Things to Do in South West Ireland
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.
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.
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.
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.
No one knows quite how Cromwell’s Bridge in Kenmare got its name, but it likely wasn’t named after Oliver Cromwell. One popular theory about the stone bridge is that it was named ‘croimeal,’ the Gaelic word for ‘mustache,’ but when English-speakers overheard locals talking about the bridge, they assumed they were saying ‘Cromwell.”
However it got its name, Cromwell’s Bridge is one of several beautiful and ancient sites along the scenic Ring of Kerry. It’s located just outside the village of Kenmare near the Stone Circle, making it a convenient stop for visitors passing through the area.
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.
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.
On a grassy paddock just outside of the village of Kenmare sit 15 stone boulders — 13 standing upright and another two prostrate. These large stones arranged in an egg shape comprise one of the largest stone circles in Southwest Ireland, dating back to the Bronze Age. In the middle of the stone circle sits a dolmen with a capstone, often used to mark the burial place of a significant figure in the Munster region. Experts believe the capstone to weigh nearly seven tons, which would have required 30-odd men to drag into position.
The stone circle in Kenmare is one of over 180 in Ireland and of 20 in County Kerry. It’s the only one in the region to exhibit an egg shape.
Slea Head is a headland on the western end of the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland. It is also considered to be the most western point in Europe. Slea Head is a scenic view point offering visitors a look at the Blasket Islands and South Kerry. It is a rocky region that was part of a volcanic area. The Slea Head Drive is a scenic drive that forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Aside from the scenery, visitors will also see some of the region's rare and unique plants and wildlife.
The drive passes through the village of Ventry which is on the coast and has a good beach for swimming and water sports. Then the drive winds through cliffs and offers views of the Atlantic Ocean as it nears Slea Head. Scenes from Ryan's Daughter and Far and Away were filmed near here. The Slea Head Drive continues through wild landscapes and several villages. One of the highlights is the Gallarus Oratory, the best preserved early Christian church in Ireland. The drive also passes through fishing villages and mountainous regions, including Mount Brandon, the second highest mountain in Ireland.
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.
More Things to Do in South West Ireland
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Set on a grassy outcrop with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside, the remote Leacanabuaile Fort is a worthwhile addition to any tour of the beautiful Ring of Kerry. The original fort, thought to date back to the ninth or 10th century, has been partially reconstructed to give a better sense of its original features.
Built in the 17th century, the vast star-shaped Charles Fort was designed to guard Kinsale Harbour. The site of fierce fighting during the 1690 Williamite War, Charles Fort was ceded by the British during the War of Independence in 1921, only to be extensively damaged during the Irish Civil War. The fort is now a designated National Monument.
At 1,345 feet (410 meters) above sea level, Connor Pass (An Chonair) is the highest mountain pass in Ireland and one of the country’s most scenic drives. The narrow, twisting road weaves its way through steep cliffs, offering spectacular views of the glaciated landscapes, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and the coast.
- Things to do in Killarney
- Things to do in Kenmare
- Things to do in Cork
- Things to do in Shannon
- Things to do in Limerick
- Things to do in Ring of Kerry
- Things to do in Cobh
- Things to do in Western Ireland
- Things to do in West Midlands
- Things to do in South West England
- Things to do in Dingle
- Things to do in Galway
- Things to do in North West England
- Things to do in Yorkshire
- Things to do in North East England