IRELAND: THE SOUTHEAST

 

A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase.  Includes Places to Stay in proximity.

ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:

All too often visitors rush from Dublin through Waterford and on to western Ireland, never realizing that they are missing some of the most ancient antiquities and lovely scenery along the seductive little byways that traverse the moorlands and wind through wooded glens. This itinerary travels from Dublin into the Wicklow Mountains, pausing to admire the lovely Powerscourt Gardens, lingering amongst the ancient monastic ruins of Glendalough, visiting the Avoca handweavers who capture the subtle hues of heather and field in their fabric, and admiring the skill of the Waterford crystal cutters.

Recommended Pacing: If you are not a leisurely sightseer, and leave Dublin early, you can follow this itinerary and be in Youghal by nightfall. But resist the temptation-select a base for two nights in two places and explore at leisure. If you are not continuing westward and returning to Dublin via The Vee, Cashel, and Kilkenny, select a place to stay near Cashel or Kilkenny.

Leave Dublin following the N11 in the direction of Wexford. (If you have difficulty finding the correct road, follow signs for the ferry at Dun Laoghaire and, from there, pick up signs for Wexford.) As soon as the city suburbs are behind you, the road becomes a dual carriageway. Watch for signs indicating an exit signposted Enniskerry and Powerscourt Gardens. Follow the winding, wooded lane to Enniskerry and bear left in the center of the village. This brings you to the main gates of Powerscourt Gardens. As you drive through the vast, parklike grounds, the mountains of Wicklow appear before you, decked in every shade of green. Powerscourt House was burnt to a ruin in 1974: a rook’s nest blocked one of the chimneys, and when a fire was lit in the fireplace, the resultant blaze quickly engulfed this grand home. Restoration is under way and, while there are no grand rooms to visit, you can enjoy refreshments at the restaurant and shopping at the Avoca knitwear store. The gardens descend in grand tiers from the ruined house, as if descending into a bowl-a mirror-like lake sits at the bottom. Masses of roses adorn the walled garden and velvet, green, grassy walks lead through the woodlands. Many visitors are intrigued by the animal cemetery with its little headstones and inscriptions-not an uncommon sight in Irish stately homes. Leaving the car park, turn left for the 6-kilometer drive to the foot of Powerscourt Waterfall, the highest waterfall in Ireland and a favorite summer picnic place for many Dubliners.

Turn to the left as you leave the waterfall grounds to meander along narrow country lanes towards Glencree. As you come upon open moorland, take the first turn left for the 8-kilometer uphill drive to the summit of Sally Gap. This road is known as the “old military road” because it follows the path that the British built across these wild mountains to aid them in their attempts to suppress the feisty men of County Wicklow.

Neat stacks of turf are piled to dry in the sun. Grazing sheep seem to be the only occupants of this vast, rolling moorland. Below Glenmacnass Waterfall, the valley opens up to a patchwork of fields beckoning you to Laragh and Glendalough.

Glendalough, a monastic settlement of seven churches, was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. After St. Patrick, St. Kevin is Ireland’s most popular saint. He certainly picked a stunning site in this wooded valley between two lakes to found his monastic order. Amidst the tilting stones of the graveyard, the round tower-still perfect after more than a thousand years-punctuates the skyline. The Interpretive Centre presents a 15-minute movie and display on the history of the area. Take time to follow the track beyond Glendalough to the Upper Lake (you can also drive there). Tradition has it that St. Kevin lived a solitary life in a hut near here. Farther up on a cliff face is a cave known as St. Kevin’s Bed. Here, so the story goes, Kathleen-a beautiful temptress-tried to seduce the saint who, to cool her advances, threw her into the lake.

Retrace the road to Laragh, turn right, and travel south through the village of Rathdrum where sturdy stone cottages line the street, and continue through the crossroad following signposts for Avondale House, the home of Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell was born into the ruling Anglo-Irish gentry; but, due in part to the influence of his more open-minded mother, an American, he became the leading light in Ireland’s political fight for independence. His downfall was his long-term affair with a married English lady. The house is sparsely furnished and takes just a few minutes to tour. You can also wander around the estate with its wonderful trees.

