8 fun facts from Ireland's Ancient East

Fairy kings, fabled saints and 1,000 year old butter

Loughcrew Cairns, County Meath

You won’t believe some of the stories you can unearth in Ireland’s Ancient East...

The White House, image © ESB Professional/Shutterstock.

1 The man who built the White House

Ever wondered who first envisioned the White House? It was an Irish emigrant from a town called Callan, not far from the medieval city of Kilkenny. The story goes that James Hoban went to Washington in 1792 and submitted his design into a national competition. His prize? The commission to build the White House!

2 Fairy forts

Ireland is full of fairy tales, as we well know. It's said that the hawthorn bush is supposedly the fairies’ preferred meeting spot, and damaging one brings bad luck. You’ll find these bushes treated with great respect everywhere. Visit the one in Lullymore Heritage Park in Kildare, where the fairies have built an entire village around its lone bush.

3 A unique creature

There’s a creature living in the River Nore that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s called the margaritifera durrovensis – named after Durrow in County Laois – and it can live to the ripe old age of 80. They are freshwater pearl mussels, and have lived in Irish rivers since just after the last Ice Age.

4 The wily witch

During The Great Famine in the mid 19th century, people believed a local witch would protect their potato crops from illness if they were planted in lazy beds on the hill nearby. Lo and behold, the potatoes grew healthy! Apparently the exposed hillside kept the plants dry and blight free. But we like to think there was a little witchcraft involved...

5 Luscious locks

In the Viking city of Waterford, the Bishop’s Palace has a rather strange artefact on display: a lock of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hair. The story goes that it was brought to Ireland by Napoleon’s niece Letitia, who married Sir Thomas Wyse of Waterford and then settled down in this coastal city.

6 Celebrity surgeon

Speaking of Napoleon, would you spend the night at the home of his personal physician? James Verling was a Cobh man who became a surgeon for the British Army. He was on the boat that took Napoleon to exile in St Helena and was appointed Bonaparte’s doctor. He eventually retired to Cobh in County Cork, and lived at what is now the Bellavista Hotel.

7 A bird in the hand...

Do you know the legend of St Kevin of Glendalough? It was said that one day in the 6th century, a blackbird sat in St Kevin’s hand, which was stretched out of a window, and laid its eggs. St Kevin waited patiently with hand outstretched until the eggs were hatched. And that’s why he's so often depicted alongside a blackbird.

8 Delicious dairy

We all love a slice of brown bread slathered in butter, and Ireland’s pasturelands produce some of the best! In the 1700s butter was a luxury food desired across the world and Cork butter was shipped as far afield as Australia and Brazil. At the Cork Butter Museum, you'll find an amazing celebration of Ireland's dairy heritage, including a 1,000 year-old keg of butter.

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