Route: Laois, Tipperary, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow, Carlow, Kildare, Westmeath, Louth, Monaghan
Features: Curraghmore House and Gardens, Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience, Borris House, Wicklow Gaol, Powerscourt House & Gardens
Some found hope in hardship, some led lives of ease – but all the figures you’ll meet on this captivating trail had unique ties to Ireland’s land and great estates. Discover elegance, nature and dramatic tales as you stroll the iconic gardens of Ireland’s magnificent country houses. And unearth the tragic tales and incredible endurance as you tread in the tracks of Ireland’s Famine lives. Be bold and be awed by history’s abiding presence on this vital journey through Ireland’s iconic past.
Route: Laois to Cork via Tipperary
Points Of Interest: Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum, Swiss Cottage, Fota House
Farmers abandoned their fields, families took to the sea – and others were compelled to work where they could find it. Pay tribute to these tales of toil and tragedy at the Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum. Dark and desperate days were spent in this workhouse, founded in 1853, but today the guided tours and vivid displays of Irish rural life here provide an indispensable memorial to times gone by.
Thankfully the fields are greener today as you make your way through scenic countryside to the Swiss Cottage in Cahir. This traditionally thatched but seductively ornate retreat was built in the early 1800s by renowned architect John Nash. Pay a visit, then enjoy the enchanting surroundings as you take the Coronation Walk to Cahir. No doubt you’ll be ready for lunch after this riverbank stroll. Drop by the Lazy Bean Cafe, where you’ll enjoy homemade treats and friendly service before heading to Fota House in Carrigtwohill, Cork.
Richard Morrison, who was later knighted for his works, was commissioned to remodel this stately mansion in the early nineteenth century. Its refined architecture and elegant interior design testify to his talents. Take a guided house tour and then be sure to explore the arboretum on site, not to mention Fota’s acclaimed wildlife park.
Stop off at Mitchelstown Caves, and enter a world without sun, without time, a world where man almost feels an intruder and where nature reigns supreme.
Route: Waterford to Wexford
Points Of Interest: Curraghmore House and Gardens, Loftus Hall, Tintern Abbey
From Fota head along the coast to where, with Norman blood and noble airs, the family de la Poer settled in the mid-12th century. The spectacular Curraghmore House and Gardens is among the four magnificent castle sites they left behind. Enter the stunning courtyard here to see the original structure elegantly embedded within the greater Victorian architecture. Book ahead for a guided tour, where you’ll discover quirky treasures like The Shell House, constructed from the seashell collection of a resident Countess in 1754.
Heading east, board the ferry at Passage East and cross the river Suir to Ballyhack. Stop off at Kevin Dundon’s award-winning Dunbrody House for a platter of elegant refreshments before daring a trip to Loftus Hall, reputed to be Ireland’s most haunted mansion. Shake off those creepy tingles when you stretch your legs at the scenic site of Tintern Abbey. These remarkable remains of a by-gone age date back to 1203, when Norman leader William Marshall founded the monastery in thanksgiving after surviving a stormy sea passage to Ireland.
Finish your trip in historic port town New Ross, founded in the dark ages but garnering its first fame as a Norman stronghold in the 13th century.
Heading east, board the ferry at Passage East and cross the river Suir to Ballyhack. Stop off at Kevin Dundon’s award-winning Dunbrody House for a platter of elegant refreshments before daring a trip to Loftus Hall, reputed to be Ireland’s most haunted mansion.
Shake off those creepy tingles when you stretch your legs at the scenic site of Tintern Abbey. These remarkable remains of a by-gone age date back to 1203, when Norman leader William Marshall founded the monastery in thanksgiving after surviving a stormy sea passage to Ireland.
Explore some of Waterford city’s most significant artefacts and historic tales at Bishop’s Palace, the Georgian mansion and museum.
Route: Wexford to Wicklow, via Carlow and Kilkenny
Points Of Interest: Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience, Borris House, Altamont Gardens, Wells House and Gardens
In New Ross, you can tread the boards of the Dunbrody Famine Ship. Don’t worry about your voyage, though – this vivid memorial is anchored safely in its place so as to pay tribute to tales of desperation and endurance from the local area in famine times.
