Off the beaten track in Munster Vales

For foodies and adrenaline junkies alike, this beautiful landscape spanning Cork, Limerick and Tipperary is packed with hidden gems

 

My eyes are closed and my arms are wrapped around a lichen-coated trunk in the middle of a mossy-floored forest on the side of a mountain. I’m hugging a tree in the Galtees, a mountain range that spans Cork, Tipperary and Limerick in an area known as Munster Vales. 

Caroline Conroy and Joan Whelan of Yoga Walks Ireland, who both live at the foot of the Galtee Mountains, specialise in helping people to connect to the rejuvenating powers of nature by hosting yoga walks of the mountains trails they both love and know so well. It’s under Conroy and Whelan’s influence that I find myself – willingly, I should add – hugging a tree. Their dream is to open a yoga centre based in the mountains because they believe these mountains are special. “There is simply a unique beauty here that demands us to be present,” says Conroy.

This is yoga in the thick of it; there are views of Galteemore while you stretch into a downward-facing dog, meditation exercises on the banks of the Attycran river and warrior poses overlooking green fields full of cows chewing the cud. Yoga with Conroy and Whelan is just one avenue for connecting to the restorative power that lies within this beautiful landscape and there is so much to discover here. Inspired by the success of Fáilte Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, a tourism initiative supported by local authorities and Fáilte Ireland, Munster Vales was set up in in 2014 to help highlight exactly what this region has to offer. Its aim is to support the local economy by promoting Munster Vales as a domestic and international holiday destination.

Tríona O’Mahony, Munster Vales destination and marketing manager, is working alongside more than 150 businesses in the area, from accommodation providers to activity centres to historical guides to food and drink providers, to attract visitors from home and abroad. “Munster Vales is based around the mountain ranges of the Comeraghs, the Knockmealdowns, the Galtees, the Ballyhouras and the Nagles,” explains O’Mahony.

“The initiative was set up to highlight the vast array of walking routes available, mountain biking, scenic cycling and driving routes, kayaking and outdoor activities, heritage towns and sites, a strong food and drinks offering coupled with unique festivals and events in the area.”

History runs deep

History runs deep in Munster Vales, and tour guide and Viking re-enactor Trevor McCarthy is one of the region’s most passionate storytellers. “When I was a kid, I was fascinated by stories told by my grandfather,” says McCarthy, who is from Kilmallock near the Ballyhoura Mountains in Co Limerick. “It’s easy to pretend you are the hero of the story when you play amongst the castles and ruins of Kilmallock,” he says. His grandfather’s stories fired McCarthy’s passion for history and storytelling, and today McCarthy runs Kilmallock Medieval Tours to show visitors the incredibly rich heritage that his hometown has to offer. We’re talking white knights, medieval mansions, castles, priories, poets, martyrs and battles.

 McCarthy has that special gift of being able to put the humanity into history, putting facts into a perspective that enables the listener to connect to the past. Walking around Kilmallock with McCarthy is like being guided behind a curtain of modernity and getting a peek into what life was like for people here in times gone by. “I feel like Kilmallock is the greatest medieval story that is yet to be told,” he says, and the way he tells his hometown’s story is indeed great.

Aoife Nic Giolla Coda and her father Micheál Mac Giolla Coda are the expert beekeepers of the Galtee Honey Farm, whose 150 hives stretch across three counties over the Galtee Vee Valley. The MacGiolla Codas are just one of the great food-producing families based in the Munster Vales, which also includes the Grubbs at Cashel Farmhouse Cheese in Co Tipperary, with their world-renowned Cashel Blue and Crozier Blue, the McCarthy’s of Kanturk in Co Cork with their fit-for-a-queen black pudding, and Victor and Breda O’Sullivan of Bluebell Falls goats’ cheese based near Charleville in Co Cork. Nic Giolla Coda grew up on the honey farm but moved away after school, eventually starting a family of her own in Co Clare. The close-knit community of the Munster Vales – and the bees – called her back and she eventually moved home with her husband and children in tow to take over the business from her father.

