Is this the most beautiful walk in Ireland?

One of the joys of an Irish summer is the 17 hours of light every day and how easy it is to get around this relatively small island. One taxi and two trains later I went from an office worker in Dublin city to following the Kerry Camino in the footsteps of Saint Brendan the Navigator.

Over two days we took on the challenge of walking from Tralee to Dingle (39 km / 22.4 miles) taking in some of the most wonderful countryside and sights.

The Kerry Camino route, from Tralee to Dingle, is believed to have been taken by pilgrims and monks on their way to St. James Church, in Dingle, and onward further afield to Santiago, Spain.

It’s also the route followed by St. Brendan, one of Ireland’s most famous saints, in 512AD. According to the text “The Voyage of St. Brendan” it was this traveling preacher who first reached the shores of America.

Not only is this area steeped in history it’s also one of “the most beautiful places on earth,” officially, according to National Geographic. For a personal added bonus the sun shone upon us for our whole trip. Absolutely magic.

Day 1

Our first port of call was Tralee, the county town of Kerry, and a lively spot with bars, cafes, shops, and restaurants lining the streets. We stayed at the Grand Hotel and enjoyed a really delicious meal in the bar (mussels served with brown bread and plaice served with a seafood bisque).

What’s great about walking 39 kilometers (22.4 miles) in two days is that you have free rein to eat whatever you desire and sleep like the dead. What could be better?

Day 2

The next morning we were driven to the small village of Camp to start our walk. We were instructed by our driver to stick to our walking notes and keep our eyes peeled for the clear signs along the trail. Of course, we managed to get lost almost immediately, but after getting ourselves back on track the walk went without a hitch.

The walk from Camp to Annascaul is 17 km (10.2 miles) and takes you through the wonderfully lush and empty valleys below the Caherconree Mountain.

What was breathtaking was that during our four-hour walk (we were very pleased with that time, by the way) we saw only two other people. We were surrounded by the rolling hills, exposed rocks, with quick glimpses of the sea in the distance, and thankfully the blissful sun.

We had lunch at Inch Beach, the longest beach in Ireland and a favorite among water sports fanatics. Even in though the winds are almost too strong to stand on the beach there were kite surfers and brave swimmers heading out into the break.

Far more sensibly we took refuge in Sam’s Cafe for coffee and cake.

We arrived in Annascaul, the birthplace and home of the much admired Antarctic survivor and hero Tom Crean. Our first stop, almost the centerpiece of the town, was the South Pole Inn, the bar that Crean opened after he retired from the British Navy in 1920.

The walls of the pub are filled with the most amazing photos of hardy Polar heroes that really put your last 17-kilometer walk into perspective. The heroes’ bar is a lively spot with great food (we tried the fish and chips and braised lamb and mash), their own lager named after the man himself, and live music.

That evening we also ventured to Hannafin’s bar to sip wine, play board games and listen to the chat around the bar. The bar run by John (a retired teacher, turned farmer, and bar owner) played Bowie and the atmosphere was perfect for folks bewildered by too much fresh air and walking.

By the end our one-day stay in Annascaul we were already calling Noel and Moira, our hosts who run the Annascaul Bed & Breakfast, our Fear and Bean an Tí (Man and Woman of the House). They made us feel instantly at home and most importantly provided a hearty Irish breakfast the next day.

Day 3

Feeling like pros after one day of walking we set out from Annascaul and headed towards Dingle, a 22 kilometer (14 miles) walk.

Our first stop was definitely the most memorable stop of our trip. The natural storm beach next to Minard Castle is such a beautiful spot it borders on being surreal. Sitting on the black boulders of the storm beach next to the remains of a 16th-century castle we looked out at the Dingle Bay and the Iveragh Peninsula stretching into the distance.

Did I mention it was still sunny? Truly, there’s nowhere in the world better than being in Ireland in the sun.

Onward we headed to Conor’s Pass and this is where the walk got a little more difficult. However, the payoff was the amazing views. The route took us up through farmland, over streams and on through gorgeous sparsely inhabited roads dotted with beautiful houses.

The road into Dingle did seem to go on for an eternity and when the village eventually appeared it was like an oasis. Dingle is just like a postcard. Having seen so many photos of the beautifully colored houses and shopfronts and the harbor and the fishing boats going out to sea, the town felt almost familiar.

