The top ten most notable places in Ireland
Ireland is a land of mystery and wonder, full of folklore and fairytales. There is so much to see in Ireland, it is impossible in one trip to see it all! Most visitor's never get to see some of the more out of the way unique places because they don't know about them and there just isn't enough time. I am hoping to provide a list here of some of the lesser known places.
Queen Meadhbh's Tomb and Sligo
Queen Meadhbh's Tomb sits upon Knocknarea overlooking Sligo town and the sea. It is a stunning vista, but also full of history and folklore. Queen Meadhbh's body is said to rest under this Cairn. There is some mystery as to why she is buried here, but if you familiarize yourself with the folklore of the Tain, you will see much of what was known of her indicates she was not a gentle type. If you visit here take the opportunity to see some of the other wonders of Sligo like the lake isle of Inishfree written about in Yeat's poem, or visit Yeat's grave. Strandhill beach also offers a beautiful view and a short walk out past the airport you can walk around the ruins of an old church. There is so much to see in Sligo, more than i can include here.
Croagh Patrick and Westport
Craogh Patrick is for many Catholics in Ireland a place of pilgrimage. Many make the journey up this mount yearly and still others make the hike barefoot as part of their devotion. For the rest of us Craogh Patrick is a place of beauty, a conical mountain rising on the coast out of the sea into the sky. If you are not up for the hike up the mountain, explore the coastline and Westport town.
Ennis, Ennistymon, Miltown Malbay, Doolan, Kilfenora and Monk's Pub
Musicians, Dancers, artists and people from all over the country and all over the world descend on this little town. In the height of the festival you will find people spilling out of the pubs straining to hear the music or participate in the singing. A little further up the road is the infamous Cliffs of Moher, well worth a visit. Just beyond this is Doolan, a small little town full of Traditional music, artistry and west coast blustery weather. Further up and inland you find Kilfenora. This is a great place to experience old Ireland, especially when they hold their ceili's in the old barn. It is like stepping back in time! Further up the road on the way to Galway is Monk's pub. This place has some of the best seafood I have ever eaten!
Achill Island is out on the far reaches of County Mayo in the Atlantic. It is a site full of beauty and ruggedness, but it is also a site of history and mystery. One of the most amazing ghost towns I've come across was on Achill Island. The remnants of a community that has vanished with the changes of time and economy can be seen in the hillside just outside of the present day town. The walls and roads of the town are clearly laid out and you can picture the life, tough as it may have been, in this community.
Donegal and Inishowen Penninsula
Donegal boasts miles of spectacular beaches and coastlines. Really any place you go in Donegal you will get a flavor of old Ireland. It is a huge county. If you can make it to the north up to Inishowen Peninisula you will be rewarded with fabulous views and an experience of the more rugged Ireland. On the Peninsula you find Malin Head, Ireland's most northern point, and here you will also find the remains of a WW2 POW camp. It is well worth a visit. Because Ireland was neutral during the war, these prisoners were apparently treated more like guests than prisoners.
Folk Parks, The Ulster American and Bunratty
Normally I would be loath to suggest going to a theme park on holiday, unless it was for the children, but these two really are the exception. The Ulster American park, though a little out of the way near Omagh in Northern Ireland, has one of the best exhibits I have seen. They recreated the conditions that many of our forebears experienced in their journey to America in coffin ships. For the first time the stories about my great, great grandmother came to life in a shocking way. Bunratty, further south, between Ennis and Limerick, has a fabulous exhibit in recreating life in days gone by. Their medieval banquet is absolutely worth the time and money. It is an experience you will not forget. If you have time, grab a guiness in Dirty Nellies next store!
Loughcrew Burial Passage Tombs
Many have heard of Newgrange, and while it is definitely worth visiting Newgrange for the interpretive center, if you want to get up close to the cairns, Loughcrew is the place to go. In County Meath, near the town of Oldcastle, you find Loughcrew. It is one of two passage tombs in the area, the other being on the hill opposite. You can get the keys to the gate at Loughcrew coffee shop (follow the signs) and a bit of the history. Once you have the keys, take the journey up to the top and let yourself into the gate. You can explore inside the cairn, come right up close to the petro glyphs on the walls and experience the past first hand.
Fore Abbey and the 7 Wonders of Fore
A little further to the south in County Westmeath you will find Fore and the 7 wonders of Fore Abbey. The ruins of the abbey are well worth the visit, but the hermit's home is even better. You can get the key from the local pub. The seven wonders are based on St. Fechin's Benedictine monastery, which was built here and is the first of the seven wonders. (It is the only remaining Benedictine ruin on the island. the rest of the wonders are the water that flows uphill, St. Fechin's mill, The tree that will not burn, the water that will not boil from the holy well, the cross that was raised by prayer alone and the anchorite in stone (hermit's cell.) Of course in typical Irish superstition it is supposed to be bad luck to test any of these.
Rock of Cashel & Kilkenny
The Rock of Cashel is a monolithic feature rising out of the fields along the old road to Cork. It is a site worthy of a period film and literally breathtaking. The town itself is worth a visit, but definitely make the trip to the ruin and visitor's center. Nearby is the medieval town of Kilkenny. A mix between ancient medieval streets and modern fashionable shops. The nightlife and frequent festivals here also make it a fun place to stay. Kilkenny Castle is also worth a visit, it's beautiful setting as well as the informative history.
There is so much in the south of Ireland to see it really is difficult to narrow it down to one place. The Saltee Island experience was one of my favourite and very much unknown. Leaving from Waterford you have to take a boat over to the island. There is literally nothing on this island aside from a house and the Prince's thrown. That is correct, there is royalty in the Saltees! Michael the First bought the Saltees according to a promise he made at the age of 10 to his mother and declared himself the Prince of the island. An obelisk and the thrown are still there to see today. He also made the following proclamation:
This chair is erected in memory of my mother to whom I made a vow when I was ten years old that one day I would own the Saltee Islands and become the First Prince of the Saltees. Henceforth my heirs and successors can only proclaim themselves Prince of these Islands by sitting in this chair fully garbed in the robes and crown of the Islands and take the Oath of Succession" - Michael the First
The place I really love best is Sligo because there is so much hidden beauty to explore. Having said that, the one place I did not cover is Cork, which may be a mistake, but I felt there were just too many things in that county alone to see. The same with Wexford and Waterford, so I would suggest anyone visiting Ireland and interested in those areas do a little research and pick the things that appeal to you. There are just so many, you really cannot go wrong.