The Inishowen Peninsula reaches just far enough into the Atlantic to grab the title of northernmost point on the island of Ireland: Malin Head. It is remote, rugged, desolate and sparsely populated, making it a special and peaceful sort of place. Ancient sites and ruined castles abound, as do traditional thatched cottages that haven't yet been turned into holiday homes.
As you leave Dublin and cross into Wicklow, the landscape changes dramatically. From Killakee, still in Dublin, the Military Rd begins a 30km southward journey across vast sweeps of gorse-, bracken- and heather-clad moors, bogs and mountains dotted with small corrie lakes. The numbers and statistics aren't all that impressive.
Studded with more than 5000 megalithic tombs, ring forts and mounds, and home to a couple of excellent museums, enigmatic Roscommon is a haven for history buffs and shrouded in myth. Add well-preserved mansions and some wonderful monastic ruins and it's hard to understand why the county sees so few visitors.
Eastern & Southeastern Clare
Away from the Atlantic coast and the rugged Burren, Clare rolls gently eastward through low-lying green countryside given emphasis by the occasional range of low hills. The county's eastern boundary is the River Shannon and the long, noodle-like inland waterway of Lough Derg, which stretches 48km from Portumna in County Galway to just south of Killaloe.
Wicklow's coastline plays second fiddle to its mountains in terms of dramatic scenery, and its largely unassuming towns and small coastal resorts have a subtle charm that quickly disappears under a menacing sky. Highlights include the fine beaches at Brittas Bay, a wide lazy arc of coastline immediately south of Wicklow town.
Kenmare (pronounced 'ken-mair') is the thinking person's Killarney. Ideally positioned for exploring the Ring of Kerry (and the Beara Peninsula), but without the coach-tour crowds and calculated 'Oirishness' of its more famous neighbour, Kenmare is a pretty little town with a neat triangle of streets lined with craft shops, galleries, cafes and good quality restaurants.
Ireland's largest offshore island, Achill (An Caol), is connected to the mainland by a short bridge. Despite its accessibility, it has plenty of remote-island feel: soaring cliffs, rocky headlands, sheltered sandy beaches, broad expanses of blanket bog and rolling mountains. It also has its share of history, having been a frequent refuge during Ireland's various rebellions.
Bright and vibrant even in the depths of winter, Westport is a photogenic Georgian town with tree-lined streets, a riverside mall and a great vibe. With an excellent choice of accommodation, fine restaurants and pubs renowned for their music, it's a hugely popular place yet has never sold its soul to tourism.
Eastern Donegal is the proud bearer of the largest town in Donegal, Letterkenny. Still growing, this burgeoning and ambitious city has all the culture, clubs, pubs and traffic to match. For a tree change, Glenveagh National Park offers some of the best walking country around, in what some say is the most beautiful spot in Ireland.
After Kerry and Dingle, the Beara Peninsula is the third major 'ring' (circular driving route) in Ireland's southwest. Its intricate coast and sharp-featured mountains are a geologist's paradise of exposed and contorted rock strata, making for dramatic scenery at almost every turn of the road.
Cavan is paradise for boaters, anglers, walkers, cyclists and artists. Known as the 'Lake Country', there's supposedly a lake for every day of the year (including leap years), and the county is famed for its coarse fishing. Between them is a gentle landscape of meandering streams, bogs and drumlins.
Split almost in two by Lough Allen, locals say that land in Leitrim (Liatroim) is sold by the gallon, and they’re only half joking. Leitrim suffered hugely from emigration because of its terrible soil fertility. Even today it has the smallest population (around 25, 800) of all the counties. On the flip side, it has the most pubs per capita in Ireland.