Ireland’s Ancient East

No other region in Ireland lets you delve so deeply into the rich tapestry of our history than Ireland’s Ancient East. Planning your next stay? Be inspired by my selection of hand-picked hotel deals and holiday rentals in the region and experience history first-hand.

The latest hotel deals in Ireland's Ancient East

Glamping & other hidden gems in Ireland’s Ancient East

Rockfarm Slane

Glamping in Slane

  • Sleep in a Shepherd's Hut or Yurt
  • Located at the Boyne River
  • Enjoy the peace & quiet by the campfire
  • 9.5/10 on Booking.com
The Dolls House

The Dolls House

  • Historic Victorian Gem near Wexford
  • 3-minute drive from Johnstown Castle
  • A true treasure trove
  • 9.9/10 on Booking.com
glamping in glendalough

Glamping in Glendalough

  • Sleep in a pod!
  • Cosy and comfortable accommodation
  • Mountainviews
  • 9.7/10 on Booking.com

Landmark Airbnbs in Ireland’s Ancient East

Wicklow Lighthouse

Wicklow Lighthouse

  • Sleep in a landmark!
  • Stunning views of the Irish Sea
  • Max. 4 guests
  • 5/5 on Airbnb
Batty Langley Lodge

Kildare Lodge

  • Historic hideaway with 7 pinnacles
  • Includes river view & fireplace
  • Max. 2 guests
  • 5/5 on Airbnb
Galway castle

Galway Castle

  • 600 year old castle with quirks
  • Highest room in the castle
  • Max. 4 persons
  • 4.95/5 on Airbnb

 

All about Ireland's Ancient East

There’s no better way to discover Ireland’s Ancient East than packing your hiking boots, filling up the car and heading out for a proper road trip! Rather than just going from A to B like the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East spans a massive region that stretches from Cavan to Cork, so there’s a countless number of routes you could take. Let’s take a closer look at my favourite landmarks in Ireland’s Ancient East, and helping you plan your own little adventures through time!

Kilkenny

Most famous for its castle, Kilkenny is a thriving city within easy reach of Dublin and perfect for a weekend-break. The city is proud of its food culture, so make sure to visit Kilkenny when one of their food festivals is on, such as “Savour Kilkenny”. The city’s medieval links are visible everywhere. From the Medieval Mile you get to the old Anglo-Norman castle automatically. Visit the new Medieaval Mile Museum located in St. Mary’s Cathedral on the Mile to find out about Kilkenny’s history. The city also offers a great variety or crafts and arts – even for you to get creative. Take part in a pottery class, or have a look at how a Celtic brooch is crafted. Nicholas Mosse, e.g. has a studio just outside the city in Bennetsbridge village, which you should definitely visit. Even for more active visitors Kilkenny won’t let you down. Travel down to Graiguenamanagh to try out kayaking, hiking and stand-up paddleboarding.

Kilkenny

Powerscourt House & Estate

If you live in Dublin, this is an easy one and the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Situated in Avoca, Co. Wicklow, the beautiful privately owned gardens are such a great place to unwind and soak up the spectacular displays of colour. Ornamental ponds are tucked away in idyllic glades, while winding paths lead you through a sea of foliage. By far one of the most spectacular corners of the estate is the Japanese Garden, designed and created in 1908 by the viscount who owned the estate at the time. Be sure to visit here in either spring to catch the blossoms, or in autumn, when the various species of Japanese maple will be awash in vibrant autumn colour.

In the mansion you can find a wonderful Avoca shop and they serve delicious food out on the terrace where you can overlook the stunning gardens. This not the only garden worth checking out though – check out my list of gorgeous gardens across Ireland’s Ancient East and discover why Wicklow isn’t the only Garden County out there!

The Japanese Garden at Powerscourt in Wicklow is absolutely breathtaking
Photo: Chris Hill, Tourism Ireland

Hook Head Lighthouse

Located on the peninsula Hook Head in County Wexford you will find the oldest active lighthouse in the world. Since 800 years it has been leading the way for sailors in the dark. You can visit the lighthouse, take a guided tour and enjoy the amazing views from its balcony across the sea.

Tullamore

In Co. Offaly you find the quaint town of Tullamore where the famous Whiskey had its birth place. Visit the distillery of Tullamore D.E.W. that is home to this iconic Irish whiskey blend. The visitor centre will take you through all the steps of the production process and you can maybe bring home a bottle as a souvenir.

Historical sights

Brú na Bóinne

History is never just confined to textbooks and lectures. In fact we’re lucky in the sense that a lot of our history has been incredibly preserved, whether it be a medieval Gothic castle or a hill fort. You just have to go out there and get up close and personal – you’ll literally be walking in the footsteps of your ancestors! Co. Meath in particular is very lucky when it comes to Ireland’s neolithic past. There are fantastic archaeological sites that should be on any east coast itinerary – and since they’re just a half an hour drive away from each other you can easily do them both without having to lose much time.

