It’s not marked on any map. And if you ask about it, you’re likely to receive a blank stare. Yet most visitors touring Ireland drive through the Ballyhoura Region to reach the ‘Sunny Southwest,’ barely glancing out the window in their rush to reach the next stop on their itinerary.
Stretching from just south of Limerick City through the northern part of County Cork, the region is named for the Ballyhoura Mountains that form a natural border between the two counties. Filled with the sights, activities, and experiences travelers come to Ireland for, this is the perfect place to get off the ‘tourist track’ and find the ‘real Ireland’ experiences you’ve dreamed of.
The crown jewel of the region is Lough Gur. Beginning at the new Visitors Centre, you are drawn into the past through fact and legend. You learn of the Neolithic people who first settled the area and built the massive ‘Giant’s Grave.’ And then about their descendants in the Bronze Age who constructed Ireland’s largest stone circle (above). And after that, the Earls of Desmond and the disappearance of the 3rd
Earl, who is said to live beneath the waters of Lough Gur, appearing every seven years to ride around the lake. When his steed’s silver shoes are worn, he will be allowed to return and rule again in Desmond.
After hearing these historical stories, you must get out and explore the area! Walk the hills to the Neolithic houses, lay your hands on the stones in the circle, and listen for hoof beats as you stroll by the lake.
If history of a more recent nature interests you, the museum of Old Irish Ways is nearby. One of the best exhibitions of 19th & 20th century Ireland, you’ll see what life was like in rural Ireland not so very long ago. The gem of this collection is the replica shop and
public house, together as they once were but are rarely found anymore.
The nearby village of Bruff is one of the friendliest in Ireland – and in a country known for its friendliness, that’s saying a lot! The town also boasts one of Ireland’s finest bed and breakfasts, The Old Bank. The completely restored bank building offers elegant, spacious rooms and one of the best Irish breakfasts you’ll have anywhere. If you can, time your visit to coincide with the Bluegrass Festival and enjoy a long weekend of live music, parades, donkey derby, and go cart racing.
The Ballyhoura Region has several Rambling Houses or Social Dancing events throughout the month. Few tourists know about these traditional music and dancing evenings, so if you’re looking for that bit of ‘real Ireland,’ here it is.
Another event that most tourists miss is a Livestock Mart. Kilmallock hosts a weekly mart where cattle are sold and local growers sell their produce. It’s really an event you should see once.
Outdoor activities can be found across Ballyhoura. Mountain biking trails of varying difficulty can be found in the mountains, trail walks cross the region, and horseback riding lets you explore the hills without quite so much work on your part.
If you want to try something different, try Orienteering at Ardpatrick Forest Park. Using a special map and a compass, you navigate from point to point, racing against the clock to reach the finish.
For an outdoor walk surrounded by cuteness, head to the Donkey Sanctuary near Mallow. With over 600 rescued donkeys and mules enjoying acres of lush grass land, you can spend an afternoon here wandering the pathways, petting donkeys, and just enjoying the peacefulness. There is no charge to visit the sanctuary, but you’ll jump at the chance to ‘adopt’ one of these gentle critters for a year.
With all there is to do within the Ballyhoura Region, there is really no reason to wander. But, in case you do want to, this area is also a very central location to many of Ireland’s most popular sites including the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, the Rock of Cashel, Cork city and Limerick city.
When you’re planning your driving tour of Ireland, why not make the Ballyhoura Region your ‘home base?’