A weekend in the South East
The Three Ws (and Kilkenny)
The South East of Ireland is the island's RIngo Starr: unfortunate to be surrounded by such esteemed company. When placed up against the world famous Ring of Kerry, Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coast the under marketed south east was always going to struggle.
This corner of Ireland comprises of the three Ws - counties Waterford, Wicklow and Wexford. There's also Kilkenny, the jewel in the crown, but a place that unhelpfully doesn't fit into the three Ws narrative.
Tucked away below Dublin and away from the main tourist circuit which tends to transport direct from Dublin to County Kerry this is an area that can still be described as off-the--beaten path. It's an area that should be taken as a whole with a car for company as there are plenty of very worthy sights and attractions dotted around its nooks and crannies.
We'd recommend Kilkenny as the best base for touring the area. Kilkenny is a small city built around an impressive castle and a pretty warren of streets uniformly made from grey marble. On the accurately monikered Medieval Mile (both medieval and a mile) you can find the 6th century St Canice's Cathedral with a round tower offering panoramic views, the much more modern and less educational Smithwicks Experience showcasing the main local brew and the Medieval Mile Museum to tie it all together. At night - or day, nobody's judging here - pubs are liberally scattered around just a few streets making a pub and music crawl as easy as it should be in Ireland. As is often the case in Ireland, with popularity comes accommodation capacity issues and on a weekend the stag and hen parties and weekending Dubliners descend on the place. Prices are driven up the prices and availability is scarce.
Waterford is the perennial Plan B. An old Viking settlement that makes for a good overnight location if Kilkenny is full and an even better Plan B when the rains come as museums are to Waterford what the pubs are to Kilkenny. The Waterford Museum of Medieval Treasures is, as you might expect, a museum of medieval treasures in Waterford. From the atmospheric crypts to the beautiful medieval religious gowns this is a very good couple of hours. Or you could choose to explore Waterford's Viking history at Reginald's Tower. The final museum of this trinity of learning is the Bishop's Palace, which is a bit of a hotchpotch of poorly put together Georgian and Victorian artefacts and social exhibits. Across the road from these two is the surprisingly captivating House of Waterford Crystal. The 50 minute tour of the workshop gives a fascinating look into the glass blowing, moulding and engraving process before depositing you in one of Ireland's most expensive gift shops. Overall, a good half to a full day of keeping out the rain and keeping your brain cells working in between trying to kill them with Guinness.
In terms of the other towns in the area, we strongly recommend you don't spend more than a couple of hours in the likes of Wexford Town, Wicklow Town and Enniscorthy. As nice as they are they're built around maybe one attraction - Wicklow Gaol, for example - and will generally be quite small and sleepy, especially on weekdays.
Then we come to the main reasons to visit the south east. The coast in this area is as beautiful as anything in the more famous west. Away from the crowds that engulf the more well-known spots, places like Stradbally and Ballyvooney coves and Ballydowane Bay offer up secluded beaches and dramatic cliffs. For a more lively beach experience there's the popular coastal towns of Tramore East, Kilmore Quay and Dunmore East which draw the crowds in the summer. If a scenic drive towards an attraction is more your thing then the Hook Peninsula with the world's oldest operational lighthouse at its tip will tick a box.
One of our favourite attractions in Ireland is Jerpoint Park. On your arrival at this working sheep farm in the rolling Kilkenny countryside you'll be welcomed by the friendly owners and their sheepdogs. The usual country fare of sheepdog demonstrations and tea and scones are joined by a unique tour through the ruins of an abandoned medieval town which was rediscovered fairly recently on the farm. The town's graveyard is reputed to be the final resting spot of St Nicholas of Myra (yes, Santa Claus himself) and this just adds an extra layer of intrigue.
This is also the land of ruined abbeys (unofficial title) where one can find Tintern Abbey, Dunbordy Abbey, Selskar Abbey and Jerpoint Abbey to name just a few. Pick one, any one, they're all pretty much the same.
Historically, this region is synonymous with the 19th century famines which decimated the Irish population through starvation and enforced emigration. There are a lot of places in Ireland where you can learn about this hugely important time in Ireland's history and the SS Dunbrody in New Ross is one of the best. A number of historical characters give visitors a tour through a replica of a famine ship that carried migrants to the New World. This is a well-executed living history attraction that keeps both adults and children interested.
Finally, a bit of a trend in Ireland over the past few years has been the creation of greenways (long stretches of paths which make for easy, scenic walking and biking). Waterford has it's own in the shape of the Waterford Greenway which runs for 46 kilometres between Waterford and Dunvargan on the south coast. Just another string to the bow of the south east.
For more on County Wicklow please take a look at our standalone section here. This area is more of a standalone touring region or one that you're more likely to do with Dublin.
When starting to write this piece, I hadn't actually realised how much there is to do in this region. Cultural towns, coastal and mountain scenery, and historic ruins are packed in, just in a less shouty way than in some other parts of the country. Maybe don't put this area at the top of your Ireland bucket list but definitely don't discount it.