Although Killaloe and the Lough Derg region is renowned primarily for its outdoor activities and stunning landscape, there are so many more options to keep you entertained, without building up a sweat. There are plenty of tourist attractions, historical sites, creative pursuits and sightseeing opportunities to embrace during your stay. Here are just a few:
1. Trace the history of Brian Ború
Killaloe has heritage town status, so history buffs will be in their element here. Did you know that Killaloe Ballina was once the seat of the High King of Ireland Brian Ború (940 – 1014)? Throughout the area, you can see evidence of his legacy, in the cathedral, churches and relics sprinkled around the region.
Brian Boru’s Fort (Béal Boru) is a particular highlight that you simply must see for yourself. Stand in the large hollow surrounded by ancient trees and bask in the feeling of magic surrounding this special place.
2. Do a Killaloe Heritage Walking Tour
To really bring the history of this area to life, we highly recommend a walking tour. You can opt for either a self-guided tour of the area or hire a local guide. A highlight of the tour is the 13th century St. Flannan’s cathedral. This cathedral is particularly special because of its Ogham stone carvings, Romanesque doorway and the tomb of Muircheartaigh (the last O’Brien to be High King of Ireland). Other highlights include the two oratories (St Flannan and St. Lua) and the Killaloe Canal. The 4km heritage trail makes for a delightful stroll. It combines the rich history of the region with superb views of the iconic lake.
3. Unleash your creativity
The Lough Derg region and creativity are synonymous with one another. So, if it is a rainy Irish day, we suggest embracing your artistic side and signing up for a workshop or visiting a local gallery.
Quay Arts in Ballina run classes and workshops in everything from basket making, to patchwork, painting or ceramics. Check out their website to find out what is on during your stay.
Bridge House Studios Gallery and Printmaking in Killaloe is another option. Stroll around the art gallery, which is set in an idyllic 19th century cottage that is attached to a restored farmhouse. Sign up to a workshop; attend a gathering, talk or demonstration. Or simply marvel at the work on show at one of their exhibitions in this beautiful cottage garden.
4. Go chocolate tasting
Ever since watching Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory as a kid, you’ve probably at least wondered what it would be like to visit one yourself? Well Tuamgraney, on the shores of Lough Derg, offers that very opportunity. Head on down to the Wilde Chocolate Factory and take advantage of their free chocolate tastings! There are 80 different flavours to choose from. If you like what you see (and taste), stock up on the beautifully crafted and sumptuous flavours of this fine artisan chocolate. Admission is free.
5. Visit Holy Island
For an escape from the mainland for a few blissful hours, take a step back in time and pay a visit to Holy Island on Lough Derg. The stunning monastic site includes a Round Tower, the ruins of six churches, a Holy Well, a graveyard, Bullaun Stones, a cell-like structure and a ‘bargaining’ stone. Its seclusion is the reason this stunning site remains so intact and safe from development. Hop on the boat out from Mountshannon with local historian Ger Madden and escape time itself.
6. Shop in the Woollen Mills
Another little gem to pop into after a day of hikes or cycles is McKernan Woollen Mills. Located in Ballyartella, Co Tipperary and run by Irishman Eugene and his wife Anke, it’s a great spot to peruse for an hour or two. The factory has been on the go since 1893 and still has the incredible antique 19th century Hattersley looms. Stock up on scarves and throws, tweed jackets, Irish knitwear, table linen and other crafted Irish delights.
7. Be ready for an impromptu trad music session
Ask the locals or at reception id there are any traditional music sessions planned for the nights you’re there. Nothing beats a good ol’ Irish session of authentic traditional music and set dancing. Music is played all year round by world-class musicians in several of the bars dotted around the lake.