Touring Tipperary, Ireland (or Part of It)

I spent a few most enjoyable days in County Tipperary in June (09). Tipperary is divided into Tipperary North (where the local car registration is TN) and Tipperary South (where the car registration is TS). It is in the province of Munster and has good road and rail connections from Dublin. (Approx under 2 hours drive from Dublin.)

The county is in the midlands and bordered by the counties of Waterford in the south, Kilkenny, Laois and Offaly to the east, Galway to the north and Cork, Limerick and Clare to the west.

As my wife was participating in a four-day course in at the Tipperary Institute in Thurles in north Tipperary we needed to find accommodation that accepted dogs. There are several hotels in Ireland that are “pet friendly”, but from researching this on the Internet, the majority appear to be in the west of Ireland. We stayed at one of these last June at Renvyle in Connemara. In the end I found Ashleypark House, situated near Nenagh via a website that listed B & B accommodation that is pet friendly.

Although they have a very informative web site full of information and great pictures, I used the old fashioned way of contacting them – telephone to sort out our booking. They have a small flat adjoining the property and a renovated gardeners cottage that can be rented for self catering or a mixture of self catering and eating in the main house.

We drove from Dublin on a hot sunny Thursday afternoon using the new toll system on the M50 then via the N4, M4, and M6 and through Tullamore famous for Irish Whiskey Tullamore Dew. We found the house after asking a couple of locals, although it was well signposted on the N52 road and the AA route planner directions were good.

Ashleypark House is set in 76 acres of woodland, formal gardens and a lake and with two entrances, both with gate lodges it has a long drive of approximately 1 km. It is an 18th century country house that has been restored by its present owners. It is full of character and apart from providing bed and breakfast accommodation there are excellent four course dinners with wine.

The first night we were in a back bedroom overlooking a grass covered courtyard that is home to peacocks and cockerels. As it does not get dark till nearly eleven at this time of the year and is getting light soon after 3, these birds don’t have much sleep and are calling out from just after 3.30 and they are noisy. Sean the exceptionally active 80+ resident owner of the house suggested we move to a room at the front of the house that has superb views over the lake and much quieter. This was the room that President Mary McAleese stayed in a few years ago. What an honour for our Irish born dog to sleep in the same room that the president had slept in!

The house was very good value costing around EUR100 per person a day for bed (with en-suite), full Irish breakfast, a four-course dinner with coffee or tea and this included the wine. Prices of wine ranged from EUR22 to EUR30 a bottle on average (and we found a very good red at EUR25 a bottle).

Each day I had to take my wife to Thurles (some 40 km + away) and return for a full Irish breakfast and then take in some touring with my mother in law who had come with us and Joss the dog. On the first day we decided to explore the local area – Tipperary Lakeside in Shannon’s Lough Derg District. Lough Derg is the largest lake on the River Shannon. Although there is not a lakeside ring road, you can drive up to the various villages situated around it. Taking in a visit to the newly built “Thatched Cottage” pub in Ballycommon plus a factory shop was a great day. The area was full of recently built houses, many large properties with electric gates illustrating Ireland’s wealth over the last few years.

On the second day we went shopping in Nenagh. Nenagh is a very prosperous looking Irish midlands town. There only appeared to be one shop that had closed down and the town has a centre for tracing your ancestry, a cinema, modern out of town shopping complex plus many traditional shops in the town. There are a couple of shops that years ago would have been described as “drapers”. These establishments are on 2/3 floors offering ladies and gentleman’s clothing, soft furnishing, furniture etc. One was Gough O’Keefe and Naughton drapery store and each shop was well stocked and busy.

After the shopping trip we moved onto Limerick, driving into the city from the outskirts is now similar to any major Irish city where the out of town shopping centres are full of UK retailers. The city is not large and unfortunately has a reputation over the last few years for gangland activity. This appears to be family gang members of one gang attacking members of others. This should not put off visitors to the city that has many fine streets and great scenery.

We crossed over the Shannon again and moved into Co Clare and stopped at Bunratty Castle. This fine old castle that has a “folk village” adjoining it is well worth visiting. I had been then some twenty years earlier so on this occasion did not go around the village. They hold mediaeval banquets in the castle. Bunratty now has a bypass, but it has been well landscaped and you certainly don’t miss the turning off the main N18. Limerick and Bunratty are just a short distance from Shannon Airport.

