It may not be on the Wild Atlantic Way, but Pól Ó Conghaile has a host of reasons to visit one of Ireland’s great coastal counties.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Waterford celebrated a pretty significant anniversary recently... blowing out 1,100 candles. That makes it Ireland's oldest city, and arguably the best place to get stuck into 900+ years of history is the city centre itself - where the Viking Triangle, a nexus of narrow streets containing the Bishop's Palace, Reginald's Tower and the home of Waterford Crystal, among other attractions - brings it all to life. Taken together, it's a very impressive reboot.
“I talk a good walk,” says Mary Wall, laying out spread that would feed the Famous Five.
When Mary and her husband Seamus first moved into Hanora’s Cottage in 1967, it had just two rooms by a trickling stream. Today, it’s a 10-room guesthouse getting rave reviews on TripAdvisor.
The Ballymacarbry cottage is bang in the middle of the Nire Valley - a stone’s through from the trailhead for the 8km Coumdoula loop – and the picnics (free to guests) include a smorgasbord of cheeses, salmon, freshly baked scones, breads, pickles, relish and muffins.
A good time to visit? Try the Nire Valley walking festival in autumn (nirevalley.com), or snap up Mary's midweek special bundling two nights B&B, two dinners and two packed lunches from €170pp as we publish.
Details: 052 6136134; hanorascottage.com
It may not be on the Wild Atlantic Way, but Waterford’s Copper Coast is one of sweetest strips of coastline in the country.
Stretching from Fenor to Stradbally, it’s a European Geopark named for the copper mines that populated it in the 19th century, and spills over with cliffs, coves, sea stacks and coastal views.
Several beaches provide stops along the way – from the tree-cosseted cove at Stradbally to surfing at Bonmahon and the sea stacks of Ballydowane. Kilmurrin, pictured above, is arguably the most picturesque bend in the coastal route. Make it your business to pull in for a pitstop.
“So it’s basically a bap?” a colleague says.
I reckon a lot of arguments in Waterford begin that way – as visitors stare mystified at the floury roll in front of them, and locals launch into eloquent explanations as to why it is, in fact, a blaa.
@poloconghaile from Blackwater to Comeragh Mts to the sea, so much to eat & enjoy. Drop into Farmers Market Thurs am for a taste of it all— West Waterford Food (@WdFoodFestival) September 1, 2014
In truth, a blaa is utterly unique. It’s the only indigenous Irish yeast roll, manages to be fluffy, floury and filling all in one bite (it’s that dusting of flour that distinguishes it from a bap), and carries hints of sugar and butter that complement all manner of fillings.
Pictured above, for example, is a blaa stuffed with Coolea cheese and spiced beef – served by Hatch & Sons (hatchandsons.co) in Dublin, but delivered fresh daily from M&D bakery in Waterford City.
“As Waterford folk will tell you, they wouldn’t be blaas otherwise!”
The Comeragh Mountains are arguably one of Ireland's most under-rated ranges - offering a plethora of tracks and trails, landmarks like Mahon Falls (above) and the jaw-dropping corrie lake of Coumshingaun,along with great, whopping lung-fulls of fresh air.
@poloconghaile Tramore, Ireland's premier seaside resort but dont tell "them Dubs" about the Metalman walk & other great "secret strands"— Reginald Tower (@ReginaldsTower) September 1, 2014
In recent years, the Comeraghs Wild festival (September) has shone a new spotlight on the hills, bringing Mary Black to Curraghmore House (the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Waterford), along with quirky workshops and unique guided walks.
It’s home to a Michelin Star, a five-star hotel, a pretty beach and one of Ireland’s finest round towers, yet still Ardmore feels like a discovery freshly made.
The village dates back to a monastic settlement founded by St. Declan in the fifth century – with two chunky old ogham stones among the past treasures still standing – and you can follow a five kilometre looped walk past the saint’s hermitage, an abandoned watchtower and the wreck of a crane ship. After working up an appetite, slake it at the Cliff House Hotel (see below) or White Horses restaurant.
A remote, but very rewarding trip.
Kilmeaden is famous for its cheese, but it’s also home to a tiny little railway station offering a big day out for families.
The station is the departure point for the Waterford and Suir Valley Railway, a 50-minute spin along the abandoned Waterford to Dungarvan line, and the carriages are pulled by a dinky, green and red Simplex locomotive that helped to excavate the Channel Tunnel.
At Halloween, the train turns spooky, and at Christmas, Santa gets on board.
Details: 051 384058; wsvrailway.ie; €8.50/€4.
You won’t go hungry in Waterford. From seafood in Dunmore East (pictured below) to Martijn Kajuiter’s Michelin Star kitchen at the Cliff House (thecliffhousehotel.com; above) in Ardmore, the county is dotted with foodie stops and gourmet getaways.
In Dungarvan, try Louise Clark’s Nude (nudefood.ie) for casual fare and hearty dishes like Irish stew and duck confit, or Paul and Máire Flynn’s Tannery (tannery.ie). The latter was voted Best Restaurant at the 2013 Irish Restaurant Awards, but recently added a more casual wine bar downstairs, with dishes like avocado and smoked chicken (€10), a Tannery burger (€14.50) and a seafood sharing board (€24) ensuring it packs out at weekends… if you don’t fancy a glass of wine, treat yourself to a bottle of Copper Coast Red or Helvick Gold Blonde, two ales brewed locally by the Dungarvan Brewing Company (dungarvanbrewingcompany.com).
The West Waterford Food Festival takes place in April.
"Take a dip in Dunmore and dry off with a coffee in the beer garden of the Strand overlooking the beach," Independent.ie reader Michelle Devereaux recently suggested.
I love the cliff walks around Dunmore East, not to mention coves like this one, which scoop right up into the town. But her itinerary didn't end there.
"Head over to Tramore for a walk on the beach (or a surf if you dare) and a fish and chip from the Sandcastle beside the surf club (or more fancy fare in Brooklyn Café)."
Nice one, Michelle!
See him up there, standing on what looks like a gigantic bollard?
Tramore's famous Metal Man is a 15-foot sailor erected by Lloyd's of London to stem the tide of shipwrecks in the bay. Locals say that if you hop around the pillar three times, you'll be married within the year - though you try that at your own risk...
Just below the happy chappie is the Newtown and Guillamene Cove, traditionally a male-only bathing spot but today enjoyed by hardy bathers of both sexes. There are some smashing rocks to jump off at the latter - if that's your thing.
NB: This story has been updated since its first publication.