Surrounding counties provide a multitude of options for great day trips this summer

Kieran Foley

The easing of restrictions on intercounty travel has been warmly welcomed by people of all ages. Many of us have been itching to get away and further explore areas beyond our immediate vicinity. However, the resumption of intercounty travel doesn’t mean we have to hop in the car and head for Donegal or the Aran Islands. Here are some personal highlights from the many assets we have within our neighbouring counties which will provide plenty of enjoyment for a great day out this summer. All of the attractions and establishments listed are subject to changes in operations due to Covid-19 so check opening hours and availability before embarking on any trips.

Midleton and East Cork

I have a soft stop for the East Cork town of Midleton, having enjoyed visits to relatives for many years. Sadly, trips to Midleton obviously haven’t been as frequent since the onset of the pandemic last year.

Midleton is a wonderful base for exploring the attractions of East Cork but also has much to offer in its own right. Located within the town is the Old Midleton Distillery which is home to the Jameson Experience. This is a fully guided tour around the original Midleton Distillery which brings the stories of Jameson’s rich heritage to life. You don’t have to be a whiskey connoisseur to appreciate the hard work and field-to-glass processes responsible for creating the famous whiskey that bears John Jameson’s name. Visitors can marvel at the old kilns, mills, maltings, water wheel, still house, distiller’s cottage, cooperage and warehouse. The tour finishes with your chance to do a guided comparative tasting of three famous whiskeys, one being Jameson.

The old Jameson Distillery, Midleton.

A walk along Midleton’s bustling Main Street is a pleasure. While there are plenty of the chain stores you’d expect to find in any similar sized town, there are also lots of smaller retailers. The Midelton Farmers Market was one of the first markets of its kind established in Ireland and is hugely popular, acting as a template for what other markets can achieve. Midleton and the wider East Cork area possesses a proud reputation for food which is clearly reflected at the market.

Located a short distance away at Ballymaloe is the Allen family’s well-known Cookery School, Organic Farm, and Gardens. Also located within this enterprising area is Shanagarry Potters, made famous by Stephen Pearce, where you can browse beautiful handmade Irish pottery.

If you’re feeling active, the Ballycotton Cliff Walk connects the village of Ballycotton with Ballyandreen beach and boasts gorgeous panoramic sea views. After some exercise and bracing sea air, a visit to the Castlemartyr Resort for indulgent afternoon tea is a real treat. Nearby Killeagh is home to The Cosy Thatch which offers great food in a cosy and charming atmosphere, while The Old Thatch Deli, located behind the main building, is worth checking out for a takeaway lunch and an ice-cream cone.

Since re-opening to passenger traffic in 2009, the rail connection between Midleton and Cork city has proved to be a much valued service for commuters. It’s also a very convenient way for visitors from Waterford to access Cork City. Park in Midleton and catch the train to Kent Station for a convenient and hassle free way of accessing Ireland’s second largest city.

For family fun, take a walk on the wild side at Fota Wildlife Park which never fails to impress children of all ages. Head to Cobh (one of my favourite towns in Ireland) and admire the stunning St Colman’s Cathedral, picturesquely perched above the town overlooking Cork Harbour. Whenever cruise ships dock at Cobh, the town buzzes with energy as passengers disembark. Explore the area’s maritime history at Cobh Heritage Centre or take a trip to Spike Island, formerly the world’s largest prison.

In 2019, Cobh was named one of the 25 most beautiful small towns in Europe by the international travel bible Condé Nast Traveler.

The Vee and South West Tipperary

West Waterford’s border with South West Tipperary must surely rank as of the most scenic county boundaries in Ireland.

Take the R668 from Lismore and travel through the beauty of The Vee which offers stunning views over Bay Lough, the Knockmealdown’s famous corrie lake. This scenic route has a number of viewing points where you can admire a large section of the ‘Golden Vale’ between the Knockmealdowns and Galtees. Weather permitting, the area affords views across the valley to Clonmel, Cahir, Ardfinnan, Clogheen, Ballyporeen and even Cashel.

The Vee Pass.

