Mountains, scenery and 'lovely people': Why North Cork is the county's hidden tourist gem

Public representatives from both North Cork and Mid Cork are encouraging tourists to spend time in their areas and enjoy the numerous attractions and places of natural beauty on offer in both parts of County Cork. John Bohane reports
Mountains, scenery and 'lovely people': Why North Cork is the county's hidden tourist gem

Mallow Castle, one of the many tourist attractions in North Cork

WEST Cork and East Cork have traditionally been the main holiday or day-trip destinations in the county, because of their scenery and their proximity to the coast.

However, both North Cork and Mid Cork have invested in greenways, scenic walks, and amenities, while retaining their rugged beauty and character, which they hope will result in greater interest from both the domestic and international tourist markets.

Fianna Fáil councillor Gearoid Murphy said North Cork is a ‘hidden gem’, with lots to see and do. “A good example of this would be Liscarroll Castle, which a lot of people don’t even know is there,” Mr Murphy said. “Buttevant is a medieval town all in itself. Doneraile House is gorgeous. The grounds are always a main attraction. There are plenty of golf clubs. We need to let people know that these places are there.”

Mr Murphy accepts that getting the message out there to potential tourists is a long-term project. “Attracting the tour groups would be crucial. There is a lot of engagement to be done there. The million-dollar question is how and what we can do to promote it more to tourists. It is probably a long-term project. North Cork, traditionally, is not a destination for tourists. It is just getting the message out there and developing the amenities, like we did in Mallow.

Mallow is one of the principal towns in North Cork. It boasts a growing population and is ideally located, with many access points.

Mr Murphy said Mallow has benefitted greatly from a lot of development work aimed at increasing the tourism market.

“Mallow and the surrounding areas have seen a lot of development, particularly in regard to tourism,” Mr Murphy said. “We have Mallow Castle and a wonderful playground development, which is unique in terms of the county.

“There is the development of the River Walk and all the wonderful walkways in the town park. There is plenty to see and do for people of all ages.

“Mallow is the crossroads of Munster. It is very easy to get in and out of. Every train between Cork and Dublin stops in Mallow. It is a growing town, with great plans under the county development plan. There are also exciting plans for a skatepark in Mallow town, which would be very beneficial for young families. Tip O’Neill Park was redeveloped in the last year and there is a council swimming pool in Mallow. I believe it is the most-used council swimming pool in the county.”

Mr Murphy wants more hotels in the Duhallow region to cater for a surge in the tourist sector.

“We have plenty of bed and breakfast, but hotels are one area where I would like to see some development in North Cork,” Mr Murphy said. 

“Mallow has the fantastic Hibernian Hotel, which provides a great service for locals and tourists alike, but Mallow could use another hotel as well, as it is a growing town. Charleville has the Charleville Park Hotel, but there is a scarcity of hotels in the Duhallow region.

“There is the Millstreet Arms Hotel, and I don’t think there are many more. Kanturk doesn’t have one and that is an obvious hole that could be filled. I think it is inevitable we will see a development of more hotels.

'OPEN FOR BUSINESS'

“We are open for business. We have the amenities and people are always assured of a great welcome in north Cork,” said Fine Gael councillor John Paul O’Shea, who praised the variety of walking trails and scenic countryside in the area.

“There are a lot of walking trails in North Cork,” Mr O’Shea said. “The Beara Breifne Way, which goes all the way up to Leitrim, comes through Millstreet, Newmarket, and then Charleville. We have a lot of popular walking trails, such as the wood in Newmarket and Mount Hillary, which are probably the two most prominent walkways. We have very beautiful and scenic countryside in the region. It is very mountainous and that is why it is famous for its walking.”

Mr O’Shea said there are lots of other draws for tourists in the area. 

“There are plenty of attractions. We have a lot of architecture, with the historic Kanturk Castle. We also have the donkey sanctuary in Liscarroll, which is a very popular attraction. Kids go to the activity centre in Ballyhass Lakes, which is always popular. We have a lot of recreation and places to eat in the various towns, such as Newmarket, Kanturk, and Charleville,” Mr O’Shea said. “We also have country houses, such as Longueville House and Assolas Country House, in Kanturk, which have lots of recreational things on offer. The people are great and the more west you go, the more traditional it is for trad music. Towns like Newmarket would have traditional music on a weekly basic.”

The Fine Gael councillor accepts the area doesn’t have beaches to counteract the attractions of both West Cork and East Cork, but said they have the mountains, scenic views, and are in a great location for day-trippers.

MOUNTAINS AND SCENIC VIEWS

“We are all inland,” Mr O’Shea said. “While West Cork and East Cork have the luxury of promoting beaches, we would be able to promote the mountains and the scenic views. We have day-trippers who go on to Cobh or Blarney from North Cork. People going to Killarney go through the heart of North Cork and we always ask people to stop off and enjoy the scenery. If people are going to Limerick, a lot of people stop off in Charleville, which is a very historic town.”

