The attractions of County Waterford (Port Láirge, or the Déise) are integrally linked to the first part of its name, whether in its alluring river valleys, lengthy southern shoreline, or in Waterford city itself, which derived much of its prosperity from its strategic riverside setting. Home to almost half the county’s population, including a sizeable mob of students, the city supports a lively nightlife and arts scene, and one of Ireland’s finest museums, Waterford Treasures. Waterford’s coastline takes in numerous sandy beaches, not least at Dunmore East, and great vantage points for panoramic views, as well as the blossoming harbour town of Dungarvan and the “holy city” of Ardmore, containing enthralling relics associated with St Declan. The county’s northern fringe is dominated by the lonesome and boggy Comeragh and Knockmealdown mountains, the latter running down to the ancient ecclesiastical centre of Lismore, in the heart of the gorgeous Blackwater valley. If you’re driving or cycling between Waterford and Wexford, note that the most southerly road crossing of the River Barrow is up at New Ross, so it’s worth considering the ferry between Passage East, 12km east of Waterford city, and Ballyhack.
In contrast to squat, coastal Waterford, Tipperary (Tiobraid Árann) is the wealthiest of Ireland’s inland counties, deriving its prosperity from the flat and fertile plain known as the Golden Vale, which provides rich pickings for dairy farmers and horse-breeders. It’s also one of the largest counties, stretching over 100km from top to toe, and, uniquely, is divided into two administrative regions, North Tipperary (formerly North Riding) and South Tipperary (formerly South Riding), each with its own county town. Most of Tipp’s attractions lie in its southern reaches, including the historic towns of Carrick-on-Suir, home to one of Ireland’s most graceful mansions, and Cahir, with its imposing thirteenth-century castle and ornamental nineteenth-century baronial villa. But by far the county’s most breathtaking lure is the Rock of Cashel, a magnificent isolated outcrop rising from the Golden Vale and crowned by impressive Christian buildings spanning various periods. This southern part of the county is traversed by the Tipperary Heritage Way (www.tipperaryway.com), an easy 56-kilometre waymarked trail that runs down the Suir valley from Cashel to Cahir and Ardfinnan, finishing at The Vee, in the Knockmealdown Mountains near the Waterford border.