Thursday 22 February 2018

Ireland's most beautiful places: 18 hidden gems for your travels


Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
The Cavan Burren, Ireland's ancient East. Photo: Tony Pleavin/Fáilte Ireland
Inisboffin. Photo by NUTAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
A wood full of bluebells is as picturesque place as one could imagine for children to play.

Online Editors

The Sunday Independent's #GreatLittleCountry campaign asked readers to name their most magical places.

We asked you to nominate the places that touch your soul, the scenic settings that lift you out of life and take you away to a better place.

You came back with fields of bluebells, farmland with cattle a-chewing, beacons flashing from a lighthouse, a carpet of wild garlic, and secret sandy coves.

Here are Ireland's most magical places!

Dunmore East, Co. Waterford

Sitting in the beautiful garden of our friends' cottage looking over Dunmore East. The sunny south east living up to its name. Enjoying freshly brewed coffee and taking in the stunning view of this spectacular inlet. With the aid of binoculars, we could clearly see the lighthouse at Hook Head and the rambling Loftus Hall.

As dusk fell, adding to the enchanting setting, the beacons flashed intermittently at Hook Lighthouse.

The haunting sound of the seagulls as they swooped to pick up the morsels of bread rolls that we had scattered along the rocks added to the magic of the moment.

- Collette Bonnar

Black Valley, Co. Kerry

The Gap of Dunloe.jpg
The Gap of Dunloe

When we first visited the Black Valley near Killarney, the houses were few and electricity hadn't arrived there.

Even though it was remote, we were enthralled by the sheer beauty of the place. The mountains and streams were breathtaking and the children enjoyed paddling and fishing.

Nowadays we usually drive home through the Gap of Dunloe (above). And we always remember that first visit 30 years ago when we got to the top of a three-mile drive to find a little shop next to a church. We were amazed to get creamy ices from a gas-run fridge.

- Colette O'Sullivan Dinan

Read more: The Irish Bucket List: 30 things to do in Ireland before you die

The 7th Tee,  Gweedore Golf Club

Awesomely beautiful. Panoramic vistas. Crashing waves. Twittering birds. Sandy beaches. Grassy dunes. Rugged coastline. Lonely islands. Resplendent Errigal. Yellow gorse.

Salty air. Dark seas. Mackerel sky. Flapping flags. Blooming heather. Quizzical sheep. Faraway fields. Mountain peaks. Turf stacks. Houses and homes. Grassy greens. Mountain trails. Billowing smoke. Shadows and light.

Heart-lifting. Soul-reviving. Magical.

- Brenda Gallagher


Inisboffin. Photo by NUTAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

"I will arise and go now, and go to Inishbofin'. While Inisfree was Yeats' Utopia, Inishbofin is mine. Located a 30-minute boat ride away from the picturesque harbour of Cleggan, this idyllic island boasts beautiful white sandy beaches, dramatic sea cliffs, hidden coves, mysterious ruins and rolling hills.

This car-free island (only locals have vehicles) is my mecca for peace and relaxation away from the stresses of modern life.

Once I place my foot on Bofin pier (every June Bank Holiday weekend) I am transported to another world physically, psychologically and emotionally.

- Colette O'Byrne

Killeshandra, Co. Cavan

A great little place in Co Cavan is Killeshandra - a lovely, friendly town and neighbours. Lakes for all standards of fisher folk, beautiful places to walk or cycle, and great places to eat!

Less than two hours from Dublin, too.

- Juliet Belton

Ballygriffey Wood in Co Clare

The most beautiful, magical place at this time of year is Ballygriffey Wood in Co Clare during the bluebell season. It's a lovely, wild, natural wood at any time of the year but it takes on a magical, generous life of its own during this time. I work at the local kindergarten and we took the children for the annual "blue bell wood walk" last week.

They ran, skipped and jumped with glee through the curved paths. They dragged large sticks to make dens. They laughed giddily as we played hide and seek in the sunken grassy bunkers and then picnicked afterwards in the sea of bluebells taking heed "to leave no trace".

- Nora Cullinan

Sandy Hole, Clondalkin

It's the Sandy Hole near Corkagh Park in Clondalkin, a shady part of the Camac River where the water runs clear over the stones.

On a hot day, hordes of children head there, the older kids charged with minding the toddlers. The younger ones paddle while the older ones take turns holding on to a block of wood, learning how to swim.

You might ramble by another time when there's nobody there, only ducks and swans.

Just as happy memories spring to mind, you'd see him, a kingfisher in all his glory.

- Gertrude Reynolds

St Declan's Well, Co. Waterford

Ardmore, Co. Waterford (2).JPG
Ardmore, Co. Waterford

Each year, I descend down a slope under a canopy of green trees and enter the ruins of St Declan's Well in Ardmore. The path is well-trodden and worn. It has slightly sunk, a green womb on the cliffside, sheltered from the sea. The white star-like flowers of wild garlic carpet the soggy ground.

Two ancient crucifixes watch over the well-worn figures surviving from the 5th century. A place I came with my grandparents who have now passed. I carry on our tradition of throwing some copper coins into the Well with my niece and nephews.

