Golden Vale Drive

In a nutshell.

This sweeping drive will introduce you to the natural features that gave The Golden Vale its evocative name. It will take you from the level pasturelands of the north to the foot of the highest inland mountain, Galtymore (3,015ft) by Griston Bog, you’ll pass from the picturesque countryside through the medieval town of Kilmallock and around Lough Gur, famous for its many archaeological sites. The signposted driving route weaves through the villagesand towns of Kilmallock, Bruree, Bruff, Croom, Lough Gur, Ballyneety, Pallasgreen, Emly, Galbally, Kilfinane and Ballylanders.

Start: Kilmallock

Finish: Ballylanders

Distance: 112km

Duration: 1-2 days

Why it’s so special?

Every twist in the road reveals a landscape rich in history, folklore and legend. Pick up the Living Land Golden Vale Drive audio CD from Kilfinane Tourist Office, pop it in the stereo, and listen to your personal guide unravel the mysteries and tales of these ancient lands. Plan to stop at Lough Gur, to explore this mysterious area and lose yourself in the past. Local folklore hints at Lough Gur’s importance to the ancient people who came to this magical lake to worship and make offerings. The arrival of Christianity in Ireland during the 5th-century AD may have changed local practices forever, but tales of its enchanted past have never been forgotten.

Take time to visit the ancient settlements close by, or take a guided walk in the summer with one of the knowledgeable locals. You’re bound to spot the lake’s potential as a picnic spot too – the tranquil waterside setting and rolling hills make this perfect location for a relaxed al fresco experience, surrounded by pristine nature and wildlife.

Keep your eyes peeled!

Hop out of your car in any of the pretty villages and towns along the route, to soak up the local atmosphere and get a real sense of history. A stroll through medieval Kilmallock, fortified in 1375 with five impressive towers, hints at the wealth of this once thriving town. As Kilmallock grew in prosperity, so too did the quality of its merchant’s houses: you’ll find a fine example of one on the main street.

Galbally is another treat for visitors, with plenty of pretty photo opportunities. Its quaint market square has been the focus of village life since the early 1800s, when horses from the Bianconi company pulled mail coaches to stables on the northern side of the square. Today, its brightly painted houses and shop fronts give it a distinctive Irish character. Stray from the village and you’ll find two historic sites close by: the ruins of Moor Abbey, a Franciscan friary founded in the early 13th century, and Darby’s Bed, a megalithic passage grave. Believed to be 6,000 years old or more, it is similar in style to the megalithic tombs in Brittany, France, with its entrance facing northwest in line with the midsummer sunset.

Bruree is home to the De Valera Museum, housed in the national school where the former President of Ireland Eamon De Valera attended as a young boy. There’s an interesting collection of his personal belongings alongside items recording early 20th-century village life.

This visitor centre is located where Eamonn de Valera grew up. The De Valera Cottage in which he lived is now preserved and the national school he attended houses a museum dedicated to his memory.

The Heritage Centre uses audiovisuals, graphic panels, set pieces and displays of personal memorabilia to tell the story of the village’s greatest son and of the area which is credited with forming his character. Currently only open by private appointment.

Chilled out souls looking to perfect the art of escapism will find a visit to Tig Roy ticks all the right boxes. This little piece of paradise near the Glen of Aherlow takes a holistic approach to life while celebrating Irish culture. Activity weekends offer everything from yoga to cookery classes, hill walking to set dancing, and meditation to traditional Irish music. The outdoor Finnish spa is reason enough to check-in, but there’s also an opportunity to improve your Irish language skills while meeting the locals every Tuesday evening.

Kilmallock’s Friars Gate Theatre and Art Gallery guarantees a good night’s entertainment, with a vibrant programme encompassing contemporary drama and theatre, film, dance, jazz and cabaret. The adjoining Art Gallery hosts monthly exhibitions by local, national and international artists, and is open by day.

Something for the kids.

Time to introduce the kids to a real taste of country living! At Free-Range Kids, in Croom, County Limerick, you’ll find a summer camp whose main aim is to let kids be kids – all within a safe and fun environment. Youngsters are introduced to the simple pleasures of a by-gone tech-free era, that includes traditional games (like capture the flag), bread and cookie making, tie-dying, pet farm experience with ducks, calves and donkeys, and plenty of outdoor activities, including orienteering, soccer and tennis.

Ballylanders wildlife bog, a unique conservation area, is situated at Griston Bog on the west side of the Ballylanders village. Here you’ll find a wooden causeway giving easy access to this beautiful raised bog. It is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, bees and insects and different types of water life, some of which are now in danger of extinction in many parts of the world. It is rich in insect life which in turn supports many birds and other animals such as frogs, newts and lizards.

Feeling active?

Take to the countryside on horseback at Hillcrest Equestrian Centre near Galbally, for a day’s cantering or some lessons to improve your ability. For a unique view of the countryside join in a point to point race, run between December and May across farmlands in Bruff, Athlacca and Kilmallock.

Hire one of Ballyhoura Beo qualified, passionate instructors, to teach you and your family the techniques of mountain biking. Gather your friends and family and come to learn how to mountain bike or improve your skills. Guides can be hired for group activities including, walking, cycling, orienteering, team building and mountain biking.

Golfers should endeavour to fit in 18-holes at Ballyneety Golf Club, but if you prefer to watch sport rather than partake, head to any of the local GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) pitches to take in the energy and thrill of a hurling or football match.

Impress your friends.

Join in an evening’s entertainment like no other, at one of the region’s rambling houses. In times past, the rambling house was a place where locals gathered to entertain and be entertained. This revived tradition welcomes everyone to join in, but there’s no pressure to perform – simply sit back and enjoy the songs, recitations, dancing and storytelling.

Lough Gur Rambling House takes place on the second Thursday of each month in the Honey Fitz Theatre, when traditional apple tart, brown bread, scones and tea are served.

Ballinvreena rambling house takes place on Wednesdays at Davy’s Cottage, Ballinvreena with crossroads dancing every Sunday throughout the summer.

Recovery position!

The farmlands of the famed Golden Vale produce some of Ireland’s finest dairy produce, which bodes well for hungry travellers in need of sustenance. A simple picnic basket allows you to sample the region’s best artisan produce – from local cheese, creamy butter, fresh fruits, bottles of Ballyhoura Country Apple Juice, apple jams and chutneys, Hodgins sausages and Hanley’s pudding, and Real Irish Floral Honey from Kildorrery. Or hit one of the Cottage Markets, where you’ll find it hard to resist the fresh local produce and the local banter.

If you fancy someone else doing the cooking, you won’t be stuck for choice. Reardan's Pub at Holycross near Lough Gur and Clancy’s Bar in Bruff both serve celebrated pub grub. Fairways Restaurant is ideal after a round of golf in Ballyneety Golf Club, Deebert House Hotel in Kilmallock and Poachers Restaurant at Bulgaden near Kilmallock all offer promising dining experiences.