Things to Do in South West Ireland
Killarney National Park is 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares) of mountain and lakeside beauty. It has woodlands, islands, waterfalls, historic houses and working farms. There are deer and cattle, eagles and world famous gardens. It's the perfect place for hiking, cycling, boating, pony trekking, fishing, landscape-gazing, or riding in a jaunting car - a light, two-wheeled horse drawn vehicle. One of the most popular panoramic viewing points is Ladies View.
Within the park, Muckross House is one of Ireland's foremost stately homes which is open to the public along with its famous gardens. Here you can pick up a guide to the park from the National Park Information Centre. There is also Knockreer which has an eduction center, and Killarney House and Gardens (the gate lodge here also has information booklets on the park) and Muckross Abbey and y can catch a boat across to Innisfallen Island on the Lower Lake.
In 1610, during the reign of King James I, the first charter was granted for what has become Ireland’s most famous covered food market; it has been officially in business since 1788. Housed within a Victorian facade with vaulted ceilings and grand columns, the market is packed with vendors — many family-run for generations — selling regional delicacies alongside fresh produce and imported goods. Market visitors hoping to sample some local flavors will find, among other things, blood sausage, tripe, pig trotters, buttered eggs and spiced beef. Those with a less adventurous palate will also find deli meats, cheeses, fruits and baked goods on offer.
Elizabeth Fort has played a part in Ireland’s tumultuous history since 1601; it was constructed in timber on the orders of British politician Sir George Carew to defend British military interests in Ireland and named after Queen Elizabeth I. Built on a limestone outcrop just south of Cork’s walls, it was expanded into its present stone star-shape in 1624–26 under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell and saw much action for the next two centuries withstanding sieges between Britain and Ireland.
By 1719 the fort was a military barracks for 700 British soldiers but after they moved to a larger base in 1806 it served many functions, including a deportation center for criminals being sent to Australia; a food depot during the Great Famine of 1845-52, when the potato crop failed; and an air raid shelter in World War II. Latterly it became a Garda (Irish police) station before being opened to the public in 2013.
Muckross House is one of Ireland's most famous stately homes. A 65-room, lakeshore, Victorian mansion, it was built for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, a watercolour painter, Mary Balfour Herbert in 1843. The house is richly furnished in period-style giving an excellent insight into the lives of the landed gentry. The basement areas give a good understanding of the lives of those who worked keeping the rich happy and well-fed day to day. On site are also a number of local craftspeople giving demonstrations of weaving, bookbinding and pottery.
Beautiful Muckross Gardens are known worldwide, especially the rock garden and large water garden. In 1861, the gardens were extensively developed in preparation for Queen Victoria's visit. There are also several working farms which use methods from the 1930s and 1940s and can be toured. And being situated in the middle of the National Park, the house is a perfect place to explore the whole area from.
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.
The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass formed by glacial ice a couple of million of years ago. The valley winds its way for 6 miles (10km) between Macgillycuddy's Reeks and the Purple Mountains. Along the way it passes five lakes, or loughs, Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. The River Loe connects the lakes. Over the river at one end is the Wishing Bridge where it's promised that wishes made while crossing the bridge will come true. At one end of the valley is Kate Kearney's Cottage, these days a bit of a tourist trap but useful for a snack and restroom. At the other end is Lord Brandon's Cottage from where you can get a boat back to Killarney.
The best way to explore the gap is by hiking through or riding a bicycle. No cars are allowed but you can go by pony-trap. These seat four people and roll slowly through the valley the old-fashioned way.
More Things to Do in South West Ireland
Founded in 1440 as a Franciscan Friary, Muckross Abbey has an exciting and violent history typical of Ireland. In 1589 the monks were expelled by Elizabeth I, and in 1653 Oliver Cromwell's troops burnt it down when he reclaimed Ireland for the English bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars. Despite this setback, the friars continued to live here until 1698 when the new Penal Laws against Roman Catholics introduced by the English occupiers forced most in exile in France or Spain. These days it is a ruin but one of the most complete examples of Irish medieval church building you'll see.
Today, the Abbey still has its bell tower and church, and massive gothic arcades and arches. Four of Ireland's leading poets of the period were buried there, three in the church, one in the nearby cemetery. In the centre of the inner court is an old Yew tree. This grew from a sapling taken from the abbey on Innisfallen Island and planted in the new abbey at Muckross.
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 Cobh Heritage Centre tells the stories of Irish heritage and emigration to the United States. Between 1848 and 1950 more than 6 million people emigrated from Ireland, and more than 2.5 million of them left from Cobh, making Cobh the most important port of emigration in the country. At the museum, visitors can view the Queenstown Story, which is an exhibition that tells about the origins, history, and legacy of Cobh. You can retrace the steps of the people who left from Cobh in coffin ships, early steamers, and eventually great ocean liners. Exhibits allow visitors to see the conditions on board the early emigrant ships and to experience what life was like on board convict ships leaving for Australia in 1801.
Dingle Peninsula lie a group of abandoned sandstone islands rise out of the Atlantic Ocean. The Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodaí in Irish) have all been occupied at one point or another, but it was the tiny community on the largest island, The Great Blasket, that gained fame for its tradition of folklore and storytelling.
At its peak, the island boasted 175 residents; by the time the Irish government decided the islands were too dangerous for habitation and ordered a mandatory evacuation, there were only 22 people remaining.
Visitors to The Great Blasket find the ruined remains left behind by the island’s former inhabitants. An 8-mile (13-kilometer) walking path takes visitors past some of the island’s most spectacular scenery — sea cliffs and white sand beaches — with the opportunity to spot shorebirds and a colony of seals who now call the islands home.
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.
Here on Aghadoe Hill stand the ruins of the 12th century Aghadoe Church and Round Tower. There was a monastery on the site since the 7th century, however, founded by St Finian Lobhar, and no wonder as the views are sublime and perfect for a life of contemplation. There are lakes and at night the town lights of Killarney twinkle, alongside the flood lights of Ross Castle in the distance, although that is a bit more recent dating from the 15th century! To appreciate the landscape, you'll find a few benches nearby so bring a picnic.
Although ruined, there is still plenty to see of interest at Aghadoe Church. The Romanesque door is well-preserved, there is a carved crucifixion scene on another sandstone block, two ca rved faces on the eastern window, and an Ogham Stone - carved writings in the ancient Celtic language. Not much is left of the Round Tower. It is really just a small stump of the sandstone building standing in an old cemetery.
Everyone wants the gift of eloquence, and some say the Irish have it, well, the gift of the gab anyway. So, how are they so blessed? It's all down to the Blarney Stone. For over two centuries people have been coming to Blarney Castle in the south of Ireland to kiss this stone set into the battlements in the hope of gaining a silver tongue. It used to be that you were hung over the battlements from above by your ankles, these days there's less risk involved in leaning backwards from the parapet walkway while holding securely to a metal railing.
The origins of this magic stone are still debated. Was it Jacob's pillow, St Columba's deathbed pillow, or the stone that gushed water for Moses? Was it brought to Ireland after the Crusades or given to the Irish by Scot Robert the Bruce in gratitude for helping him defeat the English in 1314? We'll probably never know. But after you kiss it, tour the ruined castle, visit elegant 19th century Blarney House, wander around the lake.
Things to do near South West Ireland
- 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