Friday, March 1, 2013

"Rough Guide to Ireland": Book Review

I've used this before, and the newest (2011 tenth) edition edited by Paul Gray and Geoff Wallis (who also wrote the fine "Rough Guide to Irish Music") continues in the solid tradition. Rough Guide like its competitor Lonely Planet aims at the market lower than Fodor's (whose 2011 Ireland guide I also like--see my review) as to cost but up slightly from, say, Let's Go for the hostels. Maps are decent, inserts on food/drink and festivities appeal, and coverage gets the cities and small towns in, and the familiar attractions and scenic and/or fabled villages.

That being said, I did a spot-check on a few places I know better, to see if the depth was there, for places a bit off-beat. Drogheda has good maps and historical data, and while certain eateries I'd frequent are absent, it's sufficient information for a market town's advantages. For a smaller town, Downpatrick, as a test case, had the basics, and a smaller one still, Waterfoot in the Glens of Antrim, the bare bones for a little place.

Further west, Oughterard and Galway city, Roundstone and Spiddal as checked had the usual sights, pubs, craft shops, bars, hotels and b+b's. No real surprises. Glencolmkille in Donegal was missing some "practicalities" but still a note for detail was welcome: in the rain or wet weather, an alternate if longer path to the recommended hostel was suggested. But, a newer place I was wondering about pro-con was not included from there, and this makes me wonder how often the editor or his team visits the hinterlands to update the material.

Dublin, Derry, Belfast, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, the Aran Islands, the Ring of Kerry, the Boyne Valley and the like gain the expected prominence. Bigger charts as to historical districts are a plus. Everyone needs up-to-date phones, locations, URLs, and hours, and these seem present. But the nitty-gritty of the times buses (or more rarely if ever trains depending on where you are) come and go is not included within the facts for each place (unlike some other guides) for smaller burgs. It's relegated to a summary list at the end of each region, and how often a day a bus or train comes and goes. While this saves the trouble of looking at each locale's entry, it may or may not help the visitor as to a precise timing of when journeys can be arranged. For a lower-budget visitor not having a car in the middle of the country outside the large centers, this is a lack that is telling. Not every visitor may have a smartphone to check web data, and the arrival and departure can be key. Still, you can always wait it out in a pub, more likely, or heritage center, perhaps, for the day, or find a place to stay for the night!

I'd use this, however, to plan a journey. The contact information can set you up via the phone or more likely if abroad the web. Reservations and itineraries can be coordinated with a judicious use of this guide, to see what's worth it and when. It does not have the all-island or regional tour suggestions of other guides, but it's good for accommodation details.

The Irish language section is unlikely to be consulted by many readers, but I found its lists not very useful for absolute beginners, with no transliterations save elements common in some place names. Despite dialectal differences by region, some raw equivalences beyond vowel sounds and consonant charts might have encouraged the brave visitor to try out the "cúpla focail" or couple words in Gaeilge, to break the ice. Otherwise, the cultural material, enriched by fine if of course idiosyncratic musical and literary recommendations, is fine as a refresher, stimulant, or conversation starter. I'd argue half the night in a pub over certain inclusions.  (Amazon US 8-17-12)

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