Leave Avondale to the left and you soon join the main road that takes you through the Vale of Avoca to the “Meeting of the Waters” at the confluence of the rivers Avonmore and Avonbeg. Detour into Avoca to visit the Avoca Handweavers. You are welcome to wander amongst the skeins and bobbins of brightly hued wool to see the weavers at work and talk to them above the noise of the looms. An adjacent shop sells tweeds and woolens.

At Arklow join the N11, a broad, fast road taking you south through Gorey and Ferns to Enniscorthy. Amidst the gray stone houses, built on steeply sloping ground by the River Slaney, lies a Norman castle. Rebuilt in 1586, the castle houses a folk museum that includes exhibits from the Stone Age to the present day, with emphasis on the part played by local people in the 1798 rebellion against English rule.

Take the N30 towards Waterford and just before New Ross, turn left towards Arthurstown. After about 1 kilometer, turn right for the Kennedy Homestead in Dunganstown, where the great-grandfather of American President John F. Kennedy lived before being driven from Ireland by the terrible potato famine of the 1840s. His simple, family cottage has been rather overly restored, but the rural location has changed little since the American branch of the family left Ireland. Interestingly, the farm is still owned by a Kennedy. (Tel: 051 388264, email info@kennedyhomestead.com.) Leaving the homestead, continue along the country lane to the main road and the John F. Kennedy Arboretum, a memorial to the slain president of row upon row of trees.

Leave the arboretum towards Arthurstown and, at the first Y in the road, take the right-hand fork for the short drive to Great Island and Kilmokea at Campile with its 7 acres of lovely gardens. Around the house are the formal, walled gardens and a heavy, wooden door set into the stone wall leading you to the winding paths of the woodland garden. Enjoy an excellent lunch or afternoon tea in the conservatory tearoom, and ask for directions for the short cut down narrow lanes to Arthurstown, where the Passage East Ferry takes you across the estuary to Passage East, the tiny village on the western shores of Waterford harbor. Arriving at the N25, you turn right to visit the town of Waterford fronting the River Suir, and left to arrive at the Waterford Crystal Factory. This is a very worthwhile excursion, as the tours give you an appreciation for why these hand-blown, hand-cut items are so expensive. It takes many years to become a master craftsman, and one little mistake in the intricate cutting means painstaking hours of work are wasted and the defective item is simply smashed and recycled-there are no seconds. (Waterford crystal items are uniformly priced throughout the country.) It is a very popular venue, the stopping place for seemingly every coach tour. Fortunately, separate transportation is provided to shuttle individual tourists to and from the factory. I thoroughly enjoyed touring with a guide who allowed plenty of time to watch the skilled workmen. The showroom displays the full line of Waterford’s production, from shimmering chandeliers to sparkling stemware. The visitors’ center also has a gift shop, tourist information center, and café.

If the weather is inclement, stay on the N25 in the direction of Cork, but otherwise meander along the coast road by doubling back in the direction of Waterford for a very short distance, turning to the right to Tramore, a family holiday town, long a favorite of the “ice-cream-and-bucket-and-spade” brigade. Skirting the town, follow the beautiful coastal road through Annestown to Dungarvan.

Where the coastal road meets the N25, detour from your route, turning sharp left to Shell House. Like it or hate it, there is nothing quite like it on any suburban street in the world-a cottage where all available wall surfaces are decorated with colored shells in various patterns.

Returning to the main road after crossing Dungarvan harbor, the N25 winds up and away from the coast, presenting lovely views of the town and the coast. If you haven’t eaten, try Seanachie (a restored, thatched farmhouse, now a traditional restaurant and bar), which sits atop the hill and serves good Irish and Continental food. After passing through several kilometers of forests, turn left on the R673 to Ardmore, following the coastline to the village. Beyond the neatly painted houses clustered together lies the Ardmore Monastic Site. The well-preserved round tower used to have six internal timber landings joined by ladders, and at the top was a bell to call the monks to prayer or warn of a hostile raid. The round tower is unique to Ireland, its entrance door placed well above the ground: entry was gained by means of a ladder, which could be drawn up whenever necessary. Early Christian monks built round towers as protection against Vikings and other raiders. Leaving the ruins, turn left in the village for Youghal where this itinerary ends. Sightseeing in Youghal is outlined in the following itinerary. From Youghal you can continue west to follow The Southwest itinerary, or take the following alternative route back to Dublin via The Vee, Cashel, and Kilkenny.

