Despite the difficulties of the past year there are plenty of new, exciting attractions around Ireland this summer. Here, we find opportunities to interact with and better comprehend the rich tapestry of history, heritage and natural wonders adorning our small island.
Derrynaflan, Co Tipperary
Shrouded by the mists of time, Derrynaflan is a fertile island surrounded by bog that remained undisturbed for centuries. Then, Michael Webb and his son visited with a metal detector in 1980 and made a momentous discovery. They uncovered the Derrynaflan Hoard: an ornate chalice, silver paten, and a liturgical strainer that represented the highest expression of ecclesiastical art from early medieval Ireland. You can visit this mystical island, which has been made accessible as part one of the Littleton Labyrinth project. This will eventually create100km of cycleways and walkways around a former Bord na Móna Bog. Park at the Horse and Jockey Hotel (just off the M8) and follow the signs from the ball alley behind. You go left and right and then left along a gravel path before swinging left again on a rustic track to reach mystical Derrynaflan. This is a beguiling place to linger by the monastic remains and absorb the big, lonesome skies and emptiness of it all before returning to your start point after a walking time of about two hours.
The Slieve Bloom Bike Trail, Co Offaly
Bearing a magnificent appellation evoking images of blossom bedecked hillsides, the Slieve Bloom Mountains have, nevertheless, punched far below their weight in terms of visitor numbers. This is now set to change with the coming of the new Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trail. A new stone-built trackway, it is set to traverse the mountain range from north to south. The first section is now open with the trailhead located in the Offaly village of Kinnity. If you would like to experience the unforgettable thrill of whizzing down a mountain trail with wind buffeting your hair, biking the Blooms is just the thing for you. There are two trails: a moderate, 10km blue track to suit novices and a 22km red track for those with more experience. Bikes hire and information from: midirelandadventure.ie.
Wildlands Adventure Park, Co Galway
Wildlands is a new state-of-the-art adventure experience that came onstream in August 2020. Nestling at the gateway to Connemara, it is scenically situated in mature woodland beside the shores of Ballyquirke Lake. Located just 15 minutes from Galway City on the Clifden road, the Park provides a wild and wonderful, all-weather experience for every age group, ranging from thrill-seekers to those in pursuit of serene woodland walks. There are a new range of activities for the 3-6 year age group too. The main attraction is the Zip 'n' Trek course which soars 15 metres above ground and stretches for over a kilometre, but there is also a heart-stopping Tarzan swing, a 13-metre "freefall" and an indoor climbing wall. Young children are taken on an adventure through the Wildlands wooded areas while cheerfully guided by staff. Sessions include den building, campfire lighting and games on discovering nature. Afterwards, visitors can relax with homemade food from the Olive Tree Kitchen, while enjoying a panoramic view across the Park. Information: wildlands.ie.
The Suir Blueway, Co Tipperary
Linking the towns of Cahir, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir. the new Suir Blueway offers an idyllic 21km cycle/walkway and a 53km kayaking and canoe trail. For waterborne recreationalists the River Suir embarks on a great ox-bow beyond Cahir before encountering the ramparts of the Knockmealdown Mountains and being forced north to Clonmel. Here, is the perfect stretch of river to appreciate the serenity of this memorable waterway. Less experienced kayakers will enjoy the easy three-hour paddle from Cahir to Ardfinnan. Proficient paddlers will relish the more challenging waters beyond Ardfinnan and especially the new, customised slalom course on the approach to Clonmel. Next day, a perfect short break can be topped off by cycling, walking or paddling the remainder of the Blueway to Carrick-on-Suir. For tuition or guided kayaking/canoeing trips on the Blueway visit: pureadventure.ie.
The National Famine Way, Strokestown to Dublin
The year known as Black 47 was the darkest in Irish history. It was then, with the Famine at its most deadly, that a group of almost 1,500 walked from Strokestown, Co Roscommon to Custom House Quay, Dublin. Their onward fare to Canada was being paid by landlord Denis Mahon, of Strokestown House, who wanted to rid himself of what he saw as troublesome tenants. Forced to emigrate by what became known as coffin ships, these tragic souls are now being commemorated by a new 165km heritage trail, linking Strokestown to EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin. Mostly following the tow-path of the Royal Canal, walkers or cyclists are invited to obtain the new Passport/Guide and record their progress with 27 stage stamps along the way. This entitles them to a completion certificate at journeys end. Visit: nationalfamineway.ie.
