Before visiting Ireland, I expected history, beautiful landscapes and leprechauns (but that’s another story). What I got when I visited Munster Vales was a taste of adrenaline that satisfied my adventure-seeking heart. From Cork to Tipperary and Limerick to Waterford, the Munster Vales region has an activity for everyone- from the thrill seekers to the nature lovers. Read on for 5 outstanding outdoor activities in Ireland… you’re sure to find something you love on the list!
Horseback riding in Ballyhoura
As a Texan, I feel that it’s my duty to test out horseback riding whenever I get the chance. And since getting over a bit of fear of English-style riding in New Zealand, I was ready for round two in Ireland. We met John Joe at Ballyhoura Horse Trekking and donned our helmets, riding boots and mounted our horses for an hour-long horseback riding adventure. Molly and I got along great from the start– she’s a sweet girl who was the perfect horse for me!
Our small group size allowed for personal attention and within a couple minutes, we were given instructions on how to post a trot English-style (or the only correct way to ride, according to John Joe) and off we went. Posting is basically squatting on top of the horse as it trots, so in addition to being less painful for you and the horse, it’s also a killer thigh workout.
We trotted past the horses in pasture and to the main road, where we slowed to a walk and took in the Ballyhoura mountains and luscious green landscape around us. The most magical part of the ride was about 30 minutes down the trail, when we entered an arched entryway in a dense forest of pine trees. The fallen needles muted the horses’ hooves and the silence of the forest, the scent of the pine and the stillness of nature made me think Hansel and Gretel could walk across our path at any moment.
I’ve taken plenty of trail rides in my lifetime, but the moments in that forest are ones I’ll remember for the rest of my life. We celebrated our return to the stable with a Ballyhoura Apple Cider and wondered aloud whether our trip through the enchanted forest was real.
Mountain biking the Ballyhoura Trails
If you’re a speed demon who gets your thrills from careening downhill on a bike, make your way to the Ballyhoura Mountains in east Limerick and north Cork. The trails are laid out in five loops, each leading into the next. Just choose where you want to start and make your way through the Greenwood, Mount Russell, Garrane, Streamhill, and Castlepook bike loops. Designed by Daffy Davis, these trails run over 90km of Ireland’s most beautiful hills and forests and through six mountain biker-friendly villages.
Wakeboard or Wipeout at Ballyhass Lakes
Some of my best childhood memories include flinging myself off a platform onto the ‘blob’ at summer camp and being launched into the lake by the force of a bigger camper blobbing on after me. I thought my blobbing days were over, but Ballyhass Lakes invites kids of all ages to join in the fun at the ‘wipeout style’ Aquapark.
The inflatable waterpark is set up in an old limestone quarry, with crystal clear water. Although most of the participants were the ‘under 18’ kind of kid, I had a blast as a (slightly) older than 18 kid at heart. I made full use of the water trampoline, 4 meter high slides, climbing wall and balance beam. I even tried to relive my childhood on the blob… but my balance isn’t quite what it used to be!
The October water was cold, but the adrenaline got my heart pumping and adrenaline flowing in a way that a shot of espresso never could.
Ballyhass is also home to Ireland’s longest cable wakeboarding center. When we visited, there was a competition going on, so we didn’t get to try it ourselves, but it was a blast watching the competitors attempt the jumps.
Prefer to stay dry? Ballyhass Lakes offers rock climbing, abseiling, zip lining and low ropes courses for groups of 10 or more, but open the activities to individuals on a regular basis. Check their website for more details.
Cycling the Waterford Greenway
The Waterford Greenway is a stunning 46km stretch of off-road cycling and walking trail built over the old railway line from Waterford City to Dungarvan. We rented bikes with The Greenway Man, Garvan Cummins, who was instrumental in campaigning for the path’s construction to increase cycling in Ireland.
Garvan was our guide for the trail, taking us down the path that opened in its current form 50 years to the day after the last train graced the tracks. He took us past the ruins of an old train station and compared photos from yesteryear with its current state. I was especially interested to learn that one of the major exports from the region were beets. Did you know beets can be used to make sugar?
One of the bonuses of the trail’s construction over the railway line is a relatively flat path. It’s an easy walk or cycle for people of all abilities— we saw families with small children, elderly in wheelchairs and avid cyclists as we cruised along the sea on the way to Dungarvan.
Biking over two stone viaducts, we learned their history, which was quite explosive during the civil war. Garvan’s passion for the Greenway and extensive knowledge of the region’s history transformed an enjoyable ride into something even more special.
Another highlight of the cycle to Dungarvan are the fairy doors, left by children who visit the Waterford Greenway. Each door is home to a fairy, and children come back to visit the Greenway and their fairy.
Bike past the fairy doors and through the Ballyvoyle brick-lined tunnel that’s a quarter of a mile long. When you emerge under a canopy of green, you may think that the fairy magic transported you to the Amazon… the trail really is magic.
Hike the Ballyhoura Way in the Glen of Aherlow
The Glen of Aherlow’s Fáilte Society’s goal is that “those who live here enjoy a better place to live and those who visit want to stay longer.” They’ve certainly accomplished their mission with me. We spent the afternoon with Michael on a portion of the 90km Ballyhoura Way and learned about the region from the man who has guided many hikers through Ireland’s great walks. Michael shared stories and pointed out photo opportunities as we trekked to Christ the King. We stood under the statue’s outstretched hand, said to bestow blessing on all who pass. The views across the Glen of Aherlow and into the Galtee Mountains are worth the walk.
Be sure to download the geocaching app before you take this trail, and see if you can find treasure along the way. If you do, be sure to look for my name in the finder’s book (it’s about 2 pages from the end)!
Which of these outdoor activities in Ireland sounds like the most fun to you? Have I missed any awesome activities in the Munster Vales region?
Note: I visited Munster Vales as a guest of the Munster Vales Tourism Board. However, all opinions are my own and I wouldn’t recommend anything to you that isn’t awesome!