Ennis, County Clare
If arriving in or departing Ireland from Shannon Airport then the charming town of Ennis could act as a more authentic Irish experience than the city of Limerick for your first or last taste of the island.
The quaint centre of Ennis does come as a surprise. After entering the town through commercial estates you suddenly come across little cobbled streets, stone bridges and a multitude of bars which all combine as a very nice setting for a drink or two.
Ennis is well known for its music scene and between Knox's Pub and Storehouse (Ennis' oldest drinking establishment), Preacher's Pub and James O'Keefe's it would take a bit of bad luck not to stumble into a traditional Irish music session.
There's not a huge amount in the way of sightseeing in Ennis but the peaceful 13th century ruins of Ennis Friary in the heart of the town are worth a visit.
After Barrack Obama and Kurt Cobain, Muhammad Ali was the latest famous American you never knew had Irish ancestry popping up in the country. A monument to the great boxer's ancestral home was erected and the showman was given the freedom of the town on a visit in 2009. Word of warning before hunting it down, it's not exactly an architectural masterpiece and the links to Ennis are disputed.
As well as being very handy for Shannon Airport, Ennis is just a 45 minute drive from the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. Maybe not as attractive a notion as the cool Burren villages of Doolin and Lisdoonvarna but this is a decent option. I don't want to hype this place up too much as a destination, it's just a nice place to overnight.
Finally, be careful with your choice of hotel as properties like the Auburn Lodge and Treacy's West County are on the verge of walkable from the city centre whereas hotels like the Temple Gate Hotel, Old Ground and Rowan Tree Hostel are all right in the action. As this isn't big area for the international tourist, the prices remain attractive.