Wednesday 24 July 2019

10 most romantic places in Ireland - starting with a heart-shaped lake

From Cupid's corrie lake to a waterfall immortalised by W.B. Yeats, Pól Ó Conghaile picks 10 sweet spots for V-Day

Lough Ouler, a heart-shaped lake in the Wicklow Mountains
Lough Ouler, a heart-shaped lake in the Wicklow Mountains
St Valentine's relics are contained within a casket at the Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Glencar Waterfall, Co. Leitrim
Galway - Eyre Square-Kennedy Park
Snowdrops at Altamont Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Snowdrop Week at Altamont Gardens. Photo: Carlow Tourism
Downhill and Mussenden Temple, a former library modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland
The Hugh Lane, Dublin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Coumshingaun Co Waterford
Nestling at the foot of the Knockmealdowns, this towering old country house was home to the Sisters of Mercy for more than 100 years.
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Looking for a sweet spot for a getaway, canoodle, or to pop a certain question? Our travel editor suggests 10 of Ireland's most romantic places...

1. A lovers' lake, Co Wicklow

First things first... you're going to earn this one. Lough Ouler (above and below) is Cupid's own corrie lake, a heart-shaped treasure at the base of Tonelagee (from the Irish Tóin le Gaoith... literally 'arse to the wind').

Getting there involves a challenging walk of at least 3.5 hours, starting from the car park above the Glenmacnass Waterfall. The path can be tricky to find, so research carefully, dress sensibly and take safety precautions - this is not a casual walk, and should not be attempted in fog or inclement weather. 

The walk circuits Lough Ouler, rewarding with a view from Leinster's third-highest peak and the perfect pitch for a propsal... if your sweetheart is a hiker.

Details: visitwicklow.ie; mountainviews.ie

More: Cupid in Croatia - Is this the world's most romantic island?

2. St. Valentine's Relics, Dublin

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St Valentine's relics are contained within a casket at the Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Did you know that St. Valentine's relics reside in Dublin?

No, really. The relics, believed to include bones and "a small vessel tinged with his blood", were brought from Rome by the Irish Carmelite, John Spratt, who received them as a gift from Pope Gregory XVI.

Today, they're held in Whitefriar Street Church, where a shrine to the saint includes a notebook into which visitors write petitions. On February 14, masses include a blessing of rings (usually at 11am and 3pm) - but lovers have been known to propose at the shrine year-round.

Details: carmelites.ie; visitdublin.com

3. Galway City

A few years ago, the City of the Tribes beat off stiff competition from Dublin, Kerry, Cork and Kilkenny to be named Ireland's most romantic spot in a survey by... erm, Swizzel's Love Hearts.

Did we really need Love Hearts to tell us that? There's no shortage of ways to dance with romance here. Steal a kiss under the Spanish Arch, party in the Latin Quarter, surprise your sweetheart with some Michelin Star magic at Loam or Aniar, or book a saucy getaway in the aptly-named g hotel.

It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship...

Details: ghotel.ie; galwaytourism.ie

4. Altamont Gardens, Co. Carlow

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Snowdrops at Altamont Gardens. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Dating from the 16th century, Altamont Garden thinks itself the most romantic garden in Ireland, and who are we to argue?

There are plenty of opportunity for romantic ramblings here - a gorgeous river walk, a moody lake surrounded by rare trees, the remains of a chapel in a windowed end wall and, best of all, Snowdrop Month (February) - during which guided tours with the head gardener cost just €3.

In February, the gardens are carpeted with bunches of these beautiful, hardy gems... you'll never buy flowers from a petrol station again.

Details: heritageireland.ie

More: There's one beautifully simple reason to visit Carlow in February  

5. Glencar Waterfall, Co. Leitrim

Glencar Waterfall, Co. Leitrim (1).JPG
Glencar Waterfall, Co. Leitrim

'Where wandering water gushes / From the hills above Glencar, / In pools among the rushes / That scarce could bathe a star...'

