Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow. Anita Desai
In a nutshell.
Not only are you guaranteed beautiful scenery on this rural drive, but you’ll pass through a collection of beautiful towns that showcase the rich history and culture of Ballyhoura Country. En route you’ll find archaeological and historical monuments, not to mention several castles, and many interpretative panels and town trails to lead you on a journey through thousands of years of history right up to present-day traditions.
The signposted driving route takes you through Labbamolagga, Ballinvreena, Mitchelstown, Kilbehenny, Anglesboro, Kildorrery, Shanballymore, Castletownroche, Doneraile, Churchtown, Liscarroll, Dromina, Milford, Charleville, Kilmallock and Kilfinane.
Duration: 1-2 Days
Why it’s so special?
On this drive, you will visit two counties, East Limerick and North Cork. One highlight is Mitchelstown, a thriving town founded in the 13th century at the foothills of the Galtee Mountains.
The Norman family of FitzDavid de St. Michel named the town in honour of their patron saint, Michael the Archangel. The medieval town – ‘a den of vagabonds, thieves and rioters’ – was rebuilt by Robert and Caroline, Viscount and Viscountess Kingsborough, in the late 1700s. The ‘new’ town had two main streets intersected by several smaller ones, to form a grid pattern. It also had two fine squares – New Market Square and King Square – as well as several interesting public and private buildings. The design cleverly utilised views of the Galtee Mountains from George Street and Cork Street, making it an example of one of the best-planned towns in Ireland.
Saint Georges Arts & Heritage Centre is located in the former Church of Ireland in Mitchelstown and it is a focal point for historical, genealogical, cultural and heritage events. It also provides a permanent display for the priceless coats of arms of Mitchelstown Castle.
Also in North Cork is Liscarroll, famed for the imposing structure of Liscarroll Castle. Its considerable remains, including main gate, stone towers and outer ‘curtain wall’, will transport you back to a time of battles and bravery. The castle was the most important military structure erected in county Cork in the 13th century and was built on an outcrop of rock immediately north of the village. Curious features of the castle include The Hangman’s Hole, a well-like opening adjoining the castle.
Liscarroll Castle was built by the Norman family of de Barry, who held extensive properties in the county. In the early 17th century, Sir Philip Perceval acquired the castle, and it remained the property of his descendants, the Earls of Egmont, until the 20th century. In 1936, the castle was taken into state ownership. In the course of subsequent restoration works, a bronze harp-peg was found in a hole in the upper part of the south-west tower. The peg is now in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.
The wonderfully named Labbamolagga is a small townland on the Mitchelstown to Kilfinane road and is home to what is recognised as one of the most exquisite Early Christian graveyards in Ireland. Its enclosure of earth and stone is of considerable importance, marking the boundary between the spiritual world and the earthly world outside. The smaller of the two ruins (on the right as you enter) is thought to have been an oratory rather than a church while the second structure, probably late medieval in origin, was a parish church until the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. Inside the smaller of the two churches is an incised slab bearing an unusual Celtic motif, beneath which Molagga is said to have been buried. Outside the eastern stile is Molagga’s holy well, once famous for its cures. The tradition of prayer and pilgrimage to the well has declined considerably over the past century but tourists interested in the early Christian period will find the site fascinating.
Milford’s Kilbolane Castle is yet another reminder of times past, when Normans and resurgent Gaelic clans waged war across the land. Built as one of a line of castles (including Liscarroll castle) to defend Norman territory, the state-owned ruin is not safe to visit, but can be viewed from the roadside at present. The openings in the tall walls are narrow slit arrow-loops, designed to allow the defenders of the castle to shoot outwards but also protect them from hostile fire. The central area or ward was clear of buildings but contains a well, very important to castles under siege.
En route to Kildorrery visit the substantial ruins of Aghacross, founded by Saint Molagga in the seventh century. The existing building has many interesting features, including a weathered carved head of Saint Molagga on the east gable. Saint Molagga’s holy well, on the south side of the graveyard, has stonework which may be over 1,000 years old.
Keep your eyes peeled!
Along the route prepare to meet with many celebrated characters. Well, not exactly real-life characters, but local legends who have been cast or carved for all posterity. Mitchelstown’s New Square features a sculpture celebrating the works of William Trevor, Whitbread winner, and the town’s most famous writer.
There’s also a statue of Fanahan, the local patron saint, who sits outside the Garda station, while an Bráthair Diarmaid Ó Briain, a much-respected Christian Brother, is commemorated in a sculpture at Brigown Graveyard. Don’t miss New Square’s Timepiece either – this five-metre sundial allows your shadow to tell the time.
Something for the Kids.
This route is perfect for entertaining the little ones. Visit Mitchelstown Caves, some of Europe’s finest show caves, where tours bring you through a half-mile of underground chambers. Hope you’re not afraid of the dark!
Or feed the donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll, where you’ll be sure to fall in love with these beautiful animals.
For a fun family afternoon, head to Doneraile Court and Wildlife Park. Here 400 acres of parkland are laid out around this historic old manor. There are plenty of marked paths, including riverside walks, woodland walks and routes through the deer parks, all of varying lengths.
Charleville Park Hotel Leisure Centre has great facilities for children and is open all year round.
Impress your friends.
