The Boyne Valley

Mellifont Abbey, County Louth
Mellifont Abbey, County Louth

You want time travel? Set the controls for Ireland’s Boyne Valley – a landscape riddled with passage tombs, monastic ruins and bloody battlefields. Oh, and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart

The Boyne Valley is one long list of Ireland’s must-sees: Newgrange, the Hill of Tara, Trim Castle, Monasterboice… and so much more. But you don’t have to traverse the country to explore these passage tombs, sacred hills, monastic ruins and heritage towns. It’s all on the doorstep of Dublin, Belfast and several time-travelling motorways. 

The River Boyne itself is Leinster’s main waterway, and the valley it carves through Louth and Meath has a rich history of settlement. This is where you’ll find the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth at Brú na Bóinne – one of the largest megalithic sites in Europe.

It’s where you’ll find the treasure trove that is Trim, home not only to a castle whose keep featured in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, but to more medieval buildings than any other town in Ireland.

Other highlights are Mellifont Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery established in Ireland, and the Hill of Tara, former seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Pay a visit on a sunny day and get snapping. As summaries of the Irish landscape goes, this sums up at least a quarter of its beauty.

When two tribes go to war

The River Boyne may look peaceful today, but things were rather different on 1 July 1690. On that day, two rivals to the British throne – William III and James II – clashed with their armies in the largest gathering of troops ever on Irish soil.

This bloody conflict is vividly evoked at the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre, where audio-visual displays, original weaponry and free battlefield walkways are on display. In summer, watch costumed actors come to life in historical re-enactments.

Rock on

Think the Boyne Valley is just a ruin-strewn rural landscape? Lord Henry Mount Charles of Slane Castle, whose family fought on both sides at the Battle of the Boyne, will tell you otherwise.

He’s the man responsible for bringing mega rock acts such as U2, The Rolling Stones and Madonna to Meath. Slane was also where U2 recorded The Unforgettable Fire album. Ironically, Slane was engulfed in a blaze itself in 1991, but it has since been rescued and restored to its former glory.

Living through the ages

History is one thing, but the Boyne Valley is also home to thriving heritage towns like Drogheda, Navan and Kells. While you may stop at first for their historical tours or high crosses, you’ll stay for their lively restaurants, galleries, bars and traditional music scenes.

And don’t forget the River Boyne’s famous stocks of wild brown trout – history isn’t the only thing you can dip into around here.