Historic Shores of Lough Derg

Saints, scholars and High Kings: they may conjure up ethereal images of a distant past, but this rich history is alive and well on the shores of Lough Derg....

History and heartbreak at the Irish Workhouse Centre: During the dark and dreary trials of the 19th century, the workhouse was an unfortunate fixture on Ireland's landscape, the last resort for thousands of people whose lives and livelihoods had been ravaged by the Great Famine.  Stop a while in the Galway town of Portumna, walk through the same doors as the "inmates" did in the 1800s and explore this sad part of history through the Centre's seven preserved buildings.

If you have more time: Not far from airy Portumna Forest, Portumna Castle sits in stately elegance on the banks of Lough Derg. At almost 400 years old, it's looking pretty good!

Where the saints sleep, Holy Island: The name says it all: transformed into a monastery by St Caimin in the 6th century, Holy Island in Clare remains a site of religious significance today. Couples come from around the world to renew marriage vows at the Bargaining Stone, or simply to explore the round tower, holy well and ancient churches – one built by legendary Irish king, Brian Boru, whose brother was once the monastery's abbot. The island's name in Irish, "Inis Cealtra" means "island of the burials"; step inside the Saints' Graveyard and you'll soon see why.

If you have more time: Leave the car behind in favour of Killaloe River Cruises and cruise down the Shannon, taking in the sights of County Tipperary on one side and County Clare on the other.

Killaloe, the birthplace of Brian Boru: Linked to nearby Ballina by a splendid 13-arch bridge, Killaloe is a traditional Irish Heritage Town: friendly, proud and historically rich. Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, was born here in the 11th century and his many descendants – he had at least three wives, six sons and three daughters – built many of the town's churches, including St Flannan's Cathedral. Boru's ferocious legacy includes fighting the infamous Battle of Clontarf at age 88, so it's no wonder he has gone down in history as one of Ireland's most iconic figures.

If you have more time: Try out the Cherry Tree Restaurant, beloved of Georgina Campbell Guides for its beautiful "waterside location and consistently excellent contemporary cooking".

The heart of the town, Nenagh Castle: The crenellated tip of Nenagh Castle towers above the town, a limestone giant that seems utterly at odds with the modest, modern bungalows that sit at its feet. Visitors can scurry up the 101 steps of the castle's spiral staircase and enjoy unobstructed views of Nenagh and County Tipperary. Built in 1200, the castle was once partially blown up by a disgruntled local, Soloman Newsome, who became irritated by the birds nesting in the tower's ivy. Thankfully, it has been carefully restored in recent years!

Festival Time: Visit in August to enjoy the food, crafts, art and drama of the Terryglass Arts Festival, the pride of this 1,500-year-old town.

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