Heading northeast out of Killaloe/Ballina, it’s not long before you’re surrounded by the astonishing scenery of Lough Derg. Pause for a while at the viewing point at Portroe, and enjoy the landscape of blues and greens that unfolds before you. From Portroe, the next stop is Nenagh, Tipperary’s second largest town and a place famous for its 13th century castle. It’s definitely worth taking a tour of the castle – it has the finest keep on the island of Ireland. Climb the 101 steps and you’ll soon reach the top where bursts of fresh air and panoramic views make the effort all worthwhile.
Back on the road, a landscape of undulating green fields dotted with cows and sheep will keep you company until you get to the tiny village of Terryglass. Drop into the Derg Inn for lunch – it’s a relaxed local favourite and does a good line in soups, stews, sandwiches and daily specials. Just next door sits the ruins of a 6th century monastery, while if you wander down the road towards the harbour, you’ll come across the curious Headache Well. Set in a very pretty spot down by a gentle river, the well is said to cure sore heads and migraines – maybe its secret lies in the fact that it’s simply a beautiful place to just sit and relax.
Next up is Portumna – you could spend a whole weekend in this lively town and not run out of things to do, but for an afternoon’s visit, you’ll have to make some choices. One place not to miss out on is The Irish Workhouse Centre, where enthusiastic local guides will open your eyes to the horrors of what was described as “the most feared and hated institution ever established in Ireland”. It would be a real shame, too, to come to Portumna and not see the town’s incredible 17th century castle. The exterior has been painstakingly restored by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and boasts Jacobean-style architecture, towers and exquisite gardens. A short stroll from the castle, Portumna Abbey is a medieval Cistercian friary that is in surprisingly good condition and sits close to the scenic marina. Part of the friary was used for Church of Ireland services during the 17th century, and points of interest include beautiful windows, medieval graveslabs and a delicate, partly reconstructed cloister.
Portumna Forest is prime territory for nature-lovers thanks to its wonderful walking trails, bouncy wild deer and views of the lough. You can opt for the short Woodland Trail if you like, but it’s worth spending the time enjoying the Rinmaher or Bonaveen walking trails, both around 10km. Stick around Portumna for dinner – you can go upscale at La Bouche or keep things simple with pizza at The Beehive – before heading back to Killaloe/Ballina.