For those in search of the true Irish way of life, look no further than the many picturesque villages dotted across the island of Ireland. Every village on the Emerald Isle has a story, from County Sligo to County Kerry. Here is our guide to the best and most beautiful villages in Ireland every traveler must visit, including Spanish Armada invasion sites and summer haunts of famous writers and artists.
Lying on the border between County Galway and County Mayo, Cong is an island village. There are a number of streams in the area that converge at Cong, forming the land mass of the village. The Irish name for the village is “Cúnga Fheichín” which means “Saint Feichin’s narrows,” referring to the convergence of rivers. These rivers connect Lough Corrib with Lough Mask. Cong has famous literary connections, as it was the home of Sir William Wilde, the father of Oscar Wilde, the prominent Irish playwright. Notable attractions in the village include Ashford Castle, which was converted into a hotel by the Guinness family, and the medieval Cong Abbey – which once housed the Cross of Cong, now in the National History Museum in Dublin. The town was also used a location for John Ford’s 1952 Oscar-winning film, The Quiet Man.
Located in County Kerry, Derrynane sits on the Iveragh Peninsula, and has ancient historic roots. The village is home to a Stone Age portal dolmen, which dates to around 3000BCE. There are other historic remains around the village, dating from 2000BCE. These ancient artifacts are linked to the Beaker people, who mined for copper during the Bronze Age. The village has other historic attractions such as Staigue Ringfort, and the home of famous politician and activist Daniel O’Connell. Derrynane now has a national monument and heritage park around the house. During the summer, visitors to Derrynane can take boat trips to the Skellig Islands.
Situated on the Ring of Kerry, Sneem is a charming village. It’s also known as the Knot, a translation from its Irish name. Sneem is famed for its art and sculpture, such as the work of Vivienne Roche, Alan Hall, James Scanlon and Tamara Rikman. The village is divided by the river and there are two green areas in Sneem, one to the north and one to the south. There is a great selection of restaurants, pubs and shops in the village. For those who love the great outdoors, Sneem has numerous walking and horse riding trails.
Adare is nestled on the River Maigue, just outside of Limerick city. The village is often boasted as one of Ireland’s most beautiful villages and has historic roots. It was once a marketplace during the Middle Ages, and later became part of the Dunraven estate. As a result, the village’s appearance is more planned than others in Ireland, with the architecture a mixture between traditional Irish and a more English style. Golf lovers will enjoy the village’s 18-hole golf course at the Adare Golf Club. There are also a number of old abbeys and fortresses in the village, adding to Adare’s architectural charm.
A translation from “Cloch na Rón” which means “seal’s rock,” Roundstone in County Galway is known as a creative hub in the west of Ireland. Located in the Connemara region, Roundstone and its bay have attracted a number of Irish and international artists to the area, who recreated the village’s scenic beauty in their work. Famous Irish artists who were fond of the village include Paul Henry, Jack Butler Yeats, Nano Reid and Gerard Dillon. There is an annual arts week in Roundstone which celebrates the village’s artistic creativity. There are also a number of galleries and studios in the village, such as Roundstone Ceramics in Michael Killeen Park, and the Stable Gallery at Errisbeg House.
Situated on the River Barrow, Leighlinbridge in County Carlow is a village of winding streets and ancient ruins. It’s won numerous awards for its geological beauty, and picturesque features of the village include the limestone malt houses and the 14th-century bridge over the river – believed to be one of the oldest functioning bridges in Europe. Leighlinbridge Castle is also noteworthy as it is one of the country’s earliest Norman settlements – but only ruins of the castle remain today. Leighlinbridge is also the birthplace of John Tyndall, the famous 19th-century physicist, and Myles Keogh, the notable American Civil War military officer.
A popular tourist destination in the southeast of Ireland, Dunmore East is situated on the west side of Waterford harbor. Known for its fishing and listed as one of the five National Fishery Harbors in Ireland, the village also bears evidence of Norman and Viking settlements. Numerous travelers come to Dunmore East every year for sailing, with yachts and dinghies often dotted about the harbor. There is also a golf course located on the cliff top which overlooks the bay – perhaps one of the most scenic golf courses in the country. For food lovers, there are many seafood restaurants with the most tantalizing dishes to try. The annual Guinness International Bluegrass festival takes place in August, so there is something for music lovers in Dunmore East, too.
In east County Clare on the River Shannon, the village of Killaloe has connections to ancient Irish history, such as the 6th-century monastic site of Saint Lua and the 10th-century settlement of Brian Boru. Killaloe also has literary connections, as it was the hometown of Phineas Finn, the protagonist from two of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels – Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux. Killaloe and the surrounding area is a popular destination for hill-walking, with many trails to follow.
Aughrim in County Wicklow is famed for its beauty. Situated where the Ow and Derry Rivers meet to become the Aughrim River, the village won the Tidy Towns competition for tidiest village from 1996 until 2007. The word Aughrim translates as “horse ridge,” and may refer to the scenic valley that surrounds the village. Aughrim was once a granite mining village, and much of the village’s architecture reflects this – many of the terraced houses are faced with granite. The Rednagh Bridge in the village was also the site of a battle between Crown forces and rebels during the 1798 rebellion. Due to its location, Aughrim is also a notable spot for walkers and explorers.
Near the border of Cavan and just north of Kells – the home of the Book of Kells – is the village of Moynalty. On the Owenroe River, Moynalty was built during the 19th century and is believed to have been based on a Swiss design. However, the village was only constructed on one side of the river, and it wasn’t until the following century when the village spread across to the other side. Moynalty is famed for its lace-making industry, with the wife of King George IV using lace from the village. Moynalty hosts an annual steam thrashing festival, which originally began in 1975.
As the waves lap along the shores of Lough Leane, any Ring of Kerry traveller will be tempted to spend ages surrounded by Killarney’s serene landscape. The colourful village of Killarney is far from an undiscovered Irish gem – but there are ways to enjoy Ireland’s adventure capital aside from touring the 15th-century Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey. Make like the elusive red deer and hide away from the crowds in Killarney National Park – adventure lovers can hike to the top of Carrauntoohil, abseil down the Gap of Dunloe, and kayak the three Lakes of Killarney. Those who prefer to take it slow will love soaking up the lush greenery on a leisurely guided hawk walk with a local falconer.
Westport proves that you don’t need to visit the Mediterranean to fall in love with a seaside riviera. Along the rugged Wild Atlantic Way, humpback whales and basking sharks splash around the Clew Bay islands while visitors kite surf, snorkel and sail nearby. On land, the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail and Great Western Greenway offer miles of walking and cycling solitude. A monument to the Great Famine sits at the foot of Croagh Patrick as a solemn reminder of the country’s history. But if the kids aren’t interested in a history lesson, the Westport House is a fun family amusement park within an 18th-century residence.
A day trip to the Cliffs of Moher is a must for most visitors to Ireland, but why not spend the night in Doolin and discover everything the traditional music capital of Ireland has to offer? A ferry ride to the Aran Islands to view the Plassy Shipwreck is an unforgettable experience. Watch the lamb and cattle graze around the fertile rock of the Burren in the winter, or cool off in the summer under the hanging stalactite of Doolin Cave. Delicious local plates and pints are available throughout the town – just follow the sounds of fiddles, flutes and harps to find a perfect pairing of traditional Irish music and menus.
Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.
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