Magnificent scenery has attracted visitors to this region since Victorian times. Killarney and its romantic lakes are a powerful magnet for tourists, as is the attractive coastline of Cork and Kerry, where rocky headlands just out into the Atlantic and colorful fishing villages nestle in the bays. Yet much of the southwest remains unspoiled, with a friendly atmosphere and authentic culture still alive in Irish-speaking pockets.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The town’s great attraction is the medieval Rock of Cashel. The Rock was a symbol of royal and ecclesiastical power for more than a thousand years. A good portion of the medieval complex still stands, though the main building, the Gothic cathedral, is roofless. Other distinctive features of the Rock are a restored round tower and the weatherbeaten St. Patrick’s Cross. The carved figure on the east face of the cross is said to be St. Patrick.
Cork city derives its name from the marshy banks of the Lee River. The center of Cork occupies an island between two arms of the river. Noted for its chic bars, ethnic restaurants, bookstores, and boutiques, Paul Street is the hub of the liveliest district in town. The Crawford Art Gallery has some fin Irish works of art. The steeple of St. Anne Shandon is a prominent landmark. It is topped by a weather vane in the shape of a salmon. Visitors can climb up and ring the famous Shandon bells. Be sure to take a side trip to Blarney Castle, where a legendary stone bestows magical eloquence on all who kiss it.
One of the prettiest small towns in Ireland, Kinsale is a popular yachting center. It is also renowned for its cuisine and annual Festival of Fine Food. Visit Charles Fort, a fine example of a star-shaped bastion fort that was built by the English in the 1670s to protect Kinsale against foreign naval forces.
Killarney gets very crowded in the summer but still deserves a visit, especially to the Lakes of Killarney which lie within Killarney National Park. The landscape here is dotted with ruined castles and abbeys. Muckross House, an imposing mansion built in 1843, overlooks the lakes. This is where you’ll find the Museum of Kerry Folklife. Next door is the Walled Garden Centre, which incorporates the garden, a restaurant, and a craft center. The town is also the starting point for the popular Ring of Kerry tour around the Iveragh Peninsula.
Dingle is a thriving fishing port and popular to tourists. There are many brightly-painted craft shops and cafés in town. The harbor is home to Fungie the Dolphin, who has been a permanent resident since 1983 and can be visited by boat or on swimming trips. Be sure to also visit the scattered archaeological remains of the Dingle Peninsula. The Gallarus Oratory, northwest of Dingle, is perhaps the most fascinating with its miniature dry-stone church, shaped like a capsized boat. It is thought to have been constructed between the 6th and 9th centuries.
Bunratty Castle is one of Ireland’s major tourist attractions. The O’Briens and Earls of Thurmond lived there from the early 16th century until the 1640s. The adjacent Folk Park and the mock-medieval banquets held in the castle attract many visitors.
Galway is the center for the Irish-speaking regions in the West of Ireland and a lively university city. The city is located on the banks of the Corrib River. The city’s finest medieval building is the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas. The Spanish Arch is where ships from Spain unloaded their precious cargoes during the 16th century.
This wild region, better known these days as the Wild Atlantic Way, has mountains, bogs, and a rugged coastline. Here you can find spectacular ocean views. Connemara National Park also offers amazing scenery, dominated by the mountains known as the Twelve Bens.
The attractions of the Aran Islands include the austere landscape crisscrossed with drystone walls, stunning coastal views, and prehistoric stone forts. The Aran Heritage Centre is dedicated to the disappearing Aran way of life. The islands are famous for their distinctive knitwear and traditional costumes.