Part One: 32 reasons why Ireland should be on your bucket list

I could rave all day about why Ireland should be on your bucket list.

Quite often we forget what’s on our doorstep, and so I set off on a task. I reached out to fellow bloggers and came up with a collaboration to celebrate our country.

For this post originally written in 2018, I included counties from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland because after all, there are 32 shades of green.

I gave the bloggers what was on the surface a simple task: showcase why their county is the best in a few paragraphs and they did not disappoint.

If you’re unsure about coming to Ireland, this list is sure to entice and excite you. We hope that what we’ve said will inspire you to visit our great country and if you’re Irish, we hope that it will get you to explore more of your home turf.

My heading says “32 reasons” as I’m going county by county, but actually, once you delve into each county you’ll see that there’s so much more and we have a variety of different writing styles.

I hope you enjoy part one and thanks again to everyone who took part.

Note: Part One of why Ireland should be on your bucket list features Munster and Leinster – Part Two will be out soon.


Munster

County Kerry – Me!

So what makes Kerry great? It’s a county that manages to encapsulate everything that our tourism board promotes: luscious green fields, rolling hills with magnificent mountain climbs, and the wild Atlantic plummeting onto our coastline.

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Winter in Kerry. Brisk and blue.

The Ring of Kerry, an astounding stretch of countryside and coast draws people in to experience Ireland’s rugged shores. The air is fresh and energising, and the scenery is as vibrant as they come.

You haven’t lived until you’ve had a creamy pint and freshly caught fish at Baile na nGall, see a naomhóg (currach) race, climbed Sceilig Mhichíl and yelled in joy at the top of your lungs. Ciarraí is known as the Kingdom for a reason.


County Cork – Kate Ryan

Cork is the home of the modern Irish Artisan Food Movement, so make food your priority when you visit. To the East, visit the inimitable Ballymaloe House & Gardens or enroll in a cookery class for a day or longer.

To the West, and Ireland’s awarded 2017 Foodie Destination, visit during the 10 heady days of A Taste of West Cork Food Festival in September – voted Best Irish Festival in 2017. In the City, indulge in Cork’s vibrant dining and bar scene but no visit is complete without experiencing the sights, smells, and tastes of our world-renowned covered English Market.

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Mizen Head is outstanding with a lighthouse that feels like it’s on the edge of the world.

To the North, visit Ireland’s only Brandy Distillery at Longueville House, preferably on a Sunday when you can also fill your belly with their famous roast cooked over an open fire in the dining room.

And all along our southerly coastline, breathe in the spectacular scenery: traditional fishing villages (Union Hall), dramatic clifftop vistas (Ballycotton Cliff Walk), solitary lighthouses (Fastnet Lighthouse), or the silent sentient monoliths of the old copper mines (Allihies).


County Clare – Val Robus

No visit to Ireland is complete without a visit to County Clare. With stunning beaches and the desolate Burren as well as some hair-raising roads it really is something special. The Ailwee Caves and Birds of Prey Centre are in the middle of the Burren so worth a visit. If you are looking for Mr or Mrs Right try to time your visit with the annual matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna.

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A portal dolmen sits in the beautiful karst landscape of the Burren

Doolin is a colourful fishing village and I’d recommend taking a ferry to cruise around the Cliffs of Moher – the perfect angle to see them at. Keep your eyes peeled if you are driving around Ennis, you might just see Father Ted’s House. So g’wan take a trip to Clare.


County Tipperary – Janine Kennedy

For me, as a music lover, a night out at Jim O’ The Mills pub in Upperchurch is something you just can’t miss if you’re visiting Tipperary. It’s only open on Thursday nights and doesn’t really get going until (at least) 11PM. Expect to stay there, singing at the top of your lungs, until the very wee hours of the morning.

Secondary, Lough Derg is one of the most scenic areas in Ireland but few tourists know about it. Take a road trip out to Garrykennedy, have some fish and chips and a pint of local White Gypsy beer at Larkin’s pub and then take a stroll along the lake. On a sunny summer’s day, there’s nowhere better in the county to be.


