46 Best Sights in The Southeast, Ireland

Ballyteigue Burrow

Fodor's choice

Nature lovers and walkers flock to the 8-km-long (5-mile-long) Ballyteigue Burrow, one of the finest sand-dune systems in Europe. It runs all the way from Kilmore Quay to Cullenstown, and is perfect for a long summer stroll and a picnic, with trails through the rolling dunes or along the beautiful beach. The western end is an important nature reserve rich in butterflies, flowers, and wading birds.

Enniscorthy Castle

Fodor's choice

The town is dominated by Enniscorthy Castle, built in the first quarter of the 13th century by the Prendergast family. The imposing Norman castle was the site of fierce battles against Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century and during the Rebellion of 1798. There are exhibitions exploring the 1916 Rising in Enniscorthy and the work of furniture designer and architect Eileen Gray, who was born in 1878 just outside town. Gray went on to become one of the founding designers of the Modernist movement in the 1920s and now enjoys worldwide fame at staggering prices (one chair she designed brought $22 million at auction). The guided tour is a real treat, with a trip to the dungeon followed by a walk on the roof with impressive views out over the town and beyond and the bloody 1798 battlefield Vinegar Hill.

House of Waterford Crystal

Fodor's choice

Iconic Waterford crystal is once again being produced in the city, albeit on a much smaller scale than before. The factory tour, which includes the blowing, sculpting, and cutting departments, is a must for anyone who appreciates timeless craftsmanship and unique design. After watching a team of glassworkers create a twinkling masterpiece from a molten blob, you may have trouble resisting the retail store, where you can select from the world's largest collection of Waterford crystal. You can have your purchase engraved on the spot. They also offer a sumptuous afternoon tea served on fine bone china.

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Irish National Heritage Park

Fodor's choice

A 35-acre, open-air, living-history museum beside the River Slaney, this is one of Ireland's most successful and enjoyable family attractions. In about 90 minutes, a guide takes you through 9,000 years of Irish history—from the first evidence of humans on this island, at around 7000 BC, to the Norman settlements of the mid-12th century. Full-scale replicas of typical dwellings illustrate the changes in beliefs and lifestyles. Highlights include a prehistoric homestead, a crannóg (lake dwelling), an early Christian rath (fortified farmstead), a horizontal water mill, a Viking longhouse, and a Norman castle. There are also examples of pre-Christian burial sites and a stone circle. Most of the exhibits are "inhabited" by students in appropriate historic dress who will answer questions. The riverside site includes several nature trails and a falconry center. There's a family restaurant and you can even stay a night in a medieval ring fort.

Jerpoint Abbey

Fodor's choice

Known for its rearing and massive 15th-century tower, Jerpoint Abbey is one of the most notable Cistercian ruins in Ireland, dating from about 1160. The church, tombs, and the restored cloister are must-sees for lovers of the Irish Romanesque. The vast cloister is decorated with affecting carvings of human figures and fantastical mythical creatures, including knights and knaves (one with a stomachache) and the assorted dragon or two. Dissolved in 1540, Jerpoint was taken over, as was so much around these parts, by the earls of Ormonde. The one part of the abbey that remains alive, so to speak, is its hallowed cemetery—the natives are still buried here. Guided tours are available or you can just wander at your leisure.

Johnstown Castle Gardens

Fodor's choice

Set in a beautiful garden estate, this Victorian Gothic castle looks like it was designed for a Disney movie but it was in fact built for the Grogan-Morgan family between 1810 and 1855. The magnificent parklands—with towering trees and ornamental gardens—offer a grand frame to the castle. Unfortunately, you can't tour the building (it houses an agricultural college) other than its entrance hall, but the well-maintained grounds are open to the public. The centerpiece is the 5-acre lake, one side of which has a statue-lined terrace where you can take in the panorama of the mirrored castle. Because there's such a variety of trees—Japanese cedars, Atlantic blue cedars, golden Lawson cypresses—there's color through much of the year. Nearby are the Devil's Gate walled garden—a woodland garden set around the ruins of the medieval castle of Rathlannon—and the Irish Agricultural Museum. The latter, housed in the quadrangular stable yards, shows what life was once like in rural Ireland. It also contains a 5,000-square-foot exhibition on the potato and the Great Famine (1845–49).

Kilkenny Castle

Fodor's choice

Built in 1172 and set amid 50 acres of rolling lawns beside the River Nore, Ireland's most recognizable castle is a bewitching marriage of Gothic and Victorian styles. It conjures images of knights and damsels, dukes and duchesses. For more than 500 years, beginning in 1391, Kilkenny Castle served as the seat of one of the more powerful clans in Irish history, the Butler family, members of which were later designated earls and dukes of Ormonde. Around 1820, William Robert, son of the first Marquess of Ormonde, overhauled the castle to make it a wonderland in the Victorian Feudal Revival style. In 1859, John Pollen was called in to redo the aptly named Long Gallery—a refined, airy hall with dazzling green walls hung with a vast collection of family portraits and frayed tapestries, and a marvelously decorated ceiling, replete with oak beams carved with Celtic lacework and brilliantly painted animal heads. The main staircase was also redone in the mid-1800s to become a showpiece of Ruskinian Gothic.

The castle's Butler Gallery, formerly the servants' quarters, houses a superb collection of Irish modern art, including examples by Nathaniel Hone, Jack B. Yeats, Sir John Lavery, Louis Le Brocquy, and James Turrell. Be sure to stroll the grounds, and the Celtic cross–shape rose garden, after a spot of tea in the old Victorian kitchen.

Lismore Castle and Gardens

Fodor's choice

As you cross the bridge entering Lismore, you spot the magnificent Lismore Castle, a vast, turreted building atop a rock overhanging the River Blackwater. There has been a castle here since the 12th century, but the present structure, built by the 6th Duke of Devonshire, dates from the mid-19th century. The house remains the estate of the Cavendish family, and most of it is not open to the public. You can see the contemporary-art gallery, designed by Cork architect Gareth O'Callaghan, in the west wing, as well as the upper and lower gardens, which consist of woodland walks, including an unusual yew walk said to be more than 800 years old (Edmund Spenser is said to have written parts of The Faerie Queene here), certain months of the year. The gardens have an impressive display of magnolias, camellias, and shrubs, and are adorned with examples of contemporary sculpture.

Reginald's Tower

Fodor's choice

Restored to its original medieval appearance, Reginald's Tower—a circular structure on the east end of Waterford's quays—is a striking setting for a museum on Waterford's Viking history. Built by the Vikings for the city's defence in 1003, it has 80-foot-high, 10-foot-thick walls; an interior stairway leads to the top. The tower served in turn as the residence for a succession of Anglo-Norman kings (including Henry II, John, and Richard II), a mint for silver coins, a prison, and an arsenal. It's said that Strongbow's marriage to Eva, the daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, took place here in the late 12th century, thus uniting the Norman invaders with the native Irish. The impressive exhibits include the full weapon kit of a local Viking leader. On the top floor, there's an audiovisual display and objects to represent every century since the tower was built.

Ring (An Rinn)

Fodor's choice

Unusual in the south and east of the country, Ring (An Rinn) is an unspoiled Gaeltacht area on Dungarvan Bay where you will find the Irish language still in daily use. Courses in Irish have been taught at Coláiste na Rinne, a language college, since 1909. It's a lovely spot for bikers, walkers, and bird-watchers—the area includes An Cuinigear, a long, thin peninsula that thousands of seabirds call home. Helvic, a tiny fishing village, commands great views over the Waterford coastline, with the Comeragh Mountains as a backdrop.

St. Canice's Cathedral

Fodor's choice

In spite of Cromwell's defacements, this is still one of the finest cathedrals in Ireland and the country's second-largest medieval church, after St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. Behind the massive walls of this 13th-century structure (restored in 1866) is an exuberant Gothic interior, given a somber grandeur by the extensive use of a locally quarried black marble. Many of the memorials and tombstone effigies represent distinguished descendants of the Normans, some depicted in full suits of armor. Look for a female effigy in the south aisle wearing the old Irish, or Kinsale, cloak; a 12th-century black-marble font at the southwest end of the nave; and St. Ciaran's Chair in the north transept, also made of black marble, with 13th-century sculptures on the arms.

