The Charming Village Of Ardmore, Ireland (+ The Literary Inspiration That Brought Me Here)
Nestled into the coast of County Waterford, tiny Ardmore village boasts some of the area’s most important religious history along with its gorgeous coastal views. On top of that, it may sound super familiar to old-school romance readers—as the setting for one of Nora Roberts’ most iconic series.
In this post I’ll prove that Ardmore is worth a spot on your Irish roadtrip itinerary, regardless of whether you’re a Gallaghers fan or not!
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In many respects, Ardmore looks like any other cute, colorful Irish coastal town. But the IDEA of Ardmore has been seared in my mind since I was a teenager as the setting for the first Nora Roberts books I ever read—The Gallaghers of Ardmore trilogy. And I totally fell in love with the books, the characters, and the idea of the place. Roberts’ descriptions or Ireland are absolute magic.
And then I realized as I was planning this trip that Ardmore WAS REAL. I honestly figured she’d just made up a cute Irish town that’s like dozens of others, but she actually lived there while writing the books. When I found that out, I knew I had to fit it into my itinerary somehow.
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And that’s how I found myself winding along the southern coast at the tail-end of an amazing week-long roadtrip, ready to experience Ardmore “IRL”.
The books feature not only tons of colorful local characters, but many landmarks around Ardmore where pivotal scenes take place. From the local pub (Gallagher’s), to the cliff walk, St. Declan’s well and round tower, and even the cliff hotel, I had tried to picture these locations over the years. Even nearby Dungarvan and Waterford City play a role.
Of course, you would almost never expect a fictional narrative (complete with faeries) to faithfully depict real-life—and these books were written 25 years ago, so things may have changed—but it was fun nonetheless to see the place where this beloved trilogy was inspired.
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Why should you visit Ardmore, Ireland?
But Ardmore has more to offer than just romance novel settings. It’s also believed to be the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland and the home of St. Declan.
According to tradition, he founded a monastery here in the early 400s and converted many people to Christianity before St. Patrick ever set foot in Ireland. As we explore the town you’ll notice several key Declan-themed spots, and the town is also part of a pilgrimage trail and hosts a popular festival each summer.
On top of that, Ardmore has beautiful ocean views. The Ardmore cliff walk is (in my opinion) one of the best and most accessible in the region, and long, wide Ardmore Beach draws tons of locals and visitors during the summer.
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I’d been picturing Ardmore for so long, and as I headed toward the village, visions of emerald green cliffs and azure waters danced in my head.
…and then THIS was what the entire day looked like on the radar. The day I was in Ardmore was the only rain I got the entire trip, a massive front was just sitting on top of most of Ireland.
As I mentioned in my deeper post on the Ardmore cliff walk, any other time I would have just “taken an L” and snuggled up in my awesome hotel room with takeout and a good book.
But I had such a short time here and had dreamed of Ardmore since I was a teenager, so I wasn’t going to let a bit (okay, LOT) of rain stop me from exploring!
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Where to stay in Ardmore
A nod to (a much earlier) cliff hotel is mentioned in the books, but I didn’t know about the Cliff House Hotel specifically. However, as soon as I saw photos of it during my research, I was completely hooked and knew it was the perfect way to end my Irish roadtrip.
The hotel sits atop the coastal cliffs surrounding Ardmore village, giving it incredible views out over the ocean. Instead of the very traditional architecture and décor you’d expect, the hotel instead has a very modern aesthetic blended with cozy traditional comfort.
I have to start by saying that my suite had a staircase! The room was gorgeous and comfortable, with a beautiful purple mosaic bathroom, a shower with outdoor ocean views, and a great patio (with lounge chairs and individual soaking tubs).
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I’ll talk about where to eat in Ardmore at the bottom of this post (spoiler, there aren’t many options), but Cliff House Hotel’s restaurant is generally considered one of the must-try’s. I didn’t get to eat here except for their breakfast, but it was absolutely lovely.
They also have a (supposedly great) cocktail bar as well. All their restaurant spaces look out over the ocean for more of those beautiful views.
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And of course, one of the biggest selling points here are the VIEWS. Whether looking over to the left at beautiful Ardmore Bay, or out ahead and to the right on sweeping ocean and coastline, this view is to die for. I loved sitting out on my balcony with the ocean laid out in front of me.