County Waterford – Aoife Bennett

Ah, Waterford. Ireland’s oldest city. The place where the tricolour was flown for the first time, where you can get a proper blaa filled with red lead, where you need to be careful not to step on a shellackybookey and that place John Mullane loves.  Waterford has several jewels, but there are a few places that you really do need to check out if you come calling down to the Déise.

The Waterford Greenway is a 46km trail that connects Waterford city to Dungarvan, in the west of the county. You can choose to walk, run, cycle, or bring the dog along for a stroll. Halfway through the trail, you’ll come to the town of Kilmacthomas, home to the Flahavans mill, so be sure to stock up on porridge and flapjacks to make the rest of the way a little easier.

The town of Lismore, way over in the west of the county, is home to a magnificent 11th-century castle. It was the birthplace of scientist Robert Boyle, home place of Sir Walter Raleigh, and in more modern times has played host to Fred Astaire, and to Prince Charles and Camilla.

The castle is one of the homes of the Duke of Devonshire, and he often comes calling on his Irish homestead. You can opt to stay here yourself for a week if you’ve found a spare €80,000 in the couch.


County Limerick – Olivia O’Sullivan

Limerick is the Mid-West capital for good reason, historically a merchant city, it’s a commercial and cultural hub for the region.

The county stretches from the Mountain Bike Trails of Ballyhoura to the home of the first Irish Coffee in Foynes and its famous Flying Boat Museum, to the monastic Glenstal Abbey, and not forgetting the recently reopened world-class luxury hotel Adare Manor and adjoining thatched cottage village known for stylish boutique shopping.

In the city, The Milk Market is an institution, and its Saturday morning food market is the oldest weekly market in Ireland and still thriving under the canopy-covered outdoor walled market.

The Hunt Museum houses one of the greatest private collections of art and interesting artifacts in the country and runs drop-in kids classes, talks, and workshops as well as contemporary exhibitions in its temporary gallery basement space.

The city centre has an abundance of quality cafes and restaurants to choose from, and no visit to Limerick is complete without a trip to King John’s Castle in the Medieval Quarter, while architecture fans will relish the grandeur of times gone by walking around the Georgian Quarter and taking in nearby People’s Park which is also home to the Limerick City Gallery of Art.


Leinster

County Dublin – Megan Knox Davies

When you think of Dublin, most people think of Temple Bar district with its pubs and nightlife but there is so much more to see in this County. Dublin as a county is basically a three-for-one deal – it has a little bit of everything with its blue flag beaches and quintessential Irish cliff walks; Dublin mountains and countryside; plus, a bustling city.

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The Ha’penny Bridge!

Dublin city might not be as big as other European cities but yet it is filled with plenty of Irish history and culture. Dublin is a place where defining moments in Irish history occurred. Many of the museums and art galleries are free to visit all year round!


County Wicklow – Niamh Lynch

Wicklow’s a pro when it comes to tourism. I mean, come on – we’re known as the Garden of Ireland.

First up, rent a car, then motor on down the Sally Gap. It’s stunning winter or summer. On your way there or back, there are plenty of unspoiled woods and forests where you can fill up your lungs with the clean Wicklow air and generally burn off enough calories to warrant stopping at the Avoca Café on the way home.

The next day, we’re going to exchange wild Wickla for refined Wicklow.

Seeing as we were once firmly in The Pale, we’ve got a lovely posh side too – to see the best of it, take a drive up to Russborough House, come back via Mount Usher Gardens, and stop for afternoon tea in Hunter’s Hotel.

Like most things in Ireland, this bastion of old-school charm is especially lovely in the summer. Sure, with the sun setting, a Pimms in one hand, the river on one side, the historic house on the other, and the frosty Mrs. Gellatly glaring at you from the dining room window, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.


County Offaly – Amanda Horan

The centre of Ireland holds many hidden, often overlooked gems. I would recommend getting off the motorway and taking the time to drive through some of the charming towns and villages that Offaly has to offer.

One stop I can recommend is Birr Castle and Gardens. It’s home to the 7th Earl of Ross and although the residential areas are not open to the public the gardens are beautiful for a stroll through. Dogs are welcome if kept on a lead.