Travel into the village of Clogheen which is home to Parson’s Green, a family run pet farm, caravan and camping park with beautiful garden and river walks which has been a popular school tour destination for many Waterford primary schools (including during my own time) for many years.

Head west towards Ballyporeen, made famous by the 1984 visit of then US President Ronald Regan. Despite all the national and international media attention which the visit generated at the time, this enviable link has sadly faltered over time and there remains little discernible evidence to suggest that this rural Tipperary village is the ancestral homeland of the 40th President of the United States.

The magnificent Suir Blueway can be accessed at nearby Ardfinnan. This 53km amenity, comprised of walking and cycling trails, runs from Cahir to Carrick-on-Suir via Clonmel. It showcases the River Suir in all its glory and offers a multitude of options for water sports enthusiasts.

Travel onwards to Cahir to explore Cahir Castle and the Swiss Cottage or head back towards Clonmel for some retail therapy. Personally, a visit to Clonmel isn’t complete without a trip to Lyon’s Takeaway, located on Queen Street and also on Cashel Road. It’s a firm favourite amongst locals and very popular amongst many Waterford GAA fans travelling home from Semple Stadium in Thurles after Déise games.

New Ross and Hook Head

While Ballyporeen may not have capitalised on its ancestral links to a US President, the same certainly cannot be said for New Ross. The Wexford town is synonymous with John F Kennedy and the wider Kennedy family. These links have acted as a catalyst for telling the wider story of Irish emigrants.

The Dunbrody Famine Ship, an authentic reproduction of an 1840’s emigrant vessel, is an imposing sight in New Ross and immediately conjures up images of the past. The Dunbrody Tour Experience provides a world-class interpretation of the famine emigrant experience.

The Dunbrody Tour Experience provides a world-class interpretation of the famine emigrant experience.

Another novel attraction on site is the Irish America Hall of Fame which honours the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to their personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.

I was fortunate to be present when the late Maureen O’Hara was inaugurated during a special ceremony in July 2011. Other Irish America Hall of Fame honourees to date include Michael Flatley, former US President Bill Clinton, current President Joe Biden, actress Fionnula Flanagan, philanthropist Charles Feeney, and peace-broker Jean Kennedy Smith. Visitors can browse tributes to each luminary and learn more about the wider history of the Irish in America.

Visit the birthplace of President John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy at the Kennedy Homestead at Dunganstown which celebrates the story of five generations of the Kennedy family. The Kennedy connection has been further strengthened in this corner of County Wexford through the opening of the N25 New Ross bypass, which includes Ireland’s longest bridge – the magnificent Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge.

Keep going towards the Hook Peninsula to admire the wild beauty of this area and learn about the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. Meanwhile, the Wexford Heritage Trail is a wonderful initiative which aims to showcases various walks throughout the Model County. One such new walk is from Arthurstown to Duncannon and this has already proved popular.

Hook Lighthouse.

Round off a perfect day in South-West Wexford by taking the ferry from Ballyhack back to County Waterford at Passage East.

Graiguenamanagh and St. Mullins

The picturesque villages of Graiguenamanagh in County Kilkenny and St Mullin’s in County Carlow are linked by a wonderful 7km river and canal side walk which showcases the natural beauty of this area. Part of the wider ‘Barrow Way’, it encompasses beautiful woodland surroundings and allows visitors to well and truly cut off from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Fishing on the River Barrow.

There were controversial attempts to turn the path into a hard surface but, following local campaigning, the grass surface remains in place. While it’s regularly used by cyclists, the route is perhaps best suited to walkers and is accessible for all abilities.

Park at Graiguenamanagh and progress at a leisurely pace as you immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the natural world. The Barrow is a popular location for fishing, with enthusiasts of all ages visible along the riverside.

Beautiful Graiguenamanagh.

On arrival at St Mullin’s, replenish with some delicious food from Mullicháin Café and take a seat at one of the benches on the banks of the Barrow. On your return to Graiguenamanagh, stop off at ‘Quirky’, one of many horseboxes serving coffee which have opened around the region.