9 hidden gems in Ireland
With St Patrick's Day on the horizon, it's the perfect excuse to remind you just how beautiful the Emerald Isle is. But we're not going to wax lyrical about the wild Cliffs of Moher or the cobbled streets of Dublin. Instead, we want to show you some of the country's lesser-known attractions, all of which would be excellent additions to your next Ireland itinerary.
1. Bad Eddie Shipwreck
On the sweeping butterscotch sands of Magheraclogher Beach in County Donegal, you'll find the wreck of Cara na Mara (Friend of the Sea), a French fishing boat that washed ashore in 1977. Although the wooden wreckage, simply called Bád Eddie by locals, was once a seaside playground for children, years of brisk winds and crashing waves have taken their toll on the boat, so we'd advise you only use it as a romantic focal point for your holiday snaps these days.
2. Mizen Head
No, this isn't Bixby Creek Bridge in Monterey, it's Mizen Head, which perches high above the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland's most southwesterly point. Peek down, if you dare, into the swell of the sea in search of whales, dolphins and seals. And don't forget to trek down the 99 steps to some of Ireland's most dramatic coastal paths.
3. Sail a Galway hooker
If you're looking for a taste of traditional Irish adventure, look no further than a trip aboard a wooden sailboat known as a Galway hooker. The hookers, which are renowned for their black hulls and red sails, have no engines, so you'll be given the opportunity to navigate the boat using the rudder while listening to their fascinating history from the crew. Or you can sit back safely on land and watch these iconic boats race around the shorelines of Spiddal and Kinvara during one of the regular regattas.
4. Skellig Michael
Although we can probably credit a star performance in "The Last Jedi" as the biggest contributing factor to Skellig Michael's rising status, it remains a little off the beaten track for most visitors to the country. A UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to several well-preserved monastic remains, the island's towering crags rise from the Atlantic Ocean, creating a fantastic habitat for seabirds, particularly puffins. Boat tours run to the island from late March to early October each year and it's advisable to book as trip are, understandably, becoming more and more popular.
5. Bantry House and Gardens
Step inside the fairy-tale gardens of Bantry House and be transported to an "Alice in Wonderland"-like world. Stepped terraces lead you down through formal gardens and a jumble of classical sculptures to a stretch of lawn that overlooks the bay. Although the gardens are beautiful all year round, visit in spring and you'll be greeted by cheerful yellow rudbeckia, the sweet smell of roses and tumbling wisteria.
6. Jameson Experience, Midleton
Although the original site for the Jameson Distillery is still on Bow Street in Dublin, don't pass up the chance to visit the Jameson Experience – 30 minutes from Cork city. The distillery is set in a beautifully renovated mill among the rolling hills of County Cork and you'll take a tour back through history as you explore the grain stores, malting houses and original waterwheel, culminating in a hot toddy at the end.
7. The Lost Town of Newtown Jerpoint
Newtown Jerpoint was once a bustling town with over a dozen taverns, a courthouse and a woollen mill, until sometime in the 17th century, when it was abandoned by locals. Now, you'll find just the remains of this medieval village, including Saint Nicholas’ Church. The site is rumoured to be the burial sight of Saint Nick himself, the man behind the legend of Santa Claus - see if you can spot his supposed 800-year-old tombstone. It's also well worth crossing the river, where you'll also find the magnificent shell of Jerpoint Abbey and its ancient stone carvings.
8. National Botanic Gardens
Just 20 minutes on the bus from Dublin city, the National Botanic Gardens are a lush green haven with Victorian wrought-iron glasshouses filled with huge palms and delicate flowers, as well as several acres of grounds to explore. It's also an important research facility, with over 300 endangered species under its roof, including six that are already extinct in the wild. Best of all, the botanical gardens are completely free to visit.
Think of pretty Irish seaside towns, and you've probably got Cobh in your mind. Pronounced 'cove', the town has a higgledy-piggledy waterfront dotted with brightly painted houses and colourful fishing boats, all presided over by a dramatic cathedral. The town was also the Titanic’s last port of call on 11 April, 1912, so expect to find plenty of maritime history, all under the roof of the original White Star Line Ticket Office, no less.