THE Irish border is one of the most talked about strips of land ever, thanks to Brexit.
But blink and you’ll miss it.
We only knew we had crossed the invisible divide between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland when I tried to pay with euros at a filling station in County Fermanagh.
The cashier politely reminded me I was back in the UK and would have to stump up in Pounds.
Oh, and you do notice the telephone boxes suddenly turn from green to red and road signs saying a familiar “STOP” not “YIELD”.
A driving holiday through Ireland — north and south — with stunning scenery, belting pubs and restaurants, and friendly folks is a treat not to be missed.
Our destinations were the fantastic, fun city of Galway in the south on the famous Wild Atlantic Way coast, followed by a spot of pampering at the incomparable Galgorm Resort & Spa in the north in County Antrim.
Crackling buzz of energy
Spookily, the names had a lot in common — GALway and GALgorm — and they both proved superb spots.
Our berth in Galway was the Harbour Hotel near the old docks.
As the name suggests, it sits right beside the Atlantic making it ideal for bracing morning walks beside the marina packed with yachts from all over Europe.
With the briny at your back it’s a five-minute stroll along streets always packed with tourists to Eyre Square in the centre of this vibrant Celtic city.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: Stena Line ferries have travel from the UK to Ireland from £79 for car and driver, from £185 for car and family of four (stenaline.co.uk/ferries-to-ireland).
Harbour Hotel has rooms from £103 per night (harbour.ie).
Get a two-night retreat at the Galgorm Hotel, including use of thermal spa village, Serenity Garden and a three course dinner from £370 for two (galgorm.com)
OUT & ABOUT: Galway International Arts Festival runs for two weeks in July with performances, shows and parades, and writers, musicians and artists from all over the world.
MORE INFO: ireland.com.
It’s impossible not to feel the crackling buzz of energy as you meander around the narrow streets of Galway along with fellow tourists from all over the world.
We were there on a Saturday night and the place was deafening, happy, jam-packed and jumping.
In watering holes on the famous Eyre Square there were traditional fiddle bands playing in Fibber Magees pub, O’Connell’s beer garden and the Skeff bar.
And along the cobbled, traffic-free network of streets nearby were several busking bands giving it the Wild Rover, and a young woman belting out a superb rendition of Danny Boy.
Round the corner a ten-piece brass band was playing You Can Leave Your Hat On, the theme from The Full Monty, while two 12ft clowns on stilts sauntered past. And street mime artists and impersonators did The Beatles and a moon-walking Michael Jackson.
And we counted at least three Elvises.
Every pub seemed to be packed to bursting with partying tourists, while the choice of restaurants is as big as any city in the world.
In short, Galway goes crazy on a Saturday night, but what a great place to be.
The next day we started our trek across the country taking the scenic route up the WAW coast, Ireland’s stunning western seaboard.
It took us through Co Mayo where we stopped for a cracking seafood lunch at the Atlantic Coast Hotel on the Quay in Westport.
Then it was up through Co Sligo, which boasts some of the most breath-taking mountain scenery in Europe, before we crossed that unseen border heading for the Galgorm near the market town of Ballymena.
The place has an instant wow factor as you approach the hotel down the long drive and see two brand spanking new Bentleys parked outside.
These are used to ferry wedding day couples from all over Ireland.
The front of the resort is a restored yellow painted country mansion.
There is a homely turf fire blazing in the hearth as you are welcomed into reception by a top-hatted concierge.
But it’s like you have stepped into the Tardis.
Behind the imposing facade, the two brothers who own the 163-acre Galgorm estate are seemingly expanding it by the day.
They have turned it into an amazing venue that was voted the Global World Spa of the Year in 2018, and they are still upgrading Next to reception is the posh River Restaurant.
If silver service isn’t really your thing, the resort also boasts a bustling Italian bistro, a grill bar, a kitchen bar and a magnificent conservatory which is ideal for afternoon teas and is right next to the Gin Bar.
A wing of plush executive suites overlooks the Thermal Village and Spa complex with hot tubs, heated pools beside the river, steam rooms and saunas, and a list of massages and treatments as long as your arm.
The Galgorm just keeps getting bigger and better. Next month it is due to launch 17 new country cottages, all with their own pretty gardens.
But one thing never changes. The staff are friendly, keen, welcoming and helpful — just like Irish people north and south of the border, really.
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