LivingTravelThe Irish Province of Munster: An Introduction

The Irish Province of Munster: An Introduction

Planning a trip to Munster, the south-western province of Ireland? Here you will find (almost) everything you need to know about the Irish province of Munster, from the geography and history of the region to the counties that are actually part of this remote but often visited corner of the ‘Emerald Isle’, including the Southwest Ireland’s best sights and attractions.

Munster’s geography in a nutshell

Munster, or Cúige Mumhan in Irish, spans the southwest and is the largest province in Ireland. The counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford make up Munster. The main cities are Cork City, Limerick City and Waterford City. The Bandon, Blackwater, Lee, Shannon and Suir rivers flow through Munster and the highest point within the 9,315 square miles of the area is Carrauntouhill (3,409 feet making it the highest peak in Ireland).

A brief history of Munster

The name “Munster” derives from the ancient Irish kingdom of Mumu (not to be confused with that of Mu Mu Land about which Tammy Wynette sang) and the Norse word stadir (“farm”). Subject to wars between local kings, some kind of stability was gained in the 10th century. King Munster Brian Boru became the High King of Ireland in Tara. This “golden period” lasted until the 12th century, later parts of Munster declined into a provincial backwater, with the major cities and seaports of Cork, Limerick, and Waterford being notable exceptions.

Things to do in Munster

Munster has a number of attractions that are among the top ten attractions in Ireland, from the Cliffs of Moher to the hustle and bustle of Killarney. Other top Munster attractions include the Ring of Kerry. A Munster vacation could only encompass outdoor activities as well as cultural reflection – the size of the province and the presence of many Munster attractions that make it possible. However, a lot of tourists prefer to relax and do practically nothing in the relatively hot and sunny Southwest.

Munster counties

  • Clare (in Irish An Clár) extends over 3,188 square kilometers. The county town is Ennis (once celebrated as Ireland’s first ‘digital town’), the license plate indicator uses the letters CE. The county’s name means a “flat plain” – those who hit the Cliffs of Moher and Burren on their travels may disagree, the county’s two main attractions are anything but flat. County Clare’s nickname “Banner County” goes back to the tradition of carrying large banners to 19th century “monster gatherings” (large-scale gatherings, not to be confused with a Scooby Doo villain convention). Clares are still prone to waving a lot of flags at GAA games… keeping the tradition alive.
  • Cork (in Irish Corcaígh) is the largest of the Irish counties with a size of 7,459 square kilometers, with many scattered sections. The county town is Cork City, although those who live in the city tend to see themselves as something different from Corkonians. The telltale letter on the license plate is C. Cork’s favorite nickname is “the rogue county.” Within the GAA, Cork players are also known as (simply) ‘Leesiders’ or (slightly insulting) ‘Donkey Eaters’, apparently corks were prone to eat anything during the Great Famine of the 19th century. The name Cork literally describes a swampy terrain, which is still true in many places, and floods are an unpleasant but regular occasion. An introduction to County Cork can be found elsewhere.
  • Kerry (in Irish Ciarraí) is the most tourist-friendly county in Munster (and perhaps in all of Ireland), the famous Ring of Kerry is a must-see road trip. Although the county is 4,701 square kilometers, most tourists tend to favor a relatively small area near the Atlantic Ocean and around the Lakes of Killarney. The county town is Tralee (famous for roses), the license plate letters are KY (Kerry). Although the common nickname for Kerry is “the Kingdom,” the name itself refers to the “descendants of Ciar.” More information about County Kerry and Killarney can also be found online.
  • Limerick (in Irish Luimneagh) is perhaps Munster’s most underrated county, in all of Ireland it suffers from negative connotations (see below), derived from just a few patches of its 2,686 square kilometers. Limerick City is the city of the county, the indicator letters on the license plate are L (for cars registered in Limerick City) or LK (for those registered in County Limerick). The name Limerick means a wasteland, which may seem strangely appropriate in some areas. The nicknames are the neutral “Shannonsiders” or “Treaty County” (referring to the Treaty of Limerick). However, Limerick City is more than ever and humorously known as ‘Stab City’. Although cynics say this name is very outdated, local gangs use much more sophisticated weapons in their turf wars these days.
  • Tipperary (in Irish Tiobraid Árann) extends over 4,255 square kilometers. The county towns are Nenagh and Clonmel, the license plate letters were TN (Tipperary North) and TS (Tipperary South) respectively, now merged into a single T. The name means ‘good of the Ara’ – nicknames are from type «Tipp» and «El Condado Premier». As the Tipperary inhabitants were not known for their peaceful demeanor, in GAA circles the players are also called “Stonethrowers.” Here you can find an introduction to County Tipperary, and you can also find out why it is a long way to Tipperary.
  • Waterford (in Irish Port Láirge) covers 1,838 square kilometers. The county town is Dungarvan, the license plate indicator uses the letters WD (for County Waterford) or just W for the town of Waterford. You can find more information about County Waterford and Waterford City by following those links.

