Raised in neighbouring Cork, I’ve never visited the Ballyhoura region and so, didn’t know what to expect. But on that drive on a lazy Sunday evening, seeing the mossy green of the Ballyhoura Mountains ahead, I knew we were in for a treat.
We had a jam-packed three days of activities ahead of us, we were penciled in for horse-riding, an aqua park, mountain-biking and a traditional Irish music festival. And so, we drove on down those country roads full of excitement to get a taste of what Ballyhoura could offer us.
We checked into the colourful Ballyhoura Hostel on the main street of Kilfinane village with equally colourful hosts. Seamus and Teresa are the type of hostel owners you want to meet on your travels, ‘salt-of-the-earth’ as we’d say in Cork who clearly know how to run a successful hostel. They have a fully-equipped kitchen – better than any house I’ve ever lived in, a roaring open fire place in the living room and a sauna!
|The warm and inviting sitting room of Ballyhoura Hostel in Kilfinane|
Our private room was spotless with a large comfortable double bed, lots of storage space and the most beautiful furniture, all hand-made by a company based in Fermoy.
Seamus and Teresa were a wealth of local knowledge, and just a joy to have a chat with. Seamus explained the site of the hostel was his family home which he saved from almost disrepair, being a carpenter by trade he oversaw every aspect of the hostels restoration.
It’s hard to believe Ballyhoura Hostel sleeps a total of 43 people, as it’s so homely and welcoming. I was told they welcome a variety of guests every week from young families and avid mountain-bikers to stag and hen parties and couples like ourselves looking for a bit of luxury and peacefulness on a budget.
I cannot recommend Ballyhoura Hostel more and I’ve already waxed lyrical about our stay to our friends and family, who will happily tell you we’re not easy to impress.
For more information on Ballyhoura Hostel, give them a call on 063 91625, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ballyhourahostel.ie
|Aimee getting set for her adventure at Ballyhass Lakes|
We spent the next morning at the adrenalin-filled Ballyhass Lakes (about a 40 minute drive from Ballyhoura Hostel).
This place is a hive of activity and has everything for all ages from zip-lining to wake-boarding to a brand spanking new Aqua Park, which we had the pleasure of exploring or perhaps more fittingly ‘falling off of’.
|The stunning and fun-filled aqua park at Ballyhass Lakes|
The Aqua Park at Ballyhass Lakes is essentially a series of inflatable slides, runways, jumping pillows and bouncers all connected together and floating in a large, clean and refreshing lake. And boy, did we have fun on it.
For our one-hour slot we were joined by approximately 40 other youths and adults. It’s a lot harder than it looks but it’s the type of belly-aching fun that you want from a great day out.
If you’re not as agile as you once were (like myself) you may spend a lot more time in the water than on the Aqua Park itself. It’s an excellent activity if there’s a large group of you, although we did have lots of fun making fools of ourselves.
|All set for our horse trekking adventure|
That evening we were scheduled in for horse-trekking with Ballyhoura Horse Trekking.
On arrival, we were warmly greeted by the owner John Joe who swiftly asked if we had been horse-riding before “two or three times” was my reply, “Ah, great – we’ll try trotting so” was his response.
Right at that moment we knew we were in for a treat.
We took off down the vivid green country lanes, trotting like John Joe promised, until we reached a magical almost eerie forest which we trekked through mesmerised.
The rest of the views were just as outstanding and my boyfriend (our photographer) had a tough attempt at snapping photos while riding his horse.
John Joe, we were told by the locals was a “character”. He definitely is, and we had some very interesting conversations on the trek.
The trek was just over an hour in length and because we had so much fun, next time we would definitely try a longer trek.
The team at Ballyhoura Horse Trekking are truly experienced and cater for everyone from beginners to well-versed riders.
At the end of the trek, after witnessing all that beautiful scenery and getting to know memorable people like John Joe and the rest of the Ballyhoura Trekking team, I honestly had such a huge swell of pride at being fortunate enough to call this beautiful country home.
|Aimee zipping through the Ballyhoura mountain biking trail|
The next day, we tried our hand at mountain biking with Ballyhoura Trailriders.
If you’re familiar with the Ballyhoura region, you’ll know it’s famous for its massive array of mountain-biking trails among the Ballyhoura mountains.
We were sized up for our bikes, given a detailed explanation of the biking routes, as well as any shortcuts back to the start if the “going gets rough” as the guide explained.
The technical trails were our favourite, a series of bumps and obstacles through a dense forest, exhilarating and fast-paced.
The uphill climbs were our least favourite, for obvious reasons but “you have to go up to come down” as the guide so expertly explained at the beginning. And boy, is the coming down fun.
The trails vary in length and skill and if you’ve never tried mountain-biking before we highly recommend opting for the shortest route.
The views as with elsewhere in the Ballyhoura region are breathtaking and we took lots more photos than we should have.
Coming from Whistler – a very popular biking destination in Canada we had if I’m honest high hopes for the Ballyhoura trails. But, Ballyhoura well and truly exceeded our expectations and since coming back to Cork, we have already encouraged a few of our friends to try them out this week.
|Hup na Houra|
That evening despite our aching limbs we joined what seemed like the entire population of Kilfinane for the closing night of the Hup na Houra show at the Old Chapel Rooms.
An undeniably beautiful venue, tables were candle-lit and featuring freshly baked cakes and the famed Ballyhoura apple juice.
The show featured some of Ireland’s finest performers including Derek Hickey, Liam Flanagan, and Ronan Ryan. When Deirdre Scanlan started singing, the sound echoed beautifully through the room. It kind of gave me a nostalgia for the old Ireland we see depicted on TV or read about – a simple life, focused on music or dance for entertainment not social media or TV.
Hup na Houra is part of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Seisiún programme, beautiful music, traditional dancing at its best featuring a mix of step, set, sean-nós and brush dancing, it truly was a fantastic introduction to Ireland for my boyfriend Paul who is from Brighton in the UK and never witnessed anything like this before.
Hup na Houra really was a celebration of Ireland. It even featured dancing on tables, an amazing part of the show, which has to be seen to be believed. It was a magical evening and one that anyone with any interest in music should attend. It runs every Monday and Tuesday in July and sells out quick!
After such an amazing few days I was even stronger in my faith that one day I will return home to settle in Ireland.
|Aimee taking in the beautiful views over Kilfinane|