Castles, Caves, Camping, Cycling…So Many Things to do in the Munster Vales

The Vee Drive Munster Vales

We cycled, swam, foraged for seaweed and even went axe throwing! We explored castles, caves and a cottage – all while staying in a wonderful eco camp. With 96 attractions and 1,100km of walking trails, check out my top things to do in the Munster Vales.

 

With both of my parents from Tralee, I spent countless summer holidays in Kerry. My brother has been living in Cork for the past 30 years too, so between visits to Cork and Kerry, I reckon that I have driven through the Munster Vales over 200 times. I recall driving through Cahir and seeing Cahir Castle, but never stopping. Mitchelstown Cave was another marker for me – when we passed the sign I knew it would not be long until we reached our destination.
 

 

 
When Munster Vales asked me to spend a weekend enjoying some of its top attractions, I was delighted to see both Cahir Castle and Mitchelstown Cave on the list. The Munster Vales stretches over 1,100km through Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford and incorporates five different mountain ranges. It is also home to some of the top things to do in Ireland, as well as some hidden gems.  

zipline munster vales ballyhass lakes

Cahir Castle and Swiss Cottage: Cahir, Tipperary

Cahir Castle was our first stop and, contrary to what the song says, it is not a long long way to Tipperary – it is less than two hours from Dublin. Cahir is a delightful town. Located on the banks of the River Suir, with colourful streets, and the medieval Cahir Castle, it was a great start to our adventure in the Munster Vales.

cahir castle tipperary - one of the top things to do in the munster vales
 

 

 
Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles. Its location on a rocky island in the middle of the river adds an air of prosperity to the town. The castle fell into the hands of the Anglo-Norman Butler family in the 14th century and, despite many sieges, retains much of its original structure. There are some small exhibitions inside, as well as an audio-visual show, but it was the dining hall that impressed me the most. It is hard not to notice the 10,000-year-old giant elk antlers that grace the far wall as you enter the room. The windows are eye-catching too, and reflect the light beautifully. This medieval room holds traditional music sessions every Tuesday evening – a wonderful experience, I am sure.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The 2km walkway from Cahir Castle to the Swiss Cottage is a delight in itself, and is the start of the Suir Blueway, a relatively new experience with over 56km of walking trails, 53km of paddling experiences and a 21km cycle route. Swiss Cottage was built in the early 1800s to a design by the famous architect John Nash (of Buckingham Palace fame). It has been beautifully restored and the short guided tour gives a wonderful insight into wealthy lifestyle at that time.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Nire Valley Eco Camp

We left Swiss Cottage for a short drive to the newly opened Nire Valley Eco Camp, our home for the next two nights. We were warmly greeted by Ruth, Paul and their rescue dog, Milo. As we walked through the meadow to get to our cabin, I knew immediately I was going to like it here. The views of the Comeragh Mountains were spectacular, and all five cabins had acres of space around them – it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Our cabin was beautifully furnished with a large comfortable bed and a bathroom with shower and toilet. The kids loved their beds on the mezzanine level. The first thing that struck me was the heat: the cabins were roasting inside. I was interested to learn about how these eco-cabins were built. All of the electricity comes from solar panels, and hot water for showers and heating in winter comes from a biogas gas boiler. Ruth and Paul chose specific locally sourced materials, not only because of their resistance to rot, but they didn’t need any paint or chemicals to preserve them.
 

 

 

 
Another thing that sets it apart from other glamping sites is the breakfast! Ruth arrived every morning with a large picnic basket full of delights. All the foods were locally sourced, with free-range eggs, delicious fruit and hot, freshly baked brown bread. On our second morning Ruth made fresh pancake mix for the kids – just because it was Sunday! We were able to sit outside and enjoy a delicious breakfast in the morning sunshine. It was wonderful – although unfortunately during the month of August the wasps wanted to join us for breakfast too!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Nire Valley Eco Camp is located near the small town of Ballymacarbry. There are two pubs in the village, but not too many restaurant choices. We dined in the Galileo Cafe in Clonmel, a good family friendly restaurant with a BYOB policy. A little closer to the camp is Hanora’s Cottage. This is a traditional Irish Country House with a restaurant on site and is less than 10 minutes drive from Nire Valley Eco Camp. The room was homely and the food was hearty – they even served potatoes in their jackets! They were nice and floury, just as my Mum would make. They make their own breads, sauces, dressings, chutneys, jams and ice-creams on site, and grow a lot of their own produce. All other ingredients are locally sourced. The seafood chowder and seared Kilmore scallops with Inch House black pudding were both tasty starters, and although main courses were good too, the portion sizes are huge. 

