How to get there
The lowest round-trip air fare between Boston and Dublin (primary location of many records, including abundant birth and marriage data for Northern Ireland) at press time was $906 on Aer Lingus (in mid-August, you can fly for $678 on American Airlines). Renting a zippy subcompact to drive to your ancestral digs can cost as little as $150 for the week, if you can manage a stick shift on your left side; automatic transmission will add $30-$50 to the price. It's best to arrange for the car before you go.
What to do
To dig for your roots, start in Dublin at the National Library, 2 Kildare St., just east of the Grafton Street shopping district. If you've done the basic preliminary research from your family resources, an adviser can help you home in on the resources you need. Many birth and property records are there, on microfilm, and the General Register Office, the National Archives, the Valuation Office, and the Registry of Deeds are all within walking distance. If your ancestors hailed from Northern Ireland, drive up to Belfast on the fine new expressway, A1, to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, or PRONI, 66 Balmoral Ave. This facility, within a 15-minute drive of busy downtown, maintains a wide array of civil records. Advisers here can tell you what to look for and how to search, but we found them generally less cordial than the National Library counselors.
If you're willing to pay a professional researcher, fee-based assistance is available throughout Ireland. One umbrella group, Irish Genealogy Ltd., supports 34 offices across the island compiling local records for a comprehensive database. At the centers, professional researchers help people tracing their forebears. The website is www.irishgenealogy.ie. There are many other associations, and a terrific booklet, ''Tracing Your Ancestors in Ireland," is available from Bord Failte, Baggot Street Bridge, Dublin 2, or from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, 59 North St., Belfast BT1 1NB.
Where to stay
Hotel and bed-and-breakfast rates in Dublin vary with the season, the day of the week, and the euro exchange rate.
A cheerful, 15-room Georgian townhouse with great beds, reliable plumbing, and a terrific breakfast near St. Stephen's Green and the National Gallery and a 10-minute walk from Dublin's main shopping area. Rooms about $90 per person double occupancy in August, and $60 in December.
The Harcourt Hotel
Larger and less personal than Kilronan House, but similarly located and furnished. It boasts a breakfast-lunch-and-supper restaurant and a cozy lounge where live music (often traditional Irish) is offered most evenings. Rooms about $60 per person double occupancy in August and $50 off season. In Northern Ireland, we based ourselves in Kilkeel, County Down.
Kilmorey Arms Hotel
Greencastle Street, Kilkee
Rooms about $50 per person double occupancy in August; $30 off season.
Where to eat
The Oliver St. John Gogarty
57 Fleet St., Temple Bar, Dublin
Named for James Joyce's friend. Has an excellent lunch buffet and traditional Irish music live in the evenings. Entrees about $9-$25.
9 Fountain St., Belfast
Irish food made with creativity. Service is casual rather than eager, but the potato soup was deliriously satisfying. Dinner about $28.