After checking in at the Lantern B & B we headed to the wonderful Dick Macks, a beautiful, family-owned traditional pub built around the remnants of the old family shoe shop.

For dinner, we went to the Out of the Blue for what was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had in some time. We tried the gambas al aglio, monkfish with gambas, followed by a hot dark chocolate brownie. Truly delicious.

Day 4

A little achy we checked out and wandered the beautiful boutiques that have becomes synonymous with villages like Dingle, selling Irish-made products like pottery, jewelry, and clothes. We then popped into the neatly designed and strangely urban Bean in Dingle for a serious cuppa Joe and on to the now famous Murphy’s Ice Cream where I tried their sea-salt ice cream before we jumped on the bus to get the train back to Dublin.

Regrettably, I come from the Ryanair generation and while growing up at every opportunity I was on a plane to Europe instead of enjoying our own gorgeous island. This trip has given me a stern lesson…get out and see what’s in store in Ireland.

Only one word describes it…Magic.

For more information on the various tours and vacations available like this visit Camino Ways here.

 

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Killarney hotel wins two awards in two weeks including Best Overall Hotel in Ireland

The Europe Hotel & Resort in Killarney has come up trumps at the 2016 National Hospitality Awards, winning Best Overall Hotel.
This is the second award the hotel has picked up lately, winning Hotel Spa of the Year at the European Hospitality Awards in London last week.


General Manager Michael Brennan has said they were thrilled with the wins: ““There are many fantastic hotels in Ireland, so we’re delighted to have won this award. It is a testament to the amazing team that we have working at The Europe, whose dedication to our customers is second to none.”
Commenting on the award for Hotel Spa of the Year, Spa Manager Victoria Ceesay said, “Winning Hotel Spa of the Year at the European Hospitality Awards is a huge achievement for us.”
The Europe Hotel & Resort is located on the shores of Lough Lein and beside the McGillycuddy Reeks mountain range.

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Ireland’s spectacular south west coastline

Between the breathtaking aerial footage flying high over staggering cliffs and the panning shots showing the magnificence of Ireland’s great house and castles, Brazilian filmmaker Junior Braun has managed to make Ireland look incredible even on a dull and rainy day.

In his latest video of the counties in the south west, Braun treks through Kilkenny, Tipperary, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Clare, capturing something magical at every turn.

Moving to Ireland to learn English and be in close proximity to the rest of Europe so as to further his travel prospects, Braun was instantly enamored with the country’s landscape.

“When I came to Ireland, my first thought was that I needed to make a video about this amazing country,” he told IrishCentral.

“I went on this trip with my wife and another couple. We had just have 4 days and we wanted to find the most beautiful places in Ireland in 4 days.

“We started to do research and to find the best places to go and found a route starting in Dublin that went through Kilkenny, Tipperary, Cork, Kerry, Clare, Limerick and finished in Dublin again.”

Ireland almost feels abandoned as Braun puts together the beauty of all the south west’s most remote and isolated havens, even happening across deer through the branches of a wood.

(…)

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Ireland’s most popular counties and what to visit

The following counties are among the most widely visited in Ireland. With their lively arts and culture attractions it’s not hard to see why.

Cliffs of Moher

COUNTY ANTRIM

Belfast City (in Irish, Beal Feirste) is the capital of Northern Ireland and is located in County Antrim, one of Ireland most visited counties. History and politics have always played a major role in the fabric of Belfast, and perhaps for that reason its citizens are among the most vivid and witty people you’ll ever meet.

Belfast

Unsurprisingly, Belfast is rich in culture, art, music, dance, sports, shopping, attractions and historical sites. City Hall, one of the main seats of power, is located on Donegall Square and dominates the area with its magnificent classical renaissance style architecture and Italian marble interior. It was completed in 1903.

The Linen Hall Library, also located on Donegall Square, was established in 1788. It houses an Irish collection of over 20,000 volumes and a Robert Burns collection. Visit and you’ll be keeping company with many noted Irish authors.

The Crown Liquor Saloon is the most famous pub in Belfast and, frankly, one of the most beautiful pubs in the world. Featuring Victorian architecture, with the outside covered in thousands of colorful tiles, the inside decor has stained and painted glass, carved oak screens and mahogany furniture. Don’t miss it.

