Kinbane Castle
Kinbane Castle

10 Gem Attractions in Ireland That Are Worth Seeing

Have you been to Ireland before? Even if you have, you may think that you’ve seen it all.

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There’s no way of course that you can uncover everything on this beautiful island without coming back for seconds!

Here are 10 gem attractions in Ireland that you might not have heard about before.

Devil’s Chimney, Co. Sligo/Co. Leitrim Border

The Devil’s Chimney on the border of Counties Sligo and Leitrim is Ireland’s highest waterfall and you can get up close to its base by taking one of the moderate walking trails in the area.

The hike is about 1.2 km (approximately 0.75 miles) with an ascent of 130 meters (over 400 feet).

The walk takes about 45 minutes.

The Devil's Chimney in County Sligo, Ireland's tallest waterfall. Photo: Manoj Kesavulu, https://www.flickr.com/photos/manoj_kesavulu/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The “Chimney” is a stone’s throw from the more well-known Glencar Waterfall made famous by WB Yeats in his poem, “The Stolen Child.”

What’s particularly interesting about this waterfall is the fact that when the wind blows from the south the waterfall is blown upward and back over the cliff from which it falls.

No doubt its name, the “Devil’s Chimney” came about as a result of this strange phenomenon.
See for yourself in the video clip below.

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Kinbane Castle, Co. Antrim

While not much of the castle remains, Kinbane Castle located on the long, narrow Kinbane Head on the County Antrim coastline is a must-see if you are driving along Northern Ireland’s Coastal Causeway.

The castle is not as well-known as Dunluce but its location is equally as beautiful, situated between Ballycastle and Ballintoy, which was used as a location for the HBO series, “Game of Thrones.”

Kinbane Castle on the County Antrim coast. Photo: Johan, https://www.flickr.com/photos/162134345@N07/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

It was constructed in 1547 by Colla MacDonnell, brother of the infamous Sorley Boy MacDonnell, a descendant of the powerful Clan MacDonnell of Dunnyveg, Scotland.

It once had a large courtyard, and there are traces of other buildings there too. As with many clan castles on the island of Ireland, it was besieged by the British a couple of times and partly destroyed by cannon fire.

Fisherman's Cottage is located beneath the remains of Kinbane Castle. Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spatial_pan/ Creative Commons.

It was later rebuilt by Colla MacDonnell, who died there in 1558.

After his death, Sorley Boy exchanged the castle with another property in the area, giving it to Colla’s son, Gillaspick MacDonnell.

The castle was later given to the MacAllister clan as a reward for their loyalty to the MacDonnells.

The castle remained in the hands of the MacAllister's of Kinbane until the 18th century. Climb the narrow path to the top of this gem and you’ll be rewarded with fabulous views of Rathlin Island and the surrounding coastline.

Leap Castle, Co. Offaly

If you’re into haunted castles, this gem of a place should be on your list of places to visit.

Leap Castle was built in the early 1500s by the O’Carroll clan and is apparently the most haunted castle in Europe.

The O’Carrolls were a terrifying lot, to say the least!

They often used the castle grounds to stage the massacres of rivals and also to kill each other. Their dinner guests were not safe, either.

And neither were the soldiers who reported to them.

Leap Castle in Co. Offaly. Photo: Brian Morrison, Tourism Ireland.

The castle is currently owned by Sean and Anne Ryan, who are happy to give self-guided tours of the upper floors of the castle.

The couple claims that ghosts actually exist and that they have seen them.

One of the most interesting parts of the castle is “The Bloody Chapel,” where the one-eyed Teigue O’Carroll murdered his brother while he was saying mass.

The doorknob on the main door to Leap Castle. Photo: Alison Killilea, https://www.flickr.com/photos/30489859@N05/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

After the castle was destroyed in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, repair work uncovered a secret dungeon filled with corpses that were thought to have been the victims of the ghastly murders.

To visit Leap Castle, contact the owners directly at the website listed above.

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Poolbeg Lighthouse, Co. Dublin

The red, 20-meter-high Poolbeg Lighthouse located in Dublin Bay is the area's most noticeable landmark.

It was first established in 1767 and at the time operated solely on candlepower. It changed to oil in 1786 and was redesigned into its present form in 1820.

It is located on the Great South Wall, which extends 4 miles (6.43 km) into the bay. It is the longest sea wall in Europe.

The Poolbeg Lighthouse in Dublin Bay. Photo: Ian Mantel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50510005

If you are using Dublin's public transportation system, the easiest way of getting to the Poolbeg Lighthouse is by taking the DART from the city center to the Sandymount station, then walking 20 minutes or so to the lighthouse.

Once you get to the end, you’ll have panoramic views of the bay and the city beyond it, as well as the mountains to the south and the sea cliffs of Howth to the north. If the evening is nice, this is a stunning place to view Dublin.

The Bull Rock Lighthouse

About 4 km (2.48 miles) west of Dursey Island lies the Bull Rock Lighthouse.

