Castles, gothic architecture and villages arrived in Ireland towards the end of the 12th century – and stayed that way for the next five hundred years.
Relatively small numbers of people lived in the midlands of Ireland in medieval times, the great concentrations – and therefore the castles and medieval religious foundations - being more towards the eastern counties. So there is more space between stopping places on this part of the route than in the first and last of its three divisions. However, great houses and gardens and many other interesting spots were created in the five centuries since the castles went out of fashion and the route has no shortage of attractions and places to dine or stay overnight.
From Maynooth go west to Clonard, one of the most famous places of learning of ancient Ireland, but interesting in the medieval context for its motte, a green earthen mound built by the Anglo-Normans as the foundation of a castle to defend a crossing on the River Boyne. To the south is the Hill of Carbury, with another motte, the ruins of a Jacobean house which replaced an ancient castle – and a wonderful view. Then head for Portlaoise and the marvellous Rock of Dunamase. The castle was blown to pieces in the 17th century – but the pieces are colossal and conjure up visions of past glories.
Between Portlaoise and the River Shannon the Slieve Bloom Mountains rise – and may be crossed by a variety of good roads. Kinnitty has a castle – but, in spite of its medieval aspect, it dates only to the 19th century. Like Kilkea, it is a welcoming hotel. Farther to the west is Clonmacnoise, an ancient Celtic foundation which continued to be a great monastery throughout the medieval period and has some interesting ruins from the 13th and 14th centuries in addition to its Celtic crosses and round tower. Besides its solid relics, Clonmacnoise has an atmosphere of tranquillity unsurpassed anywhere in Ireland.