Small, but perfectly formed. That’s Louth in a nutshell. Despite its size, this corner of the country is home to some of the Boyne Valley’s great historical treasures and to a surprising stretch of coastline including the cool towns of Dundalk and Drogheda.
At its heart is Drogheda, one of the largest walled towns in medieval Ireland, and today infusing its historical core with an easy-going cosmopolitanism. One moment, you’re devouring fresh seafood in a riverside hotel. The next, you’re exploring historical hotspots such as the 17th-century Beaulieu House and Gardens, or standing with your jaw wide open in St Peter’s Church.
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Why? St Peter’s is famous for its shrine to St Oliver Plunkett (1625-81), the last Catholic martyr to die in England, and the centrepiece of its shrine to the saint is his grisly preserved head.
The history continues nearby at Old Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice. At the latter, look out for the 10th-century Muiredach’s Cross – standing 5.5m tall, its panels display biblical scenes like an ancient iPad. Amazingly, it was carved from a single block of sandstone.
Water, water everywhere
Louth boasts an impressive coastline – stretching over 90km from Carlingford Lough to the beaches of Baltray. Have you ever walked on water? That’s what a loop of the Clogherhead Peninsula feels like, winding around rocks from which the standing stones at Newgrange are said to have been cut, before emerging at Port Oriel.
Then there’s Carlingford, as close as a village gets to an al fresco museum. Walking its medieval streets, you’ll pass a sweet shop here, a tholsel (former public building) there, a state-of-the-art adventure centre here, a medieval mint there… and on it goes. Carlingford also hosts a great oyster festival in August, and a bubbling bistro scene that would do credit to a small city.
The Little People
The Cooley Peninsula doesn’t just look amazing, it pretty much is… Slieve Foy is said to be the resting place of Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhaill. It was central to the Táin Bó Cuailnge legend from 12th century Irish literature (often translated as The Cattle Raid of Cooley, which tells the epic saga of Queen Medbh of Connacht and the warrior Cuchulainn.
And, as if that’s not enough, it’s also listed under a European Habitats Directive as a specially protected area for flora, fauna and Little People.
Yep, that’s Little People… as in leprechauns. We’re not quite sure how the EU got involved, but let’s roll with it. Slieve Foy is host to an annual leprechaun hunt, and you can even see a leprechaun’s suit and bones at local pub, PJ O’Hare’s.
Welcome to the little county that could!