W.B. Yeats namechecks this enchanting hideaway in The Stolen Child, priming it nicely for poetic proposals. Just outside Manorhamilton, the waterfall is a 50-foot sheet pulled off the rocks, and you'll find other Yeats landmarks like the Lake Isle of Inishfree, Ben Bulben, Hazelwood, and Dooney Rock neasrby too.

Leitrim itself is a ridiculously under-visited treasure.

"A landscape from a dream; unmanicured, informal, raffish and intimate in its beauty" is how another author, DBC Pierre, puts it. "If Kew Gardens were the grand salon of a mansion, this would be its teenager's bedroom."

Details: leitrimtourism.com

More: 10 great reasons to visit Leitrim 

6. Mussenden Temple, Co. Derry

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Downhill and Mussenden Temple, a former library modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland

From the blustery cusp of Downhill Demesne, Mussenden Temple keeps dramatic vigil over the North Channel and Causeway Coast (above).

Built in the 18th century and inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, the circular folly looks over a thick strip of golden sands, Cupid-friendly cliffs and even nearby Co. Donegal. It has also become a wedding venue of late, so a return visit could be on the cards... Bushmills Inn is nearby for a nightcap, too.

Details: discovernorthernireland.com; bushmillsinn.com

7. Swiss Cottage, Co Tipperary

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The ornamental Swiss Cottage is tucked away in Co Tipperary

Open from late March to November, Cahir's Swiss Cottage is an ornamental folly built in the early 1800s to a design by Regency architect John Nash. Lovebirds could pause for thought (ahem) on the stone steps leading up to the site, or amid interiors such as the graceful spiral staircase and the Salon's wallpaper - one of the first commercially-produced Parisian wallpapers. Cahir Castle is a romantic amble away.

Details: heritageireland.ie

8. Coumshingaun, Co. Waterford

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Coumshingaun Co Waterford

As difficult to describe as it is to spell, Coumshingaun is one of the most beautiful lakes in Ireland. Set into the cupped hands of surrounding mountains, a visit cannot fail to stoke the passions... particularly with some bubbles in the picnic. 

"I have seen it through a dazzle of sunshine, through swirling clouds of snow, through driving rain hissing off its surface... and I have never failed to find it beautiful," as Patrick Werner wrote in his Visitors' Guide to the Comeragh Mountains.

"Perhaps it is best to leave it at that."

More: 10 great reasons to visit Waterford

Details: visitwaterford.com

9. Stained Glass Room, Dublin

This beautifully atmospheric grotto in the Hugh Lane Gallery is devoted to stained glass from the gallery's collection - key among which, of course, is the work of Harry Clarke. Pausing amid pieces such as Clarke's Eve of St Agnes provides the perfect opportunity for soulful sweet nothings, or picturesque proposals. No high-pitched screaming though - the glass is priceless (admission is free).

Details: hughlane.ie

10.  The Old Convent, Co. Tipperary

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Nestling at the foot of the Knockmealdowns, this towering old country house was home to the Sisters of Mercy for more than 100 years.

Gregan's Castle in The Burren, The Cliff House in Ardmore, Newforge House in Co. Antrim... Ireland is not short on romantic places to stay.

When push comes to shove, however, we're plugging for Dermot and Christine Gannon's gourmet hideaway in Clogheen. Ridiculously good tasting menus (€75pp), cosy rooms (including a 'Crow's Nest' with king-size bed, and the complete absence of children under the age of 12 set the scene for an excellent couples' escape... book way ahead, though, as rooms sell like hotcakes.

More: The Fab 50: Ireland's 50 best places to stay for 2018

Details: theoldconvent.ie

NB: Remote walks carry an element of danger. Walk at your own risk, prepare properly where there is no shelter or phone charging points, and bring snacks, water and a fully-charged phone.

This story has been updated since it was first published.

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