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Things to Do in South West Ireland

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Killarney National Park
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31 Tours and Activities

Killarney National Park, with idyllic lakes and ancient woodlands backed by the serrated MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains, is an area of stunning natural beauty. The park is also historically significant, with two heritage buildings on-site: Ross Castle, a 15th-century fortress-turned-hotel, and Muckross House, a stately Victorian estate.

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Cobh Heritage Centre (The Queenstown Story)
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The port town of Cobh, formerly known as Queenstown, was the departure point for millions of Irish emigrants who left the country between 1848 and 1960. Housed in the town’s Victorian train station, the Cobh Heritage Centre chronicles the often-heartbreaking journeys of Irish emigrants during the Great Famine and beyond.

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Gallarus Oratory
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Gallarus Oratory is Ireland's best preserved early Christian church. The exact year of its construction is not known, but it is believed to be more than a thousand years old. The church is located five miles from Dingle Town on the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland. It was constructed entirely from dry stone masonry and resembles an overturned boat. This church is one of the highlights of the scenic Slea Head Drive. Along the scenic drive, visitors will also see views of Smerwick Harbor, the Three Sisters and Mount Brandon.

Visitors will be able to see a church that has not been restored because it hasn't needed to be. The stones were carefully fitted together without the use of mortar, and aside from a small sag in the roof, the construction has held up for centuries. You can enter the oratory through a 6.5 foot doorway, and there are two stones with holes that once held a door. The nearby visitor center shows a 15 minute audio-visual presentation about the Gallarus Oratory, and there is a gift shop.

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Ross Castle
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A vision on the shores of Lough Leane, the 15th-century Ross Castle was built as a medieval fortress for an Irish chieftain named O’Donoghue, and was said to be one of the last strongholds to fall to the brutal English Cromwellian forces in the mid-16th century. The ruin has been restored, and features lovely 16th- and 17th-century furniture.

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Blasket Islands
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Off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, a group of abandoned sandstone islands rise out of the Atlantic Ocean. For hundreds of years, the Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodai) were home to an Irish-speaking population; however, in 1953 the Irish government decided that, due to their isolation, the islands were too dangerous for habitation and ordered a mandatory evacuation.

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Rock of Cashel
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The fifth-century home of the kings of Munster, the Rock of Cashel—or St. Patrick’s Rock, as it’s also known—is now home to a collection of religious monuments, including a roofless medieval cathedral and a 12th-century chapel. Set atop an elevated knoll, the site commands excellent views over the green, grassy Irish countryside.

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Bishop's Palace
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The Bishop’s Palace is one of the three museums known as the Waterford Treasures located in the Viking Triangle in Waterford, Ireland. It was designed in 1741 by architect Richard Castles, one of Ireland’s greatest architects. The front of the palace overlooks the town wall, which forms part of the palace’s terraced garden. The ground floor and first floors of the palace are furnished as an elegant 18th century townhouse and feature period furniture, beautiful fireplaces and rare paintings.

The museum tells the history of Waterford from 1700 to the mid-20th century, with an entire floor dedicated to stories about Waterford’s Home Rule story, World War I in Waterford and the War of Independence in Waterford. It also displays unique pieces such as the Penrose Decanter, the oldest surviving piece of Waterford Crystal, dating to 1789, and the only surviving Bonaparte “mourning cross,” one of just 12 crosses produced upon Napoleon’s death in 1821.

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Poulnabrone Dolmen (Poulnabrone Portal Tomb)
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The Burren area of County Clare offers more questions than answers. It’s a vast countryside of karst limestone and millennia of human existence, and a place that leaves you shaking your head at the mysteries it holds inside. At a place like ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen (also known as the Poulnabrone Portal Tomb for the two thin, vertical portal stones that support its 12-foot capstone) the first question that arises is how it was built in the first place. Dating to Ireland’s Neolithic period, the dolmen structure is estimated to be over 5,000 years old. When the area was excavated in 1985 to repair a crack in a stone, the remains of over 25 people—including adults, children, and an infant—were found buried by the Poulnabrone Dolmen, and along with items such as a stone axe and bone pendants, helped to date the portal tomb to around 3,600 BC. Today, when visiting this mystical and ancient site in the fields of County Clare, there’s a profound sense of historical unknown that’s held in the silence of the stones.

