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Last updated : Nov 2009
Southwest Ireland
Southwest Ireland - TravelPuppy.com
County Cork

This is Ireland’s largest county, combining rich agricultural land, an important seaport, glorious coastal and mountain scenery, gentle bays and romantic castles. Tourism and related activities form a major part of Cork’s economy, but instead of brashness and tackiness, the county has become more discerning and produced a wide range of quality shops, pubs, hotels and restaurants.

Although the county extends northwards to Limerick, its most dramatic landscapes are in the southwest, where long fingers of land probe the Atlantic Ocean, making for stunning car tours and breathtaking excursions on foot. Ferries reach out to the offshore Sherkin Island, Bear Island and Cape Clear Island.

The name Corcaigh means ‘swamp’, a reminder that Cork is built on the marshy ground flanking the River Lee. The city is lively, buzzing with industry, academia and, invariably, the sound of impromptu music recitals, making this a delightful place to amble through the streets or sample Irish pub hospitality. The main part of the city is squashed onto an elongated island linked by elegant bridges.

The English Market, at the rear of St Patrick Street, is a wacky place to wander around, not dissimilar in atmosphere to the open-air flea market on Cornmarket Street. North of St Patrick lies Paul Street, the trendy part of Cork, a place of pedestrianised streets, buskers and high-quality shops.

Other places worth taking in are the tower of St Anne’s Shandon, the Butter Exchange which houses the Shandon Craft Centre, Cork City Gaol, Elizabeth Fort now a Garda station, the Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald Park and St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

Blarney Castle is renowned far and wide for the Blarney Stone, a kiss on which endows ‘the gift of the gab’. While in Blarney, the Woollen Mills and Blarney House are both worth seeking out.

Cobh (pronounced Cove) is Ireland’s main trans-Atlantic port, grown out of a former fishing village. St Colman’s Cathedral dominates the centre of the town. The history of the port and its luxury liners (which included the Titanic) is told in Cobh Heritage Centre.

Along the Coast

Kinsale, an attractive seaside town at the mouth of Bandon River, has superb restaurants and fine buildings. Each October sees a gourmet festival here. Kilbrittain, Timoleague and Courtmacsherry are all unspoilt in lovely settings around the bay. Clonakilty is famed as a centre for Gaelic culture and music.

Castletownhead is another charming Georgian village, while nearby Skibbereen is a small market town renowned for its opinionated local newspaper, the Skibbereen Eagle.

The isolated fishing village of Baltimore lies at the far end of one of the peninsulas, the place from which to visit the islands. Bantry is ideal for exploring Bantry Bay and the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. Bantry Bay House deserves a quick visit, with its glorious view and some important French tapestries.

County Kerry

The county is blessed with the finest scenery in Ireland, from the tranquil beauty of Killarney Lake to the majestic crags of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrantoohill. The Iveragh Peninsula is without equal and is circled by the Ring of Kerry. The Beargha Peninsula is less well known, and relatively unexplored.

Set against a backdrop of mountains, Kenmare is a busy market town at the meeting of three rivers – the Roughty, Finihy and Sheen. The town has craft shops, restaurants, pubs and Kenmare Heritage Centre. St Mary’s Holy Well is reputed to have healing properties.

The Ring of Kerry is a stunning; 180km (112-mile) scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula, with numerous diversions along coastal roads and out to islands, like Skellig Michael. A drive through the hills via Ballaghbearna Gap and the Ballaghisheen Pass, promises rugged landscapes studded with lakes and carved by rivers.

The resort town of Killarney spreads itself in the shadow of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, the finest ridge walk in Ireland. A traverse of the ridge is not for the faint-hearted, nor is the climb to the top of Carrantoohill an easy stroll. The town bustles to the needs of visitors, but its best feature is undoubtedly St Mary’s Cathedral, which boasts an untypically tall spire.

Killarney National Park embraces three lakes all linked by a river. A good starting point is Muckross House and Gardens, a neo-Tudor building with rooms furnished in the Victorian style. Torc Waterfalls are modest, but lie in a beautiful woodland setting. A nearby stairway of over 170 steps climbs to a fine viewpoint.

The Dingle Peninsula has lovely beaches and the fine town of Dingle itself, the westernmost town in Europe. It is a slim peninsula with a spectacular coastal road and numerous diversions. Not to be missed is Brandon Mountain and Brandon Bay. Ventry has a lovely white-sand strand, on which legend claims the King of the Other World landed to subjugate Ireland.

County Limerick

It was Edward Lear who popularised the five-line limerick of nonsense verse that is forever associated with this lovely Irish county. Today a farming region, Limerick has hundreds of castle ruins that tell of more troubled times. Astride the River Shannon and fringed by hills and mountains, the county has a long history of monastic settlement.

Limerick stands on both banks of the Shannon and the Abbey River. It is Georgian in character and has a grid pattern of streets. Limerick is still undergoing a renaissance in its culture, music, drama and self esteem. Mass tourism has yet to discover Limerick, and it remains an agreeable base for exploration. King John’s Castle is a weighty Norman stronghold built on the site of a Viking settlement. The English Town and Irish Town are the more interesting areas to explore. The Hunt Museum in the old custom house is the finest museum outside Dublin, containing artefacts collected by John Hunt, a specialist in Celtic culture.

Adare is picture postcard country, a place of thatched cottages. Loch Gur, hidden in the hills, is surrounded by archaeological remains, including stone circles and dolmens, and guarded by the remains of two castles. Murroe lies among the foothills of the Slievefelim Mountains. The village is dominated by the Mansion of Glenstal, now a Benedictine monastery. The gardens are especially beautiful in spring and early summer.
Useful travel Links
Cork Kerry Tourism official website of Cork Kerry Tourism
Shannon Region of Tourism official website of Shannon Region of Tourism