Mr O’Shea is encouraged by the potential of the greenway from Mallow to Dungarvan to attract tourists.

“There is a feasibility study under way with regards to putting a greenway from Mallow to Dungarvan and linking up with the Waterford greenway,” Mr O’Shea said. 

“That would be a huge attraction, when it will come. There is also part of the N20 works we are doing, which will be providing a greenway from Cork City to Limerick City, which will run right through North Cork in terms of Mallow, Buttevant, and Charleville. That will be a key tourist attraction in time.”

Fianna Fáil councillor Ian Doyle said he is enthused about the many sporting and natural attractions in the region. “From an equestrian point of view, we are near Cork and Limerick racecourse,” Mr Doyle said. “Sport is very strong and popular in the region. We have top-class golf courses in Charleville, Doneraile, and Mallow. Doneraile Park and Annes Grove Gardens are both great. We are in the heart of the Ballyhoura region, so only over the road is the cycling and walking track of Ballyhoura Mountains. It is very safe for cycling. There are also plenty of GAA clubs and soccer clubs to cater for all.”

Inniscarra Lake on the Coachford Greenway: North Cork has invested heavily in greenways.
Inniscarra Lake on the Coachford Greenway: North Cork has invested heavily in greenways.

“We can’t offer the sea or beaches, but we have gorgeous scenery,” said Mr Doyle, who said the region offers so much for everybody. 

“We have many great places that provide culinary treats. The land is very good, as it in the heart of the Golden Vale. It is a lovely spot to visit. You have all the trails here.

“We are hoping to grow our tourism industry in the region, especially in terms of offering more amenities for tourists. We have a proximity to Cork City, Limerick City, and Cork Airport. It is up-and-coming, with plenty to see and do.”

Mid Cork has many similar attractions and amenities, which the region’s many towns and villages have developed in recent years to attract more tourists. Fine Gael councillor Eileen Lynch said there is plenty to do and see for people of all ages.

'THE PEOPLE ARE LOVELY'

“The people are lovely,” Ms Lynch said. “There is lots of choice and activities for people. Mid Cork offers something for everyone. We are well-located, as it is very central.”

Ms Lynch said there is a good ‘buzz’ and ‘vibe’ around the town: “Macroom town is traditionally known as the gateway to West Cork. One of the main selling points about the town would be Macroom Castle. There are nice walkways down there. You walk down the old castle grounds, where there are also pitches with lots of matches held.

“There is also a water area, where people swim,” Ms Lynch said. “There are a lot of nice bars and restaurants in Macroom town. There is always a good buzz and vibe around the town. The playground in the town was recently renovated, which is used by a lot of people.”

Liscarroll Castle is a tourist draw in North Cork.	Picture: Denis Minihane
Liscarroll Castle is a tourist draw in North Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane

Ms Lynch said there is an array of attractions in the greater Mid Cork region. 

“There is a greenway in Coachford, which is a nice 2k walk,” Ms Lynch said. “On the banks of the Lee Valley, there is also a lot of angling and fishing. International championships are also held there. We also have the National Rowing Centre in Farran. We also have Farran Wood, which has nice walks, zip lining, and lots of different things for kids.

“There is also a water amusement park in Carrigathou, which is very cool. We also have Mullinhassig Waterfall, which has a lovely walkway near there as well. The Mushera mountains are very popular. A lot of people walk up the mountain. You also have St John’s Well there, which, historically, is a nice place to see. There are a lot of various stone circles and historic points of interest around there.”

WALKING

Walks are a common theme and a big attraction in the area, said Ms Lynch. 

“In Millstreet, you have Millstreet Town Park, which has a playground and a walkway. There is the Green Glens Arena, and the horseshow is held there. There is also a mountain walk in Millstreet, as well, which is nice. In Inchigeela, you have water sports and kayaking and there is an outdoor swimming pool in Coolea.”

The Gaeltacht region is popular for tourists. Ms Lynch said there are lots of traditional activities to enjoy in the Gaeltacht.

“The Gaeltacht area is gorgeous. Lots of history attached to the area. There is a toy solder factory in Cill na Martra, which attracts a lot of tourists. There is also O Tuama Buffalo tours, which is nice and popular.

“Cill na Martra would be a place well known for its trad music. There would also often be Comhaltas nights in the Castle Hotel in Macroom or in Murray’s Bar in Macroom. There would be different scoraiocht nights, so there is an awful lot of music throughout the region,” Ms Lynch said.

There are also attractions for sports and shopping enthusiasts. “Golf is popular, with many courses in the region,” Ms Lynch said. “We have the Lee Valley and one in Macroom.” T

he Macroom bypass project, which is due to be completed by the first quarter of 2024, will be crucial to the town, said Ms Lynch. “The bypass will make an awful difference. I hope that it will be of massive benefit to Macroom town. At the moment, people are not tempted to stop there, having been stuck in traffic. Hopefully, it will open up the town.

“I think accommodation is an issue. There is a good-few bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs around, but I feel accommodation is possibly a barrier to holding bigger events.”

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