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Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín)
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The lake-studded glacial valley known as the Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín) is wedged between County Kerry’s Purple Mountain and MacGillycuddy's Reeks mountain range. The rugged natural scenery along the 7-mile (11-kilometer) paved mountain pass made it a magnet for sublime-seeking, 19th-century, Romantic writers such as William Thackeray and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who waxed lyrical about its beauty. Despite its popularity, the landscape remains as unspoiled as ever.

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Treaty Stone
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On October 3, 1691, William III of Hanover of England and King James II (William’s father-in-law) signed a peace treaty to end the Siege of Limerick and the Williamite-Jacobite War, securing religious freedom for Catholics. According to local legend, the treaty was signed on a block of limestone on the bank of the River Shannon near the Thomond Bridge. While the treaty was ultimately rejected by both English and Irish Parliaments (giving Limerick the nickname City of the Broken Treaty), the stone remains.

In 1865, the Mayor John Rickard Tinslay of Limerick commissioned a pedestal for the Treaty Stone just across the river from King John’s Castle, and it has sat there ever since. Carved into the pedestal is an image of the castle, topped with a dome and cross, to indicate that Limerick was a cathedral city.

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More Things to Do in South West Ireland

Blarney Stone (Stone of Eloquence)

Blarney Stone (Stone of Eloquence)

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Visitors flock to the ruined 15th-century Blarney Castle to bend over backwards from the battlements and lay their lips on the famous Blarney Stone (Stone of Eloquence). According to local legend, the stone, which is embedded high in the castle walls, imparts those who kiss it with the “gift of the gab,” making them more eloquent, articulate, and convincing.

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Cahergall Stone Fort

Cahergall Stone Fort

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Dating back to the seventh century, this ring fort is one of several such structures dotted around County Kerry. Restored to better resemble its original state, this circular stone structure features sturdy stone walls up to 16.4 feet (5 meters) thick and 6.6 feet (4 meters) high, and affords stunning views down to the Atlantic coast.

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Ring of Beara

Ring of Beara

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The Ring of Beara is a circular road around the Beara Peninsula in southwest Ireland. It follows the coast and is about 85 miles around. The road begins in Kenmare in Kerry County, and you can go in either direction around the loop. The road passes through several small villages along the way, including Castletownbere, Bonane, Lauragh, Ardgroom, Eyeries, and Allihies. You can also see mountainous landscapes, jagged cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, and herds of sheep.

The Uragh Stone Circle, a neolithic stone circle with some stones reaching almost 10 feet tall, is also located along this journey. A few islands are located just off the coast of the peninsula. One in particular is Dursey Island which is reachable by cable car. Healy Pass offers the best viewing point on the Beara Peninsula. A rock tunnel called Caha Pass connects Kenmare to Glengarriff in Cork County. There is also a 122 mile walking trail for those who would rather take it slowly and see the area on foot.

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Titanic Experience Cobh

Titanic Experience Cobh

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Housed inside the old White Star Line Ticket Office, the Titanic Experience Cobh tells the tales of the 123Titanic passengers who embarked on their voyage from here in Cobh—the final passengers to step aboard the luxurious liner. Exhibits recount life on board the ship and the events of the disastrous sinking using audio-visual effects.

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Jameson Distillery Midleton

Jameson Distillery Midleton

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At the Jameson Distillery Midleton, travelers can enjoy the Jameson Experience Tour, which includes a look into the distillery in East Cork, where the well-known whiskey was produced until the 1970s. In the company of a guide, visitors explore the preserved distillery interior, and view old kilns, mills, and distilling equipment, as well as a restored 19th-century warehouse.

