A Circuit of Donegal: 12 great reasons to visit The Forgotten County

Driving holidays in Ireland

Donegal is arguably the most off-radar county on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Its drawcards range from Star Wars locations to snap-fresh seafood, from Blue Flag beaches to Blue Book boltholes, yet just 8pc of domestic holidays are spent here, according to Fáilte Ireland figures.

With no cities, no rail or motorway access and weather that swings from biblical to brilliant with the impulsiveness of a toddler, it’s not always an easy holiday choice.
But that’s all the more reason to visit.

Donegal is a dream landscape, and a scarcity of visitors (particularly off-season) has left parts of it spectacularly unspoiled. I spent a recent visit mapping out a three-day drving loop. It’s by no means definitive, but it is a thrilling taster.

1. Donegal Airport

Did you know Carrickfinn is one of the world’s 10 most scenic landings? That’s according to a global poll by private jet booking service, PrivateFly.
Dublin and Glasgow are Donegal Airport’s only destinations — but that makes it even more nostalgic. The terminal is tiny, the staff super-friendly, the queues short and the location just a short drive from Gweedore.

Flying from Dublin will save a four-hour drive, and Enterprise (enterprise.ie) — the airport’s only car hire desk — is warmly efficient. You’ll be good to go in minutes.

Distance: 50 minutes (flight) from Dublin Airport.

2. Arranmore Island

Donegal’s islands are a galaxy unto themselves, with highlights ranging from the King of Tory (Patsy Dan Rogers) to rock-climbing on Gola. Arranmore is easily reached by a 15-minute ferry crossing, depositing you right on the fringes of Western Europe.
Drive the island, potter about the harbour or go for a hike — when the weather co-operates, the thrashing ocean, brackish corrie lakes and boggy, wind-whipped hills are beautifully desolate. Oh, and before (or after) your trip, grab a quick seafood fix at The Lobster Pot (lobsterpot.ie).

Distance: 13km (allow 20 minutes) from Donegal Airport.

3. Horn Head

The drive from Burtonport past Bloody Foreland and the sweeping strand at Magheroarty is a stunner, but Horn Head is in a league of its own. Its 7km loop is the Wild Atlantic Way in a nutshell — from breathtaking cliffs to bobbing lobster pots and beaches like Trá Mór (which can only be reached by foot). Look out for Tory Island offshore, and the golden sands of Dunfanaghy peeled back at low tide to the southeast. On my last visit, the sky looked like it was made of sheep, but the impact remained.
PS: Horn Head can be walked or cycled as a loop from Dunfanaghy. See govisitdonegal.com or wildatlanticway.com for more to see and do in Donegal.

Distance: 56km (allow 1 hour, 15 minutes) from Burtonport.

4. Do Dunfanaghy

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Bundoran gets the lion’s share of Donegal’s surfing press, but there’s just something about Dunfanaghy.

On a lesson with Narosa Life (from €35/€25), beaches like Marble Hill or the back bay at Falcarragh are your oyster. Instructors are clued-in and easygoing, thick wetsuits take the edge off the Atlantic, and kids as young as five or six get a kick out of riding ‘magic carpets’ in the froth (a tip: bring snacks or hot chocolate — peeling wetsuits off in chilly wind is the worst).

If you don’t fancy surfing, take a ride on the beach with Dunfanaghy Stables (€32/€27 for an hour), located just across the road behind Arnold’s Hotel. After your exertions, you’ll have earned an overnight and a bite at this cosy, family-run three-star on the strand (two nights’ B&B on special from €99pp this autumn).
Details: narosalife.com; dunfanaghystables.com; arnoldshotel.com.

5. Fanad Peninsula

The Fanad and Rosguill peninsulas are the smaller siblings of Inishowen, but both are full of the stonking views (pictured main) Donegal seems to produce on tap. Highlights are Portsalon’s epic sandy beach, overlooking Ballymastocker Bay, and the Blue Book’s Rathmullan House. The Tap Room here does a mean wood-fired pizza — make a point of washing yours down with a local Kinnegar farmhouse beer.

Distance: 57km (allow a good hour and 20 minutes via Portsalon, with detours).

6. Inishowen

Star Wars recently touched down for a location shoot on Inishowen, giving some idea as to its rugged beauty. A day or two could easily be spent circuiting this peninsula alone — but however you manage it, don’t miss Malin Head and the Mamore Gap.

A cycling tour with Cycle Inishowen or rock-climbing adventure with Wild Atlantic Way Climbing will step up the adrenaline. At the right time of year, you may even see the Northern Lights.