The Botanic Gardens, the rose gardens and herbaceous borders were established in 1920 and are unmissable. Two greenhouses dominate the gardens and the Palm House has a conservatory containing tropical plants like coffee, sugar, and banana plants. The Tropical Ravine has a high walkway that provides a great viewpoint.

Overlooking the city, Belfast Castle was built in 1870 and was the former home of the Donegall family, who gave the main square in the city center its name. The castle offers a spectacular view of the city. There is also a heritage center, antique shop, and children’s play area on the premise.

 

COUNTY CLARE

County Clare in the Republic of Ireland is steeped in history, and it offers beautiful seascapes, landscapes, lakes, cliffs, caves and music. Highlights include The Burren (an ancient perfectly preserved landscape), The Cliffs of Moher (700 foot high cliffs facing the wild Atlantic), and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park (an impressive castle dating from the early Middle Ages).

Clare

The Burren is over 500 square miles of limestone located in the northwest corner of County Clare. The area is a haven for botanists and ecologists because of the unique flora and rock. The ground surface is a floor of gray rock with long parallel grooves, known as grykes. There is an amazing variety of flora with Arctic, Alpine, and Mediterranean plants growing in spring and summer. For that reason there’s also an amazing range of color in the flowers, ferns and mosses.

Alwee Caves were discovered in the 1940s. There are caverns, underground waterfalls, stalagmite and stalactite formations and remains of brown bears, which have been extinct in Ireland for thousands of years. The caves are open for guided tours.

The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most spectacular sights of The Burren. These majestic cliffs rise more than 700 feet above the windswept Atlantic Ocean and stretch five miles along the west coast of Clare. Composed of shale and sandstone, the Cliffs’ ledges make ideal roosting homes for birds. On a clear day you can see as far as the Mountains of Kerry, Connemara and the Aran Islands.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is one of the most complete and authentic medieval castles in Ireland. This being Ireland it also has a long and bloody history.

The castle is a combination of earlier Norman castles and the later Gaelic Tower Houses furnished with a fine collection of medieval furniture, artwork and ornate carvings. A four-course Medieval Banquet and entertainment with performers in traditional costume is offered in the evenings.

 

COUNTY CORK

County Cork is the largest county in Ireland and Cork City is the second-largest city in the Republic. A unique and lively second capital, the distinctive people are as much an attraction as the place itself.
Saint Finbarr first built a monastery on the site that would later become Cork City in the year 650. The city grew along the banks of the River Lee at the point where it splits into two channels.

Cork

Cork City is essentially an island with 16 bridges. The main commercial area is located along St. Patrick Street, Grand Parade, Washington Street, Oliver Plunkett Street and Main Street. The charm and beauty of Cork City revolves around the contrasts the city offers. There are a multitude of theaters and a variety of arts. There is also a diverse range of excellent restaurants, cafes, and pubs with traditional Irish music.

The city also has many unique and quaint shops. Across the Southern Channel are some of the oldest streets in Cork, along with the campus of University College, Cork.

The nearby Blarney Castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster in 1446 and should be at the top of your must visit list. The castle is located on a thousand acres of beautiful woodland, and is partially hidden by trees, some up to a thousand years old. The castle has been witness to the triumph and turmoil of Irish chiefs and enemy armies.

Cobh, (pronounced cove) is a picturesque town located on the Great Island, one of three large islands in Cork Harbour. It was the port of departure for many Irish during the Great Hunger from 1844 to 1848 and has the distinction of being central for two of the worst maritime disasters in history. Cobh was the last berth for the Titanic and the nearest port to the Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sunk off the south coast of Ireland. The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage while crossing the Atlantic after leaving Cobh (then Queenstown).

Nearby Kinsale is a fishing and resort town with a picture perfect harbor. The town’s narrow streets are lined with colorfully painted buildings and it is widely renowned for its art galleries and gourmet restaurants. Kinsale is also considered the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. Many of the pubs offer traditional Irish music and upscale fare.

 

COUNTY DONEGAL

With its sandy beaches, unspoiled boglands and friendly communities, County Donegal is a leading destination for many travelers. One of the county treasures is Glenveagh National Park, the only official national park anywhere in the Province of Ulster. The park is a huge nature reserve with spectacular scenery of mountains, raised boglands, lakes and woodlands. At its heart is Glenveagh Castle, a beautiful late Victorian “folly” that was originally built as a summer residence.

