Lismore is a village in County Waterford in Ireland. It's on the banks of the River Blackwater in the northwest corner of the county, near the boundaries with Cork and Tipperary. It's a small place, with a population in 2016 of 1374, yet has a graceful castle, gardens and cathedral. Several mansions and gardens open to the public are dotted around the countryside between Lismore and the even smaller village of Cappoquin. There are also active monasteries and convents, though only one can be visited.
Lismore in Irish is Lios Mór, "great ringfort": this prehistoric settlement was on the hillside to the north but nothing remains of it. In the 7th century St Carthage (or Mochuda) founded a monastery. In 1171 Henry II of England stayed in the monastery and his son King John built a small castle on the site, which became the seat of the local bishop. The area was part of the huge territory held by the Earls of Desmond, but after the revolt of the 15th Earl, Queen Elizabeth I awarded it to Sir Walter Raleigh. He sold it (hurriedly, anticipating confiscation and execution) to Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork. Boyle was an Elizabethan adventurer par excellence, who by marriage and property speculation amassed a substantial estate spanning east Cork and west Waterford. Lismore Castle was his principal seat and his son Robert Boyle, the physicist and chemist, was born here in 1627.
In 1753 the daughter of the 3rd Earl married the 4th Duke of Devonshire. The 19th century 6th Duke had the castle rebuilt in Gothic style, creating the version you see today. During this work, two remarkable medieval objects were found hidden in an old wall: the vellum Book of Lismore (now at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire) and a bishop's crozier (now in the National Museum in Dublin). The castle remains a private residence of the Dukes of Devonshire, though their main home is Chatsworth.
The Tourist Information Centre is Lismore Heritage Centre in the middle of the village. It's open M-F 09:00-17:30.
Public transport to Lismore is limited. There is no railway, and no direct bus from the cities. Bus 363 runs M-Sa hourly from Dungarvan via Cappoquin to Lismore and Tallow, with one bus a day (364) running west of Tallow to Fermoy. Dungarvan has hourly buses between Cork and Waterford; some continue to Wexford and Rosslare ferry port.
On timetables, the Lismore bus stop is called O'Dowds, which is Rosie O'Dowd's West End Bar.
By road from Dublin follow M8 towards Cork and branch off at Fermoy onto N72 east. Scenic alternatives over the hills from Cahir are described below.
The bus will get you between Lismore and Cappoquin. You need your own wheels to reach the mansions and gardens dotted around the countryside.
- 1 Lismore Castle gardens, Castle Ave P51 F859, ☏ . April-Oct Tu-Su 11:00-17:00. The castle itself is seldom open to the public, though you can hire it for a suitable fortune. It's a mock-Gothic 19th century concoction, home to the Dukes of Devonshire. Previous buildings here were a 7th century abbey, a Norman fort guarding the river crossing, the property of Sir Walter Raleigh, the aristocratic birth place of chemist Robert Boyle, and a charred ruin after an anti-Cromwell army came a-calling. You visit for the gardens: the lower gardens were laid out along with the present castle, though the yew avenue is much older. There are bosky walkways, lawns and flowers. The walled upper garden is 17th century, with a mix of decorative borders, fruit, vegetables and potherbs. Dogs are permitted but must be kept on a lead. Admission also includes the Castle Arts Centre. Adult €8.50, child €6.50, conc €7.
- Castle Arts Centre main gallery is an outbuilding of the castle, included on the gardens ticket. There's a small permanent collection but mostly it's rotating exhibitions of modern art. Their second gallery is St Carthage Hall, by the church in village centre. This is open F-Su 12:00-17:00 and free.
- St Carthage's Cathedral in village centre is Church of Ireland. Completed in 1679, it contains elaborate tombs, and Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows by Edward Burne-Jones. The cathedral is named for the 7th century Saint Mo Chutu mac Fínaill or Carthach the Younger. Ejected from Rahan in County Offaly (perhaps in the dispute about calculation of the date of Easter), he travelled south and founded a monastery here.
- St Carthage's Church just south is Roman Catholic, an attractive Italianate building.
- 2 Ballysaggartmore Towers. 24 hrs. These are a Victorian folly, a pair of grandiose Gothic entrance lodges linked by a bridge over a dell. They graced the driveway to Ballysaggartmore House, which was plain by comparison; probably the owner intended to replace it with an even grander mansion but the money ran out. The house was burned down during the Irish Civil War and the site was later cleared. Follow R666 to the parking bay and picnic tables then walk along the loop trail through the forest to the towers. Free.
- 3 Cappoquin House and Gardens (Belmont), Cappoquin P51 D324. mid-Aug - Sept M-Sa 09:00-17:00. The mansion was built in 1779, burned down in 1923 in the Civil War, but rebuilt. There are extensive landscaped gardens. House €10, garden €6, both €15.
- 4 Glenshelane is a scenic woodland 1 km east of Cappoquin.
- 5 Dromona House and Gardens, Villierstown (5 km south of Cappoquin). July-Sept daily 13:00-17:00. Mansion built in the 1780s, though what's left nowadays is just one wing of a vast pile. Its most remarkable feature is the 19th C Hindu-Gothic gate, which you pass through on the public lane from Cappoquin. House €10, garden €6, both €15.
- 6 Tourin House, Cappoquin (5 km southwest of Cappoquin). Apr-Sept Tu-Sa 13:00-17:00. Mansion and extensive garden constructed in 1840, home of the Jameson whiskey family. House €10, garden €6, both €15.
