Ireland - Hidden Gems on the Emerald Isle

Tourism Ireland has compiled a list of hidden gems across Ireland.  Check out these suggestions below, and return to Ireland when the time is right. 

North of Ireland

Secret wonders abound in the north of Ireland. Meander from Donegal to Down and discover all that this place has to offer – castles in Antrim, the Aurora Borealis in Donegal, ancient burial grounds in Armagh: oh, and the origins of some very famous writers...

Inishowen is remote, beautiful – and an ideal place to witness the Northern Lights in Ireland, especially from GrianĂ¡n of Aileach, a huge 2,000-year-old ring fort sitting 250 metres/820ft above sea level. When you've had your fill of wonder, pop over to Buncrana to the delicious Beach House restaurant, which serves award-winning food in an incredible location.

The Causeway Coast boasts epic sights that are famous the world over, including the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. One of the unsung heroes, though, has to be Dunseverick Castle. A dramatic and crumbling ruin, Dunseverick’s location on top of a cliff adds a gravitas worthy of its eventful past. St Patrick is thought to have visited in the 5th century, a Viking invasion came to its door in 870 AD; and the castle was captured and destroyed in the 1600s.

Looking for a wild countryside experience? Check out the gorgeous National Trust site of Divis and the Black Mountain. Keep an eye out for free-roaming cattle in green fields, wild horses and badger setts and rare birds such as peregrine falcons are known to frequent this spot. Pick a clear day, and your view will include Strangford Lough, the Mourne Mountains, the Sperrin Mountains and even Scotland. Bliss.

Named after the pagan goddess Queen Macha, who, according to legend, ruled for over a decade in this part of the world, Navan Fort (Emain Macha in Irish) was once the high seat of the kings and queens of Ulster. Archaeologists love this place, thanks to finds such as the 2,500-year-old skull of a Barbary macaque monkey, which found its way there from North Africa.

The shimmering heart of the Mourne Mountains, the Silent Valley reservoir is a magnet for busy minds yearning for solitude. Ringed by mountains, the man-made lake isn't called "silent" for nothing. The tranquillity here makes it a perfect spot for chilling out and reflecting on your journey.

Ireland's Ancient East

Ireland's Ancient East is renowned for its long history of amazing stories – ask any local about the area you're in and you'll see what we mean. But three spots in County Louth and County Kildare take the crown for quirky stories you'll never forget.

The "magic road" is legendary among locals in Jenkinstown, County Louth. Take a car to this unassuming little spot, stop at what is affectionately known as "the Big Mushroom", shift gear into neutral and prepare to defy gravity – literally – as your car rolls uphill!

The Wonderful Barn in County Kildare, shaped like a corkscrew, was built to create employment in the local area, all the way back in 1743. Towering above its surroundings at 22 metres/72ft high, the barn hides a crow's nest viewing gallery – a serious feat of engineering.

Once a monastic retreat (that was ransacked during an 18th century rebellion), Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park is now a living testament to Ireland’s peatlands. A biodiversity tour introduces the amazing flora and fauna of the area – watch out for the Irish hare!

Wild Atlantic Way

There's magic in the air between Mayo and Clare – stony bridges and unusual churches are just two of the curiosities on this part of the Wild Atlantic Way.  
West of Louisburgh in the rural heart of County Mayo is a curious bridge that was made to bring walkers over a wide, shallow river. Using a design called “clapper”, Roman in origin, the bridge has 37 arches with a flat slab of limestone resting on smaller stony piers. While it may look ancient, Mayo’s bridge – the largest of its kind in Ireland at 130 metres/50ft long – was created around the 1840s by a local Church of Ireland community. 

Cnoc Suain (meaning "quiet hill") is a restored 17th century village in Spiddal set in 200 acres of Connemara’s rolling bogland. Here you'll find an ancient patch of ground, where perfectly preserved bog bodies have been found. It is also currently home to the wonder plant, sphagnum moss, which can hold over 20 times its own body weight in water.    

It’s 1839 in a small parish in West Clare and the local population is suffering with a cholera outbreak. A priest called Father Michael Meehan is sent to attend to dying victims, but finds himself without a church as local landlords refuse to allow one to be built on their lands. Father Meehan’s response? In 1852, the determined priest arranges for a local carpenter to build a wooden box on wheels, which is rolled on to the beach at low tide to give mass to the locals. Eventually in 1857, a solid church is built, known as the Church of the Little Ark. The original “Little Ark” has lasted all this time, and can be visited in it new home within the church – a testament to Father Meehan's fortitude.

The beautiful Blasket Islands – which were abandoned in the 1950s – are accessed by what has to be one of the most picturesque harbours in Ireland, Dunquin. Blasket Islanders would arrive here having crossed the turbulent Atlantic Ocean in their wooden currachs (traditional boats), making the harbour a vital access point for supplies. Today, you can now catch a ferry to the island from Dunquin, and the harbour has been remodelled. Afterwards, take shelter in The Blasket Centre in Dunquin village, where you can find out more about the life of the islanders.    

Cork’s idyllic Gougane Barra Forest Park is home to St Finbarr's Oratory, close to a former 6th century monastery. 
 Dursey Island off the coast of County Cork is accessible by Ireland’s only cable car – and one of the few cable cars in Europe that traverses open sea. If you can handle looking down, you may spot dolphins and whales playing amongst the waves!  

Find more information about visiting Ireland.