Saturday 1 October 2016

Let the rivers and canals be your guide to Ireland's Ancient East

Published 20/07/2016 | 10:38

The River Barrow, Borris, Co. Carlow
The River Barrow, Borris, Co. Carlow

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If you love being by the water and are looking for a little adventure, history, natural beauty and family fun, then here are 5 of the most surprising hidden gems you will find in Ireland’s Ancient East. The spotlight is on Ireland’s Ancient East, a touring region that boasts 5,000 years of captivating history and set in some of Ireland’s most beautiful and lush green landscapes. The region has so much to offer and here are just some of the lesser-known and most tranquil beauty spots for you to discover. So if you prefer to go with the flow and get off the beaten track, Ireland’s beautiful waterways have everything you need.

The River Blackwater, Co. Waterford
The River Blackwater, Co. Waterford

1.  Go Boating and Cruising on the Blackwater

One of the most unspoilt areas of natural beauty in Ireland can be explored by travelling north up the River Blackwater on a Blackwater River Cruise.  Shortly after leaving from Youghal jetty, passengers enter a different world, going past Templemichael Castle on a light-hearted trip that’s filled with history and information.  Blackwater Boating at Cappoquin, Co. Waterford gives the more adventurous a chance to discover the secrets of the Blackwater on canoes and kayaks for full day or half day tours, combined with camping or cycling.  Don’t forget to stop off for some crusty bread at Barrons Bakery, Cappoquin where bread has been baked and shaped by hand since 1887.

Dromana Gate, Cappoquin, Waterford
Dromana Gate, Cappoquin, Waterford

2.  Dreaming by the Water at Dromana

It doesn’t get better than 800 years and one family!  The 21st generation of the Villiers-Stuarts are now running Dromana House and Gardens near Lismore, Co. Waterford.  Perched on a rocky outcrop with a boathouse and slipway down to the strikingly beautiful and unspoilt River Blackwater, this dreamy 600 acre estate is part of the Waterford Garden Trail – one of 7 historical gardens all within a 10km radius.   Also overlooking the River Blackwater is Tourin House and Gardens, a rambling mansion which is the family home of the three Jameson sisters, Kristin, Andrea and Tara – ninth generation direct descendants of John Jameson of the famous Irish whiskey.  Upcoming festivals in the area include Youghal Medieval Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary on Sunday 21st August. and Waterford Harvest Festival (9th to 11th September).

The Waterford Harvest Festival, Co. Waterford
The Waterford Harvest Festival, Co. Waterford

3.  Barrow Way – Through the Waters of Time

Barrowline Cruisers, based at the Grand Canal, Vicarstown, Co. Laois offer tours of both the Grand Canal and River Barrow – Ireland’s second longest river – almost 192km from its source to the Sliabh Bloom mountains to where it enters the sea at Waterford harbour.  These are cruising experiences with a difference with award-winning narrowboat and barge hire.  The Barrow Way towpath along the River Barrow is another hidden gem to escape from the rat race with great flat walking and sites of much architectural interest.  The full length of the Barrow Way from Lowtown in Co. Kildare to St. Mullins in Co. Carlow is 114km but short sections can be easily walked.

Borris, Co. Carlow
Borris, Co. Carlow

4.  Go with the Flow in Carlow / Kilkenny

Go with the Flow River Adventures offers white-water adventures in the Carlow / Kilkenny area, passing old mills and store houses, castles and period mansions and the chance to tour old canals once used by the Guinness barges.  This old waterway is now once-again alive and busy and is an amazing spot to see wildlife including cormorants, ducks, swans, egrets, kingfishers and even the occasional otter.  In this area of remarkable beauty Ducketts Grove Walled Gardens are also well worth a visit and upcoming festivals include Carlow Garden Festival from 23rd July to 1st August and the Graiguenamanagh Regatta and Rowing Festival which features two days of rowing, swimming, diving, cot racing (traditional fishing boats) on 31st July and 1st August. 

The Carlingford Oyster festival, Co. Louth
The Carlingford Oyster festival, Co. Louth

5.  Oysters and Adventures at Carlingford

Another one of Ireland’s most surprising waterside gems this summer is the tailored on-water guided tours of Carlingford Lough.  These tours with local guide Shane Reenan bring the stories and legends unique to the area alive and can be booked through Louth Adventures.  There are a range of sea tours available, from a fast-moving Harbour Thrill Seeker tour to the more gentle Carlingford Lough Adventure around the Cooley / Carlingford peninsula.  Nearby is Ghan House, built in 1727, a fully restored family run Georgian House and one of the oldest private houses of its type in Ireland.  This offers the chance to explore Medieval Carlingford and its ancient buildings dating as far back as 1210 from King John’s Castle to the Dominican Friary, the Mint and Taaffe’s Castle.  August is an ideal month to visit with the Carlingford Oyster Festival in full swing (August 4th – 8th).   Just over an hour away in Kells, Co. Meath there’s a chance to travel back in time with the unmissable Battle of Kells Medieval Fayre (August 20th – 21st) with battle re-enactments and live jousting.  Also in the region and a good daytrip is Monasterboice, one of Ireland’s earliest Christian sites, with its round tower and two of the finest high crosses in Ireland.  As a complete contrast, Skypark – one of the newest zipline adventure parks in Ireland has opened in the region, where you can release your inner Tarzan!

A Sallins Barge trip, Co. Kildare
A Sallins Barge trip, Co. Kildare

For new ideas in ancient spaces this summer Ireland’s Ancient East has a wealth of waterside gems for you to explore.

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