Donegal

Donegal’s rugged landscape lends itself to active sports like climbing, hillwalking, scuba-diving, surfing and kite-flying. Many people travel to Donegal for the superb golf links — long sandy beaches and extensive dune systems are a feature of the county, and many golf courses have been developed. Golf is a very popular sport within the county, including world class golf courses such as Ballyliffin (Glashedy), Ballyliffin (Old), both of whch are located in the Inishowen peninsula. Other courses to note are Murvagh and Rosapenna.

The Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking district) also attracts young people to County Donegal each year during the school summer holidays. The three week long summer Gaeltacht courses give young Irish people from other parts of the country a chance to learn the Irish language and traditional Irish cultural traditions that are still prevalent in parts of Donegal.

 

COUNTY DUBLIN

Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland and is divided by the River Liffey. The Royal Canal and the Grand Canal provide connections between the port area and the northern and southern branches of the River Shannon.

Dublin

Dublin is a city steeped in history and boasts of having the oldest pub in Ireland, The Brazen Head, and the oldest university, Trinity College. It is a center of art and culture and the largest truly cosmopolitan city in Ireland.

O’Connell Street is the main thoroughfare and the widest street in Europe. At the south end, sits a huge monument of Daniel O’Connell, the Irish patriot. The General Post Office (GPO) is also located on O’Connell Street and was the headquarters for the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the provisional government of Ireland in the 1916 Easter Rising.

The Dublin Writers Museum is a restored 18th century mansion located at the north end of Parnell Square. The museum houses manuscripts and first editions of the works of some of Ireland’s best writers, including: Behan, Joyce, Shaw, Swift, Wilde, and Yeats. It is also home to an impressive collection of painting, photographs, and memorabilia of the various writers.

The Temple Bar Area is the cultural quarter of Dublin. This is a historical and eclectic area filled with art, theater, music, pubs, cafes, and the highest concentration of truly upscale restaurants. There’s also the Market in Meeting House Square serving organic foods, unique shops, book and music stores. It also plays host to many open-air events.

Trinity College is one of the oldest centers of learning, dating back to the 16th century. The library is home to the world renowned Book of Kells, a Latin text of the four gospels, with meticulous artwork around the borders, created in the ninth century.

The National Museum of Archaeology and History is located on Kildare Street. This branch houses artifacts from 2000 B.C. through the 20th century and includes the National Treasury with many archaeological treasures of Celtic and Medieval art, such as the Ardagh Chalice and Tara Brooch.

Christchurch Cathedral is Dublin’s oldest place of Christian worship. The Christian Norse, King Sitric, founded it in 1038. Part of the structure goes back to the 12th century. It is presently an Anglican Church.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the National Cathedral for the Anglican Church. Originally built in the 12th century, it is the burial site of Jonathan Swift, a former Dean and author of Gulliver’s Travels.

 

COUNTY GALWAY

Galway City is known as the City of Tribes after 14 merchant families who controlled and managed the city in medieval times and is situated along the River Corrib at the mouth of Galway Bay.

Galway

Today, the city is a growing and thriving university city that offers the best theater in the country. There is also a vibrant nightlife and music can be found everywhere. During the summer, Galway offers many festivals.

Connemara, known for its wild beauty, is located north of Galway City, at the western tip of the county. It is one of the most unspoiled regions of Ireland and a vibrant Gaelic-speaking area.

The Aran Islands, also a Gaelic-speaking area, are located 30 miles off the Irish coast. The islands themselves consist of three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer.

Inis Moir, meaning Big Island, is eight miles long and two miles wide, and has a population of 900. The fort of Dun Aengus is built on the edge of a sheer southern cliff with a defense forest of sharp stone spikes.

Inishmaan means Middle Island. It is three miles wide and two miles long, with fields bordered by high dry stonewalls, and marked by vast sheets of limestone rock. The island peaks at 300 feet and a series of giant terraces slope down to Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The island has a Gaelic speaking population.