I also stayed at a very expensive castle on this trip (which I enjoyed), and in my opinion the Cliff House Hotel is 5-star luxury at an excellent price point vs. others at a similar luxury/star level in Ireland. If you’re planning to visit Ireland’s southern coast at all, I HIGHLY recommend you spend a night or two here!
But if the Cliff House Hotel isn’t quite right for you, or is out of your budget range, a few other great options are:
- Round Tower Hotel, which gets awesome reviews
- Bayside B&B, almost unanimously loved
- If you’re looking for a rental or self-catering, Island View or Dacha cottages may be great for you
- Otherwise you can look a bit further afield, at Youghal or Dungarvan
- This website has more accommodation ideas as well
Other Ireland adventures to plan your trip!
What to see & do in Ardmore, Ireland
So what do we actually do here?? Ardmore is a quiet, sleepy little village, so it’s less about things to DO, than it is about just soaking in the ambiance and exploring little nooks and crannies.
But there are some must-see spots throughout the village, from historic sites to scenic hikes, so I’ll cover those below.
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Explore the main street & waterfront
Fortified by a hearty lunch at Whitehorses, I explored the main street of the village a bit. When I first arrived it was raining, so the colors didn’t sparkle all that much, but blue skies later changed all that.
I’ll be honest, this isn’t how I pictured the village in my head. I have no idea why, but the way things were described felt even more tiny and rural than this, like just a few buildings in the middle of the countryside 🙂 It’s so funny sometimes to see the things you read and imagine in real life!
You’ll notice the village pub in the second pic below…we’ll come back to that at the end, as it factored heavily into the Ardmore trilogy.
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And then there’s the seafront and beach. I had just braved the wild Ardmore cliff walk in the rain and wind, which leads (at the end) down through the village and to the waterfront.
And as soon as I got to the ocean, it was like a switch flipped. Literally two seconds later, it was beautiful blue skies and sun and fluffy clouds. Beyond the long, wide Ardmore Beach, there are several others in the area that are great to explore (try Whiting Bay and Goat Island).
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As you head up the hill from the beach (to the right, if you’re facing the water, in the direction of Cliff House Hotel), the views will change a bit. I think they’re a bit more dramatic.
Depending on whether the tide is out, you may catch a glimpse of St. Declan’s Stone. It’s just a small boulder supported on two small rocks, and of course, has a legend behind it (with a sign helpfully there to explain).
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Do the Ardmore cliff walk
As I mentioned at the outset, the Ardmore cliff walk is a MUST if you’re in the area, unless the weather is dangerous. Even with the rain and wind, I wasn’t going to give up on the idea. So I did the whole walk. And then the blue skies came out…aaaaannnd I did the walk again!
If you start from the hotel, the first thing you run into is what’s called Declan’s Hermitage, but includes both his well and church (and dating to the early 400s CE). If you’re read the Gallaghers of Ardmore trilogy, you’ll recognize the name of Declan’s well (though the well itself is very tiny).
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You continue around the corner and the sea views really open up. You’ll see a shipwreck from the ’80s, then some watch towers (one from World War II, and one from the Napoleonic Wars).
And then it gets REALLY good. This section of the cliff walk has some awesome flora and fauna—including some sea bird-covered cliffs—and then Fr O’Donnell’s Well as your main landmark. Then it heads back inland through fields toward Ardmore’s famous round tower.
I did this walk twice in a row (thank you, 25,000 step day!), in rain and shine, and highly recommend it!
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Visit St. Declan’s Tower & Cathedral
Next stop on the Ardmore cliff walk, or just to visit on your own, is St. Declan’s Round Tower and Cathedral. This is really THE iconic spot in Ardmore, the “postcard” image. And boy, did those blue skies make it sparkle!
As you approach the tower and churchyard, you have the whole village and ocean laid out below you. This is a key location in the Gallagher trilogy at pivotal moments, and it definitely lives up to my imagination.
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The tower is believed to date to the 12th century, but could be a couple centuries older. At 97 feet high, it juts proudly over the town, visible from much of the countryside.
In a far corner of the churchyard you’ll find the ruins of St. Declan’s Cathedral (from the 13th century) and an oratory from the 8th century. Make sure to do a full walk around the cathedral’s outer walls, which feature some beautiful stone carvings taken from an earlier 9th-century edifice.
