Many tourists in Ireland pass through the Ballyhoura region and don't even realize it.
This area of southwest Ireland, stretching from just south of Limerick city through the northern part of County Cork, isn't marked on any map. And though you will drive through it on the way to destinations like the Rock of Cashel or the Ring of Kerry, it's likely you won't know what you are missing unless you stop within the region and stay a day or two.
Thankfully each stay at The Old Bank B&B in Bruff comes with new recommendations of activities- which keeps us coming back (along with the fabulous rooms, delicious breakfast and wonderful friendship!)
Outdoors in the Ballyhoura Region
Do not miss your chance to explore the incredible Lough Gur area; we have visited 3 (4?) times and I am always drawn to return. Hours can be spent discovering the remnants of huts and smaller stone circles atop Knockadoon. Then move around the lough on to the hill of Knockfennell where the ruins of both a stone fort and a ring fort remain, though you have to pass the entrance to faerie land to reach them. Lough Gur once had two castles, both protecting access to Knockadoon. The Black Castle is now a ruin, but Bourchier's castle still stands, though it is privately owned. Another hill, Carraig Aille, has two stone forts, hut sites and small stone circles. Continuing farther you will come to the Lough Gur Cross. So much history in such a small area; and so many archaeological finds here… Bronze tools and adornments, glass beads, pottery. Wouldn't it be incredible to discover a piece of history here?
The Ballyhoura Region is a well known secret for both hill walkers and cyclists. From short loop walks to long hikes, seemingly every bit of the area is welcoming to walkers. Five mountain bike loops will provide a challenge for even the most experienced biker, while more scenic routes can be requested from Ballyhoura Bike Hire in Kilmallock.
Animal lover in your family? You'll find Molanna View Farm near Kilfane to be a welcoming stop. At this working dairy you'll find lovely Frisian cows- and their calves- ponies and donkeys. Enjoy a guided tour or walk by the river.
If you can't get enough of the sweet, fuzzy faces of the donkeys, be sure to visit the Donkey Sanctuary near Mallow. Free to visit, the sanctuary is home to hundreds of rescued donkeys. You can wander the trails and pet the sweet creatures. Don't miss the gift shop where you can adopt a donkey!
For horseback riding, visit Hillcrest Riding Centre in the Glen of Aherlow for a trail ride.
Maybe traditional music, storytelling or Irish dancing are on your list of “musts” during your Ireland visit? Track down a Rambling House. You'll find a dozen opportunities to learn the jig or enjoy live music.
And don't just drive through those small towns of Ballyhoura. Each has a story and is filled with its own history. Kilmallock was an important Norman town and has 5 town walks, Emly was a predominant monastic site (and is one of Ireland's Tidy Towns) and Bruff has an impressive history including the RIC/Guard Barracks and a very close tie to James Joyce.
The Ballyhoura Region is a place where you will have a true Ireland experience, far from the crowds that fill the more well known attractions in Ireland. I always look forward to returning and exploring more of this incredible area!