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.
(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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.