The castle contains the famous telescope and is also home to Ireland’s oldest wrought iron bridge. If you love history I can also recommend the monastic site at Clonmacnoise. The 6th-century site is located on the River Shannon. In the 9th century it became a hub of religion and trade.


County Kildare – Ruth Chambers

Horses, soldiers and designer shops with knockdown prices! Kildare, “The Shortgrass County”, “The Thoroughbred County”, “The Land of the Lilywhites”. Call it what you want but it’s a super place.

Horses are huge here and even if you’re not a fan The Punchestown Festival usually in April is a must. Nearby Naas comes to a standstill for the week. The festival is one of the highlights of the Irish sporting calendar and indeed the social calendar.

With unrivalled quality racing with 12 grade one races, it’s the holy grail of the Irish jump season. Socially too it’s top of the pile and a must-visit if you want a bit of craic.

Nearby Naas, once known as a great place to shop, has transformed itself into a gastro hub. You’ll find top-notch tapas, Italian, Indian, and much more in the county town.

And if you want to dodge the madness of the capital, shopping in Kildare is superb. Ireland’s biggest regional shopping centre, Whitewater, is in Newbridge, while up the road you’ll find designer outlet shopping at Kildare Village.

Make sure to pop into the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens when you’re visiting too. It’s home to retired equine stars, a museum, St Fiachra’s Garden, beautiful gardens and walks, a lovely restaurant, and a great playground.


County Laois – Fiona Cooke

Lovely Laois. The Gem of the Midlands. Mention County Laois and you can be sure that the words Electric Picnic will spring to mind. Yes, the county does seem to be more famous, these days, for the boutique music festival held annually in the grounds of Stradbally Hall.

But there is so much more to Laois – it’s a little-landlocked gem of rolling hills, mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests. A scrubby, fairytale-like place wedged between Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Offaly.

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Image by Fiona Hogan

It’s full of quirky towns such as Durrow, with its Scarecrow Festival, the heritage town of Abbeyleix with its beautiful bog walk and Heritage Museum (did you know that the carpets for the Titanic were made here) and the old market town of Ballinakill that boasts the picturesque Masslough and surrounding woodlands. The beautifully sculptured Heywood Gardens are also here, designed by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1912.

There are beautiful walks to be had in Emo Court, in the formal gardens and parklands that surround the spectacular building designed by James Gandon.

The Slieve Bloom Mountains are picturesque and have many wonderful hiking trails. And my favourite place to visit is the Rock of Dunamaise, just outside of Portlaoise town, once a stronghold of the Norman conqueror Strongbow, it now lies in spectacular ruins and was used as a backdrop for the Hollywood film, Leap Year.


County Wexford – Sinead Fox

From the sandy beaches that start at Castletown and run the whole way down the coast and around to Duncannon in the Waterford estuary, to the majestic Hook Lighthouse which stands guard over the rocky peninsula that bears its name, Wexford has much to offer visitors. The lighthouse itself is well worth a visit, climb to the top and see for miles around.

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The county’s natural beauty complements its historic past, a trip to the National Heritage Park displays life from medieval times combined with views over the estuary.

Wexford has a proud food tradition and no visit to the county would be complete without stopping at a roadside stall during the strawberry season and feasting on the most flavoursome berries you’ll find.


County Carlow – Klara McDonnell

I’m a native Dub but I have lived in Carlow for 2 years. I am a fashion addict and there are lots of places to get my fix, depending on what my budget is at that moment. The charity shops along Tullow Street and Dublin Street have some of the best deals I have seen in any town in Ireland.

My two favourite vintage shops are Second to None and Fussy Galore.  If I need something a little bit different they are my go-to places. Penney’s recently moved location in the town and is bigger and better than before.

Tully’s bar on Tullow has a very studenty vibe during term times as Carlow IT is a short walk from the town centre. They have a wide range of craft beers and live music but the surprising thing is they do lovely scones and coffee. If you need an art fix, the Visual Arts Centre has art exhibitions and regular theatre shows.


County Longford – Rachel Masterson

County Longford, a hidden gem in the centre of  Ireland which I love so much. The ‘Mall’ park in Longford town where I spent many hours playing as a young child, I now spend hours enjoying the gym and swimming pool and the gorgeous mile run around in the absolutely33 gorgeous setting. The Camlin river gives a backdrop to the perfectly kept lawns and flowers.