- Elizabeth Rea

Cragg Walk, Co. Tipperary

I am writing to tell you about The Cragg Walk, situated in Grange Village, Co Tipperary. It is made up of three different walks depending on how energetic you are feeling. It begins in the village or you can park at the badminton hall.

There are picnic benches dotted along the walk, or just viewing areas with benches for a rest and a look at the amazing views. At one point you can see four counties. Dogs are allowed, in fact one person walks a ferret on a leash but no cars, bikes, etc. Children can have complete freedom. Up at Wellington Monument, a viewing platform has been constructed complete with telescope. This, to me, is an area of heaven on Earth.

- Nicola Bergin

The Cavan Burren

The Cavan Burren, Ireland's ancient East. Photo: Tony Pleavin/Fáilte Ireland

Tales of giants' graves, druids' altars and ghostly water horses surround the otherworldly Cavan Burren Park, near Blacklion in West Cavan. Its sparse, ethereal landscape, dotted with giant boulders and ancient megaliths, makes you feel like you're walking through the pages of a fantasy novel.

Though the unobtrusive signage tells you matter-of-factly that the boulders were deposited here thousands of years ago by giant sheets of ice, as tall as two double-decker buses, somehow the truth seems more fantastic than legend. Running my fingers along ancient carvings, I feel an intimate connection with the past that is both unsettling and reassuring.

- Conor Harrington

Salterstown, Co. Louth

I like to take the bike to Salterstown, it's about two miles south of the village of Annagassan.

I cycle over the five-arched bridge across the river Glyde. The estuary is a feeding ground for brent geese, mallard, herons and little egret. Pedaling by the coast is easy. Slieve Gullion is across the bay. It is 20 or 30 miles from the Coolies. I scaled it two years ago.

This is the land of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Setanta. Nearby is the Gap of the North, where Cu Chulainn single-handedly fended off the army of Queen Meabh.

- Mimi Goodman

Holy Island, Lough Derg


Cruising Lough Derg we made a stop at Holy Island near Mountshannon, a place of pilgrimage and breath-­taking natural beauty.

We pondered on the stone slabs in the Saint's Graveyards, the bullaun stones of the Celts, the Abbey built by St Caimin and the High Crosses. Then we saw it soaring overhead - a white-tailed sea eagle.

- Julie Shanley

Lough Dan, CO. WIcklow

My paradise is a remote white sanded, tree-lined beach located on the northwest shore of Lough Dan in Co Wicklow.

The idyllic setting where the Inchavore River flows into the lough and is overlooked by the Cloghoge, Kanturk and Scarr mountains. The beach is a peaceful and tranquil place to relax for hours with a good book and a picnic. Heavenly.

- John Clowry

Strawberry Beds, Dublin

Holding Grandad's hand as we walked down the wooded glen to the fairy tree near the Strawberry Beds, Dublin. Dappled patches of sunlight beamed through the Scots pines, birdsong in the air and the sound of a trickling stream.

Wanting to reach it but half afraid, I gripped Grandad's hand tighter. Getting nearer. There it is. Huge, aged bark and tentacle roots above the earth, even stretching across the stream to the opposite bank. It's scored with carved initials, hearts shot through with arrows. Grandad brings me to the other side, where there's a door carved at the bottom and a window above. As he starts to tell me the story again, the fairies come alive. Just like magic.

- Mary Reynolds

Dursey Island, Co. Cork
Dursey Island cable car

The excitement starts when you board the cable car, and a sense of adventure befalls you as you look down nervously at the sea with its dangerous currents.

You let out a sigh of relief when you land on the island, a world where time has stood still - no hotels or pubs, only breathtaking scenery on either side of the island as far away as Kerry. All your worries evaporate, you're in God's country - Dursey Island, Co Cork.

- Liz Dennehy

Flaggy Shore in North Clare

The Flaggy Shore in North Clare. It's at New Quay between Ballyvaughan and Kinvara - half a mile of spectacular coastline that stretches down to Finavarra Point.

Whenever I walk it I think of Seamus Heaney and his poem Postscript - "And some time make the time to drive out west / Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore / In September or October, when the wind / And the light are working off each other".

You'll see Mount Vernon which was Lady Gregory's summer house. It faces the waters and the wild, with its clean white walls and red-framed windows. George Bernard Shaw stayed here.

You'll pass Loch Murree, which is bedecked by swans "the surface of a slate-grey lake is lit / by the earthed lightening of a flock of swans".

The walk finishes at Finavarra Point at the 19th-century Martello Tower. From here you can see across to Black Head in Fanore.

- Bernadette Kennedy

The Cavan Burren (again!)

Imagine letting the kids go free to search for fossils, rock art and subtly sculpted stones.

Or to explore the beds of long lost pre-glacial rivers. Imagine ancient giants challenging each other to jump over an impossible gorge as you listen to the echoes of your own voice coming back from the depths of subterranean streams.

Imagine listening to the song of the cuckoo as you marvel at landscapes stretching from Cuilcagh Mountain to Ben Bulben, and Errigal to Slieve Gullion.

There is no need for you to imagine. Instead, just go to Cavan Burren Park.

- Seamus O hUltachain

Dalkey Island

#GreatLittleCountry #DalkeyIsland #beautiful #picnics #boat #trips #summer #Fabulous

- Linda O'Reilly

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