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Get a beautiful local souvenir
I visited Ardmore at the end of COVID restrictions and right at the start of tourist season, so things were slow and a lot was closed. But I did find an absolutely charming shop that you must stop by!
Ardmore Pottery & Galley is a beautiful small shop on the street that runs from the beach up to the Cliff House Hotel. They have unique local Irish crafts from around the island, and lovely ceramics they throw, fire, and glaze in-house. I got a delicate mug in a seafoam green that makes me smile each time I use it!
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Have a pint at the local pub
If you’ve ever read The Gallaghers of Ardmore trilogy, you’ll understand how pivotal of a role the pub plays in the series. But one of the things I found in my pre-trip research was that the local Ardmore pub (now called Keever’s) was temporarily closed.
So imagine my surprise when I was leaving Whitehorses after dinner, and realized the pub was open! Now…out of everything I saw in Ardmore, this was definitely the most different vs. how I imagined it from the books. Like, night and day different.
And again, I pictured this less connected to all the buildings around it, more standalone. Definitely much bigger (though there was another room in the back I couldn’t see). I’m sure Nora Roberts had to take some creative license to fit all the people in her literary pub along with a full kitchen offering 🙂
But still, it was super fun to sit and have half a pint with some locals and just pretend I was about to hear the Gallagher family sing something.
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Where to eat in Ardmore
There aren’t a ton of options, finding places to eat in Ardmore can be tough and you may need to branch out to nearby towns if you’re spending more than a day here, or are coming off-season.
It was steadily raining by the time I pulled into Ardmore, and I was starving and chilled. The first glimpse of the village didn’t look especially welcoming, but I had one thing on my mind—to get food. And I managed to catch a late lunch at Whitehorses.
It was so lovely and charming! I warmed up with some seafood chowder (thankfully, no shellfish or shrimp) and hearty brown bread, which completely hit the spot on a rainy day. I couldn’t resist something from their pastry case either, and devoured sweet, thick banoffee pie.
My research indicated that The Ardmore Gallery & Tea rooms are also a nice stop for an afternoon snack, including a nice garden terrace, but I didn’t get to try it (recent reviews are…mixed).
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I’d enjoyed Whitehorses so much and the reviews from the Cliff House Hotel restaurant had been a bit mixed lately, so I came back for dinner.
They had a surprisingly interesting wine list, and I sipped a lovely Torrontes Riesling from Argentina while stuffing myself full of rich chicken liver pate and sea bass with smoked salmon and lemon cream caper sauce with dill. I was so full I had to bring my banoffee pie back to the hotel. Run, don’t walk, to Whitehorses!!
The other main dinner restaurant in Ardmore from what I can tell is the the Cliff House Hotel’s restaurant. And on a beautiful day (which I didn’t have), the views alone are worth the cost of the meal. I was tempted to try this out, out, but they were booked up ahead, and the reviews made me cautious. Check recent reviews, but I think it’s worth a try!
If you’re planning a visit to Ardmore, here are a few other spots to consider (that I didn’t get to try):
- Drive the Copper Coast – This doesn’t get the hype of the Wild Atlantic Way, but is supposed to be absolutely stunning. This drive winds through a European geopark, and provides endless seascapes, rugged cliffs, lovely coves and beaches, and several cute villages.
- Dungarvan – A pretty coastal town in Waterford that makes a great base for exploring the area. It isn’t short on scenery or activities (such as sea kayaking and hiking), and will have more food and housing options than Ardmore.
- They also have some highly-recommended pubs (like Anchor Bar and the Moorings and Nagle’s), and I strongly considered staying at nearby Coolcormack Stud B&B, which had amazing reviews.
- Lismore – West of Waterford, this town dating back to 636 AD sits at the foot of the scenic Knockmealdown Mountains. Check out Lismore Castle, the “Vee” road, the Waterford Greenway, and Lady Louisa’s Walk.
I am SOOOO glad I came to discover Ardmore for myself! This little village has charm and history in abundance, more sweeping coastal cliff views than you know what to do with, and was such a unique experience for me as a fan of the Gallaghers of Ardmore trilogy. It definitely deserves a spot on your Ireland itinerary!
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