In recent years, St. Canice's has achieved notoriety as the resting place of President Obama's great-great-great uncle, the Bishop of Ossory. The biggest attraction on the grounds is the 102-foot-high Round Tower, which was built in 847 by King O'Carroll of Ossory; if you have the energy, climb the tower's 167 steps for the tremendous 360-degree view from the top, as well as for the thrill of mounting 102 steps on makeshift wooden stairs. Next door is St. Canice's Library, containing some 3,000 16th- and 17th-century volumes.

Swiss Cottage

Fodor's choice

If there's little storybook allure to the brute mass of Cahir Castle, fairy-tale looks grace the 1st Earl of Glengall's 1812 Swiss Cottage, a dreamy relic from the days when Romanticism conquered 19th-century Ireland. A mile south of town on a particularly picturesque stretch of the River Suir, this "cottage orné" was probably designed by John Nash, one of the Regency period's most fashionable architects. Half thatch-roof cottage, half mansion, it was a veritable theater set that allowed the lordly couple to fantasize about being "simple folk" (secret doorways allowed servants to bring food without being noticed). Inside, some of the earliest Dufour wallpapers printed in Paris charm the eye. A pleasant way to get here is to hike from Cahir Castle on a footpath along the river. In peak season, crowds can be fierce.

The Rock of Cashel

Fodor's choice

Seat of the Kings of Munster and the hallowed spot where St. Patrick first plucked a shamrock to explain the mystery of the Trinity, the Rock of Cashel is Ireland's greatest group of ecclesiastical ruins. Standing in the middle of a sloped, treeless valley, the Rock's titanic grandeur and majesty creates what one ancient scribe called "a fingerpost to Heaven." Today, the great limestone mass still rises 300 feet to command a panorama over all it surveys—fittingly, the name derives from the Irish caiseal, meaning "stone fort," and this gives a good idea of its strategic importance.

For centuries, Cashel was known as the "city of the kings"—from the 5th century, the lords of Munster ruled over much of southern Ireland from here. In 1101, however, they handed Cashel over to the Christian fathers, and the rock soon became the center of the reform movement that reshaped the Irish Church. Along the way, the church fathers embarked on a centuries-long building campaign that resulted in the magnificent group of chapels, Round Towers, and walls you see at Cashel today.

Built in the 15th century—though topped with a modern reconstruction of a beautifully corbelled medieval ceiling—the Hall of the Vicar's Choral was once the domain of the cathedral choristers. Located in the hall's undercroft, the museum includes the original St. Patrick's Cross.

The real showpiece of Cashel is Cormac's Chapel, completed in 1134 by Cormac McCarthy, King of Desmond and Bishop of Cashel. It is the finest example of Hiberno-Romanesque architecture. Preserved within the chapel is a splendid but broken sarcophagus, once believed to be Cormac's final resting place. At the opposite end of the chapel is the nave, where you can look for wonderful medieval paintings now showing through old plasterwork.

With thick walls that attest to its origin as a fortress, the now roofless St. Patrick's Cathedral is the largest building on the site. In the choir, look for the noted tomb of Myler McGrath. Note the tombs in the north transept, whose carvings—of the apostles, other saints, and the beasts of the Apocalypse—are remarkably detailed. The octagonal staircase turret that ascends the cathedral's central tower leads to a series of defensive passages built into the thick walls—from the top of the tower, you'll have wonderful views. At the center of the cathedral is the area known as The Crossing, a magnificently detailed arch where the four sections of the building come together.

Directly beyond the Rock's main entrance is the 7-foot-tall High Cross, carved from one large block and resting upon what is said to have been the original coronation stone of the Munster kings. The cross was erected in St. Patrick's honor to commemorate his famous visit to Cashel in AD 450. This cross is a faithfully rendered replica—the original now rests in the Rock's museum. As the oldest building on the Rock, the Round Tower rises 92 feet to command a panoramic view of the entire Vale of Tipperary. A constant lookout was posted here to warn of any advancing armies.

The Waterford Greenway

Fodor's choice

Running along a converted railway track between Dungarvan and Waterford City, the 46 km (29 miles) of the Waterford Greenway has quickly become a must-do destination for walkers and off-road cyclists. Passing through some of the region's most spectacular countryside, and crossing no fewer than three tall viaducts, you'll lose yourself in the natural surroundings. The flat, paved path is perfect for families, and you can take on the whole route or just do one of the many small sections. Bikes can be rented all along the way, and new, funky eateries are opening all the time.

