Munster Vales, the region encompassing the Comeragh, Knockmealdown, Galtee, Ballyhoura and Nagles mountain ranges in southern Ireland, is steeped in history. So much so that a visit to Munster Vales is the perfect time to see and learn about the history of the island and see fantastic historical sites, estates and castles across the region.
We’ve put together this guide to outline some of the great places you should visit to get a taste of the region’s history and heritage. Whether you want to learn more about the Earls, Dukes and Viscounts who once lived in these incredible mansions or discover some of the many legends connected to the area, then what better way to start your journey than by visiting these fascinating places.
Cahir Castle, Tipperary
Dating from 13e century, Cahir Castle is known to be one of the largest and best preserved castles in Ireland. Overlooking the River Suir, the castle was built for the Butler family.
The castle has become quite famous as it has been used as a filming location for TV shows and movies, such as Excalibur and The Tudors.
Visitors can learn all about the castle’s rich history from the fantastic audio-visual exhibition, making it an ideal place to visit whether you are a solo traveler or on family visits.
Lismore Castle and Gardens, Waterford
Lismore Castle Gardens cover seven acres and offer fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and of Lismore Castle itself. The lower garden was actually created in the 19e century for the 6e Duke of Devonshire, patron of Sir Joseph Paxton. The walled garden was created in 1605 by Richard Boyle, the 1st Earl of Cork. The walls and terraces remain mostly the same as before, although the types of plants have changed. Today the garden is a mixture of flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Lismore Castle remains a private residence, which means there is no public access, but your garden ticket will give you access to Lismore Castle Arts – a contemporary art gallery.
While you’re there be sure to visit the fantastic Lismore Heritage Centre. The Heritage Center offers a fantastic virtual reality experience of Lismore Castle, narrated by world-renowned scientist Robert Boyle, who gives you a virtual tour of the castle so you can see inside rooms and halls while learning all about the history of the castle. You can also see if you can solve the puzzles to try to get out of the Robert Boyle escape room in an hour. You will certainly not forget your visit to Lismore Castle!
Curraghmore House, Waterford
Also located in Waterford is the historic Curraghmore House – once the residence of the 9th Marquess of Waterford. Covering 2500 acres of formal gardens, woodland and fields, it is Ireland’s largest private estate. Twelve miles of famine relief compound walls and wrought iron gates surround this incredible estate.
The house opens to the public seasonally, and you can also book a group tour year-round. Visitors can see the main reception rooms which are considered to be among the finest neo-classical rooms in Ireland.
Although you’d think it would be hard to miss, keep an eye out for a Sitka Sprue, which was planted in the 1830s and is one of Ireland’s tallest trees. The tree is located right next to King John’s Bridge – which was built in 1205 and happens to be the oldest bridge in Ireland!
Black Castle at Lough Gur in Limerick
If its history mixed with legend interests you, you must visit Lough Gur in Limerick. Legend has it that 3-year-old Gearoid Iarlard The Earl of Desmond (who was banished to the bottom of the lake by the Goddess Aine) resurfaces every seven years and tries to break the curse placed on him!
A Norman castle, known as the Black Castle, associated with the Earl of Desmond and dating from the 1500s, is located across the lake.
Visitors to Lough Gur can learn all about its history at the Lough Gur Visitor Centre. Its interactive multimedia exhibition brings the site’s 6,000 years of history to life. Interestingly, this is the only place in Ireland where you can see evidence of all ages from the Neolithic.
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Court of Doneraile, Liège
Situated on one of Ireland’s finest estates, Donerail Court dates back to the 1720s when it was built for the first Viscount Doneraile Arthur St. Leger.
Interestingly, one of the most famous works of English-language literature, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, was written while Spenser was living in Kilcoman, and the “sweet Mulla” river he speaks of in the poem flows through Doneraile Estate (now known as the Awbeg River).
Doneraile Court is currently being restored but is due to reopen in 2023, but in the meantime you can still stroll around the grounds and grab a bite to eat at the tea rooms which open daily.
There are over 400 acres of parkland consisting of tracks, trails and fish ponds to see during your visit. Also keep an eye out for deer, squirrels, otters and herons that live on the grounds.
I hope this guide will help you when planning your visit to Munster Vales and we hope to see you soon!
Tríona O’Mahony is the Director of Destination and Marketing at Valleys of Munster. The main aim of Munster Vales is to promote the geographical area as a single brand, linking counties Waterford, Tipperary, Cork and Limerick and everything in between.
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