Details: cycleinishowen.com; mountaintraining.ie; visitinishowen.com.
Distance: The Inishowen 100 is a 100-mile (160km) loop of the peninsula, but shorter drives also bring rewards.

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7. Hit Harry’s

Harry’s Bar & Restaurant may not look like a foodie crossroads, but it most definitely is. Donal and Kevin Doherty’s roadside hub in Bridgend is low on food miles, high on quality (be sure to order at least one fish dish, though the belly of pork is hard to resist) and plates up what, pound for pound, is probably the best food in the county. For a detour, try Harry’s Shack at Portstewart, or the outlet soon to open in Derry City… every county could use a Harry’s.

Distance: 48km (allow 50 minutes, without stops) from Malin Head.

8. Gorgeous Glenveagh

First, a warning. Do not underestimate the midges — these pesky park residents can lay the best plans to waste… picnics in particular. Other than that, Glenveagh is a slice of National Park paradise, with a slick visitor centre, dramatic valley and Victorian castle reminding me of Hogwarts whenever I visit. You can walk or cycle the 4km to the castle, or take a bus (€3/€2 return). Watch out for Golden Eagles, don’t skip the wonderful gardens, and round off your visit with midge-free munchies at the castle café. Even in inclement weather, there’s something otherworldly about the place.
Details: glenveaghnationalpark.ie

Distance: 52km from Bridgend (allow around 45 minutes).

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9. Solis Lough Eske

Solis Lough Eske Castle is Donegal’s only five-star hotel and, along with near-neighbour Harvey’s Point, one of the county’s twin towers of luxury.

The sandstone castle cuts a dramatic shape against the woodland and lake setting, with garden suites, a spa and leisure centre adding modern opulence. The old building offers the best atmospherics (wallow in the high-ceilinged Gallery Bar, with its enviable craft spirit selection), and breakfast in Cedar’s genuinely exceeds expectations.

Ooh-moments range from a dedicated pancake maker to takeaway hot chocolates, and friendly staff action things quickly. Variable Wi-Fi was being addressed on our visit, but it’s a space you’ll feel like coming back to again and again.

Distance: 64km (allow an hour and 10 mins) from Glenveagh National Park.

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10. Slieve League

From Donegal, the final section of our driving circuit veers on to the Slieve League Peninsula — crazily under-rated in comparison to the tourism honeypots of West Cork and Kerry. The soaring cliffs (and dizzying One Man’s Pass) are justifiably famous, but don’t miss the more off-beat attractions, including a dip beneath the lighthouse at St John’s Point, seafood at the Village Tavern in Mountcharles, and the Gaeltacht around Glencolmcille.

Distance: 55km or just over one hour from Donegal town to the cliffs.

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11. Malin Beg

Is this Donegal’s most breathtaking beach? Granted, a county with 13 Blue Flag beaches will throw up its fair share of competition, but it’s hard to top Silver Strand. Cut from the cliffs at the edge of the earth, set way beyond the reach of phone signals and overlooked by happily munching sheep, those who make the journey in the off-season are often rewarded with the place to themselves.

Distance: 20km (allow 40 mins) from Slieve League to Silver Strand/Malin Beg.

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12. Nancy’s of Ardara

Ardara is famous for its tweed and knitwear, but visitors shouldn’t miss the modern crafts at the Donegal Designer Makers’ shop, and the warren of old rooms making up Nancy’s bar. Sit in the back for the best light and gobble a juicy prawn cocktail before moseying around the memory-lane interiors (check out the teapot collection in the sitting room). You’ll leave smiling.
Distance: 41km (allow 1 hour) back to Donegal Airport in Carrickfinn.

 

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14 Breathtaking Scottish Walks To Add To Your Travel Bucket List

Fancy watching dolphins leap in the water while you hike across an unspoilt bay? Come to Scotland.

1. The Fife Coastal Path

This beautiful footpath is part of the larger North Sea Trail and runs from the Forth Estuary near Edinburgh to the Tay Estuary in the north, passing beautiful towns and villages like St Andrews and Crail on the way. You don’t have to walk the entire 115-mile stretch: There are plenty of short walks you can do, including this scenic 12-mile jaunt from Lower Largo to Pittenweem.

2. The Great Glen Way

This iconic 115-mile walking route links Inverness with Fort William via the Great Glen: a sweeping, 62-mile-long valley that cuts through the Highlands and contains several lochs, including Loch Ness and Loch Linnhe. If you don’t have time to walk 115 miles, then you should try the 12-mile Gairlochy to Laggan section. It runs alongside Loch Lochy, so it’s a particularly scenic option.

