Ireland's warmest and driest region is also one of its most popular vacation destinations. Visitors to Kilkenny and the South East enjoy the quaint and picturesque seaside towns and fishing villages which typify this corner of the Emerald Isle. As with Wicklow to the north, Ireland's ancient history is strongly felt here, and the ruins of castles, churches and abbeys are likely to feature on most local tour itineraries.
Use this page to find the South East most popular tourist destinations, as well as delving deeper into its hidden treasures.
If you know what you're looking for, you can use these quick links to find the south-eastern attractions and destinations which appeal to you most.
Discover the top attractions of Ireland's "Sunny South East".
Ireland has more than its fair share of outstanding archaeological sites, but the Rock of Cashel is arguably the most impressive. The 'rock' from which it takes its name is in fact a limestone hill, covered in luscious green, rising from the plain which characterises the surrounding area. The word 'cashel', by contrast, is derived from the Irish Gaelic word caiseal, meaning stone fortress.
In both respects, the Rock of Cashel lives up to its title. The rock itself is vast and imposing, and one can only imagine the difficulties it would have posed for attackers throughout the ages who had designs on the stone fortress above. The masonry of the fort itself is no less spectacular and is remarkably well preserved almost a full millennium after its original construction.
The history of the site itself is long and varied. First used as a base for Welsh invaders, the Eóghanachta clan, who would become kings of this region of Ireland. The clan, and hence the rock, have been closely associated with St. Patrick (considered by many historians to be a Welshman), earning Cashel's pseudonym, St. Patrick's Rock.
Although, under Eóghanachta rule, Cashel would rival Tara as Ireland's centre of power, it was wrested from their control in the Tenth Century before being presented to the Church in 1101. The site would change hands many times again in the centuries to follow, giving rise to the various buildings whose remains now occupy it.
The Rock of Cashel is just a five-minute walk from Cashel town.
Waterford Crystal is known the world over for its quality and, throughout a history which dates back to its establishment in the South-East of Ireland in 1783, it has been a landmark of its own in this part of Ireland. Today, Waterford Crystal is no less recognisable than its sister-brands, Wedgewood and Royal Doulton.
The visitor centre is a modern building on The Mall, a tour of which teaches visitors how crystal is made. Undoubtedly the most popular part of the tour is the blowing room, where the crystal glasses, vases etc. are 'blown' into shape.
A picture-postcard Irish destination, Kilkenny has all the charm and all the history you could ask for. An ancient setting, with its castle and cathedral, it is home to many equally ancient pubs, where good craic and good live music are assured. Kilkenny also has lots of good restaurants to choose from. The city is a hidden gem that many people who visit don't see as an essential destination on their tour of Ireland but when they leave are glad they made the journey.
Like the Rock of Cashel, Tintern Abbey owes its heritage to Wales, founded as it was by the Earl of Pembroke in the Thirteenth Century for the benefit of its Welsh monk inhabitants. Today, there remains a Welsh counterpart with the same name.
Much of the original building still stands, including the cloister walls and crossing tower, as well as the chancel and transept chapels. But visitors will enjoy the surroundings at least as much as the abbey itself, with lakes, streams, woods and ruins providing distractions for all age groups. Perhaps most alluring of all is the Colclough Walled Garden, built over 200 years ago and restored since 2010.
As well as the well-known House of Waterford Crystal, visitors should look out for the Waterford Treasures museums: the Medieval Museum, Reginald's Tower and Bishop's Palace.
Explore the uncovered treasures of South East Ireland.
The Glen of Aherlow is a valley found in the western part of County Tipperary, between the Slievenamuck and Galtee Mountains. The main village of the valley is Lisvarrinane. The Irish poet and Catholic priest Geoffrey Keating took refuge in the caves of the valley while on the run and writing his masterpiece 'Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland'.
The Swiss Cottage is located near the town of Cahir in County Tipperary. It was built around 1810 and was a part of the estate of Lord and Lady Cahir. The Irish Georgian Society restored the cottage in 1985 and was opened to the public in 1989 as a historic house museum.
Dunmore East is a fishing village in County Waterford. It is located in the area which saw a huge influx of Norman and Viking invaders and eventually settlers (circa 795-1170 B.C). Dunmore East has subsequently become home to a fishing port and a harbour, constructed by Royal Mail, for the purpose of transferring mail between England and Ireland.
Today, Dunmore East is a thriving village, buoyed mainly by tourism in the summer and fishing throughout the year.
The Eighteenth Century is perhaps one of the most formative times in the history of Western democracy. It is also one of the bloodiest. The American and French revolutions would have a significant effect on the Irish sense of identity, not to mention the revolutionary spirit which ran through it.
The 1798 Rebellion Centre charts the history of the attempted revolution of that year, thwarted by British military superiority and the ruthless deployment of spies, informants and torture tactics. After a bruising campaign, the Irish rebels regrouped on Vinegar Hill in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, where they would make their final stand against the British. The result was a crushing defeat for the Irish, whose superior numbers could not make up for the firepower of the redcoats below. Armed mostly with pikes, the Irish dead would number high in the thousands.
With its monumental round tower, St Canice's Cathedral rises majestically above the north of Kilkenny's city centre. Perhaps understandably so: ranking just behind St Patrick's in Dublin, it is Ireland's second-largest medieval cathedral. Gothic in style, it is characterized by its iconic round tower which affords commanding views of the surrounding area. The history of the building itself, long and varied, began - at least according to legend - in the Sixth Century with the establishment of a monastery there by St Canice, Kilkenny's patron saint.
Founded in the second half of the Twelfth Centrury and recently partially restored, Jerpoint Abbey is one of Ireland's finest Cistercian ruins. The main church, with its Romanesque flourishes, dates from these earliest days in the abbey's long history, but visitors will also find additions from the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries. Look out for figures carved into the cloister pillars, some of them quite entertaining.
A secluded seaside village in Waterford, Ardmore attracts summer visitors to its long, sandy beach, as well as its cliff walks, shops and early Christian monuments. Visitors should add to their to-do list any and all of the following depending on your interests and group make-up: St Declan's Church, Ballyquin Beach and Ardmore Pottery which will leave you well placed to finish the day with a cliff-top stroll before dinner.
If you were looking for a single example of what people might expect a picture-postcard Irish castle to look like, Lismore Castle might be the one. Although the original castle dated back to 1185, what visitors see today was in fact built in the early 1800s, so its turrets and towers are in immaculate condition.
What might impress visitors rather less is the lack of access, so take note before you make a special trip: you won't be able to go inside the castle itself, the interior spaces of which are closed to the public. You will, however, be able to explore the extensive and ornate gardens which, considered the oldest in Ireland, are arguably worth the trip in themselves, especially for the more green-fingered visitor.
This stunning region of south-east Ireland was declared a European Geopark in 2001 and a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2004. It earned its name following generations of metal-mining industry, the legacies of which now make the region such a tourist attraction. Today, it retains all of its geological diversity, with various marked walking trails offering unique access to this most charming face of Ireland.
Find the attractions and destinations of the other regions of Ireland here.