Ballyhack Castle

The gray stone keep of Ballyhack Castle dates from the 16th century. It was once owned by the Knights Templar of St. John of Jerusalem, who held the ferry rights by royal charter. The first two floors now house local-history exhibits. Guided tours are available by appointment.

Bishop's Palace

Among the most imposing of the city's remaining Georgian town houses, the Bishop's Palace is the home to the Georgian part of the Waterford Treasures exhibition, mapping the history of what was Ireland's second city from 1700 to 1790. The most impressive part of the collection is the elegant silverware and, of course, fine glassmaking, including the oldest piece of Waterford crystal on the planet—a decanter from the 1780s. Try to catch one of the regular tours, where local actors play some well-known scenes from Waterford history.

Black Abbey

With a stained-glass, carved-stone interior that seems right out of the musical Camelot, the 13th-century Black Abbey is one of the most evocative and beautiful Irish medieval structures. Note the famous 1340 five-gabled Rosary Window, an entire wall agleam with ruby and sapphire glass, depicting the life of Christ. Home to a Dominican order of monks since 1225, the abbey was restored as a church by the order, whose black capes gave the abbey its name. Interestingly, it's also one of the few medieval churches still owned by the Roman Catholic Church, as most of the oldest churches in Ireland were built by the Normans and reverted to the Church of Ireland (Anglican) when the English turned to Protestantism. Nearby is the Black Freren Gate (14th century), the last remaining gateway to the medieval city.

South of St. Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland
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Blackfriars Abbey

While you can't go inside, you can get close to the remains of this genuinely medieval abbey and get a sense of how impressive it once was. This ruined tower belonged to a Dominican abbey that was founded in 1226 and returned to the Crown in 1541 after the dissolution of the monasteries. It was used as a courthouse until Cromwellian forces destroyed most of it in the 17th century.

High St., Waterford, Co. Waterford, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Cahir Castle

The unavoidable focal point of the town, Cahir Castle is dramatically perched on a rocky island on the River Suir. Once the stronghold of the mighty Butler family and one of Ireland's largest and best-preserved castles, it retains its dramatic keep, tower, and much of its original defensive structure. An audiovisual show and guided tour are available upon request.

Cashel Heritage Centre

In the same building as the tourism office, the Cashel Heritage Centre explains the historic relationship between the town and the Rock, and includes a scale model of Cashel as it looked during the 1600s.

Main St., Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Co. Tipperary, Ireland
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Rate Includes: Free, Closed weekends Nov.--Feb.

Cathedral of St. Declan and Round Tower

There's a story behind every ruin you pass in Ireland; behind many, there's a truly ancient story. Inside the ruined 12th-century Cathedral of St. Declan are some pillar stones decorated with ogham script (an ancient Irish alphabet) as well as weathered but stunningly abstract biblical scenes carved on its west gable. St. Declan is reputed to have disembarked here in the 5th century—30 years before St. Patrick arrived in Ireland—and founded a monastery. The saint is said to be buried in St. Declan's Oratory, a small early Christian church that has been partially reconstructed.

On the grounds of the ruined cathedral is the 97-foot-high Round Tower, which is in exceptionally good condition. Round Towers were built by the early Christian monks as watchtowers and belfries, but came to be used as places of refuge for the monks and their valuables during Viking raids. This is the reason the doorway is 15 feet above ground level—once inside, the monks could pull the ladder into the tower with them.

Tower Hill, Ardmore, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Christ Church Cathedral

Lovers of Georgian decorative arts will want to visit this late-18th-century Church of Ireland cathedral, the only Neoclassical Georgian cathedral in Ireland, designed by local architect John Roberts. Inside, all is elegance—yellow walls, white-stucco florets and laurels, grand Corinthian columns—and you can see why architectural historian Mark Girouard called this "the finest 18th-century ecclesiastical building in Ireland." It stands on the site of a great Norman Gothic cathedral, which a bishop authorized knocking down after rubble fell in his path a few times (with a little help from potential builders). Medievalists will be sad, but those who prize Age of Enlightenment high style will rejoice. Try to catch one of the regular choral concerts to get the full atmospheric reward.