- 7 Mount Melleray Abbey, Cappoquin. This is an active Cistercian Trappist monastery founded by monks fleeing France in 1830. Construction took a century, with the last phase using limestone recycled from Mitchelstown Castle, which had been burned down by the IRA. You can visit the heritage centre and gardens. There's a guesthouse for pilgrims.
- 8 Lisfinny Castle is a crumbling medieval tower house overlooking the road through Tallow. That's close enough: it was owned in the 16th century by Sir Walter Raleigh but was already derelict by the 17th. A Georgian mansion next to it has taken the same name and is a private residence.
- Lismore Golf Club is north of the river on the lane towards the Towers. White tees 5871 yards, par 69.
- Knockmealdown Mountains are the range north of Lismore dividing County Waterford from County Tipperary. Knockmealdown itself, the highest, is 794 m. It's usually climbed from the Vee Gap, via Sugarloaf Hill at 663 m. None of the climbs are difficult, just wet and muddy.
- The Vee Drive can be done as a scenic drive or cycle tour of 65 km from Lismore, or form a route to Cahir or Clonmel. For the best views make a clockwise circuit from Lismore, leaving northwards on the Clogheen road R668. The road climbs the wooded valley to the county boundary and the Vee Gap, with a great panorama of County Tipperary beyond. (Pity the horses: this was the old stagecoach route.) There are laybys for views, forest walks, and mountain trails. The road descends into Clogheen: for Cahir stay on R668, but the circuit turns east on R665 towards Clonmel - follow it to Ardfinnan. From there take either the direct lane southeast to Newcastle, or detour south to the attractive village of Goatenbridge then head east. From just west of Newcastle, take the lane south back over the hills into County Waterford, passing Mount Melleray monastery. Descend into Cappoquin and take the main road back to Lismore.
- Angling: River Blackwater has salmon fishing 1 Feb - 30 Sept. There's also trout and various coarse freshwater fish. Ask at the Heritage Centre or your accommodation about permits and tackle.
- Apply pressure while keeping temperature constant. Robert Boyle (1627-1691), born in Lismore Castle, made a huge contribution to the natural sciences, though he was just one of several behind what we now call Boyle's Law. Double the pressure on a fixed mass of gas, and you compress it into half its original volume; it re-expands as the pressure is released. Triple the pressure, you get a third of the volume, simple. That's at constant temperature, but under high pressure the gas becomes hot - what's going on? Boyle thought of matter as little particles covered in coiled springs - it took another 200 years for Boltzmann to understand both pressure and temperature as the kinetic energy of the gas molecules. And however much pressure Boyle's tutor applied, he couldn't get his head around Irish, though he quickly grasped French and Latin. And Ireland he found to be "a barbarous country where chemical spirits were so misunderstood and chemical instruments so unprocurable that it was hard to have any Hermetic thoughts in it." He left to conduct his best work in Oxford then London.
- Lismore Farmers and Craft Market is on the avenue leading to the castle and gardens. It's held Apr-Oct on Sunday.
- Centra store on Main St is open Su-Th 07:30-21:00, F Sa 07:30-22:00.
- Foleys on the Mall is a restaurant and bar on East Main St, +353 58 72511. It's open Th-Tu 12:30-20:30.
- Summerhouse Cafe is open W-Sa 10:00-16:00.
- Richmond House in Cappoquin is an upmarket restaurant open W-Su 18:00-21:00, +353 58 54278. Built in 1704, it also has accommodation.
- Barron's Bakery in Cappoquin is one of the few that still produces the "Waterford blaa" by the traditional method. It's a floury bread bun unique to this region - see County Waterford#Eat.
Dancing cheek to cheek
In 1932 Charles, son of the 9th Duke, married the vaudeville dancer Adele Austerlitz. She retired from her stage career, a double act with her brother, who became a frequent visitor to the Castle and better known as Fred Astaire. Charles drank himself into an early grave; Adele returned to the United States and remarried but continued to spend summers at the castle. She died in 1981 and wished for some of her ashes to be scattered there, but when her daughter brought them she found the castle closed - so she heaved the urn's contents over the wall.
- Rosie's West End Bar in Lismore serves food M-F 09:00-14:00.
- Button's Bar is on Cappoquin Main St.
- Blackwater Distillery is 5 km west of town on R666 past the Towers, producing gin, vodka and whiskey. Tours M W F at 11:00 and 14:00 cost €15 and must be pre-booked.
- 1 Ballyrafter House Hotel, Lismore P51 Y369, ☏ . Welcoming country house hotel open April-Oct, with extensive grounds and squawking peacocks. Good restaurant with views of the castle, plus pub. B&B double €100.
- B&B and glamping accommodation in and around town is closed until April 2021.
- 2 Ballyvolane House, Castlelyons P61 FP70 (38 km northeast of Cork), ☏ . This Gorgeous country hotel is across the boundary into County Cork, but worth travelling for. It's in a Georgian mansion, excellent dining. Fancy a gin? - they distill their own. B&B double from €250.
As of Oct 2020, Three has the best signal and has 5G. Eir has a good mobile and 4G signal in town but there are dead spots in the surrounding countryside. Vodafone is poor and you'll be lucky to manage a mobile call.
- Waterford is an old port with a rich Viking, medieval and Georgian heritage.
- Cahir has an island castle and the playful Swiss Cottage.
- Cashel is a remarkable religious complex teetering on a crag.