Ireland’s Ancient East is calling this summer:
10 unmissable experiences
With the days stretching out, there’s the feeling that we’ve left the dark days of winter behind us and we can all look forward to brighter, sunnier days ahead full of excitement and adventure.
Ireland’s Ancient East is the perfect holiday destination with so much to discover like imposing castles and fortes, ancient tombs and ceremonial sites, caves and museums, gardens and stately homes.
Ireland's Ancient East is made up of the 17 counties outside of Dublin, heading east towards the River Shannon, as far north as Carlingford and Cavan then heading south towards Cork city. This area at the heart of Ireland has so much to discover from castles and conquests to myths and legends.
Make your own little bit of history at the sites which made Ireland as we know it today.
Create your own itinerary and plot your own path of discovery through Ireland’s Ancient East this year and you’ll find more than you could have ever imagined possible. The area’s hidden gems like Ireland's most haunted house, Loftus Hall, and much loved favourites, like the monastic site at Clonmacnoise, welcome you to stunning locations where you can lift the curtain on times past while creating your own great memories for the future.
There is no better way to start your adventure than at the valley of the two lakes at Glendalough. There is a reason the hermit monks of the 6th century chose this place to live in quiet contemplation close to nature and God. Despite the heavy tourist traffic these days that sense of peace persists.
Situated in the Wicklow mountains National Park, Glendalough offers all you need for a family day out. Have a picnic beside the scenic Upper Lake, or stretch your legs as you climb the slopes up the many trails of varied difficulty Glendalough Wood Nature Reserve. Then take in the stunning scenery and fill your lungs with fresh mountain air atop the Wicklow Mountains looking down on the remnants of a centuries old monastic settlement.
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Glendalough really is a world class attraction and one we should make the most of. It is one of the highlights of Ireland’s Ancient East. It is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the ‘Monastic City’. The ‘City’ consists of a number of monastic remains, and the most impressive being the Round Tower which stands 30m high. The main group of monastic buildings lies downstream near the Round Tower.
“One day as St. Kevin was at prayer, so legend says, a blackbird laid an egg in his outstretched hand. The 6th-century founder of the monastic settlement at Glendalough, not wishing to disturb nature’s course, remained motionless until the egg hatched.”
From one peaceful oasis to another: perennial favourite Powerscourt returns to its full splendour in the spring and summer months. Voted number 3 in the world’s best gardens by National Geographic the 47-acre estate is beautifully kept and has everything from perfectly manicured lawns and evenly clipped hedges to dense woodland, lily covered lakes, Japanese gardens and endless secret corners.
Just 20 minutes from Dublin, Powerscourt sprawls out from the stunning Paladial mansion, down the stately steps and out towards the Sugar Loaf mountain in the background. On a sunny day there is nowhere finer as Co. Wicklow puts her best foot forwards it is a feast for the senses.
Owned by the Slazenger family since 1961, the house has undergone some impressive restoration work in recent years and is now home to Avoca Handweavers and Tara’s Palace, Museum of Childhood.
Located 6km from Powerscourt Gardens, Ireland’s highest waterfall is a wonderful place to pass the day with plenty of space for picnics and barbeques, playground for the children and of course the waters of the Dargle river tumble 687 feet down the sheer cliff casting rainbows through the spray below.
Head south to the iconic Hook Lighthouse. It sits on the stunning Hook Head in Co. Wexford, surrounded by the treacherous waters of the Irish Sea. There has been a light beacon tower on this site from as early as the 5th century but the current tower structure dates back to the 13th century.
The 800-year old tower of Hook Lighthouse was built by Strongbow's son-in-law William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, who succeeded him as King of Leinster. There is no
need for us to tell you, you can hear it from the man himself. Added to the Hook Lighthouse experience just last summer, life size holographic figures of St Dubhan and William Marshall recount the long history of the lighthouse for tourists as part of the guided tour.
St Dubhan tells the tale of his life dedicated to protecting the lives of all those at sea with the help of his fellow monks.
William Marshall, known by many as "the greatest knight who ever lived", explains why he built the 800-year-old tower at Hook Lighthouse and his empire in the south east including Kilkenny Castle.
Guided tours of the lighthouse run all year round with special rates available for families.
Hook Lighthouse is still at the heart of the community on Hook Head: it has something for the whole family with guided tours of Lighthouse Tower, gift shop nautical selling gifts, cafe serving homemade soup, sandwiches, various seafood options and fresh scones and cakes from their bakery. There are art workshops for adults and children all year round with resident artist Rose and the children and run amok in the picnic and outdoor games areas.
Check Hook Lighthouse’s Facebook page for upcoming event here.