Inisheer is known as the Little Island. It is 27 miles from Galway and covers 1,400 acres. It has a population of about 300. This island is an outcrop of the Burren landscape, consisting of bare limestone that is used for the many cottages, stonewalls, roads, and pathways around the island. The Gaelic-speaking island is a haven for birdwatchers and those interested in flora and fauna.

 

COUNTY KERRY

The locals know County Kerry as The Kingdom, a reference to the contrasts you’ll see in its astounding scenery, which suggest Ireland in miniature. The climate in Kerry is more unique than other places in Ireland, thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, and it’s actually possible to swim here year round.

Kerry

Kerry has preserved its heritage in many ways. The oak woods at Derrycunnihy and Tomies, for example, are the last of Ireland’s primeval forests. There are many small villages that are still Gaelic-speaking too, adding to the character of the county. Dingle Town is a fishing village that offers a wonderful selection of shops, restaurants and pubs with traditional music.

THE RING OF KERRY is located on the Peninsula of Iveragh. It lies between Dingle Bay and The Kenmare River. It is 110 miles of gorgeous coastal and mountain scenery, enveloping the towns of Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Caherciveen, Waterville, Sneem, Kenmare and Killarney. Each town has its own personality. The coastal drive is one of the most spectacular sites in all of Ireland.

The locals know County Kerry as The Kingdom, a reference to the contrasts you’ll see in its astounding scenery, which suggest Ireland in miniature. The climate in Kerry is more unique than other places in Ireland, thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, and it’s actually possible to swim here year round.

 

COUNTY KILKENNY

Kilkenny is a county looked on enviously by other counties, and not only because of the county’s incredible track record in the ancient Irish game of hurling. Kilkenny is a county filled with enchantment and delight. From the spectacular scenery of the Nore and Barrow river valleys to the cultured beauty of Kilkenny City, the county provides the perfect setting for whatever holiday you desire.

Kilkenny

Known through history as the Marble City because of its distinctive indigenous jet-black marble, Kilkenny City offers a curious, yet undeniably attractive mix of perfectly preserved old buildings and the vibrancy of a modern city which has made festivals like the Kilkenny Cat Laughs comedy festival, an event with international recognition. St Canice’s Cathedral and Kilkenny Castle are extremely important monuments and quality tours are available.

There are plenty of other things to see inside and outside the city and throughout Kilkenny’s rural hinterland. Some of Ireland’s finest craft studios are to be found in Kilkenny, from pottery to gold and silver-smithing. The experience of seeing a master craftsperson is not one to be missed.

For more physically active tourists, Kilkenny has no limit to the range of choices available. The Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course at Mount Juliet is one of the finest in the state. Arguably the best river wild trout fishing is to be found near Durrow on the River Nore.

The county has numerous ancient sites including Iron Age fortifications, inscribed stones and crosses, castles, and abbeys. The Dunmore Caves in Ballyfoyle are important both for historical and environmental reasons. The site of a massacre of the Irish by Viking raiders in 928, and according to legend, the place where The Lord of the Mice was slain Dunmore is best known these days for the wondrous sight of stalagmites of huge size dominating the chambers.

 

COUNTY MEATH

County Meath has traditionally been known as the Royal County, being the seat of the ancient Kings of Ireland at Tara. In the Boyne Valley of County Meath are some of Ireland’s most important archeological monuments, including the Megalithic Passage Tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Fourknocks, Loughcrew and Tara.

Meath

Newgrange is the most famous of these prehistoric monuments. It was originally built around 3,100 B.C. and accidentally discovered in the 17th century.

 

COUNTY OFFALY

The heart of the Midlands, County Offaly offers bogs, meadowlands, and undiscovered pastures. Clonmacnoise, located at Shannonbridge on the banks of the River Shannon, is one of the most famous monastic sites.

Offaly

Begun as an isolated monastery founded by St. Ciaran in 545 A.D. it is to this day an ecclesiastical site, with ruins of a cathedral, eight churches, and three high crosses.

Irish chieftains, Vikings and Anglo-Normans plundered Clonmacnoise. Cromwell’s forces devastated it beyond restoration. There are guided tours during the summer months; a video presentation at the Visitor Center, and an informative five-mile trail tour of the Blackwater.

 

COUNTY TYRONE

Located in the center of the historic province of Ulster, County Tyrone is blessed with an array of places to visit. The Ulster American Folk Park, for example, is located three miles north of Omagh.

