City bolthole ... G Hotel
It's not just in Dublin and Belfast where design-conscious groups can find stylish boutique hotels. Galway's G Hotel, created by master milliner Philip Treacy, who was born in County Galway, has won awards for its glitzy and quirky interiors. The property has 101 rooms, as well as six suites that can cater for meetings and private events. The G can host up to 120 people theatre-style or 80 for a banquet. Events can also be held at the neighbouring Eye Cinema. The hotel's facilities also include an Espa, Matz restaurant, three lounges and a cocktail bar. For incentive groups, the G is a good base for trips exploring Galway's attractions, such as the island of Inis Mor, Kylemore Abbey and Connemara National Park.
Artistic types ... Ulster Museum
Belfast's Ulster Museum has recently reopened after undergoing a three-year £17m redevelopment to make it one of the most up-to-date museums in the UK. It now offers a host of options for event planners looking for a venue with an artistic or archaeological backdrop. The museum, set in the heart of the city, can be hired for events such as product launches, networking parties and lectures. Facilities include a lecture hall, galleries, main hall and restaurant. The museum can host up to 500 for a cocktail reception, 400 for a banquet and 200 theatre-style.
Gastronomy groups ... Jameson Experience
Cork, in the far south of Ireland, is one of the best destinations for groups that want a gourmet experience. The Jameson Experience Midleton is a leading venue for those interested in food and drink and can host a range of events. Options include the Jameson "Shindig" Irish evening, which includes a private tour of the Old Distillery to learn how Jameson's Irish Whiskey is made, followed by a banquet and entertainment with traditional Irish music and dancing. The venue can host up to 120 people for a banquet or 200 for a reception. Groups can also visit the gourmet town of Kinsale, which is 25 minutes from Cork airport, and renowned for its restaurants.
Boardroom brainstorms ... The Dylan
Dublin has a host of options for important meetings and one of the most stylish venues is boutique property, The Dylan. Located just south of the River Liffey, The Dylan has two well-equipped and flexible meeting spaces. Room 1900 can be set up for board meetings or private dinners for up to 12 people, while the Library is more informal and can cater for up to 30 theatre-style or 20 for a dinner. The Dylan Restaurant can also be booked for groups of up to 120. The 44-room hotel is located in the centre of Dublin close to the new Aviva Stadium.
Rural retreat ... Ballygally Castle
For a historic coastal venue without long transfer times, a good choice is the Ballygally Castle Hotel on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. The castle, which dates back to 1625, is only 26 miles from Belfast so can easily be combined with tours and team-building programmes around the region. The refurbished property's 44 rooms feature wooden-beamed ceilings alongside the mod cons you would expect of a leading hotel. Groups can take over the entire castle and there are three flexible conference suites and meeting rooms. Gala dinners can be organised for groups ranging from 30 to 150, while theatre-style events can host up to 200. Local attractions include the legendary Giant's Causeway.
Outdoor incentive ... Tanagh Outdoor Education Centre
County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland, is one of Ireland's lesser-known areas. The county's hills, lakes, rivers and forest make it a great place for team-building exercises. Tanagh Outdoor Education Centre can organise a host of activities, including raft-building, orienteering, assault courses, night hikes and zip-lining, depending on how adventurous the group wants to be. The centre can tailor-make half or full-day packages with meals provided by the nearby Errigal Country House Hotel. The centre's corporate clients have included Pricewaterhousecoopers and Lidl.
Spa time ... Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt
Groups looking for intensive pampering should look no further than the Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, which is located on one of Ireland's most historic and scenic estates in County Wicklow near Dublin. The 2,700m2 Espa facility features separate male and female thermal suites for guests to prepare for the therapeutic treatments. The spa suites include crystal steam rooms, tepidariums and lifestyle showers, as well as saunas and vitality pools with views of the nearby Sugar Loaf Mountain. There is also a 20-metre pool lit by Swarovski crystals and a fitness centre. The 200-room resort is good for food lovers too as it includes a Gordon Ramsay restaurant.
Sporting greats ... Thomond Park
The Irish have long been known for their love of sport and the country features plenty of sporting arenas that can be used for memorable corporate events. One of the most iconic venues is Thomond Park in Limerick, which is home to the legendary Munster rugby team and has undergone a £36m redevelopment in the past few years. The stadium now has a range of modern conference and banqueting facilities including a main hospitality suite overlooking the pitch that can cater for receptions of up to 900 and dinners for 600. Recent clients include accountancy firm BDO.
The Irish capital is being boosted this year by the opening of two major venues - the Convention Centre Dublin (CCD) and the Aviva Stadium. Both will substantially increase options for event planners and the two venues have already secured significant bookings.
The CCD is due to open on 1 September and is located on the banks of the Liffey in the heart of the city. It will be able to host meetings for up to 8,000 delegates in its 22 multi-purpose rooms, which include an auditorium for 2,000 delegates, 4,500m2 of exhibition space and banqueting for up to 2,000 guests. More than 200,000 delegate days have already been confirmed, including events such as the International Bar Association's annual conference, the International Conference on Emergency Medicine and the All-Island Conference hosted by the Irish Sports Council and Sport Northern Ireland.
The Aviva Stadium, which opened last month, is the long-awaited redevelopment of the former Lansdowne Road football and rugby stadium. It features more than 50 event spaces over five levels and can host conferences, product launches, banquets, awards ceremonies and exhibitions. Meeting capacities range from two to 700 delegates with most areas providing views over the pitch. Events already arranged for the stadium include the Centre of the Picture Industry (CEPIC) Congress and the College of Anaesthetists of Ireland's annual conference.
To the north, Belfast will benefit from the continuing £5bn Titanic Quarter, which involves the regeneration of the city's waterfront over the next few years. Plans include a five-star 90-room boutique hotel created from the former offices of the shipyard where the doomed liner was built.
The Northern Ireland capital has also seen the reopening of the Ulster Museum in the past few months after a major renovation. It has already become the busiest attraction in Northern Ireland. Belfast International Airport has been getting a £10m facelift, while Easyjet has recently started operating from Luton to Belfast's other airport, George Best Belfast City Airport, twice-daily.