Off the beaten track: Part I

Sometimes wandering off the beaten track is what you need to make holiday memories

St Finbarr's Oratory in Gougane Barra, County Cork provided by Walshphotos's/Shutterstock
St Finbarr's Oratory in Gougane Barra, County Cork provided by Walshphotos's/Shutterstock

Okay, some of you may already be acquainted with Ireland’s bigger sights. Even if you haven’t visited, you’ll probably have heard about the Cliffs of Moher, the Rock of Cashel and the Giant’s Causeway.

Go exploring, though, and you’ll find plenty more treasures just off the beaten track.

1. Gougane Barra Church: West Cork

Want to know a secret? Cork’s Gougane Barra Forest Park is hiding the prettiest little church you will ever see. Right by a lake sits St Finbarr's Oratory, close to a former  6th century monastery. Unsurprisingly, this little church is a popular wedding location. Just look at those views...and think of the wedding album.

Location: Gougane Barra Forest Park is located 5km west of Ballingeary on the R584 to Bantry, at the Pass of Keimaneigh.

2. The Wonderful Barn: Leixlip, County Kildare

This quirky structure was built in 1743. Its purpose? Proprietor Katherine Conolly (wealthy widow of William ‘Speaker’ Conolly) commissioned the oddity to create employment for the local community. Approximately 22m/72ft high, the barn has a tapering cone, encircled by a cantilevered staircase with a crow’s nest viewing gallery.

Location: Exit the M4 at R404, heading towards Leixlip and take the first left turn. Follow the road until the end.

The Wonderful Barn, County Kildare
The Wonderful Barn, County Kildare

3. Dunquin Harbour: Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry

If the Blasket Islands weren’t glorious enough, they’re accessed via this remarkable spot. Once a natural harbour from which the Blasket Islanders would launch their currachs (traditional boats), Dunquin provided a life-giving link to the mainland. Since those days Dunquin’s harbour has been remodelled and its winding path juts starkly out of the cliff face. Nearby beaches featured in the film Ryan’s Daughter, and famed Irish language author Peig Sayers was a native of the village.

Location: Follow the R559 from nearby Dingle to Dunquin (‘Dún Chaoin’ in Irish).

Dunquin Harbour, County Kerry provided by Lukasz Pajor/ Shutterstock

4. Bunlahinch Clapper Bridge: Louisburgh, County Mayo

This curious Clapper Bridge was built for pedestrians and is the largest complete clapper bridge in Ireland at 50m/164ft long. The design dates back to prehistoric times, however, this example is not so old. It’s thought the recently settled Church of Ireland community created Bunlahinch’s version in the 1840s.

Location: 11km (seven miles) west of Louisburg village, County Mayo along the Bunowen River.

The Clapper Bridge, Louisburgh, County Mayo

The Clapper Bridge, County Mayo provided by Brian T McElherron

5. Silent Valley: The Mourne Mountains, County Down

A watery heart of the Mourne Mountains, the Silent Valley reservoir has become an attraction in its own right. Surrounded by the Mourne Mountains and the Mourne Wall, the valley is a magnet for busy minds yearning for solitude. Keep a look out for the visitor facilities housed in colonial style bungalows where you can relax following a peaceful walk around the parklands.

Location: From Newry, aim for the Head Road in Kilkeel, County Down.

The Silent Valley Reservoir, County Down

The Silent Valley, County Down provided by stenic56's/ Shutterstock

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6. Dunseverick Castle: The Causeway Coast, County Antrim

The north Antrim coast, a.k.a. the Causeway Coast, boasts some epic sights. One of the unsung heroes, though, has to be Dunseverick Castle. Although it’s merely a crumbling ruin now, Dunseverick’s location on top of a peninsula adds a gravitas worthy of a potential future location for locally filmed Game of Thrones. Fantasy adventure aside, the castle has already had an eventful past: St Patrick allegedly visited in the 5th century; a Viking invasion came to its door in 870 AD; and it was captured and destroyed in the 1600s. The fact that the gate lodge survived at all is quite a miracle.

Location: Found close to Dunseverick village, just off the Causeway Coastal Route.

Dunseverick Castle, County Antrim

Dunseverick Castle, County Antrim provided by (Richard Semik)'s/Shutterstock

7. The Magic Road: Jenkinstown, County Louth

The quirkiest entry has been saved for last. The ‘magic road’ aka the gravity-defying road is legendary in Irish folklore. Travel writer and actor Andrew McCarthy was determined to find it. Watch what happened here…

Location: You'll have to consult the video!


And if that doesn’t make you believe in magic, we don’t know what will!

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