How do you develop strong tourism amenities in rural Ireland with three counties conducting business around the same lake? Choose collaboration over competition and work together to turn that lake into an exciting Blueway!
That’s what Counties Clare, Tipperary, and Galway have chosen to do through an initiative to turn Lough Derg, a lake that touches all three counties, into a Blueway, or a “water trail” of activities. The Blueway will officially launch on 6th March, and before it does, the counties are touring one another’s amenities. Ashley Park House had the privilege of joining business members and community leaders from all three counties for the first “familiarization” excursion on the 1st of February. This first trip focused on the northern part of Lough Derg, particularly Portumna, Lorrha, and Terryglass. This trip allowed us to get to know what the region has to offer, and what Ashley Park guests can experience if they choose to visit this lovely part of Ireland, either in small or large groups of friends or family!
Our day started with a trip to Portumna Castle. Built in 1618, the castle has a mix of medieval and renaissance influences in its architecture and landscape, reflecting Ireland’s own cultural transition in the 17th century. If you visit Portumna Castle today, you’ll see the lay-out of the original castle —including a grand gate, an impressive entrance garden, and a beautiful kitchen garden —but the castle itself was sadly destroyed by fire in 1826. Thanks to the hard work and research of a team dedicated to rebuilding the castle, you can visit a restored version of the castle with an exhibit inside. The grounds are right next to the fascinating historic Portumna Priory, and starting in March, visitors will be able to access new tea houses on the castle grounds for free, from a path leading from the priory.
After visiting Portumna Castle, our group headed to the Portumna Irish Workhouse Centre, an exhibit housed in the same building where men, women, boys, and girls used to live and work in this grim chapter of Ireland’s history. Portumna is unique town for having two perspectives of history preserved and on display so close to each other and so accessible to visitors.
Next it was time to strap on our helmets and take a bike ride through Portumna Forest Park, courtesy of Podumna, a “glamping” village with cozy overnight pods and bicycle rentals in Portumna. Podumna is known for hosting groups of friends and families, particularly hen and stag parties. Groups can rent out the pods, enjoy the local pubs in Portumna, and cycle through the Forest Park.
The Forest Park bike path led us past the priory, a view of the castle, a newly enhanced boat harbor and camping vehicle park, and onto a new bird hide. The hide was constructed when white-tailed eagles made their nest in the park for the first time in 100 years. The hide is perfectly positioned to allow visitors a direct view of the birds nestled on top of trees just across a small bay of Lough Derg. Even these birds know Lough Derg is a special place!
After a good cycle, we rewarded ourselves with tea, coffee, and treats from the cozy and creative Lorrha Community Hall. The residents of Lorrha turned this gathering space into a one-stop-shop for groceries, locally-made goods and accessories, and refreshments.
We were met by Lorrha tour guides whose passion for the area was evident —and we can see why! Lorrha is a small town with no small amount of historic character and landmarks. The guides showed us St. Ruadhan’s Abbey, a monastery founded in the first century A.D. whose preserves are still a site for worship 2,000 years later. If the Abbey could talk, it would have many stories to tell not only of happy times of worship, but also war-torn times— like when Oliver Cromwell’s army destroyed the high cross outside the Abbey. (You can still see the remains today.) If we’d only had more time, we could have visited Lorrha’s Augustinian Abbey and Dominican Abbey, both of which have their own unique sets of stories to tell.
After a full day, we had quite the appetite. Thankfully Paddy’s Bar & Restaurant in Terryglass was the perfect cure! We enjoyed a hardy meal of fish and chips in a classic Irish pub. A quick glance around Terryglass showed us there was much to see there as well, but sadly there aren’t enough hours in a day to see everything surrounding the northern part of Lough Derg!
We ended the day with a lovely cruiser from Terryglass to Portumna Harbor, courtesy of Shannon Cruising. Even on a chilly February day, the sheltered boat kept us nice and warm, and the friendly crew even provided blankets. The trip across Lough Derg was breathtaking, especially just before sundown on a clear day.
Our one complaint here at Ashley Park after checking out the Blueway? One day wasn’t enough to see everything this region has to offer! Every stop seemed too short as we kept to our busy itinerary. And this was just the northern part of the lake —one could easily spend more than a week partaking in all the activities Lough Derg has to offer. If you’re a guest at Ashley Park House wondering where to find the hidden gems of central Ireland, Lough Derg is dotted with fun and interesting places that aren’t overrun with tourists. Not yet, at least!