Travel

Wandering through Ireland’s Munster Vales

Not all stallions have their own Wikipedia page. The larger-than-life image of Galileo leaps out of the screen as I try and match the photo on my phone with the hazelnut-coloured stud neighing in front of me.

The chalet-like housing for stallions, giant metal sculptures of sires (male parents of superstar race horses) strewn across expansive grounds, groves of apple trees, and of course, the covering shed (venues for mating) are all part of an equine-breeding theatre.

I am standing inside the Coolmore stud farm, at Fethard in Ireland’s County Tipperary, where Galileo will breed on an average 150 mares each season. The money-making machine’s fee is marked as private but is around 500,000 Euros for every mare that gets pregnant.

“We had a famous race mare from India called Jacqueline and she bred to Galileo on two occasions,” says Maurice Moloney, nominations, Coolmore.

A roll in the hay with a prized stallion is priced eye-wateringly high, and mare owners from around the globe are ready to pay big bucks to multinational stud farms. But the breeding act itself is pretty complicated. “Mares need to come through an identification area, where they are checked for a microchip on their neck. Only the right mare is allowed in and bred to the main stallion,” says Moloney.

In case you want to be in the company of Coolmore’s equine super stars, head to the Munster Vales region in Ireland. It includes under its umbrella four counties, including North Cork, East Limerick, South Tipperary and West Waterford.

Wandering through Ireland’s Munster Vales

A new tourism circuit, Munster Vales threw open its doors to a global brigade of outdoor enthusiasts officially in October 2017. A minimum of five nights should be enough to see the main attractions of this circuit that stretches over 4,000 kilometres. Want to know why basking in its natural bounty is such a good idea? Here are several reasons:

Mountain madness

Munster Vales winds its way around five mountain ranges, including Comeragh, Knockmealdown, Galtee, Ballyhoura and Nagle. Flirting with them are lush acres of picturesque valleys like the Blackwater, Vee, Galtee, Suir and Nire.

The most enduring images of the locale are those of shimmering lakes, sheep-strewn meadows and rolling hills carpeted with heather.

“Unlike the immensely popular Wild Atlantic Way, which skirts the Irish West coast, from top to bottom, the Vales does not take a linear trajectory, so clearly defining the region is an ongoing undertaking,” says Paul Keeley, director of commercial development, Failte Ireland, the national tourism development authority.

But that hasn’t stopped tourists from adopting this newly-minted itinerary. According to Triona O Mahony, destination and marketing manager, Munster Vales, the place is very popular with the domestic market and has welcomed over 10,00,000 visitors in the past two years. She adds that campaigns are being run currently to target the international market, the main ones being Germany, France, the UK and North America.

Wandering through Ireland’s Munster Vales

“The landscape along the valley is as varied as the industries and people who live there. Strong traditions for theatre, music, dance, sport and fishing among others have sprung up all along the valley,” says O Mahony.

Heritage at your finger tips

You can begin the Munster Vales circuit by flying into Dublin, which makes Tipperary your first pit stop. Thereafter, you can complete the circuit as a road trip.

Looming large in front of you in County Tipperary would be Ormond Castle, an achingly beautiful Elizabethan manor house nestling deep into the town of Carrick-on-Suir.

That’s the thing about Ireland. The past is always on speed dial here. Within shouting distance of mechanised cider manufacturing powerhouses and city-sized supermarkets are trap doors of escape to a bygone era. Ormond Castle too, was conjured up and given shape by Thomas Butler, the 10th Earl of Ormond in 1565.

On the emerald isle
  • In case you are not weaving your way through Munster Vales in a car, swing by this newly-accessible destination by bus or trains.
  • Linger and laze in Hotel Minella in Clonmel, an original Georgian house that’s tucked into a picturesque space between the Comeragh Mountains and River Suir in County Tipperary.
  • Discover a secret holiday hideout at the Cliff House Hotel that hugs the wind-whipped Atlantic.
  • Cap off your journey with a stay in the 300-year-old Longueville House in County Cork, nestled inside a 450-acre wooded estate.

The castle has been built in three stages, with the oldest structure inside the premise dating back to the 1300s. Butler himself was a darling of the English monarchy, having spent a sizeable chunk of his early life hobnobbing at court and sharing tutors with royalty. Nostalgic ideas of English architecture that he carted back to his idyllic home on the banks of the River Suir were translated in stone.

When Nature beckons

The solitary expanses integral to this circuit have unique offerings for the outdoor enthusiast. Up for grabs is 1,100 kilometres of walking trails that are all sign-posted. Here, Nature will make eyes at you every step of the way. First served up is the Waterford Greenway, a 46-kilometre off-road cycling and walking trail along an old railway line connecting the ancient city of Waterford to Dungarvan. It is wilderness at its best. The trail weaves its way through 11 bridges, three viaducts, and a 400-metre tunnel, all skirted by thickets of blackberry bushes.

Farm life

It’s no secret that the rolling green landscape of the Irish countryside can frequently be found blushing with apple orchards. In this part of the world, a steady stream of cider is always at hand, to go with Irish staples like black and white puddings as well as soda bread.

At the Ballyhoura Apple Farm in Kilfinane, County Limerick, the fruit offers a window to the Irish foodscape. Inside the farm, it’s a joy to meet Maurice Gilbert, CEO and chief mixologist, who transplanted his 5,000-tree orchard from Churchtown to Kilfinane in 2014. He will take you around a maze of steel vats that process apple cider vinegar, the farm’s prized product.

“We use only apples to make our cider, as opposed to blending it with sugar and water like some manufacturers. And only 100% cider is used to make the vinegar,” says Gilbert.

At the farm store nearby, stock up on other iterations of the fruit, including apple and beetroot juice, hot friskey (a non-alcoholic version of hot whiskey or hot toddy), red mulled apple juice and more.

Wandering through Ireland’s Munster Vales

A serving of history

Munster Vales also helps you engage with the past in new and interesting ways. Doneraile Wildlife Park in County Cork, which is 166 hectares of woodland walks and Victorian gardens, harks back to a bygone era.

Dart into gaps between towering redwoods, sycamore, cherry and yew, and enjoy the vistas of an early Georgian era park. The Awbeg river shimmers in the distance, before being channelled in several places into lakes, cascades and ponds.

Actors dressed as characters from the park’s historical past, including King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, welcome you at strategic spots. While living in the nearby Kilcolman Castle, Edmund Spenser is believed to have been inspired by Doneraile Park, even as he penned the 16th century poem The Faerie Queene.

On a high note

Unlike most destinations, the attractions of Munster Vales are not unredeemable tourist traps. Instead, it has many charms: languidly-stretched rivers, picturesque valleys and state-of-the art stud farms.

Through it, Ireland’s legacy as an emerald landscape endures in the hearts of global travellers. There’s always mountain biking trail networks, heritage sites and castles to help channel your adventurous soul. And if these don’t work, there’s Galileo to keep you company.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 8:39:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/wandering-through-irelands-munster-vales/article28349931.ece

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