Hidden Ireland: Uncover 10 tourist treasures off the beaten track

Tom Breathnach and Melanie Mullan uncover 10 tourist treasures off the beaten track.
Hidden Ireland: Uncover 10 tourist treasures off the beaten track
Sliabh Liag cliffs, Donegal

Sheep's Head | Cork

When it comes to Munster’s peninsulas. Mizen, Beara and the Ring of Kerry shore up much of the tourism limelight, while Sheep’s Head is often little lost in the flock. Known an a hiker’s paradise, this go-slow headland off Bantry is criss-crossed with 200km of all-level trails while artisan providers like Durrus Cheese in Coomkeen valley and the Sheep’s Head Producers’ Shop in Kilcrohane make great incentives to saunter to the next village. Just keep going: white-washed Sheep’s Head Lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula is the most dreamy of trekker’s crescendos.

Stay: Seamount Glenlough West is a seventh generation farmhouse B&B dramatically set over Dunmanus Bay. Make sure to sample some gluten-free scones and local cheeses! From €40pps, seamount.ie (TB)

Dine in | Cavan

Often overlooked by the wilderness seeker, Cavan makes for one of the most affordable escapes in Ireland. The county packs an eclectic punch of landscapes, from its very own Burren to the ethereal Lough Oughter (think Enya-goes-kayaking vibes). With many roads here criss-crossing into neighbouring Fermanagh, the area is also a great springboard to explore the Marble Arch Caves or the Insta-trending Stairway to Heaven boardwalk. You can fuel up with finesse, too, from Neven Maguire’s MacNean Restaurant in Blacklion to other treasures like Murph’s Gastro Pub in Butlerstown.

Neven Maguire.
Neven Maguire.

Stay: Ideally located for cross-county exploring and recently upgraded to a four-star, family-run Kilmore Hotel outside Cavan town makes an excellent value base from €48pps per night. hotelkilmore.ie(TB)

Get lit | Monaghan

Dublin boasts its Joycean culture while Sligo is proud Yeats Country - but for the the perfect poetry destination, County Monaghan is increasingly lit. This week, the county unveiled the jewel in its tourism crown, with the Patrick Kavanagh Centre re-opening in the poet’s hometown of Inniskeen, following a one million euro face-lift. 

Patrick Kavanagh Centre.jpg
Patrick Kavanagh Centre.jpg

To further explore the stoney grey soil, you can saddle up for an e-bike tour with drumlintrails.com and offer self-guided experiences across the county’s food, craft or heritage highlights.

Stay: What better base for literary break than to hunker down in Tullybuck Cottage; a luxurious four star self-catering bolthole situated in Monaghan’s bucolic rolling hills. It’s our most expensive listing this week at €160 per night - but it does sleep 6. (TB)

Go Gaeltacht in Donegal

Blotted with sheep, salty Atlantic air and spectacular views, Glencolmcille surely ranks as Ireland’s most drop-dead gorgeous coastal valley. The tiny townland on the northern headlands boasts a lively Gaeltacht scene, a charming thatched folk village and spectacular hiking trails from St. Columba’s church in the village. It also makes the ideal base to visit the Sliabh Liag; Ireland’s highest sea-cliffs, which, while often overshadowed by the Cliffs of Moher, are just as epic -particularly at sunset.

Stay: Sliabh Liag Lodge in the small village of Carrick makes a basic but perfectly charming base to discover the region, and serves good pub grub too following an evening’s wandering. Rates from an excellent €40pps. (TB)

Indulge in Lough Derg

The shores of Lough Derg straddle some of Ireland’s most scenic lakeland settings, explorable via every vessel from kayak-rentals in Dromineer to embarking on gin cruise with Killaloe Cruises. The region offers a stellar food scene, too, from enjoying excellent pub grub in Larkins of Garrykennedy, the Derg Inn in Terryglass and the buonissimo Tuscany Bistro of Killaloe-Ballina. Don't forget to pay a visit to the Old Barrack in Birdhill, too, which is home to Ireland’s first adult-only coffeeshop.