Tyrone

The Folk Park is an open-air living history museum that explores Ulster’s links to the many famous Americans who trace their ancestry to the North of Ireland. The park is comprised of an indoor gallery with information on the causes and patterns of immigration. Outside are a variety of reconstructed buildings of 18th and 19th century Ireland.

Throughout the park are costumed guides and craftsmen that add to the authenticity. Also on site is the Centre for Emigration Studies, an extensive research library. Plan at least half a day to explore the park.

 

COUNTY WICKLOW

County Wicklow is often referred to as the Garden of Ireland, due to its breathtaking scenery and located just south of Dublin it makes for a wonderful day trip or overnight stay away from the ‘big smoke.’

Glendalough is a 6th century monastic site that was founded by St. Kevin.

Wicklow

Nestled into the heart of the Wicklow Mountains it offers a truly spectacular setting, featuring a stone tower that stands 110 feet tall. There is a visitor center and guided tours are available.

Wicklow National Park is an unspoiled natural wonder with nearly 50,000 acres of raw beauty. A drive through the Wicklow Gap from Glendalough to Hollywood is one of jaw dropping beauty.

Powerscourt is a beautiful upscale estate with some of the finest gardens in Europe.

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Top ten sites in Ireland where history comes alive

In Ireland, history is everywhere. But in some places, there is an especially strong connection with the past. Here are IrishCentral’s choices for the top ten historical sites in Ireland.

1. Newgrange, County Meath

At Newgrange, County Meath, the wall of the passage tomb decorated with a Celtic spiral.
Dating back to 3200 B.C the passage tomb at Newgrange is older than the pyramids in Egypt and is officially a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Newgrange is a large passage mound, spread over an acre and surrounded by 97 uniquely carved kerbstones. The cremated remains of the dead were buried in large stone basins under the mound in a chamber accessable by a narrow passage.

At dawn on December 21, the shortest day of the year, sunlight shines directly into the central chamber of the tomb. It is believed that this was an ancient way of measuring the passage of time, like a calendar for the ancient farmers, or that the light has some religious significance for those in the afterlife.

Newgrange is part of the Bru na Boinne complex, which includes similar tombs at Knowth and Dowth.

Newgrange
2. Hill of Tara, County Meath

The Hill of Tara is also located near the River Boyne in Meath. It is an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin and contains a number of ancient monuments. According to tradition it was the seat of the High King of Ireland (Árd Rí na hÉireann).

The oldest archaeological site at Tara is the Mound of Hostages, which dates back to 2500 B.C.

The hill itself is 500 feet high and has some of the most panoramic views of the plains of Meath.

3. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

The Rock of Cashel is not a rock at all – a common misconception among tourists reading the name off the map.

This Rock of Cashel was a fortress in the 4th century. The medieval structure has four edifices, including the Connac’s Chapel, the round tower, the cathedral, and the Hall of the Vicars Choral.

It was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years before the Norman invasion. Very little of the original structure survives. Most of what remains dates from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Rock of Cashel
4. Ceide Fields, County Mayo

The Ceide Fields are a Neolithic landscape dating back to 5000 B.C. They are the oldest known field systems in the world. Their name, “Ceide Fields,” literally means “fields of the flat-topped hill.”

The rocks delineating the field system were originally discovered by a school teacher cutting turf in the bog in the 1930s. It took over 40 years to unravel the true significance of the fields. Fields, houses and tombs had been concealed under the bog for thousands of years.

5. Clonmacnoise, County Offaly

Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland’s most important monasteries and is located on the banks of the River Shannon. It was founded in 545 by Ciaran of Clonmacnoise. Until the 9th century it had very strong ties with the Kings of Connacht.

Its strategic location also helped it to be become a center of religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade. Together with Clonard, it is one of the most famous monastic sites in Ireland and continues to be visited by scholars from all over Europe.

6. Jerpoint Abbey, County Kilkenny

Jerpoint Abbey is a well-known Cistercian abbey, founded in the 12th century. Its most famous asset is its sculptured cloister arcade with unique carvings.

It was constructed in 1180 by Donogh O’Donoghoe, the King of Osraige, and is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The monastery thrived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.

7. Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle, County Cork

Six miles northwest of County Cork, Blarney Castle and the Blarney stone date back to 1446. The castle was a medieval stronghold on the River Martin. Although earlier fortifications were built on the same spot, what is left standing today dates back to the MacCarthy dynasty, King of Desmond.

The castle and the stone are among the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland. Legend has it that if you kiss the Blarney stone you will have the “‘gift of the gab,” meaning “clever, flattering or coaxing talk.”

8. Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny City

Kilkenny Castle is certainly one of Ireland’s most impressive fortresses. The castle dates back to 1191 and stands with three tall towers.

The original castle was built by William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, to control the crossing point on the River Nore. Some of the stone has been replaced.

The castle is now run by the Office of Public Works and sits in the midst of beautiful parkland.

9. Leap Castle, County Offaly

Not only is Leap Castle an extremely historically important castle, it is also said to be one of the most haunted locations in Ireland. This castle has been the scene of some truly appalling acts.

It was built in the 15th century by the O’Bannon family and was originally called “Leap of the O’Bannons.” In 1513 the Earl of Kildare Gerald FitzGerald attempted to seized the castle and three years later attacked again. In 1557 the O’Carrolls had possession.

Within the O’Carroll family, there was great rivalry which culminated in murders and killings in the chapel. This is just a brief chapter of the castle’s sordid history. Later. when the castle was being studied, a dungeon where people had been left to die was discovered.

10. Skellig Michael, County Kerry

Skelling Michael (which literally means Michael’s rock) is a steep and rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Kerry. It was founded in the 7th century and for 600 years it was the center of monastic life for Irish Christian monks.

In 1996 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Reached only by boat, Skellig Michael is one of Europe’s most famous but least accessible monasteries. As a site it is very well preserved, and the Spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrate the ascetic lives of those who built it and were devout there. The monks lived in “beehive” huts perched over the dangerous cliffs.

Skellig Michael

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Four Irish hotels named among Europe’s Top 10 resorts

Last Week the country featured on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 to visit in 2015.

Now comes the news that readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine have named four Irish hotels among their Top 10 European Resorts.

Sheen Falls Lodge tops the list at No.1, with Ashford Castle ranked second, the K Club fourth and Adare Manor rounding off the Irish showing in tenth place.

The Top 10 Resorts in Europe is as follows:

Sheen Falls Lodge, Co. Kerry
Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo
Blue Palace Resort, Crete
Kildare Hotel at the K Club, Co. Kildare
The Gleneagles hotel, Scotland
Badrutt’s Palace, Switzerland
Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, Switzerland
Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy
Old Course Hotel, Scotland
Adare Manor, Co. Limerick
Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards are published annually, and this year featured over one million votes from almost 77,000 readers. Several lists of best cities, islands, hotels, resorts and cruise lines are drawn up from the results.

Sheen Falls Lodge, which overlooks the picturesque Sheen Waterfalls, also ranks 82nd on the global list of Top 100 Hotels & Resorts.

“We are extremely honoured to be named the number one resort in Europe and to be one of four hotels from the UK and Ireland in the Top 100 hotels and resorts in the world,” said Patrick Hanley, General Manager, Sheen Falls Lodge.

“A special thank you must be extended to the team here who dedicate themselves and make an exceptional effort to ensure all guests have a pleasant and memorable stay.”

The Kenmare five-star is commended by readers for its “first-class service” and “very pretty views”, according to the magazine. Its “very high-quality design” also merits a mention.

The Cong, Co. Mayo five-star has “beautiful grounds, fantastic recreational activities” and “outstanding service”, according to readers.

Formerly the Guinness family home, the hotel’s guest rooms come with high ceilings and four-poster beds, the magazine points out, “though they can be tired looking.”

The five-star is currently undergoing an extensive refurbishment programme.

Connemara’s Ballynahinch Castle also features, ranking 23rd of 25 Top Hotels in Europe.

“The setting is something out of a fairy-tale book – lush greenery, lake, silence,” readers report. “It’s just gorgeous, like a rich uncle’s country estate.”

The Condé Nast citations cap an extraordinary run of international recognition for Irish destinations and hotels overseas. In addition to Lonely Planet’s Top 10, Enniskillen’s Lough Erne resort recently topped the Huffington Post’s “Best Hotels for Winter 2014/15” round-up.

The full list of Readers’ Choice Awards winners can be accessed here.

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