The Bull Rock, which is 9 km (5.59 miles) from the mainland, marks the most southwesterly point along the Beara Peninsula.

The peninsula is located on the southwest coast of Ireland between Kenmare in Co. Kerry and Bantry Bay in Co. Cork.

Bull Rock Lighthouse in the distance. Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/r36ariadne/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Like so many other attractions in Ireland, this, too, is associated with folklore and legend and is considered to be the “Gateway to the Underworld.”

A lighthouse was constructed there in 1889 to replace the cast-iron lighthouse on nearby Calf Island that had been blasted into the Atlantic Ocean by a storm.

Up to seven men lived on the island at one time or another until 1991 when the lighthouse was automated.

What is perhaps more fascinating is the incredible feat of engineering that is the old Gas Works, which was literally built into the face of the cliffs.

a lighthouse on a cliff 10 gem attractions in Ireland
The Bull Rock Lighthouse off the County Cork coast up close. Photo: Mika Laureque, Wikimedia Commons.

The island is home to a colony of Atlantic gannets that are most evident during the summer months.

The birds typically congregate at the top of the island around the lighthouse tower, but you’ll also see them around the old gasworks building.

You can get to the island courtesy of Skellig Coast Discovery boat tours and see this amazing gem for yourself, with its massive rock passage that you'll be able to go through.

The Jealous Wall, Co. Westmeath

Located at Belvedere House Gardens & Park in Co. Westmeath, just south of Mullingar, The Jealous Wall is by its very name a curious attraction.

It is in fact the ruin of a large 18th-century Gothic folly (a building constructed for decoration but having another purpose based on its appearance), which is the largest of its kind in Ireland.

an empty castle 10 gem attractions in Ireland
The Belvedere House & Gardens Gothic Folly. Photo: Clare Keogh, ©Westmeath County Council (Visit Westmeath) for Tourism Ireland.

It was built by Robert Rochfort, the 1st Earl of Belvedere, in 1760 out of jealousy when his brother George built a grander mansion nearby.

The folly was built in such a way that it blocked Rochfort’s view of the home.

But that wasn’t all that Rochfort was jealous of.

He also suspected his wife, Lady Mary Molesworth, of having an affair with his older brother, Arthur, whom he later sued.

steps leading up to a large house 10 gem attractions in Ireland
Belvedere House. Photo: The Bull Rock Lighthouse off the County Cork coast. Photo: By 瑞丽江的河水 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=107795084

Rochfort subsequently locked his wife away at the family home of Gaulstown House for more than 30 years while he lived at the mansion at Belvedere.

After Rochfort’s death, Mary was finally released, spending a brief time with her daughter but eventually went to France where she lived out her life as a nun.

No visit to the folly is complete without exploring Belvedere House and its amazing grounds, including a beautiful Walled Garden, the Fairy Garden, and taking a walk through the estate’s woodlands and by the lakeshore.



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The Knockmealdown Mountains, Co. Tipperary/Co. Waterford Border

This is a beautiful part of the country that deserves some attention as one of the 10 gem attractions in Ireland that you should visit.

colorful flowers near a forest 10 gem attractions in Ireland
Rhododendrons growing on the Knockmealdown Mountains range that spans Counties Tipperary and Waterford. Photo: Andrew Lynch, https://www.flickr.com/photos/newandrew/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The highest peak in the mountain range is Knockmealdown.

On the western side of the summit is a mountain pass called “The Vee,” which runs through an old mail coach road from Lismore in Co. Waterford to Clogheen in Co. Tipperary.

The area is particularly beautiful during the months of May and June when sections of the mountain are covered in pink and purple rhododendrons.


This is an ideal place for walking since there are various trails, forestry tracks, and mountain climbs to attempt.

The Wormhole, Inishmore Island, Co. Galway

Otherwise known as “The Serpent’s Lair” or “The Wormhole,” this natural pool is actually called “Poll na bPeist” in Gaelic, which refers to the mythical reptilian sea monster from Irish folklore that it is associated with.

a natural pool near the sea 10 gem attractions in Ireland
The Serpent's Lair, a favorite diving spot on the island of Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands, one of 10 gem attractions in Ireland you should visit. Photo: Courtesy of Lukasz Warzecha for Tourism Ireland.

It is located on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.

If you’re visiting the main attraction on the island, Dun Aonghasa, you’ll need to travel about 1.6 km (0.9 miles) to get to this gem of a spot.

The rectangular-shaped pool fills up as the water ebbs and flows at the bottom of the cliffs with the help of underground channels. In the past, it has been the site of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

Read More: 8 Overlooked Destinations in Ireland Worth Visiting

Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park, Co. Mayo

This is one of the largest peatlands in Europe.

