It's no wonder that Cashel (Caiseal Mumhan) is popular with visitors (the Queen included it on her historic visit in 2011). The iconic Rock of Cashel and historical religious buildings that crown its breezy summit seem like a magical extension of the rocky landscape itself, and Cashel maintains a certain charm as a smallish market town.
Castles, gardens and lake adventures are among the highlights of a visit to Killarney National Park, immediately south of the city. Just beyond, there's rugged scenery including the too-gorgeous-for-words Gap of Dunloe, with its rocky terrain, babbling brooks and alpine lakes.
Ireland's largest offshore island, Achill (An Caol), is connected to the mainland by a short bridge. Despite its accessibility, it has plenty of that far-flung-island feeling: soaring cliffs, rocky headlands, sheltered sandy beaches, broad expanses of blanket bog and rolling mountains.
Killarney National Park
You can escape Killarney for the surrounding wilderness surprisingly quickly. Buses rumble up to Ross Castle and Muckross House, but it's possible to find your own refuge in the 10,236 hectares of Killarney National Park among Ireland's only wild herd of native red deer, the country's largest area of ancient oak woods and views of most of its major mountains.
Doolin gets plenty of press and chatter as a centre of Irish traditional music, owing to a trio of pubs that have sessions throughout the year. It's also known for its setting – 6km north of the Cliffs of Moher and down near the ever-unsettled sea, the land is windblown, with huge rocks exposed by the long-vanished top soil.
Clifden & Around
Connemara's 'capital', Clifden (An Clochán), is an appealing Victorian-era country town with a vaguely-harp-shaped oval of streets offering evocative strolls. It presides over the head of the narrow bay where the River Owenglin tumbles into the sea. The surrounding countryside beckons you to walk through woods and above the shoreline.
Lough Corrib separates eastern Galway from the dramatic landscape of Connemara and the county's western coast, and this region is markedly different. This is farm country and there's nary a hint of the geologic drama and cultural excitement that exists in the west of the county. Several diversions provide good reason to exit the M6 to Dublin.
West of Dingle
At the tip of the peninsula is the Slea Head drive along the R559. It has the greatest concentration of ancient sites in Kerry, if not the whole of Ireland. The landscape is dramatic, especially in shifting mist, although full-on sea fog obliterates everything. For the best views, follow the Slea Head drive in a clockwise direction.
Kilkee to Ennistymon
North of Kilkee, the land flattens, with vistas that sweep across pastures and dunes. The N67 runs inland for some 32km until it reaches Quilty. Take the occasional lane to the west and search out unfrequented places such as White Strand, north of Doonbeg. Ballard Bay is 8km west of Doonbeg, where an old telegraph tower looks over some fine cliffs.
Little-visited Laois (pronounced leash) is often overlooked as drivers zoom past to the south and west. Away from the main roads, though, is this hidden corner of Ireland, with historic towns and the dramatic Slieve Bloom Mountains lying against a patchwork backdrop of rivers and walkways. For all you need to know about Laois, check out www.laoistourism.
Blinking amusement arcades, hurdy-gurdy fairground rides and fast-food diners are Bundoran's stock-in-trade. But Donegal's best-known seaside resort also has superb surf, and attracts a mixed crowd of young families, pensioners and beach dudes. Outside summer, the carnival atmosphere abates and the town can be quite desolate.
Southern Wicklow is softer than its coastal northern half; the landscape is one of rolling hills and valleys cut through by rustling rivers and dotted with lovely little hamlets, including the especially beautiful Vale of Avoca, once favoured by both song and busloads of tourists.