The Historic Heartlands

Explore medieval castles, distilleries and Mesolithic hunting grounds.

Clonmacnoise, County Offaly
Great For
  • History
  • Sightseeing
  • Museums
  • Scenery
  • Walking
  • Major Attractions
  • Counties covered
    Offaly | Laois | Kildare | Tipperary | Limerick | Carlow | Kilkenny
  • Transport Hubs

    Dublin Airport | Heuston (train) Station | Connolly (train) Station | Busáras | Dublin Port | Waterford Airport | Shannon Airport | Rosslare Harbour | Cork Harbour

Moving through swampland-turned-sacred settlement where a saint lived and died. Marvelling at monumental bridal dowries far beyond the realm of modern times. Exploring the extravagance of a rich man and a magnificent castle sold for a mere £50.

You’ve reached the Historic Heartlands, and counties Offaly, Laois, Kildare, Tipperary, Limerick, Carlow and Kilkenny. A place where epic alliances were forged in love and expedience were born, carved into the land and the traditions honoured ever since.

Uncover supernatural tales of hellhounds and hidden treasure. See ancient dolmens, wander through medieval castles perched on hilltops and discover just how advanced prehistoric hunters really were.

This is Ireland’s Ancient East… and it’s time to wander through 5,000 years of history.

Castletown House
Castletown House

The first and largest Palladian manor in Ireland, this Renaissance-inspired abode is a sight to behold. Set on an estate boasting pretty river walks and open parkland, the house itself is flanked by two extravagant wings.

It was said that Conolly would require 240 horses to bring his half-year’s rent from Dublin to Castletown.


William Conolly was his name and dubious deals during the Williamite War in Ireland (1688-1691) had earned him a colossal fortune. When he died, Conolly was one of the richest men on the island and owned a staggering 100,000 acres of land. That’s equivalent to 75,625 football fields. At the heart of this acreage? Castletown House.

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When St Ciaran and Diarmait mac Cerbaill met on the banks of the River Shannon in the 6th Century, neither could have predicted that the site, Clonmacnoise, would become one of the leading centres of religion and learning in Europe.

Like nearly all monastic settlements, Clonmacnoise was plundered on several occasion by invaders, including the Vikings.

Sadly, Ciaran didn't live long enough to see the cathedral, churches, round towers and crosses that the spiritual spot would host.

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Rock of Cashel

Sitting on a towering rock said to have been discarded by the Devil no less, the Rock of Cashel looms large over Ireland’s history. Centuries' worth of Middle Age structures, including a tower, Gothic cathedral and castle, are at the centre of the splendour.

Viewed from afar, the Rock of Cashel is a captivating sight, a freak and solitary lump of limestone, reflecting the light in diverse ways throughout the day.

Rough guides

Here, saints converted kings and brutal massacres took place. A sacred space, a medieval masterpiece and an enduring icon: this is no ordinary rock.

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Kilkenny Castle

It was an historic day when James Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde, handed over the keys to his ancestral home, Kilkenny Castle, in 1967. His family had been there since 1391, but with the building in disrepair he gave it to the people of Kilkenny for a mere £50.

Kilkenny owes its charm to its beautifully restored buildings and winding slipways surrounding the magnificent Kilkenny Castle.

The New York Times

The lucky recipients responded by turning the Norman castle into a cultural hub, hosting classical music recitals, exhibitions and ornamental gardens.

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Rock of Dunamase, County Laois
Rock of Dunamase

An imposing limestone outcrop capped with castle ruins, the Rock of Dunamase has evolved from Christian retreat to Viking target and Anglo-Norman stronghold. But it may be best known as a wedding present…

Legend insists that treasure is hidden here… guarded by the hellhound, a dog with enormous jaws and flaming mouth.

Mal Rogers, Author

Part of a magnificent dowry, Norman lord Strongbow was gifted the castle when he married Aoife Rua, daughter of the King of Leinster, in 1172. Today, the breathtaking views remain almost unchanged from when Aoife first gazed over her domain one thousand years ago.

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Festivals in

Fact: Ireland's Ancient East is defined by its past, all 5,000 years of it. But that doesn't mean that this historic region doesn't know how to have fun. Across the counties of Ireland's Ancient East, countless festivals are celebrating art, opera, comedy, food, music and more.

Getting here

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