Munster’s best views

Nature is the main attraction in Munster, with West Cork and Kerry especially considered places of beauty. Signposted drives along the coast will take you to the most famous areas. Munster is also very tourist oriented. Which means that you won’t be alone most of the time.

  • The Cliffs of Moher – A rolling landscape suddenly ends in a drop of more than 650 feet, directly into the Atlantic. The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most spectacular coastal areas in Europe. The visitor center has been rebuilt on a large scale, as has the pricing structure, making it one of the most expensive gifts.
  • The Burren – Sandwiched between the wild beauty of the Aran Islands and the bustling university town of Galway, the almost featureless desolation of this limestone plateau of the Burren has often been compared to a lunar landscape. Ancient monuments and strange rock formations abound. Some spectacular places can be enjoyed by driving along Galway Bay.
  • The Lakes of Killarney – If you want to experience spectacular coastal scenery, breathtaking mountain scenery, ancient monuments, and the laid-back old-world charm of Killarney’s lakes, castles and houses, this is the place to go. Keep in mind that thousands of tourists will have the same idea: the best time here can be had on both sides of the summer months.
  • The Ring of Kerry – One of Ireland’s most famous signal units, if not the most famous. The ‘Ring of Kerry’ leads around the spectacular coastline from Kenmare to Killorglin with the road through Killarney completing the ring. Best done outside of the tourist season.
  • The Beara Peninsula – The Beara Peninsula juts out into the Atlantic and is definitely worth a visit. From desolate and aptly named Hungry Hill to Castletownbere fishing harbor, from breathtaking views of Healy Pass to the no less impressive cable car ride to Dursey Island. You can go on great walks on Bear Island (ferry from Castletownbere), or visit the ruins of the tragic Dunboy Castle for some chills.
  • Cobh, the old Queenstown: If Ireland has a city that conveys a certain Mediterranean atmosphere, Cobh would be it. Colorful and picturesque, with a massive cathedral towering over Cork Harbor and historic connections. The city was once known as Queenstown and the last port of call for the Titanic before its fatal encounter with an iceberg. And hundreds of dead from the sinking of Lusitania are buried in mass graves locally.
  • Charles Fort and Kinsale – Guarding the entrance to Kinsale Harbor, Charles Fort is one of the most impressive forts you can visit in Ireland. Although partially destroyed by the IRA in the 1920s, the massive complex, which incorporates a small lighthouse, remains a symbol of military might. The city of Kinsale has reinvented itself as a gourmet paradise. The prices certainly reflect that, but a well-presented walk through the city center is free.
  • The Dingle Peninsula – Dingle town is the main attraction here, famous for its pubs, restaurants and popular music. And an aquarium. It is a tourist center at heart, but it still has a certain ‘Auld country’ charm. Fungi the Dolphin is another highly overrated attraction. For splendid views of most of the Dingle Peninsula, hike up Connor Pass or climb Brandon Mountain. The Slea Head Drive which is quite short is worth it just for the view of the Blasket Islands, don’t miss a visit to the Blasket Center along the way.
  • The Rock of Cashel – This historic site is visible for miles from the new detour and is definitely worth the detour. Basically a hilltop collection of ecclesiastical ruins, collectively known as the Rock of Cashel, has a varied and quite exciting history. Read the story and enjoy the excuse of a nobleman who set fire to the compound and said in his defense that “I thought the bishop was still inside!”
  • Bunratty Castle and Folk Park: The Bunratty Tower House was built in 1467 by the O’Brien family and has been renovated free of charge. A medieval banquet is offered in the evenings, with period entertainment. During the day, the adjoining Bunratty Folk Park provides a glimpse of Ireland’s past.

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