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Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

With its ancient history, a cultural boom and farm-to-table delicacies, the Emerald Isle keeps tradition at the forefront of its past, present and future.

Ireland's Hidden Heartlands

Bective Abbey ruins in County Meath

(Photo: DAVID SOANES PHOTOGRAPHY; icons: eyewave / getty images)

Ireland has always been a destination out of a dream, thanks to its pastoral landscapes, emerald green hues and a history that dates back thousands of years. The Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Dublin and Belfast draw in hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

But what about the middle bits that aren’t so well-known? Fortunately, storytelling is what the Irish do very well, and there’s no better place to hear those tales than the road less traveled – through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

Ireland's Hidden Heartlands

Franck Le Moenner and co-owner Kevin Sheridan of Sheridans Cheesemongers.

(Photo:credit: JENNIFER FAUCI)

Dining Discoveries

Ireland’s fertile farmland is vast and plenty, but County Meath is where you’ll find Sheridans Cheesemongers. Founded in 1995 by brothers Kevin and Seamus Sheridan, the company began when the duo started selling Irish farmhouse cheeses at a Galway market. The Cashel Blue is a standout while the Gortnamona goat cheese is sweet and tangy, the perfect creamy choice to pair with homemade brown bread crackers and chutneys.

For a world-class dining experience, look no further than the award-winning MacNean House and Restaurant, which houses a chef’s table experience within a cookery school.

“People like knowing where food comes from. I love the whole subject of food … it’s the love of my craft,” said chef Neven Maguire of his love of cooking, which is evident in the customized and delectable chef’s table menu that could include a warm ham hock terrine with apple sorbet, seared sea scallops with maple glazed pork belly and a sweet strawberry dessert plate to tuck into.

Ireland's Hidden Heartlands

Spirits from Boatyard Distillery.

(Photo:credit: JENNIFER FAUCI)

The Irish gin industry is booming, and one can’t leave Ireland without a glass or two. The town of Drumshanbo is famous for its Gunpowder Irish Gin, made of eight botanicals and gunpowder tea, while The Boatyard Distillery in Enniskillen produces a Double Gin and sweeter-style Old Tom Gin in a lakeside setting.

Ireland's Hidden Heartlands

Neolithic rock formations at Cavan Burren Park.

(Photo:credit: JENNIFER FAUCI)

Of the Beaten Track

Embrace the beauty of lake life at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park in County Roscommon. Explore the lake on a one-hour aquatic adventure, passing by Teddy Bear Island, where dozens of stuffed animals line the waterways, and McDermott’s Castle. Glide through nature with a 30-minute Segway tour or see Lough Key from above by meandering through the trees on the self-guided tree canopy walk.

Up for some science? Head over to Cavan Burren Geopark for glacial erratics, Mesolithic rock formations and Neolithic tombs. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its exceptional geological history, a hike through these trails is a must. Add a bike ride along the River Shannon in Drumshanbo or a kayak run around Cloughoughter Castle in County Cavan and you’ll have all your recreational bases covered.

Ireland's Hidden Heartlands

The National Famine Museum in County Roscommon.

(Photo:credit: JENNIFER FAUCI)

History & Heritage

Ireland has had its fair share of dark times. None more famous perhaps than The Great Famine, a period of starvation and disease. A visit to 270-year-old Strokestown Park House in County Roscommon, home to the National Famine Museum, will be a heart-wrenching one as visitors learn about the famine and those who suffered a fatal journey in hopes of finding food.

You’ll find no greater history lesson on ancient Ireland than at the visitors center in Rathcroghan, the largest and oldest royal site in Ireland. The museum educates visitors on the 240 well-preserved archeological and burial sites of the Celtic land. Hear Irish mythology tales about Queen Medb, a warrior goddess; the Cattle Raid of Cooley (Tain Bo Cuailnge); and learn about the great cemetery of the long forgotten dead and dare to enter the Cave of Cats (Oweynagat), where evil spirits, faeries and magic are said to hide.

Discover for yourself the beauty of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands at AAA.com/Ireland.

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