‘Picturesque region’

“Being off the beaten track also means in many ways that the region is still a hidden gem. Visitors often say that they never realised what a picturesque region this is,” says Nic Giolla Coda. “One of the pubs in our village changed hands recently and the new owner said to us one night, ‘ye don’t realise how lucky ye are around here to be off the beaten track’. That is one of the reasons it’s so appealing for me to live here. The Munster Vales region is made up of small, quiet close-knit country communities. People are easygoing and take you as you are.”

This area really feels undiscovered by the mainstream and is off the beaten track, yet its gems are very accessible. And isn’t discovering something new in your own country what makes local tourism so special?

“What’s wonderful about Kilmallock’s place in Munster Vales is that we are part of something that pulls together the best of what Ireland has to offer,” says McCarthy. “Thousands of years of heritage for the culturally curious. The rich landscape produces amazing produce for foodies looking for authentic local dishes. Even the adrenaline junkies have mountain biking and surfing. All this in a relatively small area.”

What to do

Get active

Caroline Conroy and Joan Whelan of Yoga Walks Ireland will be leading yoga walks in the Galtee Mountains on October 21st, November 25th and December 27th. They start at 10am, they’re open to everyone and cost €10 per person. To book, contact Caroline at 087-122 0116 or via the Yoga Walks Ireland Facebook page.

The 25th Nire Valley Autumn Walking Festival (nirevalley.com) takes place on October 12th to 14th in Ballymacarbry, west Waterford. The loop walks of the stunning Glen of Aherlow and Knockmealdowns are always open, as is the Waterford Greenway.

For those who prefer other modes of transport, there’s Blackwater Boating with Denis Murray (blackwaterboating.ie) based in Waterford, and Ballyhoura Horse Trekking (ballyhourahorsetrekking.ie) in Co Limerick. Knockmealdown Active (knockmealdownactive.com) is a good resource for visitors looking for things to do in the area surrounding the Knockmealdown Mountains.

Eat

Stop off at Mikey Ryan’s in Cashel for excellent gastropub fare in a country-chic setting. Emily’s of Fethard is a charming deli and tea shop where everything is homemade. For baked goods, Hickey’s Bakery in Clonmel is the place to go. Lava Rock Restaurant in Cahir has been delighting locals and visitors since opening in 2016. For food lovers looking to get closer to their food, the visitor centres at Cashel Farmhouse Cheese (cashelblue.com), Ballyhoura Apple Farm (ballyhouraapplefarm.com) in Co Limerick and The Apple Farm (theapplefarm.com) in Cahir, Co Tipperary, are all worth a detour.

Learn

Trevor McCarthy gives medieval tours in Kilmallock every Saturday at 12pm and 3pm, meeting at King’s Castle on Sarsfield Street. Adults are €10, students and OAPs are €5, and under 10s are free. Group discounts are available for groups of 10 people or more (kilmallockmedievaltours.com).

Where to stay

Family friendly

Charleville Park Hotel has a two-night mid-term family bed and breakfast special from €99 per night for two adults and two children sharing. There’s even a kids’ disco on Halloween night.

Glamping in the Galtee Mountains

For €80 a night via Airbnb, you can rent a yurt for up to four people, including a continental breakfast for two. The yurt is in the garden of a family home, and owner Bryce is on hand to help you fire up the wood-burning stove to keep the yurt cosy. If the yurt is fully booked, you can also stay in Bryce’s Art Truck, a converted and fully refurbished horse box with a marvellous view. (airbnb.ie/rooms/20274465).

A special treat

Longueville House in Mallow, Co Cork, is a country house with an award-winning apple orchard and distillery. They can also organise falconry, fishing and equestrian activities during your stay. A Cider Lovers Getaway includes bed, breakfast and dinner, a cider tour and tastings for two people and starts at €335 per stay (www.longuevillehouse.ie).

The Green family at Ballyvolane House in Fermoy, Co Cork, offers bed and breakfast in the main house from €200 per stay. There’s also bell-tent glamping options for those who want to get a little closer to the countryside (ballyvolanehouse.ie).

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