emerald isle ireland

Read our recommendations on the best places to visit in the north of the Emerald Isle. The North of the Republic of Ireland (the counties Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo), as well as the six counties of Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom)  offer a blend of modest attractions.

The North of Ireland has been “off the beaten path” for so long that many travelers simply forget it’s there.  In addition, the major cities in the north of Ireland and Northern Ireland are perceived by many to be somewhat bland and lacking in significant attractions that would interest most travelers.We recommend that you visit the North of Ireland (including Northern Ireland)  on a second trip to Ireland or at the end of a whole island tour. If you do head north, we have a few suggestions for you, depending on where you choose to journey.  On this page we cover the northern counties of the Republic of Ireland, while we cover the best places to visit in Northern Ireland here.

Republic of Ireland

County Donegal

County Donegal
County Donegal

County Donegal has amazing seascapes,  extraordinary seaside cliffs (see Slieve League) , rugged mountains and some of the most spectacular scenery in Ireland.  Driving the Donegal coast is a rewarding experience, but you will find services and facilities somewhat limited. Although it doesn’t seem to fit with most travelers’ vision of Ireland, Bundoran in County Donegal is considered Ireland’s surfing capital, although its waters could hardly be considered temperate (wetsuit required).

If you wander near Donegal Town, be sure to stop off at the Diamond (the centre of Donegal Town) to visit Magees, the world famous weavers of Donegal Tweed since 1866.  In addition, the recently restored Donegal Castle is close by.  Dating from the 15th century the castle was once the home of the troubled O’Donnell clan. If you are headed south out of Donegal Town, consider visiting the Donegal Craft Village about 7 miles southwest on N15 towards Ballyshannon.

The  climate in Donegal is temperate and quite moist.   You can expect rain and/or low-lying clouds almost anytime, so be prepared.  Unfortunately, the sun seems to return at random and you will be equipping and stripping layers of clothes as you tour County Donegal )especially in the far north of the county (Don’t forget, County Donegal extends the furthest north of any county in either the Republic or Northern Ireland).

For more information on tourism in County Donegal, see this site.

Parke's Castle
Parke’s Castle – Photo credit: PaGn

County Leitrim

County Leitrim bills itself as “the land of lakes and legend” and is a good place for country walks.   Due to its many lakes, Leitrim is also a popular area for fishing.

One interesting historic site in the county is Parke’s Castle located on the shore of the scenic Lough Gill.  The estate is a restored 17th century “plantation” castle.  The plantation movement was a strategy to take land away from the rebellious Irish Catholics and awarded it to loyal Protestant “planters from England and Scotland.  For information about visiting Parke’s Castle see Heritage Ireland’s website.

County Sligo

County Sligo provides the fabric comprising many of the poems by W. B.

Ballysadure Bay
Ballysadure Bay

Yeats. Although Yeats was born in Dublin, his family had links to Sligo and he celebrated County Sligo by including aspects of the area in several of his poems. See the Yeats Society Sligo website   for information on its Yeats Exhibition.  Although he died in France, Yeats was thought buried in nearby Drumcliff, but there now seems to be some confusion over the issue.

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is about 3 miles (5km) from the town on Sligo and is the largest and reputedly the oldest collection of megalithic, single-chambered tombs in Ireland.  To the uninitiated, Carrowmore looks like a rolling grassland filled with boulders.  The difference is that many of the boulders were positioned to form dolmens or portals to help convey the dead to the afterlife.

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery – Photo credit: Ana _Rey

Spread over a large area, there are numerous tombs remaining, although only half of the surveyed sites have been unearthed (either totally or partially).  The ages of these monuments vary and a controversy rages about the dating methods used.  Some sources suggest that the tombs are five to six thousand years old, while carbon dating that is more recent suggests that some of the sites may be nearer to seven and half thousand years old. If the dating holds true, then some of these tombs are older than the pyramids, although certainly much simpler in design.

There is a modest visitor centre at the site and tours are offered. See Heritage Ireland for more information.

The Carrowmore complex includes Knocknarea Mountain, a prominent limestone knob that is crowned with a large cairn of loose rocks known as Queen Maeve’s Grave. (Queen Maeve was reputed a warrior queen from prehistoric time, or perhaps a queen from Celtic mythology.)  Although never excavated, the site is thought to be another  tomb, but one that is very expansive (approximately 180ft in width and 33ft high or 55m by 10m).  Knocknarea is thought to have been a site of religious importance during the Neolithic Age, as it is crowned with a number of tombs and several sites likely built to hold religious ceremonies. If you plan to stop of Carrowmore, be sure to explore Knocknarea.