There’s something for everyone on the new Suir Blueway in Tipperary
With its rich history and myriad of outdoor pursuits, there’s a lot more to this county than hurlers and horses
Kayaking on the Suir Blueway.
As far as I was concerned, Tipperary was synonymous with a famous song, some pretty good hurlers, a colourful past and a lot of well-bred horses. I would never have considered it as a place to head to for a weekend away, and not only because it’s a long way.
The trip began in Cahir with lunch at the Lava Rock restaurant. I know these are not fresh water creatures, but being so close to the water, I opted for a starter of potted crab, followed by baked salmon in a roast fennel sauce.
The next stop on the itinerary was due to be nearby Cahir Castle, but a longer jaunt was necessary to walk off lunch, so we headed off along the riverside towards Swiss Cottage. The short 2km trail is a fabulous walk for families. The route has been transformed into a magical wonderland for children, with toadstools and fairy doors lining the woodland path, alongside sculptures for the bigger kids to climb aboard and become a knight riding a dragon, or king sitting on his throne.
The 200-year-old gentry’s folly at Swiss Cottage has an extraordinary history. Noble families of the region would come here to relax and enjoy the simplicity of nature before heading by horse and carriage back to their main abode.
We headed out into the garden to marvel at the front of the house – its curved roof and elaborate design combined with the riot of colourful flowers was like something from a fairytale. With the sun shining and a wooden bench tempting us to tarry awhile, we had to tear ourselves away to head back along the path to Cahir Castle.
One of the largest and best-preserved medieval castles in Ireland, it was built by Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond. An audio-visual tour offers an insight into what life might have been like for the inhabitants and protectors of this incredible relic of Irish history, located on an island in the middle of the river Suir.
Having explored every nook and cranny of the castle and climbed up and down many winding staircases, we headed for St Patrick’s Well. It would be easy to miss this serene oasis. Hidden by foliage, the only hint of it being a place of interest is the space for a couple of cars to park at the side of the road. Stone steps lead down to one of the most sacred sites in the country, and waiting for us is David, a local man who voluntarily looks after the well and its surrounds. St Patrick is said to have bathed here almost 1,600 years ago, and baptised some of the local people in the holy water.
Time of St Patrick
In the centre of the shallow pond where the waters flow from the well is a stone cross that is said to have been there since the time of St Patrick. Having taken a glass of the water from the well and been assured of its healing and restorative properties, we followed in the footsteps of the many pilgrims by bathing our feet in the icy cold, clear water, walking to the centre of the pond and three times around the cross.
Next stop was the Anglo-Norman town of Clonmel, where we spent the night at Hotel Minella, in a fabulous room with balcony overlooking the river, after a delicious dinner at Befani’s restaurant.
The following morning we headed back into town to meet local historian Colm Fennessey for a walking tour of its many historic sites, starting at the Main Guard. Built as a courthouse in 1675, this imposing and beautiful building (which was funded by James Butler, Duke of Ormond) is just a five-minute walk from the Blueway at Suir Island. Redeveloped in 1810, it reminds visitors of the colourful history of the town, most famous for its resistance to the infamous siege by Oliver Cromwell in 1650.
Other highlights included the walled defences, Old St Mary’s Church, the West Gate, the Franciscan Friary and some of the many mills which relied on the river as an important means of transporting grain across the country. Between 1775 and 1840, the use of the river for cheap transport helped to make Clonmel one of the most commercial and industrial towns in the country.
The tour ended at Hickeys Bakery – which has been run by four generations of the Hickey family since the early 1900s – for a slice of their famous brack.
Refreshed and ready for the next stop, we headed to Carrick-on-Suir, the medieval market town where the Butler family rose to power in the 13th century. It is home of the stunning Ormond Castle, a Tudor manor house built by Thomas Butler in anticipation of a visit from his cousin, Queen Elizabeth 1. It is the only major unfortified building of its kind in the country, with beautifully preserved decor, period furniture and artefacts.
After exploring the pretty grounds and the town itself, we headed for a riverside walk in Kilsheelan before lunch at the Dove Hill Irish Design Centre.
The Suir Blueway is a fantastic way of exploring what is on our doorstep – with well-managed bike routes, walking trails and for those who want to get closer to the water, kayaking and paddle-boarding facilities, there’s something for everyone.