The Games of Thrones Studio Tour, Banbridge, Co Down
Since Northern Ireland was chosen as the principal location for making the HBO series, Game of Thrones, the place has become a Mecca for those referred to as "thronies". Coming from around the world to visit the filming sites, thronies are enthralled by places such as the Dark Hedges, Murlough Bay and Cushendun Caves. Northern Ireland has, however, lacked a dedicated centre catering specifically for their needs. This is now being put right with the scheduled opening this autumn of the new Games of Thrones Studio Tour. Linen Mill Studios, one of the main production locations, is set to reopen this coming August as a £24m tourist attraction telling the story of the immensely popular TV phenomenon and is projected to attract 600,000 annual visits. The Studio tour will feature sets, props and costumes used in the series, with visitors also enabled to digitally interact with the actors.
The Beara Bridle Way, Co Cork
Bridle paths are two-a-penny in the British countryside, but had failed to feature in the Irish landscape. With the creation of a new horse-riding trail in West Cork this has now changed. Traversing an enchantingly beautiful peninsula, the Beara Bridleway is Ireland's first dedicated horse trail. It links Clonglaskin near Castletownbere with the extravagantly colourful village of Allihies, before continuing along an old miners track to the tiny hamlet of Urhan with several diversions to viewing points en route. It you would like to explore this sublime landscape on horseback, Annie O'Neill of Lois Lara Riding Stables can provide your steed and kit you out. Half-day guided treks lead to the Urhan Valley or the magnificent viewing point of Gour. For experienced riders, a full day outing involves a round trip over the hills to Allihies, where lunch is provided, before circling above Kenmare Bay and returning by of the scenic Urhan Valley. Visit: lioslarastables.com.
Dursey Boat Trips, Co Cork
Deep in the furthest southwest of Ireland, a new business is making waves while exploring one of the most spectacular Irish coastlines. Less than two years ago, Paul O Shea and Jason Sheehan set up Dursey Boat Trips, offering visitors the opportunity to discover the remote, island-strewn waters off the West Cork coast. Operating from Garnish Pier at the tip of the Beara Peninsula and already reopened for 2021, they offer an exhilarating, spray dappled, ocean ride past the rugged cliffs of Dursey Island which is most famous for its unique cable car connection to the mainland. Then, it is on to the highpoint of the day, the remarkable Bull and Cow islands and their spectacular sea arches. In good weather, the boat goes under one of these arches. There are also tales of a great massacre on Dursey Island and the heroic rescue of the six light-keepers when their lighthouse on Calf Island was smashed by a storm in 1881. Information: durseyboattrips.com.
Wild Ireland, Co Donegal
There was a time when wolves, bears, lynx and wild boar freely roamed the Irish countryside, but climate change and deforestation eventually did for them. The good news is, however, that they are now back and inhabiting a small Donegal woodland along with native red deer and other animals such as monkeys, Arctic foxes and snowy owls. Brainchild of solicitor Killian McLaughlin, Wild Ireland, which reopened earlier this month, is primarily a sanctuary where abused, neglected and rescued animals live out their lives within a natural habitat. Located on the Inishowen Peninsula, the sanctuary offers an opportunity for visitors to step back in time and get close and personal with creatures of the wild that have now returned to their ancestral home. Visitors to Wild Ireland are educated about the plight of animals and the abuse many of them suffer at the hands of man. In this way, the sanctuary hopes to inspire a new generation of conservationists to ensure the preservation of wildlife in the future. Information: wildireland.org.
Boyle to Lough Key Cycleway, Co Roscommon
Completed in 2020, the Boyle to Lough Key Cycleway links one of the most historic towns in the West with Ireland's most renowned forest park. You can walk or indeed cycle this scenic 9km route which takes you past the local marina, along the banks of the Boyle Canal and on through sublime natural woodland before finishing magnificently in Lough Key Forest Park. Here, there is a choice of activities, including boat hire, a tree canopy walk, a zip wire and a viewing tower. Or you can simply take the opportunity to follow the 8km trail to Drumman's Island before enjoying refreshments afterwards in the Lakeside Cafe overlooking island strewn Lough Key. Then, it is just a question of completing the perfect day by walking or cycling back to Boyle. Information: visitroscommon.ie.
John G O’Dwyer’s latest book titled, 50 Best Easy and Moderate Irish Walks, is due out from Currach Books this June