Ireland’s Ancient East from Cork
This trip is all about people with sea in their DNA. Stories of emigrants’ farewells, stories of famous explorers, and stories of strength in adversity.
From whiskey to warfare and wildlife to wondrous historical sites, this trip will get under the skin of the lives loved and lost along this magnificent coastline. Head off from Cork Airport, as we have here, or arrive from the sea itself at Cork Harbour or Wexford's Rosslare Harbour, and explore the south east counties of Cork, Waterford and Wexford.
Open up your trip around Cork, where you'll find tales of battles and battlements, beauty and bells… and a little condiment called butter.Explore Day 1
A flourishing harbour
Cork is a harbour city with a cosmopolitan flavour. Built around centuries of international trade, Cork city harks back to these times at the English Market, a bustling covered arcade packed with fresh fish, meat, fruit, spices, chocolate and endless local artisanal goodies. Stop here for a spot of lunch, then take a walk around the 17th century Elizabeth Fort, a hulking star-shaped construction perched above the city.
From here you can see Shandon, where you'll find the Butter Museum, a hub of folklore, food and farming history. After you've explored, pop to the nearby St Anne's Church and ring the Shandon Bells, paying homage to this beautiful city. Visit spectacular St Fin Barre's Cathedral and maybe catch a choral recital accompanied by the melodious 19th century organ. Then head for dinner at Café Paradiso, but be sure to ring ahead to book this vegetarian restaurant – the confit artichokes are simply divine!
A bastion against the sea
For centuries, ships have passed through the River Lee, part of the world’s largest natural harbours at Cork; and since 1550, Camden Fort Meagher has watched them all from its protective post at Crosshaven.
The enormity of the site is breathtaking – it took 500 men 40 years just to build the moat. Impervious to the spray of the Atlantic and, it seems, the passage of time, Camden Fort Meagher and its warren of underground tunnels can transport you to an era of cannons and musketry, when waves threatened to carry enemies to Ireland’s shores.
As you head towards the city of Cork, stop at the pretty sailing village of Crosshaven for a bite to eat in the seaside cafés and a wander on the pristine beaches. Then, as you approach the city, check out the Blackrock Castle Observatory for a glimpse into the Milky Way and beyond...
Head to Cobh, a pretty seaport town with a beautiful harbour, and often the last glimpse of Ireland for many emigrants.Explore Day 2
A farewell to home
If there is one ship that illustrates the depth of Cobh's maritime legacy, it is the ill-fated Titanic. And at the Titanic Experience Cobh, you can follow the lives of the passengers who left these shores for that tragic voyage in 1912. The first emigrants to pass through Ellis Island in New York are also immortalised as statues in Cobh: Annie Moore and her brothers began their journey to the New World right here, boarding the steamship Nevada back in 1892.
Cobh Heritage Centre uncovers their stories, and those of deported convicts from that era, as well as the tale of the sunken ocean liner the Lusitania – its final resting place is off these shores. If you have more time, stroll along one of the many walking trails in town or walk along with Titanic Trail. You can also take a self-drive boat tour from the town's harbour, and find out more about the maritime legacy of Cobh.
Spike Island is heaven and hell
Hop on a boat from Cobh to Spike Island. Now a hushed and picturesque land off the coast of Cobh, you only have to walk through the solid stone gateway to appreciate how a monastery, fort and prison have all resided here over the last 1,400 years. Now dominated by Fort Mitchell, a star-shaped fortress that once held 2,300 prisoners captive, it's a pleasant if somewhat spine-tingling place to visit.
If you have more time, step into the silence of St Colman's Cathedral in Cobh, then take dinner on the dock at The Quays Bar and Restaurant.
Make way for Midleton between Cork and Waterford, and a walled town made famous by an intrepid explorer...Explore Day 3
The water of life
The smell of malted barley in the air, carts piled high with sacks of grain…visiting the Jameson Whiskey Distillery in Midleton allows you to hear about how the masters craft their liquid gold. This is where you'll find the largest pot still of whiskey in the world, as well as some of Ireland's finest Irish whiskeys in the making, including whiskey lovingly stored in bourbon barrels in tribute to the Jameson coopers. And if the car’s parked, finish up with a little sup of premium blend.
At the epicentre of the slow food movement, the delightful town of Midleton is also ideal for those with an appetite. If you have more time, make sure to book ahead for Sage – all ingredients are sourced from within a 12-mile radius, and you can taste the produce from the very fields you've travelled past that day.
A walled beauty
Just down the road, Youghal is an Irish Heritage Port responsible for one of Ireland's most famous culinary staples – the potato. This is where Sir Walter Raleigh lived in the 16th century, and where he planted Ireland's first spuds in Myrtle Grove, a magnificent Elizabethan house that remains in private ownership to this day.