It is an incredibly beautiful place and if you’re in County Mayo, you shouldn’t miss it.

lakes, forest and mountains 10 gem attractions in Ireland
An aerial view of the Wild Nephin Wilderness Area, including the Nephin Beg Mountains in Ballycroy National Park. Photo: Courtesy Gareth McCormack/garethmccormack for Failte Ireland/Tourism Ireland.

It is definitely one of the 10 gem attractions in Ireland that are a must-see.

This Special Area of Conservation has been turned into a haven for walkers and hikers.

The Ballycroy National Park section of this beautiful wilderness was established as a national park in 1998. In 2017, close to 10,000 acres of conifer forest and mountain was added, which is when it became known as the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park.

There are several trails in the park, including the Bangor Trail, which follows an old drover path used at one time to move livestock from one place to another. Some believe it may date back to the Iron Age.

a boardwalk in the wilderness 10 gem attractions in Ireland
One of the boardwalk trails at the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park in Co. Mayo, one of 10 gem attractions in Ireland. Photo courtesy of Hugh Sweeney for Failte Ireland.

If you want to get a taste of County Mayo’s rugged mountainous environment and its beautiful coastline, be sure to take the 2-km (1.24-mile) Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail.

It is the only trail in the park that offers a multi-access walkway across the bog with fabulous views of the mountains, including the Nephin and Claggan mountains, as well as Achill Island.

It is also situated within the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park.

If the dark sky and all its wonders fascinate you, then a visit to The Mayo Dark Sky Park, which is located with the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park is a must.

 

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✨ Inside Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park lies the Mayo Dark Sky Park, Ireland's first International Dark Sky Park. ✨ . On a clear night, you can see over 4500 stars, along with other planets, the Milky Way and meteor showers. 🌌 . However, Dark Sky Parks are more then just places to watch stars. They are protected and valued as an important educational, cultural, scenic and natural resource. Wildlife often suffers from light polution, Dark Sky Parks fight this trend. 💚 . 📸 Mayo Dark Sky Park in Wild Nephin National Park by Brian Wilson . . . #DarkSkyPark #Ireland #NationalPark #wildnephinballycroynationalpark #Darkskies #stars #protectnature #nature #space #stars #milkyway #protectedareas #photography

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It is one of three international dark sky parks on the island of Ireland showcasing some of the most pollution-free dark skies in the world.

The other two include the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, which is located in Ballinskelligs, and the OM Dark Sky Park & Observatory located in the Davagh Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone.

Be sure to visit the Nephin Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre, which houses an interactive exhibition and provides plenty of information on the different walks you can take.



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Read More about Visiting County Mayo on a Budget

Yew Maze, Co. Wexford

The intricate Yew Hedge Maze in Dunbrody, Co. Wexford, is another one of the 10 gem attractions in Ireland worth seeing. Located next to Dunbrody Abbey, it is made up of 1,500 intricate yew hedges as well as a beautiful garden.

 

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Ireland has so many cool places to visit and in Wexford we are so spoilt for choice! Dunbrody Maze and Abbey is a great place to see. And what a spot for an elopement or intimate wedding. Imagine the excitement and anticipation as one of you tries to find your way through the maze to meet your love waiting to speak vows of love to you at the centre. It’s actually harder than it looks but don’t worry, I know a shortcut! 😀And you can just about make out Dunbrody Abbey ruins just across the road, which is a lovely spot for photos. If you’re thinking of unusual places to have your ceremony I’d love to hear from you ❤️ #wexfordcelebrant #irishcelebrant #moderncelebrant #uniqueweddinglocation #irishelopement #destinationweddings #elopetoireland #anucelebrancy #anuwayforyourday #funcelebrant #dunbrodyabbey #dunbrodymaze #visitwexford #letmemarryyou #loveislove #samesexcelebrant #alternativecelebrant #telleroflovestories #lgbtcelebrant #green #elopementwedding #elopement #junebugweddings #weddinginspirations #amazingmazes #mazewedding #2020brides #instabrides #gettingmarriedsoon #higm Image credit: Andrew Sykes @shotsbysykes

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While you’re there, be sure to check out the abbey, which was founded at the end of the 12th-century at the request of Strongbow, otherwise known as Richard de Clare, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke.

an old abbey 10 gem attractions in Ireland
Dunbrody Abbey in Co. Wexford, which is located next to the maze garden. Photo: Getty Images.

It is believed to be one of the most impressive Cistercian ruins in Ireland.

As you wander around the abbey, you’ll see the remains of a 13th-century church, including its transepts and chapels, its nave, and a massive crossing tower that was added in the 15th century.

an old abandoned building 10 gem attractions in Ireland
The nave, south aisle and base of the abbey's bell tower. Photo: By Kevin McNamee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61392973

The castle was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1536, as were all of the other monasteries and abbeys across Ireland at the time.

Have you visited any of the above 10 gem attractions in Ireland? If so, let me know what you thought in the comments below.

Read more: 6 of Ireland's Coolest Lighthouses (You Can Actually Stay in Some of Them!)

colette

Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

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