hanoras cottage nire valley munster vales

Nire Valley Eco Camp is ideally located for exploring the Munster Vales. It is only 30 minutes drive from Cahir and just over an hour to our next stop, Ballyhass Lakes in Cork.
 

 

 

Ballyhass Lakes, Mallow, Cork

We had a great time at Ballyhass Adventure Centre – the staff and the facilities are superb. After our nerve- wracking experience at Center Parcs, I don’t know how we managed to get back on another zipline. The staff at Ballyhass Adventure Centre were so encouraging and, well, basically gave us no choice! We had to take a zipline across the lake to try crate-stacking. This was a new activity to me, but was such good fun. Luke and Alex tried it first and then myself and Cormac followed. We had to pile crates on top of each other while tied to high ropes. The object is to try to stack as many crates as possible on top of each other without falling off. Needless to say we didn’t last too long, but we had great fun trying!

crate staking ballyhass lakes
 

 

 
We then spent a little time in the Aquapark, one of the most popular activities available. There are numerous inflatable slides and bouncing castles on the lake, and it is suitable for children age six and upwards. We had the best fun on the ringos though, another first for all of us. We had to hold on to inflatable rings while we were zipped across the surface of the water by a cable at speeds of 25km per hour! 

ballyhass lakes - one of the top things to do in the munster vales with kids
 

 

 
There are over 20 different outdoor activities here, including wakeboarding, kayaking, raft building and high ropes. We also tried axe throwing – another first! I was surprised at how easy it was to hit the target, and it’s a great way to let off steam. Needless to say, this is not suitable for children.

axe throwing munster

You can choose just to use the Aquapark, €20 per hour for adults and €15 for children, or choose various packages with multiple activities. Many require a minimum of eight people so it is best to check with the website before booking.

ballyhass lakes - one of the top things to do in the munster vales with kids
 

 

 

Mitchelstown Cave, Tipperary

The first thing I learned about Mitchelstown Cave, is that they are actually in Tipperary – I always assumed it was in Cork! I was delighted I finally got a chance to visit this landmark that I had passed by so many times. One of Europe’s best showcaves, Mitchelstown Cave is really impressive. The short 30-minute guided tour makes it suitable to visit for both adults and children. Found accidentally by a farmer in 1833, the entrance to the Cave remains in the same spot and tickets are still purchased in the same farmhouse near the cave entrance.

mitchelstown cave munster vales
 

 

 
After descending 88 steep steps, we arrived into the first of three massive caverns. It reminded me of my school days: there were hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites, one of the few things I remembered from geography class! Concerts are held here throughout the year. The superb acoustics and the natural auditorium must ensure a unique experience.

mitchelstown cave one of the top things to do in the munster vales

 

Dungarvan and The Waterford Greenway, Waterford

After a wonderful two nights in Nire Valley Eco camp, it was time to check-out and drive to our next destination in the Munster Vales, County Waterford. We took The Vee drive, a spectacular route that overlooks three counties, valleys and mountain ranges. Despite my constant requests to stop for photos, we still managed to arrive in Dungarvan in time for lunch.

The Vee drive in the Munster Vales
 

 

 
Dungarvan is the foodie capital of Waterford. We dined in 360 Cookhouse, which is located beside King John’s Castle and the WW1 Memorial Wall, in Dungarvan’s culinary quarter. It was the best meal we had throughout our stay. It is extremely family friendly. Mini Connect 4 and Dominoes are supplied at the table to discourage the use of mobiles, and they even allow pets! I would recommend 360 Cookhouse for couples and singles too. The food and service were excellent and the prices were reasonable. I loved the Castletownbere Dressed Crab and Cormac still talks about the Beetroot & Blackwater Gin Cured Salmon Gravalax – and they were just the starters! Our mains were tasty too, as was the Chocolate Crunchie Mousse with Vanilla Ice Cream.

