I'm from County Meath but the counties of Waterford and Wexford have a piece of my heart thanks to fine beaches, wild fishing, delicious food and a traditional slice of the Emerald Isle
I’m from County Meath in Ireland but I have a burning passion for the south of Ireland, especially around the counties of Waterford and Wexford, and I just have to share these wonderful places.
It’s a beautiful part of the world and one I try to get to at least once a year since discovering it for myself just a few years ago. It was only four years ago actually - on recommendation from a friend in London - that I first discovered this part of Ireland. I just wanted somewhere I could take the car to but not drive the entire time I was there. I had never seen much of the southern part of the country before and it seemed like a great idea.
West Waterford in particular is delightful. There are wonderfully typical villages like Lismore, which are crammed with history and old stone buildings; soaring mountains, such as the Knockmealdown and Comeragh ranges; and dramatic rugged coastline as you head down towards Dungarvan and Ardmore. The population is fairly small in these counties so you never feel over-crowded. When you live and work in London like I do, finding peace in this part of Ireland is easy. I always manage to relax so well here and that for me, is the biggest compliment I can give.
Waterford and Wexford are two of the most traditional counties in Ireland. The city of Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city and sits on the River Suir. If you want a slice of tradition, you’ll find it in Waterford and Wexford. For sports fans, a hurling or Gaelic football match is a must and for music fans, well, you only need to find yourself in a cosy old pub in any town or village to hear the trad (traditional) music of the Irish.
The greatest space in the world, in my opinion, is the Hook Peninsula in Wexford. You’ll find a varied, unique and unspoiled coastline and the sort of beaches that will surprise and delight you – there’s one for every day of a fortnight. I can feel the stresses and strains of life just easing away from me as I take a breath of fresh sea air on the Hook Peninsula. It feels like a secret that shouldn’t be shared, and this part of the world really does feel like a secret part of Ireland that tourists rarely venture into. The friendliness and warmth of the welcome, however, is never forgotten.
Another pleasant past time here is fishing. I take a boat and then sail just over the border from Waterford to the coast off Youghal in County Cork. You can get charter fishing boats at many places along the coastlines of Waterford and Wexford for about 400 euros – one company I'd recommend is Wild Swan Fishing (www.wildswanfishing.com). You will catch cod, cod, cod, and maybe a few sea bass!
Where to stay
One of my favourite places to stay is the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore. It's perched on the rocks and it's incredibly beautiful. I stayed in room ten - it's right on the seashore - and I can honestly say it is the finest room I have ever stayed in, the finest in the world.
About twenty minutes away from Lismore, just over the border in Co Cork, Ballyvolane House is a beautiful old place with 18th century gardens, which are open to the public during the summer. When you stay here it’s like staying in their home. They don’t call themselves a hotel, or a B&B. They do say it’s like they’ve opened their home for people to stay and you really get that feeling; there’s something really pleasurable about that. There are no televisions, and you help yourself to the whiskey; it’s great.
Where to eat
Waterford is a real foodie area, mainly because the local produce is so good.
I always eat at the Tannery in Dungarvan (Quay Street; +353 58 45420; www.tannery.ie); they also have accommodation known as the Tannery Townhouse. Paul Flynn is in charge there and his food is always simple and exquisite. He is one of the best chefs I know. When I eat at the Tannery, I know it's going to be great. There is always a delicious seafood dish on the menu, guaranteed. I can have anything along those lines and know it’s going to be good. The entire place is decorated beautifully. It’s not too big and it’s not too flash. Two other fantastic features of the Tannery are a gorgeous little working garden, where the team grows all kinds of produce, and a cookery school, where they use produce from the garden and all around Waterford to cook and teach. It’s a wonderful place and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Whenever I’m in Arthurstown in Wexford I stop in at the Dunbrody House Hotel (+353 51 389 600; www.dunbrodyhouse.com). I often stop in there for a bowl of chowder, a glass of wine and a big chunk of fresh bread. Perfect.
In Lismore you’ll find the O’Brien Chop House (Main Street; + 353 58 53810; www.obrienchophouse.ie). It’s an unpretentious café/bistro and it’s fantastic. It’s almost like London in a small village in Ireland. You can get a nice local steak for around 20 euros and every dish just screams fresh, local produce. If I lived in Lismore I wouldn’t dare buy meat from anywhere but the local butchers. They are absolutely legendary in that area and rightly so.
I can’t wait to head back out to a place that has secured a piece of my heart and I couldn’t recommend the destination highly enough. Just don’t all rush there at once – I need my peace and quiet!