With quiet villages and bustling towns, miles of country roads and paths, and a wealth of historical and archaeological treasures, County Tipperary in south-central Ireland has something for travelers of every taste.
Rock of Cashel
On a massive hunk of granite in the middle of the “Golden Vale” of Tipperary — a fertile stretch of Ireland’s grain-growing midlands — sits the Rock of Cashel. According to the popular myth, Satan himself, in a fit of anger, took a bite of the mountains near Templemore and spit the resulting rock angrily to the south, where it landed on the otherwise flat plain and rests there still today.
This political and religious center was once the seat of Catholic and royal power in southern Ireland — rivaled in influence only by the Hill of Tara in County Meath. It’s said that Saint Patrick baptized the King of Munster (the province of Southwest Ireland) here at the Rock, accidentally stabbing his crosier through the king’s foot in the process. The king, thinking the maiming was part of the process, was game and kept his smile through the ceremony.
Today, the remaining ruins of church and castle at the Rock are open to the public with a fantastic tour thanks to OPW Ireland, and well worth a visit.
After your visit to the Rock of Cashel, make time for a walk through Hore Abbey at the foot of the Rock, once home to a sect of nuns who wore grey garments named after the color of hoar frost. This is one of many now ruined abbeys in Ireland, now open for public poking around. Look for the remains of the towers, ramparts, and decorative doors and carvings, mostly lost thanks to centuries of erosion.
Down the River Suir from Cashel — in a rancher’s pasture — look through the very quiet ruins of Athassel Abbey. Once just as important as Hore Abbey in Cashel, this spawling former nunhouse is still an active burial ground for local Irish families looking to lay to rest their loved ones in sacred ground — even if it hasn’t been an active church for the last few hundred years.
If you’re exploring Tipperary and are looking for a quiet heritage village to make your base of operations, consider staying in Cahir, just down the road (and the river) from Cashel. Visit the town’s famous castle built on an island in the river and walk the small main street. In the evening, enjoy a lively drink in the pub with the locals and a quiet night away from the noise of the city.
Tipperary Heritage Way
This trail, for experienced walkers and hikers only, passes through the townships of Cashel, Golden, and Cahir, and continues along the beautiful salmon-bearing River Suir all the way through Tipperary. Passing by idyllic farmland and rustic villages — with no shortage of private pastureland occupied by cows, steers, and bulls — a walk on this trail is an excellent introduction to rural Ireland if you are fleet of foot and strong of nerve.
(Note that some parts of the trail become difficult or impassible during extended periods of wet weather. It is advisable to check local conditions in advance if you plan to walk the trail.)
Thankfully, a stopover in “Tipp” — for a few hours or a few days — is easily tied to a longer Irish road trip from Dublin to the big tourist hits in Cork and Kerry. No matter how long your own visit lasts, you’ll be sad to leave the history, culture, and natural beauty of the Golden Vale behind when you leave.