Drogheda to Kells: 56.5km (35 miles)/1 hour 7 minutes at 50km/h
Drogheda to Old Mellifont Abbey
Rested and refreshed after a good night’s sleep, start your day by exploring Drogheda, a town full of quirky surprises, such as the preserved head of St Oliver Plunkett (yes, really!) on display in St Peter’s Church, or the Martello Tower at Millmount, which was built in the early 1800s as a precaution against French invasion.
Drogheda Museum Millmount, County Louth
The Boyne Valley is justly famous for its rich Early Christian heritage and at Monasterboice, just a short drive from Drogheda, you’ll see some of the finest religious art on the island. St Muirdeach’s Cross, carved with scenes from the Old Testament, and the seven-metre-high West Cross, the tallest in Ireland, are worthy legacies of founder St Buite, a man reputed to be so holy that he ascended into heaven on a golden ladder lowered by angels.
High cross, Monasterboice, County Louth
Nearby at Old Mellifont Abbey, the remains of the fine octagonal lavabo (communal washing area) offer a glimpse of former glories. After all, this was one of the most powerful and influential monasteries on the island, and home to over 400 monks and lay brothers.
Old Mellifont Abbey to Slane
Slane is our next stop, a quiet village that is the unexpected home to one of the world’s great rock concert venues, Slane Castle. Its sloping lawns form a natural amphitheatre that has played host to all the greats: the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Madonna, Eminem… U2 have headlined here three times, and lived at the castle during the recording of their album, The Unforgettable Fire (the drawing room was turned into a recording studio).
Slane Castle, County Meath
While you’re in Slane, you might want to leave the car for a while and explore the lush countryside in a different way. At Rock Farm (part of the Slane Castle estate) you can rent electric bikes and continue your tour on two wheels. Don’t miss the Francis Ledwidge Museum, just outside Slane village, celebrating the life of the World War I poet, who died at the Battle of Ypres in 1917.
Electric bike tour, Rock Farm, Slane, County Meath
And when lunchtime rolls around, George’s Patisserie offers great coffee and chocolate brownies to die for!
Hill of Slane
Legend has it that Saint Patrick lit the first paschal fire in Ireland at the Hill of Slane, in defiance of the High King Laoire at nearby Tara. But Laoire was so won over by Patrick’s devotion he allowed him to continue his missionary work.
Since 1868, the golden stretch of beach at Laytown, County Meath, has hosted a unique spectacle each September – the Laytown Races, the only horse racing event of its kind in Europe to be run under the rules of racing.
Slane to Kells
Everywhere you look in the heritage town of Kells you’ll see evidence of its ancient history: the four stone crosses, the round tower (notice the five top windows instead of the usual four? Each window faced one of the town's five access roads – perfect for spotting marauding Vikings approaching), St Colmcille’s House, a small stone oratory that dates from the 11th century. And of course Kells is synonymous with the famous Book of Kells (now on display in Trinity College Dublin), which was completed here during the ninth century.
Kells, County Meath
A great way to pack all this history into one visit is to take a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. Think of the details they can add to your journey: did you know, for instance, that Oliver Cromwell stabled his horses in the church during his Irish campaign in the 17th century? Or that local aristocrat the Marquess of Headfort rather scandalously married a London chorus girl called Rosie Boote in 1901?
Overnight in the Headfort Arms Hotel, which has been in business for nearly 200 years.