Historically, the Irish provinces were a group of kingdoms with squishy shifting borders and rich history and culture. Modern Ireland has four provinces: Leinster in the east, Connacht in the west, Ulster in the north, and Munster in the south. Every Wednesday this June, we’re bringing you our travel guide to a different province. Last week, we looked at Leinster, and this week, we’re taking you to the rolling hills and rugged bays of Munster, home of the iconic Cliffs of Moher and famous Blarney Stone.
Just like with its sister provinces of Ulster, Leinster, and Connacht, the region of Munster attracts hordes of both domestic and international tourists each year. In fact, for quite some time now, the visitors numbers have been swiftly on the rise — and it’s no secret as to why. As the southernmost province of Ireland, Munster has long been revered for its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, making it an obvious draw for anyone hoping to take in a little Irish magic during any season. From dramatic cliffside walks to intimate bog tours, there really is something for everyone!
Have you been thinking about making a trip to experience the sights and sounds of this gorgeous part of Ireland for yourself? If so, Shamrock Craic has got you covered. Just read on to get a taste of our top eight visitor spots that deserve a place on everyone’s bucket list!
8. KERRY BOG VILLAGE, CO. KERRY
If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping back in time to experience the rural Irish life of the 19th century, that dream could well come true with a visit to the Kerry Bog Village. This area is full of traditional thatched-roof cottages, old-world farm equipment, and plenty of charming animals (including the once-endangered Kerry Bog pony and the massive Irish wolfhound). Stroll around, take it all in, and you really will begin to believe that you’d been transported into another era.
Set at the foot of the Mcgillycuddy Reeks mountain range in Co. Kerry, the village is surrounded on all sides by rich and atmospheric boglands, which have inspired the works of many a seminal Irish poet. Special tours out among the bogs show visitors how locals harvested their peat for heating their homes and cooking their food, providing wonderful insight into an important facet of Irish history. An afternoon spent in the Kerry Bog Village truly is one of the most authentic rural Irish experiences imaginable; everyone should do it at least once!
7. PUFFIN ISLAND, CO. KERRY
If animals are your thing, no trip to Ireland will be complete without a look at Puffin Island, an uninhabited land mass off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula, Co. Kerry. At just under less than a mile long and half a mile wide, this tiny place might have gone totally unnoticed by tourism groups of recent years if not for its intensely lovable primary population: puffins, of course!
Separated from the mainland by a narrow sound, the island can be viewed by anyone who takes a boat from from the nearby Skelligs to Portmagee. In doing so during the spring and summer, you’re sure to get a good look at plenty of breeding puffin pairs on the island’s rocky shores, as well as other species — such as manx shearwaters and storm petrels — in their thousands.
In order to protect the cuddly, winged citizens of Puffin Island, the Irish Wildbird Conservancy has made it an official reserve, meaning that it’s unlawful to land upon it without a research permit. However, in the right weather and from a short distance, the puffins, shearwaters, and petrels can be observed, living peacefully in their natural habitat. You’ll be grateful for the fun and scenic boat trip, too!
6. KING JOHN’S CASTLE, CO. LIMERICK
Built in the year 1210, King John’s Castle comes as a striking sight for anyone following the course of the River Shannon through Co. Limerick. This structure is one of the best preserved Norman castles in all of Europe, and the land it was built upon has even more recently been revealed as a Viking landing site from much earlier, in 922.
King John of England chose this location as his seat in Ireland because of its plentiful natural resources and visual prowess. Limerick prospered under Norman rule, as evidenced by a 1574 letter to a Spanish ambassador that attested to its wealth. It read: “Limerick is stronger and more beautiful than all of the other cities in Ireland, well-walled with stout walls of hewn marble.” Later, in 1620, the English-born judge Luke Gernon called it “so magnificent that at [his] first entrance it did amaze [him].”
Between the years 2012 and 2013, King John’s Castle was treated to a massive redevelopment, with $6.5 million being spent on improving the location’s visitor facilities. It’s now home to many interactive exhibitions, museum wings, and a cafe with an impressive view of the river outside, making it the ideal destination for any family day out in the wonderful county of Limerick.
5. BANTRY HOUSE, CO. CORK
Overlooking the smooth waters of the iconic Bantry Bay, Bantry House is a historic property originally built in the 18th century by the Earls of Bantry, today known as the White family, who are still in possession of the original deed. The property was originally known as “Blackrock” for the way it jutted out over the water, and in 1750, was renamed “Seafield” for similar reasons.
Bantry House has been open to the public for tourism purposes since the 1940s. Stepping inside its cool, opulent rooms is much like stepping into a time machine — if a visit to the Kerry Bog Village is an authentic experience of what simple rural Irish life was once like, then Bantry House is its precise counterpart where affluence is concerned!
The house’s lush, colorful gardens draw in thousands of admirers each year, and are comprised of seven complete terraces. Behind the building itself, one hundred steps lead up to the primary outdoor area and a stunning fountain, surrounded by one of the most impressive displays of azaleas and rhododendrons in all of Ireland.