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Leaving the crashing seas at Hook Head, find out about the world's most famous doomed ship in Cobh. Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, but few know the chapter that the Cork town of Cobh, or Queenstown as it was then known, played in the ship’s short history. Queenstown was the very last stop for passengers to board the Titanic and many people boarded the liner there.
Based in the original White star ticket office, you will receive a boarding card with the details one of the 123 passengers who came to the White Star Line Ticket Office on Thursday April 11th 1912. The town of Cobh was the last port of call for many of the passengers of the Titanic before setting off on her ill-fated maiden voyage across the Atlantic.
With a personal tour guide, you’ll experience what these passengers did as they boarded the tenders to join the Titanic, you’ll also experience life aboard Titanic and learn a little about the conditions on board for third and first class passengers. A unique cinematographic experience will help you get the sinking feeling when disaster strikes the Titanic before finally uncovering your final fate at the end of the experience. Did you survive or perish in the icy waters of the northern Atlantic Ocean?
After genning up on all that history, it's time to get wild! Castlecomer Discovery Park is an absolute gem that will appeal to all the family, its proximity to Kilkenny means you can check it out before heading on to the Medieval City.
As Ireland’s Ancient East bursts into life after the winter with lush greenery where better than to make the most of it at Castlecomer Discovery Park. Between the Barrow and Nore rivers, with over 80 acres of woodland and lakeside, the park is a treasure trove of trails, walks and picnic spots. Younger visitors can enjoy Timber Tumbles playground and the Elf and Fairy Village, while the rest of the family can take a moment to catch their breath.
Zip like a pro
Castlecomer Discovery Park is home to the longest over-water zipline in Ireland! It is 300 metres long and 35 metres Zip Octagonover above ground at its highest point. Visitors zip over our stunning woodland, two lakes and 17th century hand-restored bridge. The zipline is accompanied by the Octagon High Ropes Course. Set on an octagonal frame over two levels, this presents a series of challenges in the form of nets, ropes and wooden bridges. The Octagon is more challenging than the existing Tree-Top Adventure Walk Course and is only open to participants over 12 years of age.
Mining the heritage
Castlecomer has a long coal mining history, up until the late 1960s the town was still home to a working mine.
While the mine may have closed, an exhibition bringing the 300 year history of coal mining in the area to life has been open since 2007.
The audio-visual tour takes just 45 minutes, it includes multimedia exhibits as well as life size and scale models of the mines. The tour highlights not only the social heritage of coal mining in Castlecomber but also gives tourists a geological understanding of how coal forms.
Hear from former coal miners about their working conditions and the dangers of the mine - you will start to feel like you were really there!
Tickets for the tour are €7 for adults and €5 for children with a family ticket for two adults and two kids just €20.
Entry to the Park is free, with a nominal ‘All Day’ parking fee of €4
Only a 10-minute drive from Castlecomer and a short hop from Kilkenny, Dunmore Cave is a deep subterranean chamber that holds a dark history and chilling story to tell.
The cave contains some of the finest calcite formations to be found in any cave in Ireland.
However, probably the most interesting aspect of the cave is its macabre history. The cave has been known to man for many centuries and is first mentioned in the 9th century Irish Triads. The Triads named Dunmore Cave as one of the three darkest places in Ireland. However the real darkest chapter in this caves history came in 928 AD. The Annals which tell of a massacre at the cave in which a 1000 people were slaughtered by marauding Vikings.
The discovery of many skeletal remains, particularly of women and children, in the cave would support the records of a mass murder in the cave.
The cave waited until as late as 1999 to reveal another of its hidden secrets when a guides noticed the light from his torch glinting off what turned out to be a Viking hoard of silver coins, ingots and buttons. Who hid them in the cave and why? Why did they never return for them?
Back above ground, delve into the rich and fascinating medieval heritage of Kilkenny in this, one of Ireland’s most beautiful hidden gems, especially in spring and summer when the countryside just comes roaring to life in a riot of colour and lush vegetation.
Just outside Thomastown, south of Kilkenny city, is the lost medieval town of Newton Jerpoint. The town was founded in the 12th century at a crossing of the river Nore where there was a toll bridge and the settlement grew into a collection of some 27 dwellings, a tannery, brewery, woollen mill and reputedly 14 taverns.
Take a guided tour of preserved remains of the town and call on the tomb effigy of St. Nicholas (Bishop of Myra), the real inspirational figure behind the legend of Santa Claus, plus the Church of St. Nicholas.
A trip to Jerpoint Park is a fascinating look into another time, wander among the ruins and marvel at the exquisite stone masonry, a level of craftsmanship that still prevails the locality such as in Jerpoint Glass nearby. The nearby Jerpoint Abbey is impressive for its imposing standing and pleasing geometric forms.