The town intrigues with hidden gems such as St Mary's Collegiate Church, a medieval masterpiece founded by St Declan in 450AD, and the Youghal Clock Gate Tower, where you can travel through time to discover the fascinating history of this former prison. Stroll along vast sandy beaches making your way to Ardmore, where the old cathedral and statuesque round tower stand as testament to what is believed to be one of Ireland's oldest Christian settlements.
Raiders, builders, warriors – the Vikings left their imprint across much of the island of Ireland. And Waterford is at the heart of it all.Explore Day 4
A city called “Vadrarfjord”
Once called “Vadrarfjord”, the city was founded in 914AD as a Viking settlement. Reputed to be one of Ireland’s oldest cities, Waterford is certainly the island’s most richly decked in Viking tales, architecture, finery and folklore. Before you explore, though, you must eat like a local and tuck into a freshly baked blaa, a traditional floury bread that you can fill with anything you fancy.
Explore the Georgian Christ Church Cathedral, or marvel at how molten crystal is moulded and carved into gleaming glass treasures at the House of Waterford Crystal. If you have more time, enjoy some great food and drink with a side order of history at the Reg Bar, which has a 900-year-old wall running right through it.
The Waterford Treasures
Part of the Waterford Treasures experience, the fortress of Reginald's Tower was named after the very Viking who founded the city back in 914AD. Anchoring the city’s Viking history, it hosts a special exhibition that includes a 12th century gold kite brooch and a Viking warrior’s sword – though it’s currently closed for renovations, it will be reopening soon. Metres away is the Medieval Museum, where you'll find the exquisitely embroidered silk Cloth of Gold vestments, the only complete medieval set to survive in Europe.
Then, head for Bishop's Palace, an elegant mansion detailing the city's history through the years. And the experience continues to grow, with two new attractions recently added that detail the silversmithing and timekeeping of the Viking period. A cracking way to explore all of this is to join the Epic Tour of the Viking Triangle – a theatrical comedy whirlwind journey with props, costumes, singing, dancing and plenty of craic.
Or you can embark on the King of the Vikings experience, a virtual reality adventure through time! You’ll have worked up a hunger after all that, so grab a bite to eat at Momo, and then join the fun at Henry Downes' Bar, making sure to sample their own No 9 Whiskey blend.
If you have more time, drive the Copper Coast Geopark, a scenic route between Dungarvan and Tramore that boasts a rich mining and geological heritage. Or cycle along the Waterford Greenway – you'll be treated to some pretty spectacular views!
Sea tales, stormy characters and centuries of history are what lines the trail to Wexford.Explore Day 5
Famine and fame
There's only one way to get to Wexford, and that's taking the ferry across the River Suir from Passage East to Ballyhack, where you're only a short drive from New Ross. This Norman settlement has borne witness to its fair share of civil strife and rebel action – it's all revealed on the New Ross Historic Walk, which takes in the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience. A replica of the 19th century original, it now serves as a captivating museum commemorating darker times. At the end of the tour, a brighter side to Ireland's history unfolds at the Kennedy Homestead, where the life and legacy of the Kennedy dynasty is explored, alongside their Irish roots.
By Hook or by crook
The saying "by hook or by crook" is said to have originated around these parts, with the Hook Head Lighthouse and the tiny village of Crooke, about 42 miles away. The oldest operational lighthouse in the world, Hook Head has had its fair share of colourful residents through the centuries. And as for those ocean views, well nothing quite beats them.
If you have more time, take a guided tour of the 800-year-old lighthouse and climb the 115 steps of the tower, and meet the life-size holograms St Dubhán and “the greatest knight that ever lived” William Marshall, who will tell the tales of times gone by…
Taste the sea air
Follow the coast and take your pick from Kilmore Quay's famously fresh seafood restaurants. Marry that up with a boat trip from here to the Saltee Islands, which are a haven for wildlife, and has a pretty fascinating back story.
In 1956, Michael Neale, an aviator, nature enthusiast and Wexford native was crowned the prince of these isles – 13 years after buying the islands for himself and his family! If you have more time, Wexford’s Lobster Pot serves up stunning seafood, brought fresh that day from the southern seas. A must for seafood lovers.
The call of the wild
Back on the mainland, get yourself to the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve. Scale the observation tower for unparalleled views, enjoy the interactive exhibition centre, and take the time to appreciate some of the world's most ancient and abiding sea travellers: the 10,000 white-front geese that traverse the Atlantic from Greenland to settle here every winter. Back in Wexford town, pop in for dinner at Thomas Moore Tavern, one of Wexford’s oldest pubs, before you continue your journey around Ireland's Ancient East...