If you're headed for Williamsburg, you may want to take a quick side trip to Ireland. There's a piece of the Emerald Isle in Virginia now, and it's within driving distance.
Beyond the stone entrance gates to the village of Killarney, thatch-roof cottages glow in the morning sun. Musicians play lively Irish tunes. Step dancers kick up their heels on a nearby stage, and patrons in a pub lift mugs of ale.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg opened its Ireland section last year as the newest of six European countries represented in the theme park. Many of the craftspeople and entertainers are Irish and relocate to Virginia for the season, which runs from late March through October. "We wanted to be as authentic as possible," says general manager Dan Brown. "We went to Dublin to recruit singers, dancers, and musicians."
From May to August, artisans from Waterford Crystal demonstrate glass-cutting techniques. Several new designs have been commissioned for the park, whose gift shop displays one of the largest selections of Waterford Crystal on the Atlantic Coast.
The shop also provides access to a genealogical database visitors can use. While you're here, you can search for your Irish ancestors (an estimated 43 million Americans claim Irish descent). "That's one of the reasons we wanted to have Ireland represented," Dan says. "We think it's a perfect fit for us."
There's Irish magic everywhere you look. Visitors gather around a covered wagon where a leprechaun-like figure delights children by guessing their names and ages. A musical show called The Secrets of Castle O'Sullivan features special effects, including rain, thunder, and a rainbow that appears over the audience. When it's time to go, you have to pinch yourself to remember that you're still in Virginia.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg: One Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg, VA 23187-8785; 1-800-772-8886 or www.buschgardens.com.
This article is from the March 2002 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.