4. THE BURREN, CO. CLARE
Ask anyone born and bred on Irish soil, and they’ll tell you this without hesitation: of all of the geographical wonders in the length and width of the country, the Burren is without doubt one of the most likely to take your breath away.
Located in northwestern Co. Clare, this landscape measures about 220 square miles, and is composed of features known as “karst hills,” left over from the icy effects of the last glacial period. These are made from a rocky base, mostly limestone, which has been eroded over time by the acidic qualities of the rain that falls there. The result is a topography that resembles a jagged stepping-stone formation, and an underground world bursting at the seams with sinkholes, caverns, and streams.
Due to the sensitivity of the Burren environment, ecotourism has become an important factor there in recent years. The “Leave No Trace” campaign by local residents praises tourists who treat the landscape with the respect it deserves, and has been inspiring in visitors for hundreds of years. For example, during his attempts to quash the guerilla activities of Irish rebel forces in 1651, English military officer Edmund Ludlow wrote that the Burren “is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him […] And yet their cattle are very fat, for the grass growing in tufts of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing.” A begrudgingly honest assessment if we ever read one!
3. THE ROCK OF CASHEL, CO. TIPPERARY
Sometimes called the Cashel of Kings or St. Patrick’s Rock, the Rock of Cashel is a prehistoric site at the heart of Cashel, a small town in Co. Tipperary. Prior to the Norman invasion of Ireland, the rock was the seat of the kings of Munster, and was appropriately decorated with some of the most beautiful examples of Celtic art ever found. It’s said that in the year 1101, Muirchertach Ua Briain, the High King of Ireland at the time, gave his fortress atop the Rock of Cashel as a gift to the Catholic Church. Interestingly, this ties in with a separate legend, concerning how the Rock itself came to be. According to local mythology, some time around the year 500 A.D., St. Patrick was wandering the local area and discovered the Devil hiding in a cave. After a long struggle, the saint banished him — causing the cave itself to fly into the air and smash hard upon the ground some distance away, becoming the site we all know and love today.
The Rock of Cashel is home to several famous historical features, the most ancient of which is the round tower, which was built around 1100. There is also Cormac’s Chapel, dedicated to King Cormac Mac Carthaigh, king of Munster in 1127, and the cathedral, built between 1235 and 1270. All of these are open to visitors, and make for a memorable and informative day trip at any time of the year.
2. BLARNEY CASTLE, CO. CORK
The medieval stronghold of Blarney Castle, Co. Cork dates back to 1446, and is beloved by locals and visitors alike for its clear, powerful silhouette against the sky beyond it. It was built by the MacCarthys of Muskerry, of the line of the Kings of Desmond, to demonstrate their power and wealth.
Today, the castle is mostly known for housing the Blarney Stone (or the Stone of Eloquence), which is kept in its upper reaches. Every year, tourists flood to Cork to see this world-famous artefact, said to bestow the “gift of the gab” or loquaciousness upon those brave enough to kiss it. And it’s not that bravery is required simply because this is an old, dirty stone we’re discussing — a sheer drop exists between its mass and the castle itself, and in order to obtain its full blessing, visitors are advised to hang upside-down while putting their lips to it.
The grounds of the Blarney Castle are dotted with many gardens, including a renowned poison garden, where silent killers such as wolfsbane and mandrake grow. Rock formations which complement these gardens have been given names that are inspiring and bone-chilling in equal turns — think the Druid’s Circle, the Wishing Steps, and the Witch’s Cave. For visitors of Blarney Castle, there really is no end to the adventures in store!
1. THE CLIFFS OF MOHER, CO. CLARE
Located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region, the Cliffs of Moher are claimed by some to be the most iconic tourist destination in all of Ireland. Indeed, they draw in considerable numbers of eager visitors each year, with the average figure usually coming in around 1.5 million. The cliffs are noted as a “signature point” on the official Wild Atlantic Way Tourist Trail, and rightly so, as the view they provide of the thrashing ocean waves below is absolutely without compare.
The Cliffs of Moher measure some 8.7 miles in length, and are traced by a long-established walking trail which provides visitors with a close-up look at the area’s geography and wildlife. At peak season, it’s said that the Cliffs of Moher are home to about 20 distinct species of birds, and in the ocean beyond, aquatic creatures such as gray seals, porpoises, dolphins, minke whales, and basking sharks have also been sighted. As for the cliffs themselves, they have long been populated by a huge number of feral Bilberry goats, which often take visitors by surprise with their dexterous climbing abilities!
Many who come to see the Cliffs of Moher are surprised by how familiar they look from certain angles. This is because their inherent visual drama makes has long made them a popular filming location both domestic and international production crews. Films that the cliffs have appeared in include The Princess Bride (1987), where they took on the name of the Cliffs of Insanity, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), where Harry and Dumbledore search for horcruxes in order to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort.
Have you been lucky enough to visit any of the sites we’ve mentioned here? Do you have a favorite Munster spot we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below!