 

ROUTE FROM YOUGHAL TO DUBLIN VIA THE VEE, CASHEL, AND KILKENNY

From Youghal, retrace your steps towards Waterford to the bridge that crosses the River Blackwater, and turn sharp left (before you cross the river) on Blackwater Valley Drive, a narrow road which follows the broad, muddy waters of the Blackwater through scenic wooded countryside. The “drive” is well-signposted as “Scenic Route.” Quiet country roads bring you into Lismore. Turn left into town and right at the town square. Cross the river and take the second road to the left, following signs for Clogheen and The Vee. As the road climbs, woods give way to heathery moorlands climbing to the summit where the valley opens before you-a broad “V” shape framing an endless patchwork of fields in every shade of green.

Continue on to Cahir Castle, which has stood on guard to defend the surrounding town of Cahir since 1375. A guided tour explains the elaborate defensive system, making a visit here both interesting and informative. A separate audio-visual presentation provides information about the castle and other monuments in the area.

Leaving the castle, continue through the town square for the 16-kilometer drive to Cashel. The Rock of Cashel seems to grow out of the landscape as you near the town and you can see why this easily defensible site was the capital for the kings of Munster as long ago as 370 A.D. In the course of converting Ireland to Christianity, St. Patrick reached the castle and, according to legend, jabbed his staff into the king’s foot during the conversion ceremony. The king apparently took it all very stoically, thinking it was part of the ritual. Upon reaching the summit of the rock, you find a 10th-century round tower, a 13th-century cathedral, and a 15th-century entrance building or Hall of Vicars Choral-a building which was sensitively restored in the 1970s and now houses some exhibits including St. Patrick’s Cross, an ancient Irish high cross of unusual design. If you overnight in or near Cashel, be sure to enjoy Brú Ború, a foot-tapping evening of traditional Irish entertainment in the theater below the Rock.

Leave Cashel on the N8 for the 40-kilometer drive northeast to Urlingford, where you bear right through Freshford for the 27-kilometer drive to Kilkenny . Kilkenny is quite the loveliest of Irish towns and it is easy to spend a day here sightseeing and shopping. Entering the town, turn left at the first traffic lights along the main street and park your car outside the castle.

Kilkenny Castle was originally built between 1195 and 1207. The imposing building, as it now stands, is a mixture of Tudor and Gothic design and is definitely worth a visit. The east wing picture gallery is flooded by natural light from the skylights in the roof and displays a collection of portraits of the Ormonde family, the owners of Kilkenny Castle from 1391 until 1967.

Opposite the castle entrance, the stables now house the Kilkenny Design Centre, a retail outlet for goods of Irish design and production: silver jewelry, knits, textiles, furniture, and crafts.

Undoubtedly, the best way to see the medieval buildings of Kilkenny is on foot. A walking tour starts from the tourist office in the Shee Alms House, just a short distance from the castle. Stroll up High Street into Parliament Street to Rothe House Museum. The house, built in 1594 as the home of Elizabethan merchant John Rothe, depicts how such a merchant lived. You should also see St. Canice’s Cathedral at the top of Parliament Street. The round tower dates from the 6th century, when St. Canice founded a monastic order here. Building began on the cathedral in 1251, though most of the lovely church you see today is an 1864 restoration.

Alleyways, with fanciful names such as The Butter Slip, lead you from the High Street to St. Kieran Street where you find Kylters Inn, the oldest building in town. This historic inn has a lurid history-supposedly a hostess of many centuries ago murdered four successive husbands, was then accused of witchcraft, and narrowly escaped being burnt at the stake by fleeing to the Continent.

This is an area noted for its craftspeople (leatherworkers, potters, painters) and culinary artists, resulting in a plethora of restaurants and craft shops in the surrounding villages, making this a very interesting area in which to spend several days. I always head for the Nicholas Mosse Pottery in Bennetsbridge where you can purchase quality seconds, as well as watch skilled potters making and decorating this classic spongewear.

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