It is a very popular location for holiday makers with a large development of self catering holiday homes run by the “Dream Ireland” company who feature many of their properties on the website. We parked outside Durty Nelly’s which is one of Ireland’s most famous pubs.

After coffee in the spacious craft shop complex we moved onto the smaller roads following signs for sixmilebridge. This is a picturesque little village and has a pub by a stream that has miniature version of the pub next to it called the “Duck Inn”. Following on from the recent UK Parliament’s expenses saga when an MP was claiming for costs involving his floating duck island house, I could not resist taking a couple of pictures of this floating “duck pub”.

We then followed signs to Knappogue Castle. I remember going there one summer when visiting Ireland with relatives over thirty years ago for a Mediaeval banquet. The more popular even at Bunratty was booked out so we went to Knappogue, which is not so much on the tourist route. That Saturday in June it was deserted, the weather by that time had changed to rain, but the notices said they still hold these banquets and wedding receptions there.

The next objective was drive to Thurles via Limerick and not taking the road to Nenagh which would be out of the way. You needed a map with the villages you would pass through as the route was deliberately not signposted to Thurles until you were some 30km from it. Although it was raining it was a great drive through these picturesque villages, most of which has a shop, pub and church. Rather like the day before there has been a lot of new houses built over the last few years and property, old and new are in very good condition. No doubt the owners would be working in Limerick.

Wherever you went to be it in the remote countryside, a town or city there were hundreds of poster pictures of candidates for the Irish local elections and the European Parliamentary elections that was held in Ireland on the Friday. Visiting Ireland again a couple of weeks after the event, there was something missing with all the bare lampposts and telegraph poles where these posters had been. It was rather like when the Christmas decorations have to come down at twelfth night with just the odd poster slipping through the removal net.

Before getting to the Tipperary institute we drove around Thurles itself, even though it was raining you got a very good idea of the town. This town is a very prosperous looking place full of shops, pubs and restaurants.

Sunday was the final touring day and as we were in Tipperary could not miss the opportunity of visiting Tipperary itself. The day was warm and sunny again turning off the familiar Nenagh to Thurles route we drove down a very bumpy road that at one stage turned into a single track road with grass in the centre, rather similar in width to those country house properties like Ashleypark House. The worrying factor was that there were not many passing places and fortunately no other traffic was coming in the opposite direction.

The car was very low on petrol and none of the picturesque villages had filling stations. We arrived on the outskirts of Tipperary without incident and refreshed the car’s tank.

Tipperary was very similar to Thurles, Nenagh and the other local towns. After looking around, we moved onto Thurles again this time following the route via Cashel which is One of the most spectacular tourist attractions in Ireland and one of the most visited. It is home to the iconic Rock of Cashel.

Monday was the day to leave Ashleypark House a place that was so tranquil. There is a rowing boat available for guests to use on the lake and plenty of walks and the bonus is that they accept dogs.

There are so many people travelling with dogs to Ireland that it seems very strange that there are not more establishments that are pet friendly. Maybe the economy has been so good for such a long time that they have had full occupancy without needing to encourage people with pets. Now that tourist levels are going to be lower and fewer visitors from Britain because of the high ferry costs on the Irish Sea routes (unlike going to France) and the weakness of sterling against the euro, hotels will have to look at their market and restrictions they impose.

Ashleypark House is listed with “The Hidden Ireland” here they 30 similar types of accommodation in locations around Ireland. Apart from Ashleypark House there was only one other house advertised that would allow pets and in that case, stating “Kennels and Stables available”. It is a great pity that others are not pet friendly, as we will be looking for another area to visit next year.

It looks like prices in general will have to be reviewed to attract more custom. I discovered in a hotel in Malahide, near Dublin the other day that a pint of Kilkenny beer was costing EUR4.90 and this is higher than the same brand in the south of France. A pint of real ale back in my local pub in England will set you back around £3.00 so they do need to look at costs to attract the important tourist industry.

On the subject of Dublin, we drove back via Roscrea and the N7 before negotiating the M50 toll again, paying the fee this time at the local Spar store instead of online.

After visiting Ireland for the past 35 years it was really great to go to Tipperary for the first time and managed to cover a lot of the county, be it Tipperary North! It is a very prosperous, place to visit and you get a great welcome and prices appear to be much, much better value than Dublin.

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