Henrietta St., Waterford, Co. Waterford, Co Waterford, Ireland
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Rate Includes: €3, Closed Sun. (except for normal services)

Curracloe Beach

Steven Spielberg filmed the terrifyingly gory D-Day landing scenes from his blockbuster Saving Private Ryan along this beautiful, soft, white-sand strand. In real life it's a popular swimming place in summer and a quiet home to many migratory birds in winter. It's 9 km (5½ miles) long, with a 1-km (½-mile) nature trail in the seashore sand dunes. There are 500 parking spaces at the White Gap entrance. Amenities are minimal, with lifeguards on duty only in summer on one stretch of the beach. Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers. Best for: solitude in winter; swimming; walking; windsurfing.

Franciscan Friary

While Oliver Cromwell made a bonfire of the original 13th-century Friary, this rebuilt 19th-century landmark has a ceiling worth noting for its fine, locally crafted stucco work and a relic and wax effigy of St. Adjutor—a young martyr slain by his own father.

School St., Wexford, Co. Wexford, Ireland
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French Church (Greyfriars)

Roofless ruins are all that remain of French Church, a 13th-century Franciscan abbey. The church, also known as Greyfriars, was given to a group of Huguenot refugees (hence the "French") in 1695. A splendid east window remains amid the ruins. The key is available at Reginald's Tower.

Greyfriars St., Waterford, Co. Waterford, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Holy Island

The 6th-century monastic settlement of Holy Island (Inis Cealtra in Irish) sits in the middle of Lough Derg, slightly closer to the western shore. Around the year AD 520, St. Columba, seeking the type of solitude only an island can offer, founded his small monastery here. It was later expanded into a serious seat of Christian learning. The Vikings arrived in 836 and killed many of the monks before making off with most of their treasures, but the monastery survived in different forms until the Reformation. The ruins on the island include a Round Tower, St. Caimin's Romanesque church, and the Saints' Graveyard, which includes 11th-century grave markers in Irish, and one headstone for Cosrach, "the miserable one," who died in 898. Access to the island is via boats that leave from Mountshannon, on the western side of the lake.

Holy Island, Lough Derg, Co. Tipperary, Co. Tipperary, Ireland

John F. Kennedy Arboretum

About 12 km (8 miles) to the north of Ballyhack lies the John F. Kennedy Arboretum, with more than 600 acres of forest, nature trails, and gardens, plus an ornamental lake. The grounds contain some 4,500 species of trees and shrubs and serve as a resource center for botanists and foresters. The top of the park offers fine panoramic views. The arboretum is clearly signposted from New Ross on R733, which follows the banks of the Barrow southward for about 5 km (3 miles). The cottage where the president's great-grandfather was born is in Dunganstown; Kennedy relatives still live in the house. About 2 km (1 mile) down the road at Slieve Coillte you can see the entrance to the arboretum.

Kilmore Quay Seafood Festival

For three days in early July, Kilmore Quay hosts a lively Seafood Festival with a parade, live music, seafood barbecues, guided walks, and other events.

Knockmealdown Mountains

Leaving Lismore, head east on N72 for 6½ km (4 miles), then north on R669 into the Knockmealdown Mountains. From the summit, called Vee Gap, you'll have superb views of the Galtee Mountains in the northwest and a peak called Slievenamon in the northeast. If the day is clear, you should be able to see the Rock of Cashel, ancient seat of the Kings of Munster, some 32 km (20 miles) away. Just before you enter the Vee Gap, look for a 6-foot-high mound of stones beside the road. It marks the grave of Colonel Grubb, a local landowner who liked the view so much that he arranged to be buried here standing up so that he could look out over the scene for all eternity.

Vee Gap Rd., Lismore, Co. Waterford, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Kyteler's Inn

The oldest inn in town, Kyteler's is notorious as the place where Dame Alice Le Kyteler, a member of a wealthy banking family and an alleged witch and "brothel keeper," was accused in 1324 of poisoning her four husbands. So, at least, said the enemies of this apparently very merry widow. The restaurant retains its medieval aura, thanks to its 14th-century stonework and exposed beams down in the cellar, built up around Kieran's Well, which predates the house itself. Food and drink in this popular pub are as simple and plentiful as they would have been in Dame Alice's day—minus her extra ingredients.