The Royal Canal, our other hidden gem, provides the perfect solitude for a long walk, run or cycle. As long as you want in fact as not only does it connect many scenic villages in the county, each one with its own picturesque stretch of the canal, but it goes the whole way to Dublin City, holding a rich history.

So many fabulous places to mention across the county so the highest recommendation is to get a bike and soak it all in on a fine Sunday morning when the roads are quiet. Watch nature waken in blissful harmony as you enjoy everything County Longford has to offer.


County Kilkenny – Darragh Doyle

While Kilkenny City is indeed a jewel in the crown of the South East, making attractions like the Smithwick’s Tour, a pint in Cleere’s, a trip to the Castle or a visit to Kilkenny Animated, the Cat Laughs or the Kilkenny Arts Festival all must do’s, something I’d recommend is heading south and visiting Thomastown, Inistioge and Graiguenamanagh.

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Not only are all three on a circuitous route through some of the most scenic parts of Ireland – you could do all three in a day – but each village has its own particular charms, whether it be a stroll around Thomastown’s streets, an afternoon tea experience in the extremely picturesque Inistioge – don’t miss a trip through the Woodstock gardens – or a walk by the river in Graiguenamanagh, before a pint in Mick Doyle’s, you’ll see some of the South East at its most scenic, untamed and beautiful.

Pro-tip especially re: Graigue, as it’s known locally – walk across the bridge to Co Carlow and walk the river Barrow to St Mullins – one of the most beautiful walks and tiny treasures in the country. Lunch in the Mullicháin will your belly, but the beauty of that countryside will feed your soul.


County Meath – Jillian Morkan

The best thing for me about Meath is the Hill of Tara, lucky for me it’s only a ten-minute drive from where I live. There’s something really magical about it.

Afterwards, pop into Maguires Café for a nice warming bowl of soup. The bookshop next door is worth dropping into, it’s a tiny little shack, but it’s pretty unique in that it literally has books stacked up to the ceiling and has been run by local author and historian Michael Slevin for over 20 years. You’ll find him here, sitting in front of the fire with a good book ready to chat about The Hill of Tara and all its secrets.


County Westmeath – John Madden

The heart of Ireland certainly captured mine and still holds it dear. A county so rich in heritage to nature, from the medieval Castles to Portal Dolmens, and babbling bogland brooks to the mighty River Shannon that flows into Lough Ree.

The sights of splendour limited only by county boundaries as they transcend across the Midlands. The bigger towns hold a borderline urban feel while retaining their rural values. The county boasts a world of adventure, culture, and history, often forgotten and overlooked but never forgotten by those who grace the area with their presence.


County Louth – Táine King O’Farrell

Louth may be our smallest, wee county but it is packed with interesting heritage sights, beautiful landscapes, myths and legends. My favourite thing about living in Louth is that you don’t have to go very far at all to lose yourself in the beautiful Cooley mountains and get the best coffee on the way home. This weekend we did just that with our dog ‘Ripley’ and snow boots.

A good place to start is the hollow of ‘Long Woman’s Grave’. Here lies the 7ft tall Spanish Noblewoman who married Lorcan O’Hanlon, the youngest son of the “Cean” or Chieftain of Omeath.  Cauthleen of Spain was so disappointed with her husband’s land (I can’t imagine how!) and promises of beauty, that she died where she stood and the locals buried her in the hollow.

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Photo by Táine

You can drive up to this point, and trek over the hills for a beautiful view of Carlingford Lough and the Mourne mountains. It’s a very scenic drive, the snow was beautiful, but it is nothing compared to the sunlit days that really show the rich purples of the mountainside. You can then continue the mountain drive down through Omeath and the medieval town of Carlingford and stop off in Strandfield for the best coffee and baked eggs.

Find out more of why Ireland should be on your bucket list by browsing Part Two here. You can read more about Ireland’s Great Outdoors here.

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I'm a freelance content creator, author, and journalist who has a strong desire to share useful content about Irish people and things about Ireland at home and abroad. I am constantly curious.

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