Ireland’s rural heartlands offer serene beauty, picturesque towns and villages and heritage gems, without the crowds.
Relaxation is the watchword for Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. With gorgeous lake lands, rivers, hills and forests, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a slow adventure in nature.
The majestic River Shannon flows through the Heartlands, so taking a cruise is a great way to see this special area. The pretty town of Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim is the ideal place to hire a cruiser and set off on an adventure at your own pace.
Stop off along the way to visit the important heritage sites that lie along the river’s edge. These include the sixth-century ruins of Clonmacnoise monastic site where you can see imposing round towers and high crosses and delve into its fascinating history in the exhibition centre.
In County Roscommon, the Shannonbridge, Napoleonic Fortifications, which date from 1810, are also a must for history buffs. So too is the National Famine Museum at Strokestown where a new visitor centre featuring a world-class multimedia exhibition, tells the story of the Great Famine.
Water-based activities abound along the Shannon offering the opportunity to paddleboard, kayak or canoe along the peaceful waters. There is also great angling to be enjoyed in Lough Ree.
Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands are also a joy for walkers with numerous trails and greenways meandering through idyllic landscapes.
Follow the historic Beara Breifne Way, Ireland’s longest waymarked trail stretching 500km. The trail takes the path of the legendary fourteen-day march by the chieftain Dónal Cam O’Sullivan Beare and his one thousand supporters in 1603, visiting many of the places and communities shaped by their story. It has twelve distinct sections, each with its own character.
Or take a leisurely stroll or cycle along the Old Rail Trail Greenway, which stretches 42km from Athlone to Mullingar. It traces the historic Midlands Great Western Railway track past restored station houses and under stone arched bridges. Along the way it traverses areas of rare biodiversity and heritage.
Another Heartlands gem is the Cavan Burren. Part of the Cuilcagh Lakelands Global Geopark, it is a unique place where the geological history of earth can be traced back 895 million years. Walking tours of the site offer an intriguing insight into the evolution of human settlement in this area and recount the local folklore and magical stories that the Geopark has inspired.