By Jennifer N. Dienst, Contributing Editor
extensive conference facilities.
Belfast’s unique collection of off-site venues is sure to impress, especially if a group has a penchant for history and architecture. At the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, guests can step back in time and view steam locomotives, horse-drawn carriages, vintage cars, and electric trams up close, and the venue’s Irish Railway Gallery offers a superb setting for award ceremonies and gala dinners of up to 350. For larger groups, Belfast’s Grand Opera House sets the stage for successful meetings and events. Built in 1895, the building’s dramatic spaces - including the 1,020-seat main theater - have hosted such guests as President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Luciano Pavarotti.
When it comes to team-building and recreational activities, the possibilities are endless. Both sea and mountains are within 30 minutes of Belfast, giving meeting planners a wide range of activity options. Just a short drive away from Belfast, groups will find centuries-old castles and country estates to explore, and Northern Ireland has earned much praise for its challenging golf courses. Golf-loving groups will be familiar with the names of Northern Ireland’s world-famous golf champions Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, and Darren Clarke, who all honed their skills on the iconic courses of Royal Portrush and Royal County Down.
Cork, on the southern coast of Ireland, is a gem of a destination with its rugged coastline and idyllic scenery. Cork is also a popular choice for gourmands who want to wine, dine, and indulge in world-class restaurants, food festivals, and historic farmers markets. Other popular activities include sailing, surfing, and soaking up the serene surroundings at one of the area’s many renowned spas
Conference and event facilities are plentiful, too. Creative gala venues range from castles and opera houses to distilleries and cookery schools. Popular meeting and conference venues include Cork City Hall, Cork Opera House, and University College Cork. The city has more than 3,000 hotel rooms, and Cork International Airport directly connects visitors with more than 60 destinations in the U.K. and Europe.
Derry-Londonderry, chosen as the first U.K. City of Culture for 2012, is Ireland’s only completely walled city. On the banks of the River Foyle about 70 miles northwest of Belfast, the city dates back to the 6th century, yet has all of the modern facilities and amenities meeting planners require. The city has long been a favorite with visitors for its rich history, but now a recent surge of development has the city gaining in popularity as a conference destination. The Millennium Forum, the largest venue in the Northwest, can accommodate 1,020 attendees and offers a conference center, flexible auditorium, and breakout rooms for events of all kinds.
The neo-gothic Guildhall, an imposing red sandstone building punctuated with magnificent stained-glass windows, houses the official offices of the mayor and council chamber. The building has recently completed an extensive refurbishment, and offers a uniquely historic venue for welcome receptions.
A popular conference destination, Killarney has many of the exquisite landscapes Ireland is famous for, as well as 125 holes of championship golf. Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, which has hosted the Irish Open, offers three 18-hole courses close to picturesque Killarney National Park, and those looking for some post-con pampering will find a multitude of world-class spa facilities to choose from in the area.
Beyond its postcard-perfect views, Killarney is also home to Ireland’s largest dedicated conference and events venue - The Killarney Conference Center. The facility offers a 35,450-square-foot auditorium with retractable, tiered seating for 2,500 attendees, which can also be converted into banquet space for the same number of guests. The venue is located beside the 25,000-acre Killarney National Park - the perfect place to take advantage of the destination’s stunning scenery or to build a custom team-building program that includes biking, hiking, or kayaking. On site, meeting planners will find two hotels with a combined total of 500 rooms, plus an additional 2,000 hotel rooms within a one-mile radius.
Cathedrals, castles, and even monasteries: Killarney has it all when it comes to inspiring historic sites and settings. Innisfallen Island is home to the ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, a monastery dating back to the 7th century. Visitors can take a boat ride to the island from the 15th-century Ross Castle, another must-see attraction. And just three miles from the Killarney town center is Muckross House, a 19th-century Victorian mansion with gardens, traditional farms, and the Mucros Weavers and Pottery workshops. The 170-seat restaurant, house, and Walled Garden Centre are all available for private events, and weaving, pottery, and bookbinding demonstrations by Mucros craft workers can be arranged in the adjacent craft workshops.
The Shannon Region and Limerick
Besides the easy accessibility of the Shannon Region, which has 200-plus flights arriving per week at Shannon Airport from cities across the United States, the U.K., and Europe, the destination is in the heart of Western Ireland, giving visitors access to some of the country’s most famous scenery. The region is home to the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren - one of the largest karst landscapes (layers of bedrock) in Europe, dramatic Atlantic seascapes, as well as some of Ireland’s most iconic golf courses, including Lahinch and Doonbeg Golf Clubs.
The Shannon Region also offers some of Ireland’s best sports facilities. The University of Limerick Conference and Sports Campus has three flexible venues for conferences, meetings, and events of up to 2,000 attendees, including the Kemmy Business School, University Concert Hall, and Jean Monnet Theatre. Meeting planners can also take advantage of on-site event managers, catering, audiovisual support, and accommodations for 2,400 attendees. Thomond Park Stadium and conference center, home to Munster Rugby, is another great example. The 25,600-seat stadium is supplemented by a multipurpose conference center, whose Main Hospitality Suite can accommodate up to 900 guests for receptions, 700 for theater-style events, and 600 for banquets.
The magnificent Dromoland Castle Hotel has consistently earned accolades and awards from the world’s top travel magazines. From lavish guest rooms to an 18-hole golf course, golf academy, and spa, the estate, just 18 miles outside Limerick, is the epitome of gracious Irish hospitality and luxury. Groups can take advantage of the on-site, 7,700-square-foot Brian Boru International Conference Centre, as well as numerous outdoor activities, including horseback riding, falconry, clay shooting, and archery.
Sidebar: Noteworthy Lineup
Ireland has a strong track record for hosting international conferences and meetings in the medical, science, technology, analytics, and educational fields. During the next few years, an impressive list of meetings and conferences will convene in Ireland, including:
- Dublin City of Science 2012, Dublin - 8,000 attendees
- 24th Annual EAIE Conference 2012, Dublin - 4,200 attendees
- International Bar Association 2012 Annual Conference, Dublin - 4,000 attendees
- World Molecular Imaging Congress 2012, Dublin - 2,500 attendees
- International Committee for Animal Recording 2012 Conference, Cork - 500 attendees
- American Society for Engineering Education’s 67th Midyear Conference for the Engineering Design Graphics Division, 2012, Limerick - 150 attendees
- World Police & Fire Games 2013, Belfast - 25,000 visitors
- 38th Annual International Urogynecology Association Meeting 2013, Dublin - 4,000 attendees
- World Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 2013, Dublin - 2,000 attendees
- The 11th International Mammalogical Congress 2013, Belfast - 1,200 attendees
- Rotary Club of Londonderry International Peace Conference 2013, Derry-Londonderry - 1,000 attendees