Thomastown and nearby Graiguenamanagh both offer a friendly local welcome, stunning scenery, lively nightlife and music scene and restaurants offering great fare made from the best locally sourced ingredients.
While Newton Jerpoint looks best in the glorious sunshine, at Uisneach, it's all about what happens after dark. Considered, in Celtic mythology to be the sacred centre of Ireland, the Hill of Uisneach was the site for ritual and ceremony and is associated with the festival of fire at Bealtaine. The geographic location of was at the border between the four provinces of Ireland and thought of as a kind of spiritual centre or ‘navel’ of the land.
Learn more about the mythology of Uisneach by taking a guided tour with Marty Mulligan. Hear about the legends and tales of Ériu, the Goddess of Ireland. The tour takes
around two hours and brings you on a 3km trail through the area - bring your walking shoes!
Why not celebrate the ancient Bealtaine celebration at Uisneach? The Fire Festival takes place on Saturday May 6 - you can expect the traditional Bealtaine bonfire with performances from live music acts and spoken word artists plus so much more.
Ail na Mireann
The most famous feature on Uisneach is undoubtedly Ail na Mireann (the stone of divisions), known as The Catstone. It is also known as Umbilicus Hinerniae, Axis Mundi and the navel of Ireland. This huge glacial erratic symbolises Ireland, united in its divisions and it marks the centre of Ireland where the provinces came together. It is underneath this stone that Éiru, after who Ireland is named, lies buried underneath.
Festival of Fires
Less than an hour north of Uisneach lies Loughcrew. The illumination of the inner chamber of the megalithic passage tomb at Newgrange is a world famous event and people put their name down on a list for a lottery to witness it every year. Demand is so high however, that the vast majority are disappointed. However, it is a little known fact that there are many other passage tombs around Ireland that have a similar celestial alignment and have an equally impressive sun illumination.
Loughcrew at Old Castle, Co. Meath welcomes the sun within the tomb at sunrise of the spring and autumn equinoxes. Witness the incredible, decorated backstone in the tomb, which proves the cairn’s astronomical purposes, become drenched in morning light in an experience that is the same today as it was over 5000 years ago. The tomb is illuminated on both the 21st of March and the 21st of September, it is open from dawn all year round. Visiting during the winter months? Just pick up the key from the nearby coffee shop.
The stunning view of The Loughcrew Cairns in Oldcastle, Co. Meath, one of Ireland's best kept secrets. The magical megalithic monuments are over 6000 years old! Pic @loupitas #IrelandsAncientEast #Travel #meath #megalithic #monument #mountain #ireland #irlanda #history #loughcrew #sunset #sunrise #visitdublin #igersireland #photooftheday #discoverireland #wanderireland #loveireland
Even if you don’t make the early start for the Equinox, the passage tomb can be visited all year round. They lie in close proximity to the splendid Loughcrew Gardens and the Loughcrew Adventure Centre so you can vary your holiday experience between the astonishing, the exciting and the relaxing.
The perfect way to end a summer in Ireland's Ancient East has to be a day at the Laytown races! The famous stretch of strand at Laytown plays host to an exhilarating equestrian event. Laytown races occupies a unique position in the Irish and English racing calendar as it is the only race event run on a beach under the rules of the Turf Club. The next race takes place on Tuesday the 5th of September 2017.
There is something very special about listening to the horses thundering hooves on the wet sand, the jockey’s bright colours against a gunmetal sky and the sea breeze in your face as you join the crowd in roaring on your favourite.
According to local folklore the races were started by the parish priest in 1876 on Laytown’s three miles of golden strand. In 1901 local landowner, Paddy Delaney, established the more formalised event we know today. Nothing, not even two World Wars, has stopped it taking place annually since then.
It’s not the only piece of history this stretch of sand can lay claim to. Further up the beach at Bettystown one of the most important historical finds was unearthed. It was on this beach a peasant woman claimed to have found the Tara Brooch in a box buried in the sand. Many assume that the find actually occurred inland but the beach claim was made to avoid any legal claim the landowner might have on the artefact. The Tara Brooch today takes pride of place in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
Continue the craic after the last race by hitting Drogheda town, just 20 minutes from Laytown beach.
Have a pint with the locals in Clarke's Bar, this Drogheda institution dates way back to 1885 and they promise the best pint of Guinness around. You'll just have to check that out for yourself!
Worked up an appetite? WM Cairnes and Son in Scotch Hall is a gastropub with a great buzz and even better pub grub.
With so much to see and do in Ireland's Ancient East this summer, one visit may just not be enough.
Plan your holiday today at irelandsancienteast.com.