You want heritage? Meath has heritage. The Royal County was the former seat of the High Kings of Ireland; offered up the 12th-century Trim Castle as a key location in Mel Gibson’s epic movie, Braveheart; and is home to a Unesco World Heritage site (one of only two in Ireland) at Brú na Bóinne.
Brú na Bóinne is where you’ll find the Neolithic passage tombs at Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange, together with an interpretative centre. Newgrange is the best known of the trio, famous for the spectacular shaft of light that spills through its roof-box every year at winter solstice.
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Amazingly, this alignment, which coaxes the sunlight 19 metres into the heart of the chamber, was engineered some 5,000 years ago. How can you see the alignment? Lady Luck has the answer. A lottery system gives ordinary folk a chance to be present in the corbelled chamber on the days around 21 December.
But don’t worry – all visitors are treated to a simulation.
Horses for courses
Perhaps it’s the heft it gets from all that heritage, but Meath does “old-school” very well indeed. Rivers such as the Boyne, the Blackwater and the Deel, together with the Royal Canal are havens for the angler, while its flat, rich pastureland is perfect fodder for the horses that are so successfully bred and raced there.
Once a year that racing tradition extends to the sandy stretches of Laytown Strand for the spectacle race meet. Europe’s only officially approved beach racing has been thronged since it was first staged in 1868.
Its unique, heady atmosphere means it’s a magnet for horse lovers and the curious alike.
Running up those hills
Meath’s history is laced with hidden surprises...and lots of hills.
You may know that monster rock acts like U2, REM, Bruce Springsteen and Queen have played Slane Castle, for instance, but did you know Ireland’s great liberator, Daniel O’Connell, once spoke before a rally of one million people at the Hill of Tara?
Or that another historic hill, the Hill of Ward, was where the Celtic festival of Halloween (Samhain) was first celebrated?
At the nearby Loughcrew Cairns (mound of stones), local folklore dubs the hills the Mountain of the Sorceress, after a witch who believed she would become mistress of all Ireland if she could leap from hill to hill while carrying an apron full of rocks.
Legend has it that she failed, rather like the ancient sun worshippers who once used the stones in their rituals…
This is Ireland after all – even centuries of prayers won’t guarantee sunshine.