Visit Doneraile, a unique Georgian inspired town with a rich history. In 1752, two horsemen raced from the steeple of Saint James’s Church (Buttevant) to the steeple of Saint Mary’s Church (Doneraile) – a distance of four and a half miles across ditches and banks. While history does not record whether it was Mr. O’Callaghan or Edmund Blake who won the race, it does tell us that the race was the first-ever ‘Steeplechase’ and the forerunner of steeplechases held throughout the world!
Doneraile Court is the stunning centrepiece of one of Ireland’s most beautiful estates in Doneraile. Located on the banks it was built by Arthur St. Leger, the first Viscount Doneraile and father of the renowned Lady Freemason. The house was modified extensively in the 19th century by later generations of St. Legers, creating the imposing and characterful building that can be enjoyed today by booking a guided tour. The kitchen wing from this period now serves as the home of the Doneraile Court tearooms and is a perfect way to start or finish your visit.
Stop by for something to eat or just a cup of coffee at stylish and inspiring Townhouse Café & Interiors located it on the main street in Doneraile.
Ballyhoura Mountain Nature Trail offers even more fabulous flora and fauna, through woodland, rugged mountain, grouse moor and peat bog. With its abundance of beautiful trees and plants, it’s an ideal venue for nature trails and bird watching.
It may cover an area of approximately 10,000 hectares, but the many marked walking routes allow you to explore without the risk of getting lost!
Explore a walkers paradise offering a wide variety of walking experiences. To find your trail download our Ballyhoura Trails Guide App available from both Apple & Google Play stores.
The Ballyhoura Drive follows the path of some of the world’s leading authors.
Canon P.A. Sheehan and Edmund Spenser are the best-known writers associated with Doneraile. Canon Sheehan, hailed by Tolstoy as ‘the greatest living author’, wrote The Triumph of Failure (1899) and My New Curate (1899), which were immediate successes and met with critical acclaim. These, like many of his books, were written in the study and garden of his parochial house at Doneraile.
Later works included Under the Cedar and the Stars (1903), Glenanaar (1905) and The Graves of Kilmorna (1915). His books displayed acute observations of rural Ireland and the changes occurring at that time and were enthusiastically received in America.
Other literary figures associated with the area include the English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray. He was married to Isabella Gethin Creagh Shaw, whose family built the wonderful Creagh House, on Doneraile’s Main Street, in 1837. Thackeray never got on with his in-laws and even lampooned them in some of his novels.
The Anglo-Irish world has produced many gifted writers but few were as magnetic as Elizabeth Bowen, who lived at Bowen’s Court in Kildorrery. Her novels, mostly set in the Anglo-Irish world, have a universal appeal that places her in the top ten English language novelists on this side of the Atlantic. The Death of the Heart (1938) and The Heat of the Day (1949) are probably her best-known novels. Her stories, she said were ‘a matter of vision rather than of feeling.’ Her best-known book in this area is Bowen’s Court – the semi-biographical story of her family and this locality.
Elizabeth inherited Bowen’s Court in 1930. Sadly, in 1959, she realised that her income from writing could no longer meet the costs of running a big house. A businessman who bought the property cut down all of its woodlands, subsequently demolishing the great house, of which nothing now remains.
Elizabeth Bowen’s grave and that of her husband, Alan Cameron, are just inside the Bowen’s Court side of the churchyard wall. A mulberry tree grows over their graves. The church, built-in 1720, is now closed but an annual Elizabeth Bowen Commemorative Service is held there every September.
The literary tradition of the area, incorporating figures such as Edmund Spenser, Elizabeth Bowen, and Canon Sheehan is celebrated in the exhibition & cultural programme of Doneraile Court.
Given the ground this driving route covers, you can expect every manner of hostelry on offer. Mitchelstown, known as ‘the home of good food’, has access to wonderful local produce on its doorstep. Break your journey at the Georgina Campbell award-winning O’Callaghan’s Deli, Bakery and Cafe on the Main Street where you’ll find a tasty fare for a snack or full meal in the café. Stock up on delicious homemade breads, jams and chutneys, and be sure to try their cakes.
Praline Pastry Shop & Cafe is another go-to destination for superior quality cakes & pastries run by an award-winning pastry chef Norma Kelly. Norma keeps her skillset updated by regularly taking part in many culinary and pastry competitions and winning ‘Best Moulded Praline’ with her Hot Whiskey flavoured chocolate.
Firgrove Hotel is a good choice for the evening meal or stay overnight. Don’t forget to try Hodgins sausages and Hanley’s pudding for your breakfast, both produced locally. And not to forget to taste the locally produced and award-winning Eight Degrees Brewery craft beer. Ballinwillin House and Accommodation in Mitchelstown provide a truly unique experience that combines luxurious accommodation, wine and artisan food.
Charleville is home to many different style restaurants from fast food to pub grub and contemporary cooking. The Charleville Park Hotel, located on the Dublin Road from Charleville is a good option, as is Corbett Court Restaurant in Ballyhea outside Charleville.
Kilfinane is the home of Ballyhoura Country Apple Juice where the orchards are based; be sure to stop and quench your thirst here when passing.
For little self-indulgence (well, you are on your holidays), check out Grove House Longevity Centre & Spa in Shanballymore. Set in a beautifully converted country farmhouse, visitors can enjoy health treatments ranging from a mini-facial through to a back, neck and shoulder massage or a Reiki or reflexology session.