10 Things To Do in Ireland That Are Off the Beaten Path

Things to do in Ireland: Tullynally CastlePhoto: Brett Walther

Hunt for Ghosts in a Haunted Castle

For more than 350 years, Tullynally Castle has been home to the Pakenham family. With the current Earl of Longford, Thomas Pakenham, still in residence, it’s what’s referred to as a “living” castle—despite the fact that several other inhabitants don’t quite fit the bill. Local guide Bartle D’Arcy tells of a malevolent presence in the castle’s Octagonal Tower bedroom that’s haunted the family for generations. Pakenham’s own daughter, Eliza, claims to have been visited by the ghost of a dead butler one New Year’s Eve, and on another occasion, witnessed the apparition of a disembodied head. Walking the historic halls of this great estate—one of the largest houses in Ireland to remain in private hands—it’s easy to imagine something sinister lurking in the shadows. Is this video captured on a recent tour of Tullynally proof of its paranormal activity? You decide!

Travel tip: The main attraction at Tullynally from May to September is the glorious Castle Gardens. Restored to their 18th century roots, the 12 acres of lush landscaping are a testament to the green thumbs—and grand vision—of Thomas and Valerie Pakenham.

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Things to do in Ireland: Mountain Biking in KillykeenPhoto: Cavan Adventure Centre

Mountain Bike Through an Enchanted Forest

If C.S. Lewis’s Narnia were to exist on Earth, it would surely be Killykeen Forest Park in County Cavan. Here, dappled by the sunlight that streams through the dense canopy of old-growth spruce, oak and ash, you’ll find a network of impeccably-groomed bike trails, with some more challenging off-path options for the well-seasoned cyclist. Regardless of your skill level, the best way to explore this enchanted forest is with an experienced guide from the Cavan Adventure Centre. Available for half- or full-day hire, your guide will handle the logistics of getting you and your rental mountain bike to Killykeen and back, and lead you through the winding woodland trails at whatever pace you please. It’s the perfect way to lose yourself in the heart of Ireland’s stunning lakelands—without actually getting lost.

Travel tip: Before hitting the bike trails, stop for a moment to appreciate the beauty of Lough Oughter, which runs through Killykeen Forest Park. A popular fishing destination, the pristine lake is also home to huge populations of herons, whooping swans and other waterfowl.

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Things to do in Ireland: Fore Abbey and the Seven Wonders of ForePhoto: Chris Hill/Tourism Ireland

See Seven Wonders in a Single Valley

On a tight schedule? You can hardly make better use of your time than a visit to Fore Abbey, which packs seven fascinating sites into one lush green valley. Known as the Seven Wonders of Fore, these features are the stuff of folk tales, and sure to fire the imagination of even the staunchest cynic. There’s a decidedly creepy-looking “Tree That Won’t Burn,” sat next to a well filled with “Water That Doesn’t Boil.” The monastery itself apparently defies nature, having been built upon a bog, yet stubbornly refusing to sink. Oh, and that lintel stone in the ruins of St Feichin’s church? It was raised by the power of prayer. Regardless of whether or not you buy into the legends, there’s a tangible sense of mystery here that’s irresistible to the open-minded traveller.

Travel tip: The charming town of Castlepollard is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the Seven Wonders of Fore. Just a six-minute drive from the Benedictine ruins, you’ll find cozy lodgings at Hotel Castlepollard, and—if you time your visit right—a match of the town’s major sport, a field hockey-type activity known as “hurling.”

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