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by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

First published in 2013 I’m re-publishing this post to mark the launch of Fáilte Ireland’s new tourism brand – Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

PaddyCornafurrish is the townland in Co Offaly where my late father was born 100 years ago this year. It’s also the best place to holiday in Ireland. My Dad was always convinced of this but I was a very late vocation, only finally answering the call to Cornfurrish when, regrettably, it was too late to share it with him.

It’s the best place to holiday in Ireland because it’s real. Its scenic beauty may not be picture postcard pretty but it’s restorative in that Wordsworth sort of way. When the M50 is a chaotic carpark or the airport is a riotous zoo my mind finds solace in thoughts of Cornafurrish, the peaceful easiness of its absolute anonymity, the easeful peace of its splendid isolation.

Gradually appealing

Cows at the windowCornafurrish has an appeal about it that reveals itself slowly over time. At first you don’t see much beyond the ragged randomness of an infinity of fields mostly empty, sometimes packed with Dutch Friesians. But then you notice how in early spring it vigorously renews itself with rampant, bountiful, abundant growth on the hedgerows, in the ditches, across the soft brown bog land. You realise how easily it shows its hand, with the passing of the seasons, just like a bad poker player, exuberant in bright summer sunshine, gloomy and brooding in dark winter rain.

Remote but not isolated

Cornafurrish is remote but you can pick up a copy of The Irish Times in Gussie’s of Ballycumber, and, in the process, enjoy a 60 minute round trip ramble along the back road, past pot holes, barking dogs and ramshackle farmyards. You can be the only punter in Flynn’s of Grogan on a Saturday afternoon sucking on a perfect pint as you complete your crossword. When you want chat you’ll find the friendliest folk imaginable who’d never pass you without a word, who love to linger and connect, whose hearths are always burning.

On the Pilgrim Pathway

Cornafurrish is also a powerful portal to an extraordinary past located, as it is, beside the pilgrim path to Clonmacnoise, the ancient monastic seat of learning and commerce located about 20 minutes away by car. Signs of this rich legacy and heritage are everywhere, sometimes located behind entrance gates, packaged and presented for easy interpretation, often scattered randomly in a remote field with free admission like the Holy Well at Castlearmstrong. More recent built heritage include the charming churches at Boher complete with Harry Clarke windows and at Pollough with sacred furniture in bog oak from Celtic Roots Studio.

Best Tea Rooms in Ireland


Nearby, Ballinahown has Ireland’s best tearoom (when it chooses to be open!), Lough Boora Wetlands offers contemporary sculpture in a natural bog setting, Glasson has  Wineport Lodge , and Athlone is awakening with its trendy left bank district and a rejuvenated castle.

If holidays are ultimately about escaping, getting away, finding refuge in order to refuel, regenerate, recreate then Cornafurrish is the best place to holiday in Ireland.

I’m just sad that it took me a lifetime to discover this.

Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a specialist marketing agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on their strategy for meetings and events


Fireside in Ballycumber



8 thoughts on “The Best Place to Holiday in Ireland

  1. Padraic, I always enjoy seeing the world through your blogs. I especially liked the personal connection you had to this story and hope to visit Co Offaly someday with you as my guide. Maybe the Ovation Summit in Ireland this summer? Take care my friend,

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Dan – it really is a special place. I could paraphrase a famous critic of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot by stating that Cornafurrish is a place where nothing happnes. Twice.

  2. Gerlinde Steinle says:

    Padraic, I loved your piece about ‘the best place to holiday in Ireland’. It’s beautifully written and in a very subtle way reminds you that ‘best place’ is something very subjective, an attitude and also an inner journey. Thanks.

    1. padraicino says:

      Gerlinde – thank you so much for taking time to post this comment. I really appreciate it and I agree fully with you about the deeply subjective dimension to travel.

  3. noel says:

    Padraic a vick, I also resonate with your ideal of Cornafurrish.I spent an idyllic childhood next door to your family perhaps your uncles Joe, Frank and Eugene. I worked many a hard day with all 3 “spreading and scrawbing spuds”. All gentlemen to a fault, Thank you.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks so much for this lovely comment. It’s heartening to know that you know this place so well, along with the people in it – some of whom are my uncles! I hope we can meet there soon.

  4. Jackie De Burca says:

    This is lovely Padraic, as we are so often streamlined into attaching ourselves to the obvious destinations, that are more fashionable and glamourous. I personally love so many different types of environments, and feeling the special “earthiness” of each of them.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Jackie – I think travellers today seek authenticity more than anything else, I know I do. While a luxury experience will always be nice I don’t think it has the same enduring quality the earthiness you mention above.

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