Get off the Beaten Path in Ireland

While tourist destinations are plentiful in Ireland, make sure to also get off the beaten track. Ireland is full of wonderful sights to see, from ruins of Desmond Castle, to deserted beaches, and of course the Irish whiskey trail, there’s plenty to do off-the-beaten-path in Ireland. If you wander far enough, you will soon have the place to yourself—or maybe just have to share with some wandering Irish sheep.

27 Kingspark, Scrahane, Killarney, Co. Kerry, V93 H6F8, Ireland
The clouds threatened, the rain tumbled, and the mercury had gone into hiding. Boat tour? Sure! It started at Ross Castle and half our group had already bailed. Fair weather types. I was going anyway. When in Ireland! So along with three other brave travelers, I climbed into a low profile red boat (a three hour tour playing in my head), and wrapped in life jackets, huddled under plastic tarps, we bobbed and bounced across the famed Lakes of Killarney, Lough Leane being the largest and most picturesque. I wondered if the water was fresh or salt. A wave swept over the side and slapped me in the face. “Fresh,” I declared. The scenery was unparalleled. Inaccessible by cars; ruggedly romantic. We floated through a scene from an Irish novel. The remains of Innisfallen Abbey lured, eagles soared, and the silence (outside the pounding rain) scraped at our ears. After navigating a small inlet, the boat driver asked us to get out while he tried to guide up river, against the current. I took this photo as he struggled to push under a bridge. Eventually we had to help pull him through the unrelenting water. Our trip ended at Lord Brandon’s Cottage where a BBQ awaited. In the frigid weather, hair dripping, fingers numb, the hot steak and potatoes were the perfect remedy, washed down with hot whiskey, of course. We warmed our hands over the coals, then took a taxi through the Gap of Dunloe, and stopped at another pub when we made it through---to warm up some more. When in Ireland!
An archaeological site of some renown (I have yet to uncover which type of renown this is specifically), An Riasc is basically a giant circle of stones with an ancient Celtic cross in the center. No pub, no Guinness, no bacon and cabbage. Nothing but a couple of old fellas excavating stones, day after day, in the Irish countryside. An oratory, shrine, garden, burial ground, and corn kiln used to occupy the site in the 6th Century. All that remain today are the stones - so use your imagination. Have a bit of heart and stop by on your way around the peninsula, and lend these fellas a hand. They’ll be glad you did. They might even let you touch the cross (not nearly as disease-addled as the Blarney Stone). The Office of Public Works in in charge of the site, and admission is free.
Adare, Co. Limerick, V94 W8WR, Ireland
This castle was erected with an ancient ring-fort, around the early part of the 13th century. It became a strategic fortress during the following turbulent years. It was the property of the Earls of Kildare for nearly 300 years until the rebellion in 1536, when it was forfeited and granted to the Earls of Desmond who gave the castle its present name. We got there in the evening, after visiting Adare Manor and the town, and could not go inside but I sure wish we had the time to go closer to the ruins.
The Castle Pier, Quay Road, Rinemackaderrig, Carrigaholt, Co. Clare, Ireland
The boat heads out into the silver-green water. I haven’t brought the right jacket, so Susanne Magee, the co-owner of Dolphin Watch, brings me a thick, cozy one. We had out into the area where the Shannon River meets the Atlantic, to see some of the 160 bottle-nosed dolphins that live in the Shannon Estuary. Susanne and her husband Geoff named their boat Draiocht (magic) to be able to bring the magic of dolphin spotting to the public. Whenever one of the dolphin’s gray backs are spotted, a cry of happiness rises up from the people in the boat. Tours are two hours and cost 25 Euro for adults, 12.50 Euro for children 5 to 16, and 5 Euro for children 5 and under. Phone: 353 659058156 for reservations.
Parnell Square East Parnell Square E, Rotunda, Dublin 1, D01 ND60, Ireland
Wobbly floors, a crooked staircase, dusty books, an old piano, and a few hundred years of character mix together in the beating heart of old Dublin, the Temple Bar. I spend more than half of every year on the road, calling in at one hotel and the next, and I’ve been lucky to have spent time at some fabulous hotels and holiday homes. This joint at No. 25 Eustace St. is near the top of the list. From the Irish Landmark Trust website: “The Irish Landmark Trust saves heritage buildings throughout the island of Ireland that are at risk of being lost through neglect or inappropriate use; conserving and restoring these buildings so they can be let as holiday homes.” The next time you’re in Dublin with your family or a large group, forget about calling in on modern digs, and check out No. 25, or one of the other heritage properties managed by the trust. It was a beautiful experience, and I can’t wait to check in again. Next time I plan to visit an old lighthouse, fort, or country home.
Purecamping, Querrin, Co. Clare, V15 F602, Ireland
An eco-campground in the Loop Head peninsula, Pure Camping features “glamping”—aka glamorous camping—in pre-erected canvas bell tents. Sleep in a cozy futon bed, stoke the cast iron stone in your tent if it’s chilly, and wake to a silver-pink dawn overlooking the Shannon River. The campsite features the warm and helpful Trea and Kevin Heapes, who run the site, a sauna, a wood-fired pizza oven, and yoga with Trea in the on-site yoga studio. Rates range from 25 Euro/night for an unfurnished bell tent and 100 Euro/night for a furnished tent that sleeps 6. Phone: 065 9057953. Email: info@purecamping.ie
Killadoon, Ard Na Mara, Co. Mayo, Ireland
My Irish friend, Aedín, and I were driving from Galway to Westport when suddenly she veered off the main road. “There’s a great beach down this way, I think,” she said to me. I was up for anything, seeing her country for the first time. We came upon one beach, “This isn’t the one,” she said. I thought it was beautiful, but she knew what she was looking for. Then we arrived at this beach, which I nicknamed “Aedín’s Beach”. We were the only ones on that beach. As my friend walked down the beach, I watched her as she got lost in the beauty of the landscape: the feel of the warm sun on our skin, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, the smell of the salty air, the taste of salt and sand on our lips and the sight of a desolate beach against the green pasture land dotted with white sheep. I took this one shot of her. It is one of my favorites from this trip.
Slieve League, Shanbally, Co. Donegal, Ireland
You will need a head for heights to visit Slieve League; at 600 meters (2,000 feet), these are the fifth-tallest sea cliffs in Europe. What makes them so special is that they are also some of the most accessible ones. Nearly three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, they offer gasp-worthy views of the swirling waters of the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day you can see as far as County Sligo or the coast of County Mayo. Only experienced walkers should tackle One Man’s Pass, a narrow trail that reaches the highest point, but there is a network of easier trails for visitors of any ability to enjoy.
What about a walk around the private lake or woods, admiring the parterre gardens and terraces, before retiring to one of the drawing rooms for afternoon tea in front of the open fire? At historic private country houses like Hilton Park in County Monaghan, you can sleep in a four-poster bed, bathe in a freestanding bath or explore the walled garden — before tasting the garden’s produce in the dining room (lavender ice-cream anyone?). There’s also lake swimming, boating, fishing and cycling (bikes are provided) and for the indoors types, there are books everywhere. Best of all, as the house has been in the Madden family for many generations, the owners will tell you lots of stories of the house and the area’s fascinating history. See www.hiltonpark.ie and see www.hiddenireland.com for more historic private houses like this that you can stay in.
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