Waterford’s coastline lacks the wildness of the shoreline further east, but there are still glorious, enticing beaches – especially at Dunmore East, Stradbally and Ardmore – and plenty of balmy cliff-top walks, not least at Ardmore, which is also a major ecclesiastical site. Among the larger towns here, it’s best to give the kiss-me-quick resort of Tramore a wide berth, but Dungarvan enjoys a picturesque bayside setting and offers some fine places to stay, eat and listen to traditional music.
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DUNMORE EAST, 16km southeast of Waterford, is a picturesque getaway for the city’s wealthier denizens. The village is actually split in two, with the eastern part set neatly around a small, sandy, Blue Flag beach backed by sandstone cliffs, while the much busier western half is built above and around a lively fishing harbour and marina. In late August, the village comes to life for the three-day Bluegrass Festival.
Attractive, bustling DUNGARVAN is splendidly situated on a large bay where the waters of the River Colligan broaden as they reach the sea. Unlike many of its fellow resorts, it remains largely unscathed by the blight of chain-store similitude. It plays host to the weekend-long Waterford Festival of Food in April (wwww.waterfordfestivaloffood.com) and a major traditional-music festival, Féile na nDeise (wwww.feilenandeise.com), over five days around the bank-holiday weekend in early May.
The seaside village of ARDMORE, 20km southwest of Dungarvan, is an enchanting place, rich in religious history and relics, mainly associated with St Declan who established a monastery here some thirty years before St Patrick came to Ireland. There’s a kilometre-long sandy beach at the foot of the village, hemmed in by long, grassy headlands and flanked on its southern side by St Declan’s Stone. According to legend, the saint’s luggage was miraculously transported by this boulder when he travelled from Wales (and thus presumably avoided excess-baggage charges). Heading up the hill towards the southern headland leads past St Declan’s Well, where the saint apparently conducted baptisms in the early fifth century, and where he later retired to a small cell for greater seclusion; on the site of the latter, a now-ruined church was built, probably in the twelfth century. From here there’s a breezy four-kilometre cliff walk, with stunning views, around the headland, which will bring you back to the top of Main Street.
Above the town (and near the end of the cliff walk), on the site of Declan’s original monastery, stands a solid-looking twelfth-century Romanesque cathedral and a willowy, conically capped round tower. The cathedral has lost its roof but its walls are impressively buttressed. Its west wall features an arcade from a previous building, embellished by remarkable carvings of Biblical scenes such as the Judgement of Solomon, while two carved ogham stones – one is the longest in Ireland – can be seen inside. In a corner of the graveyard is St Declan’s Oratory, which possibly dates from the eighth century; the pit in the floor, once covered with a flagstone, is where he was supposedly buried.