Ireland is tough to beat when it comes to natural beauty. Despite, or perhaps because of, its less-than-ideal weather, Ireland truly does show 'forty shades of green' everywhere. But as Ireland is an island, it also has the benefits of some tremendous coastline.
Sitting at the southeast corner of the country, Waterford Country has beautiful scenery and several great little harbor towns. None of these locations quite rated a travelogue unto themselves (at least not as a result of my visit), so I decided to collect four of the places I visited into a single multi-part travelogue. I did not do all four locations in one day, mind you, and I don't recommend trying. Mahon Falls/Dungarvan are at one end of the county, Dunmore/Passage East the other.
Mahon Falls (a.k.a. Eas na Machan)
Mahon Falls is a tall cascade on the Mahon River that empties from a mountain lake overlooking the southern coast. The cascade runs down the center of a high and wide valley, populated with many types of vegetation, jutting rocks, and herds of domestic sheep and goats. It is deceivingly tall, and the valley deceivingly wide. In order to appreciate the size of this place, you must study these two pictures closely and identify the pixels or two that represent people. Admittedly, that is easier in the second picture than the first.
Mahon Falls can only be approached by car, and accessed on foot. The route is well marked off the highway between Waterford and Dungarvan, and this route takes you through a series of picturesque open valleys and farms. But you will soon approach a parking lot at the foot of the Mahon Valley, and only pedestrians are permitted further access.
This is where the 'deception' comes in, because the walk to the falls is far longer than it looks. I estimate a full three kilometers (two miles), but don't rely on my ability to judge distance. Bottom line is that this is a loooooong walk and it's not flat. The first photo was taken from a rocky outcrop hanging over the last hill before reaching the falls, and if you can spot the three pixel people at the first turn of the path at lower left, you can tell that there was still about a kilometer to go. The photo makes this almost look like a backyard creek.
The climb up the falls, once you reach them, is much steeper than it looks. However, if you look at the terrain carefully enough, you'll find that by following the grassy spots well wide of the falls, the climb is rather manageable by those in good physical condition. I strongly recommend wearing good climbing shoes, though. Don't do this in sandals, its too dangerous for that, and there's lots of sticky mud impeding you.
But as you can see from the second photo, the view from two-thirds up is fantastic, and looking higher than the camera angle here, you will have a clear view to the ocean (well, Irish fog permitting, of course).
One thing you don't see in the photos are the white speck representing the sheep and goats. You won't find many of them down below, they are busily grazing up high on the mountainside. My travel companions and I were contemplating how the shepherds corralled these things, did they climb all these cliffs to get the herd together? Hope not.
Dungarvan (a.k.a. Dún Garbhan)
Dungarvan is a handsome harbor town about a thirty to forty minute drive west of Waterford. Unlike Dunmore below, Dungarvan has shed much of its old fisherman character and has become more touristic. The harborfront, shown in the photo, now holds as many fancy sailboats as it once did fish trawlers. It also hosts several very nice and relatively new apartment houses, hotels, and pubs.
At the far end of the harbor lies Dungarvan Castle, which was undergoing renovation when I visited. The crumbling walls were being completely rebuilt, which might violate some of her 'old' character, but it's apparent the locals want the castle to last long enough to handle the anticipated throngs of future tourists.
The downtown is small and pleasant, similarly refurbished. You'll find several churches high on the hill and a park on a peninsula jutting out to sea. I had a nice dinner in one of the pubs, the seafood was superb.
Dungarvan is worth a couple hours. It won't drop your jaw, but then again most pleasant small towns don't -- that isn't the point, I figure.
Passage East (a.k.a. As Pasáiste)
Passage East is the name of a town -- the town in this photo that makes up the blur of pixels in between the large land masses bordering the mouth of the Suir River. East of Waterford, the Suir becomes the border between Waterford and Wexford Counties. This photo was taken at the side of a high road on the Waterford County side facing south.
What a gorgeous drive this was, too! Starting from Waterford Castle, a cousin of mine and I drove east along a series of roads that followed the river bank, passing through some gorgeous farmland and a number of dinky little boroughs with a token pub or restaurant. The Suir suddenly opens wide as its turns south toward the ocean, and this was our view.
Passage East is another old fishing town that has reinvented itself a bit. Loaded with beautiful B&Bs, it looks like the perfect place for a complete getaway from civilization. The town has all the needed amenities nearby, but it several kilometers away from the nearest town.
By the way, just to the left of this photo is a ferry that runs between the two banks, so getting into Wexford is pretty easy (or you could backtrack a ways).
Dunmore (a.k.a. Dún Mhór) East
Dunmore East has two faces to it -- the Strand and the old harbor. The strand is shown in the first photo, a really nice wide beach surrounded by cliffs on both sides and a whole block of nice pubs and shops on the overhang just left of the photo. The strand draws plenty of people on a nice sunny day like this, but it doesn't get nearly as overcrowded as beaches back in the states.
Meanwhile the harbor is still a true fishing harbor, complete with old-style metal trawleys and that wonderful permeating dead-fish smell. I was surprised to see that we were allowed to walk freely on the docks among the longshoremen, most places such docks are off-limits. I enjoyed the chance to watch the fishermen at work -- I'd say the fishermen were about as grisled and tough as they came. They had to be, most of the year the Irish seas are inhospitable and dangerous, with cold winds and severe storms.
Visitors to the dock ought to seek out the memorial on the harbor, honoring those who lost their lives at sea. This was a sobering reminder of how perilous the job really is.
In amongst all of these locations are villages too numerous too mention, and scenery too gorgeous to forget. No six pictures can do justice to the landscape and the life in this part of Ireland. But it was fun trying.
Trip taken 6 August 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin