Céad Míle Fáilte. It’s a Gaelic phrase that means ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’ and it couldn’t be more on the money to describe Ireland.

Wherever you go in the world, it will be hard to top the welcome and hospitality you encounter.

And you’ll hear an English equivalent a lot too – ‘you’re very welcome’ was a phrase we heard dozens of times in the west of the country.

Flying into Shannon, the hospitality began almost immediately in a restaurant called Ard Bia – the literal translation of which is ‘high food’ – at Galway’s Spanish Arch.

Housed in a small building on the dockside, the food was a phenomenal way to begin a few days in this beautiful part of the world.

Heading into Connemara the next morning, the landscape suddenly became stunning.

Wide open plains with lakes, wildlife and rocky terrain are surrounded by mountains split by low-lying cloud.

It is the rugged Ireland you see on TV and in brochures, but in real life it is breathtaking.

You could stop every few feet to take pictures, complete with the sort of abandoned farmhouses that, although most likely have some sorry tale behind them, add to the magic.

Sitting on the side of a lake deeper into Connemara is Kylemore Abbey, a large house with a colourful history built by Mitchell Henry in the 19th Century.

In 1903 it was bought by the Duke of Manchester, who later had to sell it to clear gambling debts – the story goes that he bet the house in a card game and lost.

In 1920 a community of nuns, who were made refugees from their home in Ypres, Belgium, during World War One, bought the estate and it became Kylemore Abbey.

The nuns still live there and, until 2010, ran an international boarding school.

For an authentic taste – literally – of the west coast, Connemara Smokehouse, which is open to visitors, sits in a remote spot on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean at Aillebrack.

Here, salmon and tuna caught by local fishermen is smoked and shipped around the world and its products have been backed by chefs such as Rick Stein and Rachel Allen.

Continuing the theme of fantastic food, another warm welcome was in store at The Forge in Moycullen, a village outside of Galway.

It offered a menu of delicious dishes, much of which is locally sourced.

Next day, it was on to a different landscape, this time the Cliffs of Moher on the coast close to Liscannor.

Unfortunately we encountered them on a less-than-hospitable day weather-wise, but, in much the same way as Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, the view is spectacular, with plenty of opportunities to explore on foot.

Likewise nearby there is the chance to walk around the Burren, hills composed of limestone pavements with criss-crossing cracks known as grikes, which leave isolated rocks called clints.

While Connemara is stunning in its vistas, the Burren is a bleaker, but no less beautiful, landscape.

There was one last chance to sample what had quickly become legendary and plentiful hospitality.

Bunratty Castle is set within a folk park, which by day recreates the lifestyles of rural and urban life in 19th Century Ireland.

But by night, and after a visit to the traditional Durty Nellies pub next door, it was medieval banquet time.

The castle was built in the 15th century, and it is this period that the banquet recreates.

Beginning with a mead reception, costumed hosts lead you through the evening, complete with singing, the odd scoundrel or two and a four-course feast to end all feasts.

Of course we barely scratched the surface of what there is to do in a few short days.

It is the people that make Ireland a truly special place, so save yourself some cash, book a cheap and cheerful B&B and you won’t be disappointed.

We discovered the truth of that by staying in B&Bs, which not only offer a cheap accommodation option but a very welcoming one.

But if you’re looking for more luxury, the Glenlo Abbey Hotel outside of Galway is beautiful, and there are many other four and five-star hotels around the west coast area.

Next year The Gathering 2013, a joint initiative of Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, is being held. Find out more at thegatheringireland.com.

Getting there

Aer Lingus fly from Bournemouth to Dublin six days a week, with fares from £29.99 including taxes and charges, but excluding baggage.

The airline flies directly to Shannon from London Heathrow.

National Express runs coaches regularly to Heathrow from Poole and Bournemouth. Prices start at £17.50 each way and groups of three or more can travel from £15. Visit nationalexpress.com.
Find out about accommodation at discoverireland.ie