Ballyhoura is one of Ireland’s true ‘hidden’ gems.
However, to those in the know, the dramatic region is home to some of the island’s finest walks and hikes.
The area that encompasses the Ballyhoura Mountains also boasts breathtaking rural scenery, biking trails and a plethora of historic sites.
Below, you’ll discover info on everything from the various Ballyhoura walks to where to eat, sleep and sip!
Some quick need-to-knows about Ballyhoura
It’s worth taking 30 seconds to scan the points below, as they’ll get you up-to-speed on Ballyhoura nice and quickly:
The Ballyhoura region spans multiple counties including southeast Limerick, north-east Cork and west Tipperary. The area is centred on the Ballyhoura Mountains and includes Lough Gur and the walled town of Kilmallock.
2. Home to endless things to do
If you enjoy history and nature, you’ll find Ballyhoura has plenty of attractions to keep you entertained. Activities include walking and hiking, mountain biking, fishing, horse riding, clay shooting and more exciting activities such as paragliding, kayaking and orienteering. The unspoilt landscape has many heritage sites and attractions including Doneraile Wildlife Park.
3. A place where history and beauty collide
The Ballyhoura Mountains are steeped in natural beauty and are a popular nesting site for many birds. The region has 450km of waymarked walks and a network of biking trails (the largest in Ireland). As well as many points of natural beauty, the area offers heaps of historical sites, museums and heritage towns.
4. Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails
Get out on two wheels and enjoy this mountain bikers’ paradise. Did we mention Ballyhoura has 98km of cycling trails, the largest network in the whole of Ireland? Trails range from the moderate 6km Greenwood Loop to the tortuous 50km Castlepook Loop and plenty in-between. They all have excellent amenities including showers and bike washes!
About the Ballyhoura Region
If you’re looking for the ‘real Ireland’, Ballyhoura is a very good place to start. Bordering three counties, this historic rural area includes the Ballyhoura Mountain Range as well as lush green pastures and plenty of history and culture.
Friendly people, charming towns and villages and great food make you feel at home right from the get-go.
Outdoor recreational activities abound, from walking and biking on traffic-free trails to fishing, hurling, axe-throwing and adrenaline sports.
History lovers can follow in the footsteps of prehistoric man around Lough Gur delving into archaeological sites and local culture.
The walled town of Killmallock dates back to the 7th century and the Parish Church, Dominican Priory, Heritage Museum and King’s Castle tell their own tale.
Things to do in Ballyhoura
Although the various Ballyhoura walking trails tend to steal the show, there’s plenty to discover in this part of Ireland.
Below, you’ll find everything from lakes and family-friendly attractions to adventure sports and more.
1. Endless walks
Ballyhoura has 450km of scenic waymarked trails and you’ll have plenty of company with an abundance of birds and wildlife. Knocknagalty is the Gateway to the Galtees and King’s Yard makes an excellent base to start a day’s hiking.
Enjoy the easy 5km Attychran Loop which passes through Galtee Castle Woods (alas no longer a castle there but plenty of amazing views!) mainly on forestry roads.
Ballinaboola Woods is steeped in history as you climb to the ancient monastery of Ardpatrick founded by St Patrick.
And then there’s Blackrock Loop, the highest point in the Ballyhouras along with Castlegale, Darby’s Bed, Benard Loop, and so many more (see our Ballyhoura walks guide)!
2. Historical sites
The most notable historical site in Ballyhoura is arguably Lough Gur, where prehistoric man once farmed and fished from those scenic shores.
Doneraile Park has its own fascinating history. Kilfinane Motte “the triple mounded fort of the king” was mentioned in the 12th century Book of Rights while the nearby Standing Stones are likely of Bronze Age origin.
Visit Castlegarde Castle and Glenstal Abbey or stroll the medieval streets of Kilmallock admiring the historic architecture.
Round off your history lesson at the De Valera Museum or the Thomas Fitzgerald Centre with its interesting American Presidential connections.
3. Family-friendly attractions
If you’re visiting as a family, there are plenty of fun things that will appeal to all generations. Go horse riding in the beauty of the Ballyhoura Mountains (there are several stables and novices are welcome!) or visit the Donkey Sanctuary.
Carrots and apple chunks are appreciated! Animal Magic and Falconry Centre is ideal for getting up-close to raptors on Hawk Walks, or head to the Owl Experiences.
Go underground at the outstanding Mitchelstown Caves and see stalagmites, stalactites and calcite pillars or go karting for some competitive fun.
4. Mountain biking activities
Ballyhoura is made for mountain biking with its deserted country lanes and forest trails. The 98km network of mountain biking trails is designed for enjoying twisty climbs, tight turns and rocky sections.
Take your pick from the moderate 6km Greenwood loop to the demanding 50km Castlepook loop. There’s also Mountrussell 17km loop, Garrane 35km loop and Streamhill 41km loop.
You’ll be amazed at the excellent facilities at the trailhead including car parking with CCTV, board maps, toilets, showers and even bike washing areas. There are snacks and hot drinks available too.
Visiting Ballyhoura for an exciting outdoor adventure? Check out the range of activities at Ballyhass Lakes Adventure Centre. It offers 15 activities including rock climbing, zip-lining, high ropes courses, raft building and more.
Try Wakeboarding on Ballyhass Lake with one-on-one tuition or dive into the Aquapark with an inflatable obstacle course, trampolines, climbing walls, slides and more. Ever thrown an axe?
Now’s your chance at Ballyhass Axe Throwing. Learn how to spin and throw the axe and score on the target. Highest points win! If you’re staying a while, there’s a Summer Camp for 8-17-year-olds to try out a host of thrilling activities.
6. Scenic drives
If you’re more of a passive explorer, Ballyhoura has some breathtaking drives through the dramatic scenery. Follow the signposted 123km loop route around Ballyhura Drive taking in Mitchelstown, Liscarroll Castle, Labbamolagga burial tombs, Doneraile and the Aghacross Ruins.
Sli Finn Drive is a 30km scenic route for nature lovers including the Ballyhoura Nature Trail. Alternatively, hit the idyllic 112km Golden Vale Drive revelling in history, folklore and legend at every stopping point.
Where to stay around Ballyhoura
So, there’s plenty of places to stay if you fancy exploring the Ballyhoura Mountains.
You’ll find our favourites below, but there are plenty of other places to stay dotted around the area.
Castleconnell is a charming village on the banks of the Shannon River. Go salmon fishing, explore Fairy Woods or relax with a massage at the luxury Castle Oaks House Hotel on the Wild Atlantic Way. It feels like the middle of nowhere, but it’s just 11km from Limerick City.
Kilmallock was one of Munster’s key settlements during the 13th and 14th centuries and it has walls, gates, gatehouses and magnificent churches to show for it. Visit the Kilmallock Museum or join an informative guided tour around the medieval town with a local guide. There are ample scenic hikes and cycle trails nearby.
And so to Kilfinane, a small market town near the Golden Vale with panoramic mountain views. The Outdoor Education Centre is a hub for outdoor activities including river walking, kayaking, mountain biking and abseiling. Beyond the town there are several loop walks including the Ballyhoura Way.
FAQs about exploring the Ballyhoura Mountains
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the Glenveagh Castle Gardens to the tour.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Where is Ballyhoura?
The Ballyhoura region spans multiple counties including southeast Limerick, north-east Cork and west Tipperary.
What is there to do around Ballyhoura?
The many Ballyhoura are arguably the best things to do, however, there’s also heaps of history and plenty of adventure sports to try.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.