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Ever since those heady days when St. Finbarr first set foot in Ireland’s striking south-west, a whole host of visitors have been compelled to journey to its second largest city. But while Cork has more than its fair share of first rate attractions, it’s the outer limits where you’re likely to get really lucky.
Anyone seeking the luck of the Irish could do worse than to visit its most famous lucky charm. Less than ten miles to the north-west of Cork lies Blarney, home to the infamous stone said to proffer the gift of eloquence to all who kiss it. Set into the battlements of a 15th century castle, folk legends abound about the origins of the ritual, which requires a daredevil act of limbo to perform. But beware: urban legend tells that it’s also the focus for local youths marking their territory.
Still, this charming village amid pleasant woodland, is well worth a visit. You can even nip to the woollen mills around the corner to bag a genuine Aran sweater and a few local handicrafts. A word of warning: do try to avoid peak holiday times. It’s likely to be heaving with tourists hoping for that classic photo opportunity.
The picturesque fishing port of Kinsale has developed a reputation for being the place to sample the absolute best of Irish cuisine. Here, they go far beyond the country’s traditional stout and stew and make the most of fresh, local produce, with seafood being a particular specialty. The town hosts its own sell-out gourmet festival every autumn, and plays host to musical guests when the Guinness’ Jazz Festival rolls into town.
As well as a smorgasbord of mouth-watering delights, there’s a raft of maritime activities on offer; from yachting and deep sea angling to whale and dolphin watching, as well as swimming at Sandycove during the warmer months. Just beyond the bay, Charles Fort offers military instruction as one of the world’s best examples of a star shaped fort, dating from the 17th century.
A colourful seaside town, set in a patchwork of emerald farmland running down towards the coast, Clonakilty has a maritime past and cultural present. Known as a centre for live music, it plays host to a diverse variety of festivals every year and is home to a host of renowned venues, where home-grown talent offers a taste of Ireland’s rich musical heritage.
With many sandy beaches and secret coves (the beautiful Ichydoney Beach, for example) and even a model village, the area is known for being very family friendly. Sample some black pudding (the town’s specialty) and investigate The Shambles, a historical extension to the local market and central square. Further afield, reconstructed monuments like Lisnugan pay tribute to the town’s Norman heritage.
Killarney National Park
Offering the intrepid much more than just a run-of-the-mill day trip, this is the landscape that has inspired entire generations of Gaelic poets. Rising up from the three main lakes and nestling amongst 26,000 acres of lush green woodland are Ireland’s highest peaks, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks (or ‘Black Stacks’), from which tumble waterfalls under the cloudy flux of ever-changing skies. Watch out for the native red deer that abound on the deserted plains. Worth a stop is Muckross House, an imposing Victorian mansion with perfectly manicured gardens and traditional farms, which you may want to explore on foot.
Those wanting to get a different perspective should partake in a horse and cart ride around the town and listen to the colourful tales of the ‘jayvees’ (drivers), which put your average cabbie’s anecdotes to shame.
1 hour 20 minutes
Heading down to the far south west of County Cork, the village of Schull on the beautiful Mizen Peninsular promises bracing Atlantic sea breezes and more delectable dining to boot. Along craggy coastline that’s almost humming with history, you can revel in the search for concealed coves, unexpected piers and charming lighthouses.
And when all that salty sea air has helped you work up an appetite, Schull’s treat of a high street features lively café culture, pubs and cosmopolitan shops that have earned it high praise from one of Ireland’s most prestigious chefs, slow food legend Darina Allen. Bone up on her recipes and head down to the country market to gather your supplies.
1 hour 40 minutes