Continue next to Carlow, where from the Barrow valley to the Blackstairs Mountains you’ll catch some breathtaking views at Borris House. Rebuilt in the early 18th century, this beautiful country house is called home by the MacMurrough Kavanaghs, former High Kings of Leinster. Dermot MacMurrough may have gotten more than he bargained for when he invited the Normans to Ireland in 1167, but today his legacy lives on in the splendid form of this enchanting mansion and its grounds.Another of Ireland’s hidden gems can be found a short drive away in the lush countryside of County Carlow.
Altamont Gardens blend an old-world atmosphere with horticultural expertise, producing a wonderland of scenic walks for visitors to enjoy. Top your stroll with a leisurely snack at the Walled Garden Café next door before you drive to the magnificent Wells House and Gardens in Wexford. The delightful Victorian Tour here traces the life and character of the house through the centuries. Soak in the delicate watercolours exhibited around the manor, then roam the surrounding woodland trails that inspired their painter Lady Frances, who once owned the estate.
Swap parkland for sea breezes along Curracloe Beach in County Wexford. It was here on the shores of the Irish Sea that the opening scenes of World War II epic Saving Private Ryan were filmed – as well as box-office hit, Brooklyn. Or for a tale as old as time, visit the fairytale Huntington Castle and Gardens, a Carlow landmark since 1625.
Route: Wicklow to Westmeath, via Kildare
Points Of Interest: Wicklow Gaol, Powerscourt House and Gardens, Castletown House, Belvedere House and Gardens
Days were dark and the nights unnerving in Wicklow Gaol. Built in 1702 it was locally known as “The Gates of Hell”. Within its walls were thousands of prisoners during the Great Famine, the 1798 Rebellion and the War of Independence. Today, you can explore the chilling tales and ominous dungeon corridors of this historic site in the company of a troupe of local actors – while more daring visitors can book ahead for the paranormal tour.
Lose your spooks and take your time when you reach the spectacular Powerscourt House and Gardens. The impeccably maintained gardens here were built by renowned architect Daniel Robertson in the 1840s, and today retain their astonishing charm – some might say the views are impeccable whatever the weather. Dine on the terrace at the Avoca Café, browse the craft shops, and then make your way north to the paragon of Palladian elegance that is Castletown House. This Kildare landmark was constructed for William Conolly, reputed to be the wealthiest man in Ireland at the time of his death in 1729 – it was said Conolly would require 240 horses to bring his half year’s rent from Dublin to Castletown. Discover the dramatic story of his life and era on the guided tour. As for his near-contemporary Robert Rochfort: although he had a nasty habit of locking up his loved ones, one thing to be said in his favour was that lived in style.
Finish your day by finding out why at Belvedere House and Gardens, built for the Earl in 1740.
Take the scenic route and pay a visit to the longest house in Ireland on the Russborough Estate, a stone’s skim away from Blessington lakes.
Route: Louth to Monaghan
Points Of Interest: Beaulieu House and Garden
At the heart of the Boyne Valley’s luxuriant green countryside, Beaulieu House and Garden stands as a beautifully preserved icon of another age. Built in the 17th century and finished in the rare Artisan Mannerist style, this stunning house has seen eleven generations of the Tichbourne family pass under its roof. After touring the house, be sure to explore the superlative grounds and gardens, which host a variety of seasonal activities every year.
On your next stop, it’s a captivating vista that meets the eye at Carrickmacross Workhouse in County Monaghan. Erected in the 1840s and later the site of a much-needed fever hospital, this historic building now stands as a versatile heritage centre, organised by local volunteers. Don’t forget to bring your ancestral queries with you on your visit to see if you can unknot the roots of your family tree at its genealogical centre.
Finish your trip with a delicious dining experience in the Grain Store restaurant, Dundalk. This atmospheric venue is in fact the converted banquet hall of Darver Castle, which dates to the 14th century.
Stop for a break in Ardee, County Louth, which boasts a number of remarkable historic sites, including Hatch’s Castle, the largest fortified town house in Ireland.