360 cookhouse dungarvan
 

 

 
Dungarvan is the finishing point of the Waterford Greenway. This walking and cycle track stretches for 46km from Waterford City to Dungarvan, and I had wanted to cycle it since it opened in 2017. With two kids in tow, 46km wasn’t an option, so we drove to Durrow and opted for the 10km route back to Dungarvan. We rented our bikes from TheGreenwayman.com in Durrow. Garvan Cummins, the owner, is one of the original campaigners for the Waterford Greenway and also happens to offer some the best rates. Bike-hire is priced at just €15 per adult and €10 per child per day. Some of his competitors charge €25 per day.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Garvan kitted us out with the correct bikes and cycled with us on the start of our journey, pointing out some of the highlights on the route. This short route from Durrow to Dungarvan is often described as the most picturesque, and it wasn’t long before I could see why. We cycled along Clonea Strand, underneath the Ballyvoyle Tunnel and through a wonderful fairy trail. We also crossed the Ballyvoyle viaduct, which was blown up in 1922 during the civil war. Garvan encouraged us to cycle the opposite direction for about 1km to see the Durrow Viaduct too, as well as the ruins of the Durrow train station. We all really enjoyed our cycle, despite a sudden downpour towards the end. This part of the track is so easy to cycle, we practically glided for about 4km.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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We arrived into Dungarvan feeling extremely satisfied and Garvan was there to meet us to bring us back to Durrow to pick up our car. This is a wonderful service and amazing value for money. 
 

 

 
After a short drive back to Dungarvan, we checked into The Park Hotel for our last night. Although only a 3-star hotel, its convenient location, combined with a leisure centre on site, make it a good option for a family stay. Dungarvan is a pretty town and one I wanted to explore, but we were all pretty tired after the preceding 48 hours, so decided to dine in our hotel that evening. We will have to come back and try some more of its world-class restaurants that I keep hearing about.

the park hotel dungarvan
 

 

 

Copper Coast Geopark

On our last morning we drove another one of Waterford’s scenic drives, the Copper Coast Drive. This stretches along the coast from Dungarvan to Tramore with stunning seascapes, beautiful beaches and over 460 million years of history. Once home to the biggest copper mining industry within the British Empire, this rugged coastline is home to the Copper Coast Geopark, which was declared a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2004.

copper coast drive
 

 

 
We paid a visit to the visitor centre where the kids enjoyed interacting with the augmented reality sandbox – don’t worry I had no idea what it was either! Through the use of technology and software from MIT in Boston, as well as an XBOX 360, this sandbox shows the changes in the topography of the landscape over time. It is the only one of its kind in Ireland! I was fascinated to learn that this visitor centre is primarily a social enterprise – make sure you pay it a visit if you are near the area. 

copper coast geopark visitor centre - munster vales
 

 

 
One of its volunteers, Bruce (originally from Sydney, Australia), brought us to the nearby beaches of Kilmurren and Bunmahon. We went foraging for seaweed and even learned how to use it to make sushi rolls. Bruce was so good with Luke and Alex. They searched rock pools and found crabs, sea anemones and learned all about the sea creatures that frequent our coastline. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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These tours can be booked on the Copper Coast Geopark website, along with surf lessons and sand art workshops. Don’t miss a visit to the nearby Tankardsown mines too, where you can see the old mine workings and get the best views of the Copper Coast.

things to do in the Munster Vales - copper coast geopark
 

 

 
It was finally time to leave the Copper Coast and the Munster Vales behind. As we drove our short drive back to Dublin, I wondered why I never stopped at some of these places before. I started thinking about how many more of Ireland’s hidden gems have I, and many of us, passed by. Isn’t it time we all explored our home country? With 96 attractions, nine heritage sites and 1,100km of walking trails, the Munster Vales is a good place to start.

 

Thanks to Munster Vales for organising our trip. All views, as always, are my own.

 

Like holidays in Ireland? See more here.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery