brendan, Brigit — to those less likely to be familiar — Monesan, Samthann and Aidan. Vivid portrait illustrations by Susan McLean-Keeney add to the prayerful beauty of the book.
Goddess Alive! by Kris Waldherr – gives great insight into the Celtic and Norse goddesses and the sites they are associated with. This book also offers insight into what thin places are and ways to travel between the two worlds.
The changing of the seasons, phases of the moon, even our personal experiences-all are reflections of the Divine Feminine. Create a stronger connection to the sacred world and your own divinity by welcoming these thirteen powerful Celtic and Nordic goddesses into your life.
As you make your way through a transformative year, know that each goddess has a different energy and a unique lesson to teach you. Starting with the Winter Solstice, the eight seasonal Sabbats and five faces of the moon provide the guideposts along your path. Through ritual, invocation, guided meditations, and magical activities, you’ll explore each goddess’s unique mythology and discover her message for your life.
Read More Books to Read for Travel to Ireland and Best Ireland Guidebooks 2015
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