Trip Idea: Take a voyage into the past

Uncover centuries of spellbinding tales on this 4-day journey

Trim Castle, County Meath

Mysterious mounds, mighty castles, houses that bear the stamp of power – it’s all to be found on a journey through this soft, green countryside

Pass through the centuries of Ireland’s past on this journey that takes you from arrival in Dublin to the plains of Kildare, and meanders through counties Meath and Westmeath.

Ireland's Ancient East from Dublin

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Built to last

These castles and grand houses give a fascinating portrait of the powerful people who once lived behind their high stone walls...

A driving 35 mins
Castletown House

Castletown glory

The first and largest Palladian manor in Ireland, Kildare’s Castletown House is all about showing off on a grand scale. The man who built it, William Conolly, was the richest man in Ireland, boasting a fortune amassed during the 17th century Williamite War. He owned 100,000 acres of land, and it was said that it would take 240 horses to haul his half-year’s rent to Castletown. See if you can count the 229 windows in the house, or enjoy a stroll down the pretty river walks or across the open parkland.

If you have more time

Get in a round or two on the parkland fairways of Kildare’s K Club, where the Ryder Cup and 13 European Opens have hosted the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Trim Castle

A Hollywood hero

County Meath’s Trim Castle, in the pretty town of Trim, is an expression of power created in stone. Three storeys tall with a moat, towers and curtain wall, this is both a fairytale castle and a military stronghold. As Ireland’s largest Anglo-Norman castle, its position gave it sweeping views over the River Boyne and allowed the Norman overlords to keep an eye on any rebellious peasants. The castle’s massive, cruciform structure has featured in the Hollywood film Braveheart, and offers an atmospheric glimpse into Ireland’s Norman past.

If you have more time

Pop into Trim Castle Hotel for lunch, then take a Trim Historical Walking Tour of the village.

Legends and betrayal

In this stretch of your trip you’ll find family betrayals and ties to the supernatural, surrounded by landscapes of outstanding natural beauty.

C driving 25 mins
Belvedere House

Brotherly love... and hate

Who would guess that behind the tranquil Victorian walled gardens of County Westmeath’s Belvedere’s House, Gardens & Park lies a blood-curdling family history? This grand Palladian house was built as a hunting lodge in 1740 for Robert Rochfort, one of the nastiest men imaginable. He locked up his wife on suspicion of an affair with his brother, made sure that brother descended into ruin, and built the Jealous Wall in the grounds of Belvedere to hide another brother’s grander house next door. But as a favourite of King George II, he got away with the whole thing!

If you have more time

Stick around for lunch at the onsite café before heading outside to find the magical sprites in their Fairy Garden.

The Hill of Uisneach

Legends of the landscape

Occupied for 1,000 years longer than the pyramids and home to the oldest festival in Ireland, the Hill of Uisneach is Ireland’s mythological centre, so there are stories in every stone. On the hill there is a ring fort, a holy well, an ancient road and a royal palace – and the resting place of the earth goddess, Ériu, and the sun god, Lugh. Visit the Cat Stone, a huge boulder said to be the meeting point of the provinces, and a place where the lines between the natural and the supernatural are easily blurred.

Come at festival time

A wonderful May tradition has been rekindled in the Uisneach Fire Festival, with music, dance and a fire parade.

High kings and heroes

This rich land has inspired kings, art and love so strong that people have lived and died for it.

E driving 25 mins

The hill of the witch

Local folklore tells of how County Meath's Loughcrew came to be – the witch, Garavogue, dropped the stones that now lie here as she flew overhead, creating the Loughcrew Cairns. These are, in fact, incredible Megalithic structures that date back to 4000BC, in one of the biggest sites of its kind in Europe. Grab a map from the visitor centre and discover the truly ancient history of this area. Make sure to call into Loughcrew Gardens, which were designed in the 17th century. The tranquillity hides a turbulent history – three great houses were built and destroyed here within just 100 years.

If you have more time

Book a half-day at Loughcrew Gardens Adventure Centre and choose from zip-lining, archery, rock-climbing and other activities. If you fancy sticking around, 19th century Loughcrew House is right next door and can accommodate groups, if needed!

F driving 25 mins
The Hill of Tara

Seat of the high kings

In the middle of County Meath’s fertile hills, the Hill of Tara has a history that goes back over 5,000 years. It was the seat of Ireland’s High Kings and capital of the mythical race, the Tuatha de Danann. Legend meets history here and haunts the mounds, hills and ditches – King Laoghaire is rumoured to be buried here, upright with a sword in hand to keep his enemies at bay, even in death. This whisper of violence is no surprise; this site has seen centuries of pagan sacrifice and royal power struggles. But for now, you can simply indulge in its tranquillity.

Come at race time

Navan Racecourse is nearby and the adrenaline charge of a close horse race will soon jolt you back into the present!

The Hill of Slane

Piety and power

Watching over the soft Meath landscape, the Hill of Slane is where St Patrick is said to have lit his paschal fire, with sunrise mass said here every Easter. It's also where Sláine mac Dela, the legendary first High King of Ireland, is said to be buried. The ruins of a friary and college are a reminder that this pretty spot was also a centre of learning for centuries. Watch out for views of a 12th-century Norman castle to the west, which was abandoned by the Fleming family when they moved to Slane Castle, a place which is now home to Marquess Conyngham – and enormous annual rock concerts!

If you have more time

Pay a visit to the Slane Whiskey Distillery in the beautiful grounds of the castle. Tours and tastings await.

Ancient engineering

Round out your trip by discovering a massive Neolithic solar calendar and a battleground steeped in bloody history...

H driving
Newgrange passage tomb

Ancient engineering

Ireland’s past stretches back millennia, and in a quiet part of County Meath lies one of the great treasures of the ancient world. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Newgrange – accessible only via the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre and a timed ticket system – is a passage tomb that’s older than the Pyramids of Giza. Aligned to the heavens for the winter solstice, a shaft of light from the rising sun pierces the small opening above the entrance, creeping slowly along the stone passageway and illuminating the burial chamber at its heart. To bear witness on December 21st, a lottery is held for attendees, with requests received via email. Built around 3200BC, the stones are exquisitely carved with patterns and symbols, while nearby Knowth and Dowth also feature fabulously carved stones, equally worth a visit.

If you have more time

Stop off for delicious food at the Vanilla Pod in the Headfort Arms Hotel in Kells, where local meat and cheeses figure heavily on the European-style menu.

The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre

Bloody battlefields

Look out over the green fields around the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre in County Meath – it doesn’t take much to cast your mind back to a time when over 60,000 troops, some on horseback, fought a brutal battle here that would determine the course of this island’s history. Discover more about this crucial confrontation by listening to the stories – they’ll tell of that day when these troops fought in the name of two kings in a brutal clash that left thousands dead.

Come at race time

Laytown Races (September) is the only officially approved beach horse-race meet in Europe and is an exceptional experience. Carry on with your journey across Ireland’s Ancient East from here, with rewarding stories around every bend.

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This is a suggested trip idea and should be used as a guide only.

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