Looking for a truly immersive Irish experience while touring south east Ireland? We've taken a look at 9 must-see experiences in the region known as Ireland's Ancient East.
Capture the essence of Irish history & culture; unearth the stories behind those who emigrated and discover the industries that thrived and became world renowned. Or, sample the locally sourced produce while mingling with the locals. When all is done, you'll really get a picture of the forces that have shaped the Ireland we know today.
1. House of Waterford Crystal
When you step inside the blowing room on the Waterford Crystal factory tour, you're first confronted by noise and bustle. This is an atmosphere that has stayed more or less the same since 1783 when the factory opened.
Even today, Waterford Crystal glassware is a prized possession in many households worldwide; displayed with pride on special occasions.
It takes the attention of four highly-trained craftsmen, and their assistants, to produce each piece of crystal. With each glassware expert having achieved 8 years of training, there's a lot of experience poured into this craft.
Further along during the tour, you'll witness glass-blowing, moulding and cutting; not to mention the meticulous inspection that ensures each piece is of the highest standard.
2. Cobh Heritage Centre
They say 80 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry. Centuries of emigration has cast our genes across the globe.
Cobh, a picturesque port town situated on an island in Cork harbour, is where many of those journeys began. Countless boats have departed the piers of Cobh, carrying Irish emigrants, convicts and famine victims to foreign lands.
A visit to the Cobh Heritage Centre reveals many of these stories. It's not just emigration either. The ill-fated Titanic and Lusitania both carry strong connections with Cobh; the former made its last call here and the latter was torpedoed off the Cork coast.
For those looking to trace their family history, there is even a resident genealogist.
The Cobh Heritage Centre is situated in a beautifully restored Victorian railway station.
3. Jerpoint Park
Do you believe in Santa Claus?
Prepare to be asked this question when you visit the atmospheric ruins at Jerpoint Park in Kilkenny.
That's because it's believed that the original role model for Father Christmas is buried here. St Nicholas was born in the 3rd century AD in what is today Turkey. His generosity and gift-giving led to him becoming a patron saint of children. With a feast day on December 6th, 'Saint Nick' was the obvious model for Santa Claus.
But how did his remains end up in Ireland? Local man Joe O'Connell is your charismatic guide to unravelling this mystery. Anglo-Norman knights carried the saint's remains back from the Crusades to be interred on this site.
Besides Saint Nicholas' grave, Jerpoint Park is a treasure chest of hidden histories. There's a large ruined church and clues to the medieval town that once stood here, with a court house, a woollen mills, a tannery, a brewery, a tower house and two water wheels.
If you're interested in touring Ireland's south east with us, check out our relaxed Driftwood experience, the 6 Day Ancient Ireland Tour.
4. Jameson Experience
Whether you're a whiskey connoisseur or a history buff, you'll find the Jameson Whiskey Tour a delight. Starting in Dublin over 200 years ago, the famous distillers permanently moved to Midleton in Cork, back in 1975.
The tour includes a short film and a guided walking tour of the premises, led by friendly and informative tour guides. Everyone on the tour receives the Jameson signature drink - a whiskey, ginger and lime.
💡 Pro Tip: make sure to volunteer at the end for some whiskey comparison sampling!
5. Dunbrody Famine Ship
Conditions aboard the 'coffin ships' were bleak beyond belief. Hundreds crowded into the dark crevices of the hold, with little relief from seasickness, hunger, thirst and dysentry.
The Dunbrody Famine Ship is an exact replica of such a boat. Its route brought it from Ireland to Ellis Island in New York and back. The year of the original launch, 1845, coincided with the outbreak of the Great Irish Famine. A mass migration followed. Vessels such as the Dunbrody earned the name 'coffin ship' due to the high mortality rate among their passengers.
In New Ross, where the Dunbrody is permanently moored, you can explore this dark but vital chapter of Irish history for yourself. Actors dress in period costume to help visitors relive what life was like for those who had left everything behind to face an uncertain future. They'll even give you a small part to play in their re-enactment.
6. Waterford Greenway
Cycling has exploded in popularity in Ireland in recent years. The development of dedicated traffic-free cycle paths is one of the reasons for this trend. Greenways, as they're known here, offer safe and enjoyable routes for both local commuters and visitors.
Waterford Greenway is one such success story. If you're feeling energetic, you'll cover 46km through tunnels and over viaducts, from Dungarvan to Waterford City. There are spectacular views of the Copper Coast to be had as well as fun side trips to quaint rural Irish towns like Kilmacthomas.
Our fast and furious 5 Day Vagabond Adventure East Tour is the adventurous way to tour south east Ireland if you're the active type.
7. Hook Lighthouse
Maps with tell you that the Hook Peninsula is located in Wexford. But when visiting, it sometimes feels like the Hook is its own independent country. This flat and narrow band of green fields and rocky shore curls out into the Celtic Sea, a world apart. Even the locals speak with a distinct accent.
You simply can't visit 'the Hook' without stopping by its famous lighthouse. It's the oldest continually operational lighthouse on the planet. What's more, it's incredibly picturesque. Climb the steps to the top for famous ocean views.
Eagle-eyed visitors might even spot a whale or dolphin; the Hook is a well-known site for meeting Humpbacks.
Hook Head is also a fossil-hunter's paradise. Closely examine the rockshore to find sea creatures millions of years old.
8. Kilkenny's Rothe House
The city of Kilkenny is simply unmissable when touring south east Ireland. Known as the Marble City, Kilkenny was the historic centre of Anglo-Norman power in Ireland and the medieval capital.
Kilkenny Castle is more grandiose. St Canice's Cathedral is also worth a visit while in Kilkenny. But the Rothe House delivers a history lesson on a very human scale. This townhouse is located on the Medieval Mile. It was home to a rich and influential merchant family when the power of Kilkenny was at its height.
Visitors can climb multiple stories to learn all about daily life in 16th century Ireland. There are many original features including the stone walls, timber beams and landings, the kitchen and extensive gardens.
Nestled at the heart of Ireland's largest National Park lies Glendalough. This steep mountain valley of two lakes is not just naturally scenic, it's also home to one of Ireland's best preserved monastic sites.
Back in the early Christian era (6th century), Glendalough was an important pilgrimage site with seven holy churches. Today, visitors still flock from far and wide to view the remaining church ruins and prominent round tower, to learn about its patron saint Kevin and to walk through ancient oak forest.
Glendalough is just one jewel in the crown that is the Wicklow Mountains National Park.
Find out more about Ireland's six beautiful National Parks in our blog