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Cork English Market

Cork English Market

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Dating from 1788, Cork English Market is among Ireland’s finest foodie destinations. Set inside a Victorian heritage building with a vaulted ceiling, the market is filled with vendors selling the finest and freshest of local produce, from grass-fed beef and smoked salmon to homemade jam, duck eggs, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

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Muckross House, Gardens & Traditional Farms

Muckross House, Gardens & Traditional Farms

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One of Ireland’s finest stately mansions, the 65-room Muckross House was built for the Herbert family in 1843. Muckross House, Gardens & Traditional Farms sits on the shores of Muckross Lake and is replete with period furnishings and decorative objectives. Three recreated farms on the estate showcase the life of rural dwellers in the 1930s and ’40s.

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Cork St. Anne's Church

Cork St. Anne's Church

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Built in 1722, Cork's St. Anne's Church is known for its large golden fish weathervane, which stands atop its bell tower and can be seen from much of the city. Visitors can climb the tower and try to play a tune on the church's eight bells, which were immortalized in the 19th-century poem, “The Bells of Shandon.”

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Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall

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Experience the natural beauty of County Kerry with a visit to the Torc Waterfall. Located a short walk from the Killarney–Kenmare road, in Killarney National Park, Torc Waterfall is part of the River Owengariff and flows into Muckross (Middle) Lake. The site is a popular spot on the area’s scenic drives and hiking routes.

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Blarney Castle & Gardens

Blarney Castle & Gardens

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The famous Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle & Gardens is officially called the Stone of Eloquence, with a legend that states if you kiss the stone, you will never be at a loss for words. People travel from all over the world to kiss this mystical stone, which can only be done by hanging upside down over a sheer drop from the castle's tower. In addition to the draw of the stone, the 600-year-old fortress also boasts an array of handsome gardens and several interesting rock formations known collectively as Rock Close and given whimsical names such as Wishing Steps and Witch's Cave. Take your turn to kiss the stone, but don't leave the castle without exploring the grounds a bit too.

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St. Colman's Cathedral (Cobh Cathedral)

St. Colman's Cathedral (Cobh Cathedral)

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With its 328-foot (100-meter) spire and imposing facade, this large neo-Gothic cathedral—also known as the Cobh Cathedral—dominates the skyline of the harbor town of Cobh. The cathedral is famous for its 49-bell carillon, the only such instrument in Ireland and one of the largest of its kind in Europe.

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Ballycarbery Castle

Ballycarbery Castle

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Set atop a grassy pasture overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, this crumbling, ivy-covered castle is one of Ireland’s most romantic ruins. The castle, which originally dates back to the 16th century, was damaged during the 17th-century War of the Three Kingdoms. Now, only parts of the structure, such as its high stone walls, remain in place.

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Ladies View

Ladies View

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In the heart of Killarney National Park, Ladies View has a way of showing that natural beauty is timeless. Back in 1861, when Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting visited this Kerry overlook, they were so enamored with the view of the lakes that the picturesque promontory still carries their regal name today. From this panoramic overlook off of N71, gaze down on the three lakes that sit at the middle of the park, and since the light here is constantly changing, if you simply sit and reflect for an hour you may see rainbows, shadows and beams of light that dance on the surrounding hills. Just up the road from the main overlook, there is another parking area with a small trail that offers views of the upper lake, and when standing here on this windswept ridge gazing out on the view below, it’s like looking through a portal to Ireland’s past—where the raw beauty of the Irish countryside exists in its natural state.

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Valentia Slate Quarry

Valentia Slate Quarry

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Located on Valentia Island, the Slate Quarry was opened in 1816 by the Knight of Kerry, and supplied slate to London’s prestigious Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The quarry operated for almost 100 years before it was closed by a rock fall in 1911.

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