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3. The Moray Coast Trail

This 50-mile hike along Moray’s rugged cliffs is ideal for wildlife fans, as the Moray Firth is home to the only pod of resident bottlenose dolphins in the UK, as well as innumerable seabirds and friendly seals. If you don’t want to walk the whole trail, the seven-mile Portknockie to Cullen section is a fantastic option as it passes the rock arch Bow Fiddle Rock (above).

4. The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way is one of the most popular long-distance trails in Scotland, as it passes almost all of Scotland’s most iconic sights, including Loch Lomond, Buachaille Etive Mor, and Glen Coe. It takes a week to walk the 96-mile route, but there are plenty of places to stop along the way, including Clachaig Inn, where scenes featuring Hagrid’s Hut were filmed for the Harry Potter movies.

 

5. Mull of Galloway Trail

This volunteer-run coastal trail runs the length of the Mull of Galloway, which is the southernmost tip of Scotland and famous for its breathtaking views. The route is 35 miles long, so you could theoretically walk it all in one (epic) day, but if you want something a bit less challenging try the 11-mile Glenapp to Stranraer section, which runs around pretty Finnart Bay.

6. The Speyside Way

If you like whisky then you should definitely hike the beautiful Speyside Way, as it runs through one of the most famous whisky-producing areas of the Highlands. It starts on the Moray Coast and follows the River Spey valley, passing several distilleries in the process, including Aberlour. If you want a shorter stroll, the final, 6-mile Boat of Garten to Aviemore section is a real treat.

7. The Three Lochs Way

The “three lochs” in the name of this trail are Loch Lomond, The Gareloch, and Loch Long, which all form a scenic backdrop as you walk the 34-mile route. Along the way you’ll pass the Cobbler, one of the largest hills in the area. If you only have time for a short walk, try the Tarbet to Inveruglas section: You can get a ferry from Inveruglas back to Tarbet at the end of the day.

8. The West Island Way

This 24-mile walk around the Isle of Bute is sometimes confused with the West Highland Way, but it’s a lot easier, flatter, and almost as scenic. The route runs around the entire island, and forms two handy circular sections that are ideal if you want a shorter hike. The 5-mile Kilchattan Bay circular is a particularly gorgeous way to spend an afternoon, especially on a sunny day.

9. The Rob Roy Way

This seven-day hike is named after famous 17th-century outlaw and folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor, and follows some of the paths that he was known to use. It runs from the picturesque village of Drymen to the equally pretty town of Pitlochry, past Loch Venachar, Loch Lubnaig, and Loch Tay. For a shorter walk, try the Ardtalnaig to Aberfeldy section: It passes the majestic Falls of Acharn.

10. The John Muir Way

This 134-mile-long trail links the west and east coasts of Scotland. It starts in Helensburgh near Glasgow, and ends in Dunbar, East Lothian, the birthplace of renowned Scottish naturalist John Muir. There are lots of shorter walks you can try along the route, but the final 5-mile North Berwick to Dunbar section (pictured) is arguably the most scenic.

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11. The Kintyre Way

The unspoilt Kintyre Peninsula is best explored on foot, so it’s great that there’s a 100-mile trail running from Tarbert in the north to Machrihanish Bay in the south, passing beaches and hidden coves along the way. If you haven’t got a week to walk the full route, then the Clachan to Tayinloan stretch is a good option: It runs beside the sea and offers views of the Isle of Gigha.

12. The Arran Coastal Way

Like the West Island Way, this route runs all the way around an island, making it ideal for people who want a circular walk. As Arran is a bit bigger than Bute this path runs for a more challenging 65 miles, passing beautiful sights like Lochranza Bay, where Queen Elizabeth II spent her honeymoon. Try the scenic Sannox to Lochranza stretch (9 miles) if you want to see it for yourself.

13. The Southern Upland Way

The Southern Upland Way is an epic, 212-mile coast-to-coast trail, which links the pretty harbour town of Portpatrick in the southwest of Scotland to Cockburnspath in the Scottish Borders. For a particularly satisfying short walk, try St Mary’s Loch (pictured) to Traquair: You can end your day sampling the home-brewed Bear Ale at Traquair House, a listed building that was built in the 1770s.

14. The Cape Wrath Trail

This 200-mile beast of a walk is also known as “Britain’s Toughest Trail”. It ends at Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point on the mainland, passing stunning glens and steep mountains along the way. It takes around three weeks to walk the whole route, but you can do shorter sections. The Rhiconich to Sandwood Bay stretch is particularly beautiful: In fact, it’s like nowhere else on Earth.
H/t Jade Riley Photography and Visit Scotland.

 

 

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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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