We all know the Ireland of Saints and Scholars, Book of Kells, Guinness Storehouse and Dublin Castle, not to mention the Ring of Kerry and Cliffs of Moher. But what about a trip to the hidden Ireland, where few tourists go?
Here are the top ten hidden beauty spots that will make your vacation there very special.
Cooley Mountains in County Louth.
Towering over the border areas, the Cooley peninsula has been cut off as a tourism spot because of The Troubles which has meant that it is incredibly unspoilt, with beautiful views North and South over Carlingford Lough from its peaks. The grandeur and beauty of Kerry without any of the high prices or tourist traps is how our guide described it. Just take your car and drive north to Dundalk and head for the Cooley peninsula.
Once known as Bandit Country during The Troubles, it too, like Cooley, suffered greatly because of those bad times. It has stunning vistas, beautiful mountain ranges, and a wonderful Irish music tradition. Tommy Makem of the famous Makem and Clancy Brothers hails from here and his legacy and that of the South Armagh musical tradition can be found in the pubs. Nearby Slieve Gullion national park is one of the great nature parks of Ireland, North or South.
Just twenty-five miles North of Dublin in County Meath are Bettystown and Laytown, two beautiful little villages with wonderful beaches and a huge expanse of Irish Sea. Many Dubliners take their vacations there but overseas tourists are rare. There is a championship golf course and inexpensive lodgings and restaurants.
You may be familiar with Dingle, Gweedore and Connemara Gaeltachts or Irish-speaking locations, but Ring just six miles from Dungarvan in Waterford is the smallest Gaeltacht in Ireland and a beautiful and remote spot. Here you can hear the language of your ancestors, visit the little town and surrounding villages, and step back in time.
Slieve Bloom Mountains, Laois.
One of the great natural assets of County Laois in the Irish midlands is the Slieve Bloom Mountains, which also touch surrounding counties such as Offaly.
They are without a doubt one of Ireland's hidden gems and under-rated beauty spots.
The best entry point is via Portarlington. The magnificent Slieve Bloom Way boasts an almost unlimited amount of different activities including walking, cycling, auto touring, heritage tours, equestrian trails and Irish music and dancing festivals.
They say there are 365 lakes in County Cavan, one for each day of the year. Just drive to the county about sixty miles Northwest from Dublin and you will find them in abundance. Glorious angling, unspoilt vistas and well away from the tourist traps, the Cavan lakes are an undiscovered wonder.
The Glen of Aherlow
The Glen of Aherlow is a quiet country valley near Tipperary town, secluded but not isolated. There are sixteen miles of unspoilt countryside offering some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. a wonderful hiking, walking and outdoors vacation experience.
Birr Castle, in County Offaly, features a great new attraction; Ireland's new Historic Science Centre features the many pioneering achievements of the Parsons family and of other great Irish scientists in the fields of astronomy, photography, engineering and horticulture.
In the grounds, the Great Telescope built by the third Earl of Ross in the 1840s; this was the largest in the world for 70 years. Birr Castle Demesne also host the most amazing Gardens in the country with Formal Garden and River Garden recently restored, parkland with thousands of rare trees and plants collected all over the world, rivers, lake and waterfalls. The neogothic Castle is the private family home of the Parsons family.
New Ross, Wexford
The home of the Kennedys before they set out for the New World and created the greatest political dynasty in American history. The Dunbrody, a recreated famine ship, is an amazing adventure. Nearby is the Irish National Historic Park where visitors can experience 900 years of history in just ninety minutes.
Stretching through large parts of counties Louth and Meath. the Boyne Valley is an unparalleled area of great historical importance, minutes North from Dublin Airport. Following the path of the Boyne River, Newgrange and other historical sites, including the Battle of the Boyne heritage site, can be seen. Helpful road signs direct you to the highlights.