Leitrim may just be the loveliest county in Ireland, here’s why to visit
Leitrim: they don’t call it lovely for nothing. Here's why a visit to the Wild Rose County should be on your summer staycation list this year.
There’s a line in the Harper Lee book To Kill A Mockingbird that always resonated with me. It reads, “summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colours in a parched landscape.”
Summer has always been my best season too. Hazy days spent running around the garden. Sports camps and arts and crafts. Reading all the books I possibly could. The feeling of warm sunshine on cool skin.
Some might say that my memories of childhood summers at home have been romanticised over time, but two years of local lockdown adventures proved what I already knew to be true; Ireland is pure class.
Many promised to be on the first plane out of here once restrictions eased – myself included – but our renewed love for staycations has tempered the urge to go further afield and it looks like this year will bring another season of Irish escapades… to which I can only say, hooray!
Cork, Kerry, Dublin and Galway will always get a look in, but what about the lesser-known spots, the holiday underdogs? Growing up in Longford, Leitrim was “too close” for me to ever realistically consider booking a trip there but a recent visit has convinced me otherwise.
From peaceful kayak tours to decadent afternoon tea, a deep connection to nature and a new distillery with strong roots in the community, the place exudes the best of Ireland and is well worth adding to your summer staycation list.
Here’s where to stay, what to eat and how to spend your time while in lovely Leitrim – which really is as lovely as they say it is.
If you’re looking for somewhere right in the heart of the action, you can’t get more central than The Landmark. Overlooking the beautiful River Shannon, the multi-award-winning venue is a family-run establishment whose success is built on community, tradition and huge passion for Irish hospitality.
Co-owned by brothers Ciaran and John Kelly, both natives of Mohill, their love for hotels started from a young age and stemmed from their grandmother who started her own place in what was once the bank in the local village. Both with extensive experience in the industry, The Landmark has taken pride of place in Carrick-on-Shannon for over two decades now and they’ve managed to create something truly special in that time as patrons continue to return there time and time again.
Probably best known as the “hen and stag capital of Ireland”, Carrick-On-Shannon has much more going for it than just a buzzy nightlife scene and the hotel itself is surprisingly quiet given its proximity to Club 360.
What about the breakfast, you ask? By far the most important part of any hotel stay, The Landmark thoroughly impresses with its offering which ranges from vegan fry-ups to fresh omelettes, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, poached eggs and locally-made boxty too.
Drumhierny Woodland Hideaway
For something a little different, the recently opened Drumhierny Woodland Hideaway should be top of your list.
Nestled along the stunning Blueway Trail, Drumhierny Woodland Hideaway is an exclusive new retreat with 16 gorgeous lodges. Available in four different styles, each one has a giant glass-fronted façade that floods the breathtaking living quarters with sunlight come golden hour, along with a private deck and outdoor fire pit for roasting marshmallows under starry skies. Other standout features include hot tubs and outdoor seaweed baths.
What can only be described as a sanctuary of peace and tranquillity, the entire estate is surrounded by 5km of beautiful natural tracks and trails, making it the perfect place for families to get back out in nature without the added worry of passing traffic or other distractions.
Only open as of early June this year, spaces have been filling up fast, so best get your word in as soon as possible. You can find out more info and booking details over on their website.
The Redbank Restaurant
Good food is a necessity on any trip and Ireland has no shortage of places to frequent. From small little eateries to Michelin-starred restaurants, there are noteworthy places dotted in every corner of the country and you could spend an entire summer just following your stomach to each one. The Redbank Restaurant is a must when in Carrick.
Headed up by award-winning chef Michelle McGowan, the team uses only the finest locally-sourced seasonal produce to create their menu and each individual dish is a complete labour of love from start to finish. All manner of foodies will be in their element with their extensive seafood offering, including vegans and vegetarians who are also well catered for. Order the Leitrim hill goat’s cheese appetiser to start, you won’t regret it.
Lough Rynn Castle Estate and Gardens
Afternoon Tea is always a treat, all the more so if enjoyed from the drawing-room of a 19th-century restored Irish castle. Nestled deep in the heart of Leitrim, Lough Rynn Castle Estate and Gardens covers 300 acres of stunning Irish countryside with gently rolling hills and lush green grass on all sides.
Once the ancestral home of the Clements family and the legendary Lord of Leitrim, the estate is one of few others that can trace its history back to royal families. As beautiful inside as it is outside, the interiors manage to retain all the splendour that underlies the building’s history while still being every bit as lavish as you’d imagine – making it the perfect place to indulge your fancier side.
Seamlessly blending old-world elegance with contemporary luxuries, Afternoon Tea is served in the main reception room, with its glorious bay window looking out onto uninterrupted views of Lough Rynn… though little compares to their homemade scones and clotted cream.
Glencar WaterfallAmongst the county’s most top-rated tourist attractions, Glencar Waterfall can be found along the scenic eastern shores of Lough Allen. Straddling the border between Leitrim and Sligo, the waterfall has strong ties to W.B. Yeats and famously features in his poem “The Stolen Child”, which reads “Where the wandering water gushes, From the hills above Glen-Car, In pools among the rushes, That scarce could bathe a star”.
Reaching 50 ft high (or 15 metres), it’s particularly impressive after heavy rainfall and can be viewed from a lovely wooded trail above. Entry is free and there is a large car park, picnic area, public toilets, children’s playground and a tourist information point on site too. Not to mention the TeaSHED Café which has a full counter of delectable pastries to tempt you in.
The Shed Distillery
Worth an entire article in and of itself, I cannot recommend The Shed Distillery highly enough. The home of Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, Drumshanbo Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey and Sausage Tree Irish Vodka, it’s a relatively new addition to the locality – the €3 million visitor centre only opened to the public in 2020 – and sits on the site of the old Lairds jam factory, which employed 1/3 of the community back in its day.
Hoping to provide the same level of employment to the area, the distillery was founded by drinks industry veteran PJ Rigney, who always dreamed of building his own distillery. Already with a clear vision of what he wanted to create in mind, location was crucial to his plans and wherever he decided to set up shop had to be wild, unmanicured and in the heart of rural Ireland. Settling on Drumshanbo as the perfect place for its curiosity, inspiration and rich history, the distillery marks a return to traditional methods and uses gleaming copper pots and column stills to create its own-brand whiskey, gin and vodka.
Bringing guests on a journey through the curious mind of PJ Rigney, the visitor experience takes you on a tour of the fully operational distillery which is the first of its kind in Connacht in over 100 years.
Don’t leave without grabbing a bite to eat at the onsite Jackalope Café either. Serving a wide range of hearty lunch options, their menu is a unique take on the classics and mixes Irish favourites with international influences.
Lough Rynn Kayaking
Set on the grounds of the magnificent Lough Rynn Castle, Joe Blount’s kayaking tours take visitors out onto the lake for a different perspective of the historic estate. A wealth of knowledge about the local area, its wildlife and folklore, Joe loves nothing more than to impart his wisdom unto others and is a keen kayaker himself with years of professional experience in the arena.
More of a peaceful adventure than a rigorous workout, his tours are suited to any experience level though he doesn’t take anyone under the age of 14 and you must be able to swim. Each tour (which can accommodate up to six persons) lasts 90 minutes and all necessary equipment is provided (including top of the range kayaks and life jackets).
All there’s left to do now is go forth and #enjoyleitrim.
This article was originally published in April 2022.