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Shopping in Ireland is leisurely and while the choice may not be as wide as London or New York you will discover lots which cannot be found elsewhere. Opening hours are usually 9am-5.30pm Monday to Saturday. Most shops close on Sunday and in smaller towns many close for lunch and on one afternoon a week. Late night shopping on Thursdays and Fridays in now increasingly popular. The larger shops will change currency and traveller's cheques but you will get a better rate in a bank. There is value Added Tax (VAT) refund scheme for goods taken out of the Republic. You must have the invoice stamped by customs at the exit point before returning it to the shop for refund.

Visitors to Ireland will want to take home some gifts or mementoes of their stay and there is a wide choice of quality Irish-made goods available. Avoid those displaying an excessive amount of shamrocks or leprechauns, they probably come from the Far East! If it is not marked ask the assistant where the item was made and look for the 'Guaranteed Irish' symbol, an assurance that the product is quality Irish-made.

Powerscour Townhouse Centre, DublinIn Dublin the main shopping areas are all within easy walking distance: Grafton Street, Wicklow Street, O'Connell Street and Henry Street. The Powerscourt Town House in South William Street has a large assortment of shops, boutiques, restaurants and a craft centre all housed within a carefully restored 18th-century mansion. There are more shopping complexes in the ILAC Centre off Henry Street, St. Stephen's Green Centre, Grafton Street, and the Irish Life Centre, Talbot Street. The principal department stores are Clery's, (O'Connell Street), Brown Thomas's (Grafton Street), Arnott's, Dunne's and Roche's (Henry Street).

In Belfast the principal shops are located in Donegal Place and Royal Avenue and the streets nearby. Cork, the Munster capital, has Patrick Street and Grand Parade as the main shopping thoroughfare. In Galway the aptly named Shop Street has a good selection of stores, especially for clothes and crafts. In fact every town, no matter how small, is usually amply catered for by its retail trade. Watch out for the combined grocery shop and bar where you can order your rashers and have a pint under the same roof.

Souvenirs

Duiske Crystal, Graiguenamanagh, County KilkennyWaterford is almost synonymous with crystal and the factory just outside the city welcomes visitors by appointment. There you can see the ancient skill of moulding, blowing and cutting glass. The factory does not sell direct to the public but the glass is available at outlets everywhere. Less well-known but equally beautiful crystal is made in Tyrone, Galway, Dublin, Cavan, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Cork and Sligo, and many have shops attached where you can pick up first-rate bargains.

Tweed is a strong woollen fabric used in making suites, skirts, curtains, jackets, ties, hats and carpets. It comes in many beautiful designs, much of it from Donegal and Connemara where the rugged landscape provides the colour and texture of this versatile cloth. You can buy tweed garments made up at home. A tweed hat or cap is a useful precaution against the unpredictable Irish weather.

Donegal TweedAran sweaters have been worn by West Coast fisherman for generations. The patterns are so varied and intricate that it is said a drowned man could be recognised by his pullover alone. The banana or undyed wool came originally from the Aran Islands and makes the garment warm and rain resistant. You can buy sweaters, cardigans, dresses, caps and mitts in Aran patterns. Ask for a card explaining the meaning of the pattern. A hand-knitted Aran Sweater (more expensive than handloomed) will last for more than 15 years if looked after.

The north has a tradition of weaving linen for tablecloths, sheets, handkerchiefs and garments, and Irish poplin is now woven in Cork. Locally-made pottery is on sale in most towns although Kilkenny is now the Mecca for potters (and most other crafts). The tiny village of Belleek in Fermanagh is the home of delicate, almost transparent porcelain. Other well-known potteries are Noritake (Arklow), Stephen Pearce (Shanagarry, Co. Cork) and Royal Tara. In these you can buy anything from an egg cup to a full dinner service.

Claddagh rings, Celtic design plaques and jewellery in gold and silver are popular souvenirs and you can have a pendant engraved with your name in ogham (ancient Irish lettering). Every record shop stocks a selection of traditional Irish music. Among the well-known performers are the Chieftains, Clannad, The Dubliners, Paddy Reilly, the Furey Brothers and the Clancy Brothers. Irish publishers produce an enormous range of books on every aspect of Irish life and there are bookshops in every large town.



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