Enjoying a spectacular view overlooking Lough Derg.
Enjoying a spectacular view overlooking Lough Derg.

Stay: Fuchsia Lane Farm Cottages offer a smattering of cute, family-friendly lodges outside the village of Terryglass, with rates from €65 per night (one week min stay). (TB)

All rates quoted are based one a night mid-week stay for this coming August.

Inishturk Island, Mayo 

Mayo is surrounded by glorious islands, but Achill tends to take the spotlight for its easy accessibility and stunning beaches and scenery. Inishturk’s remote location, rugged landscape and petite size give it a unique sense of appeal. A mere 5km long, it’s safe to say you won’t leave anything out when exploring the island or you can spend the day at sea fishing for the Inishturk lobster and island crabs. A passenger ferry departs to Inishturk from Roonagh Pier in Mayo twice daily during the summer months.

Stay: A stones throw from the harbour, great views are a given at the family run Ocean View House. €40 per person sharing, inishturkisland.com (MM) 

Cooley Peninsula, Louth 

It may be the smallest county in Ireland but Louth certainly packs a punch with beautiful views and no shortage of activities. For those that have reignited their love of walking over the last couple of months, but are not quite ready to take to the hills, the Carlingford Omeath Greenway provides all the glorious scenery, without the uphill battles. Start your journey in Omeath, taking in the Carlingford Lough shoreline on the 7km route into Carlingford town where you can refuel at Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms before the journey back.

Stay: Set on over 130 acres of land, and a short drive from Omeath, Ballymascanlon is the perfect spot to switch off and rest weary legs. €145 per night, ballymascanlon.ie(MM) 

Stradbally, Laois 

It’s easy to forget about Laois as many bypass it en route to other counties, but Laois is far more than just a pitstop. Stradbally may be famously known for one weekend of the year when the people of Ireland arrive in abundance for Electric Picnic, but there’s a lot more to see and do. Learn about Ireland’s steam industry at the Steam Museum, taste some fine craft beer at Ballykilkaven Craft Brewery, and brush up on your gardening or bee-keeping skills at Dunmore Country School.

Stay: Set in a 17th century house, Inch House Ireland is a welcoming space for all the family to chill-out after a day of exploring. €81 per night, inchhouseireland.ie(MM) 

Birr, Offaly 

While Barack Obama may have been giving Offaly its moment over the years thanks to his family roots, there is plenty of more this county has to offer outside of Moneygall. Visit Birr Castle Demesne, where the whole family will enjoy an afternoon in the Science Centre, surrounding gardens and even get to visit the home of the largest telescope in the world. It wouldn’t be a trip to Offaly without a drop of whiskey at Tullamore Dew distillery for a guided tour complete with a whiskey tasting to finish the day on a high note.

Stay: Overlooking the Slieve Bloom mountains you can choose from a townhouse room or opt for a night glamping in a yurt at Kinnity. From €89 per night, visitkinnitty.com(MM) 


If it’s the great outdoors and a good challenge you’re after, Leitrim has plenty to offer. From stand-up paddle-boarding on the Shannon Blueway to horse-riding up the Sliabh and Iarainn Mountains, Leitrim’s rolling hills and mountainous landscape are the perfect backdrop for any activity. Pack a picnic and head for Glenfarne Demesne where you perch yourself at the lake or head for the hills on many of the looped walks throughout the grounds. 

History enthusiasts can learn more about Ireland’s Industrial heritage at the Arigna Mining Experience in Roscommon, as well as visiting the newly renovated Lime Kiln at the grounds of Lough Rynn Estate and Gardens.

Stay: Literary enthusiasts will love an evening by the fire in the John McGahern Library at Lough Rynn Castle Estate & Gardens. €110 per night, loughrynn.ie(MM)

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