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Ireland Travel Guide

 Best Places to Visit in  Southwestern Ireland

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  Best Places to Visit in Ireland   Detailed Map 






Best Places to Visit in Ireland's Southwest

Blarney Castle     Cork     Kinsale      Gougane Barra         Drombeg Stone Circle      
Dingle Peninsula    Killarney National Park    Ring of Kerry   Skellig Michael  

The famous Blarney Castle  where you can kiss the Blarney Stone

In the previous pages of this section of our Ireland Travel Guide, we covered the scenic highlights of The Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula.  Now we turn to some equally well-known spots in the Southwest, such as Blarney Castle, Cork, Kinsale and an interesting Stone Circle in the Bantry Region.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle is one of the most famous attractions in Ireland.  Actually it's not the Castle that is so popular, but the Blarney stone and the legend that surrounds it.

There have been fortified structures on the site of Blarney Castle since the 10th century and the tower that remains today was the "keep" (central tower or fortress) of a castle built by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster.

Blarney Castle is quite dramatic.

The castle's most famous feature is the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that if you kiss the Blarney Stone you will be gifted with "blarney" or the "gift of gab", as it is sometimes called. There is a claim (one of many) that the Blarney Stone is the other half of the Stone of the Scone  (also known as the Stone of Destiny) of Scottish fame. The legend continues that the Stone was given to Cormac MacCarthy by Robert the Bruce in thanks for the support he provided Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn. Other legend claims that the Stone was originally Jacob's Pillow and carried from the Holy Lands by a returning Crusader.




Kissing the Blarney Stone!

Kissing the Blarney Stone requires some assistance, as you need to approach from a prone position, on your back.  The Castle staff will make sure that you do not fall and they will swab the Stone with alcohol for sanitary reasons. Apparently the feeling of blood rushing to your head is part of the buzz that helps fill you with blarney - of course, since you have paid for this privilege, perhaps somebody has already filled you with blarney.

By the way, one of the stories about kissing the stone and being filled with blarney, relates back to ... Cormac MacCarthy, who was the Lord of Blarney.  It seems that Queen Elizabeth's retainers, who were interested in collecting taxes, could never get a straight story when questioning him about the extent and value his holdings.  One day the Queen became quite frustrated about the Lord's misrepresentations  and made an unkind remark indicating the Lord of Blarney's obfuscations were...well...blarney!  Soon the words somehow began to be used interchangeably and it was a short hop to the  legend of the Blarney Stone.  Before you think it, no, you can't skip kissing the Stone.  Would you want to return home and say "Nope, I missed my chance at earning a black belt in blarney"?

See the Blarney Castle website/ for more details on visiting.


The colorful waterfront in Cork


Cork is a famous name that lacks famous attractions

Cork is one of the famous names in Ireland and many tourists head here based on name recognition alone.  Today's Cork is an industrial center with limited attractions of interest to tourists, at least compared with some of its neighbors. Yes, there are some colorful buildings and interesting markets, but we think you might enjoy a visit to Kinsale much more.

Blackrock Castle has been converted to an observatory

One Cork attraction that caught our eye, however, was Blackrock Castle on the River Lee (about 10 minutes from Cork's center).  Originally constructed in the 19th century around the remains of a 16th century tower, today's castle houses an observatory and astronomy center that is very popular with kids.  See the Blackrock Castle Observatory website for detailed information on visiting.

Midleton, slightly to the east of Cork on N25, is the home of the Old Jameson Distillery on the banks of the Dungourney River and source of Jameson Irish Whiskey. The distillery is one of three still operating in Ireland, although Jameson is now part of Irish Distillers, which is owned by Pernod Ricard.  The tour is open to visitors of all ages, who are willing to pay the modest fee.  See the Jameson website for details on visiting and a brief description of the tour.





Once an important port,  Kinsale (pop. 850) has evolved into a tourist town appreciated for its colorful houses, scenic harbor, and excellent tourist facilities.  The town is considered by many to be the food capital of Ireland.

The pedestrian areas of the Market Square, the Market Place, as well as Main Street are filled with gaily-colored stores, friendly pubs and quality restaurants that will meet you needs for food, trinkets and drinks.    See this site  for photographic panoramas and additional information on the many attractions in Kinsale.  If you are nearby early in October, be sure to visit the Kinsale Food Festival.

Kinsale  is  known for its pair of star-shaped forts facing each other across the harbor.  Charles Fort (east side of Kinsale Harbour), and its companion James Fort across the harbor were built in a star shape to allow  Visit the Charles Fort, which is in much better shape than the James Fort.  The dawning of the Age of Gunpowder doomed castles and other stone forts, which simply could not stand-up to cannon fire.  Instead, the replacements for these fortifications were lower, had thicker walls and were built of brick (which did not shatter as did stone).  In addition, the walls joined at unusual angles, such as star shapes, allowing those defending to fire at the opposition from a variety of locations (rather than from the inside of a box-like shape).

Kinsale has had an interesting, but troubled history.   Spain landed troops here in 1601 to assist in the Irish Rebellion, but they were defeated by the English and the rebellion failed.  It was just south of here at the Old Head of Kinsale that the Lusitania, a cruise ship traveling from New York to Liverpool,  was torpedoed by the German Navy in 1915, turning public opinion against Germany during World War I.  Nearly 1,200 people died in the attack.

Gougane Barra

St. Finbar's Oratory in Gougane Barra, Ireland

The Beara Peninsula starts near the Gougane Barra National Forest Park, a scenic area that attracts modest crowds.  See this site  for more information on visiting the Gougane Barra area.

The Beara Peninsula s not the equal of the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula in terms of scenery, but it is quite popular with walkers and those looking for less crowded, but attractive areas. Not to be outdone by its neighbors, there is a Ring of Beara Drive that might be of interest to you if you are on your second tour of Ireland's Southwest. Details and a map are provided at Beara Tourism.

To the east of the Beara Peninsula, Mizen Head  and Sheep's Head Peninsulas offer a number of fine walking trails, but have limited attractions.  To find out more about the entire area, which is known as the Bantry Region, visit this informative website.

Drombeg Stone Circle 

The Drombeg Stone Circle near Glandore, Ireland

If you visit Kinsale and plan to explore the Mizen Head and Sheep's Head Peninsulas, you might be interested in stopping at the Drombeg Stone Circle, another of Ireland's mysterious monuments, near Glandore.  

Drombeg Stone Circle  has thirteen pillars remaining (one recumbent) from the original seventeen stones. It is believed that the circle dates back to Bronze Age, but dateable material from the site reaches back only to the time of Christ or slightly before.  The foundations of  two prehistoric stone huts nearby and of some interest.  The site is located with a scenic  view of the coast.

More Places to Visit in Ireland

Click the jump bar at the bottom of this page to go directly to any of the attractions we cover in Ireland's beautiful Southwest.

Or, click the link menu on the right hand edge of this page to visit another of Ireland's scenic regions.

If you need information about another travel destination, try our Destination Guide Index or Googling ThereArePlaces.

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Dublin and Vicinity

The Southwest
Cork, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Blarney Castle and more.

The West
Galway, Connemara, Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Aran islands and more.

The Southeast
Waterford, Rock of Cashel, Jerpoint Abbey and more.

The North and Northern Ireland
Donegal, Sligo, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Belfast and more.

Introduction to Ireland













3-Day Cork, Blarney Castle, Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula Rail Tour

From Viator Tours














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