Take a journey to the land of the green: rolling grass-covered hills, verdant pastures and cozy pubs where you can heft a pint of Harp Irish Lager or Guinness Stout. This stunning landscape isn't "across the pond," it's in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, home since the late 1700s to Scottish, Irish and Ulster (Scots-Irish) settlers and their descendents.
The Killahevlin Bed and Breakfast ( 800-847-6132 or vairish.com ) is an authentic Irish inn, complete with a pub. Owned by Tom and Kathy Conkey for the past six years, it's a resplendent manor dating to 1905. The mansion was built by Irishman William Edward Carson, the renowned conservationist responsible for finding the vast tract of land that the federal government acquired to create Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. "The countryside around Front Royal reminded Carson of his home Back in Enniskillen, Ireland," Tom Conkey says. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Carson's home was converted into a bed-and-breakfast in the mid-1990s. It features four guest rooms, all en suite, plus two separate suites in a guesthouse. The rooms, all with working fireplaces, start at $155, and they feature quilts made by Kathy Conkey, as well as reproduction 19th-century Irish wallpaper. Large transoms over the doors are inlaid with stained-glass windows adorned, of course, by shamrocks. A hearty Irish breakfast each morning includes eggs, fresh fruit and homemade scones. The private pub is open to guests, who may pour their own mugs of Harp lager, enjoy bottles of Guinness Stout or drink wine. It's still Virginia, after all.
Each summer, the verdant Valley seems to take on an even greener glow during the annual Front Royal Celtic Festival ( 540-660-2747 or frontroyalcelticfestival.com ). The sound of bagpipes fills the air during the daylong festivities, which bring together Virginians who trace their lineage to Scottish and Irish clans. The event showcases three Irish dance troupes, the sweet tones of the Irish harp, plus pipes and drum, and Irish and Scottish songs. You'll also see mock sword fights, a tug of war, a parade, Celtic food, workshops on Gaelic and, yes, men in kilts.
The Irish Isle Restaurant and Pub ( 540-868-9877 or theirishisle.com ) in nearby Middletown not only has both Harp and Guinness on tap, the menu also boasts an assortment of traditional Irish fare — fish and chips, corned-beef hash, and shepherd's pie, a stew of beef, carrots, onions, peas and corn covered by a mashed-potato crust. The restaurant also serves lamb chops, chicken pot pie, beef brisket and Irish dinner sausage. For dessert, bread pudding topped with rum butter and whipped cream is a good choice. Owned by Brian Coughlin, from Limerick, Ireland, the restaurant includes a separate pub downstairs and a patio for outdoor dining. The full menu is available in both spots. Like Carson, Coughlin was drawn to the Shenandoah Valley because of its resemblance to the Emerald Isle. "The stone walls are very similar, and the fields often have large rocks right in the middle of them, just like back home," Coughlin notes. Wednesday night in the pub is Quiz Night, a well-established British Isles tradition in which tables of patrons compete in a trivia contest. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Coughlin performs traditional Irish folk songs, such as "Whiskey in the Jar," as well as American folk songs. Says Coughlin in his Irish brogue, "I must know five to six hundred songs."
Some parts of Ireland are best seen from atop a horse, and that's also true of the hollows and hills of the Shenandoah Valley. Highlander Horses ( 540-636-4523 or highlanderhorses.com ) offers horseback rides along miles and miles of trails that cut through forests, cross open fields and cover more challenging terrain with water crossings. Unlike many trail rides, during which the horses move nose-to-tail at a walk, Highlander allows experienced riders "to move out and do some jumping," says owner Will Burke. Rides are offered on Western saddles for beginners. Irish riders, though, traditionally use English tack and methods. Hence, the stable offers private, semi-private and group instruction in "proper" English riding. A standard Western ride runs $30 per hour.
It's not a proper trip to Ireland unless you pay homage to the potato. Route 11 Potato Chips ( 800-294-7783 or rt11.com ), located about 40 minutes from Front Royal, has been recognized for making some of the best chips in the country, and on weekdays, you can tour the factory for a fuller potato experience.