Secret Tipperary: A converted cowhouse is one of Tipp's best-kept secrets
A lovingly restored cowshed proves the perfect location for a busy family holiday, writes Therese Eagers...
Although the cliché would have you believe that it's a long way to Tipperary, nothing could be further from the truth.
Less than an hour-and-a-half from Dublin, in the rolling hills of South Tipperary, we were blessed with the soft summer days enshrined in the old ballad. There could hardly have been a more suitable spot for a week-long break away than our converted cowhouse in Ballinacluna.
A small village at the foot of Sliabh na mBan and a 15-minute drive from Clonmel, Ballinacluna may not be as glamorous as the Wild Atlantic Way (or as well-marketed), but this lovingly restored barn proved the perfect location for a busy family holiday. Maintaining its original charm as well as a touch of modern chic, the cowhouse includes two self-catering cottages - 'The Dairy' and 'The Byre' - within the old stone building on a working farm. Owners Ethel and Tom, as well as Toby the dog and Molly the horse, were on hand to give a most warm welcome. After a long journey with two small children, there could be nothing better than hunks of Ethel's homemade brown bread and lemon drizzle cake.
With views of Sliabh na mBan to one side and the Comeragh Mountains on the other, this is a tranquil oasis. Think original stone walls and authentic agricultural touches combined with stylish decoration. Both barns have two double bedrooms (one on a mezzanine level), a living area and dining space and compact kitchen with mod cons. History has been charmingly considered in the restoration.
Design is one thing, of course - but kids want action too. We included the cities of Waterford and Kilkenny in our day trips (both a 40-minute drive away), and the rolling countryside of Tipperary also offered plenty to do. For those who are not ready to climb the beautiful Sliabh na mBan, or who have to ferry around small children, for example, the close-by Kilcash Woods are a real alternative. A hunt for the Gruffalo can take up most of the morning here, and the circular route is not too challenging. There's also a lovely, mile-long route around the farm itself that is the perfect way to end the day and tire out little legs. Ethel's thoughtful hospitality enhanced our holiday, too. She is a mine of local knowledge and couldn't do enough to make us feel at home.
The Byre and Dairy are conveniently located for the Carrick Blue Way and the Waterford Greenway (above, bikes are available). For those not wishing to cycle, The Waterford and Suir Valley Railway is a great option: it leaves every hour from Kilmeaden. Clonmel's Mitchell Street was another hit - it is pedestrianised and home to some charming shops, including the family-run Hewitts Bakery. The shopfront there reads: "Life is short. Eat more cake." So we did! In one short week we revisited the bakery at least three times.
Cahir is about half-an-hour away, and was one of the highlights of our trip. Our tour guide at the OPW-run castle here was excellent, adapting the tour to the many young listeners who imagined themselves besieged in the former Butler residence. Nearby, a picturesque 2km walk follows the River Suir from the castle as far as the Swiss Cottage. Although the hobbit-like residence is pretty to look at, it may not be worth the entrance fee, as we found the tour short, repetitive and definitely not buggy-friendly. Much better to spend time outside the entrance on the slipway beside the bridge dangling little toes in the crystal waters. Cahir lacks a good eatery, too. It's a much better idea to pack some of Ethel's brown bread and a sausage roll (or two) from Hewitts.
After our adventures, were were back to our Ballinacluna bolthole again - one of Tipperary's best-kept secrets.
How to do it
The Eagers stayed as guests of Sykes Cottages (+44 (0)1244 617683 or sykescottages.co.uk) in Ballinacluna, Co. Tipperary. It offers a week-long, self-catering break in 'The Byre' or 'The Dairy' from €355 in low season and €600 in high season. Weekend breaks start at €310 for two nights.
The Cowhouse is just off the N76 between Kilkenny and Clonmel, approx. 1.5 hours from Dublin and 40 minutes from Waterford, Kilkenny or Cashel. See munstervales.com, heritageireland.ie or irelandsancienteast.com for more to see and do in the area.
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