Probably the most iconic landmark in Ireland’s Ancient East, Brú na Bóinne in the Boyne River valley is a landscape of ritual sites erected 5,000 years ago. The World Heritage Site brings you back to the very beginnings of Ireland’s ancient history. Visit the mysterious passage tomb where you can witness the spectacle of the sun shining through its roof on winter solstice. During a guided tour they simulate this fascinating event for you to experience. The scientific precision with which those ancient architects have built the whole site is simply mind-blowing and should be on top of the bucket list of your Ancient East tour.

Hill of Tara

The next site in Co. Meath that you should definitely see is the legendary Hill of Tara. I love it not just because of its archaeological relevance, but for the myths and legends that surround it. It’s probably most famous as being the seat of the old High Kings of Ireland – apparently over 100 of them where crowned here. It’s hard not to fall in love with that sense of history and mysticism – and the impressive archaeological remains are a treasure trove for history lovers.

As well as a fantastic tomb complex there are remnants of various ring and hill forts and the iconic Stone of Destiny, which would roar with approval should it consider a new High King worthy. Archaeologists have also discovered that the entire site of Tara was surrounded by a massive version of Stonehenge made out of wood – so big in fact that it would’ve been a similar size to a modern-day football stadium. As you can see, this place was a pretty big deal back then!

Hill-of-Tara-IE-EDITORIAL-ONLY-Tourism-Ireland
Photo: Tourism Ireland

Glendalough

Nestled between the pine-fringed ridges and rugged valleys of the Wicklow Mountains are the remains of one of Ireland’s most important monastic sites, a small settlement that was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century. It served as both a place of refuge and one of learning. Only a few of the original buildings remain, but at its peak this monastic settlement featured everything from guest houses and workshops to even infirmaries and houses for people to live in. As soon as you step through those gorgeous arches of the old perimeter wall you can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped into another time.

There are several buildings spread out by both the lower and upper lakes of Glendalough, so pack your hiking boots and discover some breathtaking nature along the way! The buildings’ beautiful setting means that you could easily spend a whole day combining the sightseeing with a gorgeous hike through what I consider to be one of the prettiest spots on the whole island.

Rock of Cashel

Perched on a hill overlooking the rolling countryside and mountains of Co. Tipperary, the mighty Rock of Cashel is another incredibly beautiful medieval structure. Much like the monastic site at Glendalough, the Rock of Cashel also features a dry stone round tower which stands at a height of 28 metres. It’s the oldest structure of the site, the rest being various chapels, a cathedral, castle and a hall that are all tightly clustered together and added as time went on. There’s a massive mix of architectural styles too, but that’s what gives it that charm – you’d be forgiven to think it looks like something out of a fairy tale.

The whole site is enclosed by fortifications, giving it that amazing castle-like atmosphere. And again there’s plenty of history behind the venerable stone walls – local legend has it that the Rock itself was formed after the Devil had taken a bite out of Bearnán Éile mountain (hence the name Devil’s Bit in English!). King Aengus was baptised by St. Patrick at the Rock of Cashel, with it also serving as the seat of the kings of Munster. There were even disputes between several local clans as they strove to control the rock before Murtagh O’Brien donated it to the Church in 1101AD. Inside you can admire the beautiful vaulted arches of the many chapels and go for a wonder between the impressive headstones and Celtic crosses in the graveyard.

It’s just a short walk to the castle from the town centre of Cashel, so be sure to definitely sit down for a coffee and a delicious lunch. There are several excellent B&Bs and hotels close by so you’re spoilt for choice. And why not pop up to the Slieve Bloom Mountains for a hike? As well as being one of Europe’s oldest mountain ranges, it’s also just over an hour away from the Rock of Cashel – perfect for the outdoorsy types!

An evening view of the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, Ireland
Photo: Tourism Ireland

Events & Festivals

What’s on in Ireland’s Ancient East? Pretty much anything you can think of, whether it’s music festivals, street food festivals or the arts. It could be an intimate concert in a beautiful setting or huge gatherings celebrating in the streets of town.

2019 Events & Festivals in Ireland’s Ancient East

  • Smithwick’s Kilkenny Roots Festival: May 03 – 06
  • Mayday Mayhem in the Maze: May 06
  • West Wicklow Festival: May 15 – 19
  • Vantastical: May 31 – Jun 3
  • Cork Midsummer Festival: June 12 – 22
  • Savour Kilkenny: Oct 24 – 28

Some of them include the historical heritage of the area into their festivals and you can explore what life in East Ireland was like 2000 years ago. Whatever you pick, it will make a great addition to your Ireland’s Ancient East tour. Especially when you travel with kids I would take a look at the events and festival calendar, especially when there’s major holidays on such as Easter, Christmas or New Year’s. I’ve gone ahead and listed some of my favourite events of the year in the little blue box.

medium-The-Gathering-Fleadh-Cheoil-Co.-Cavan-IE-EDITORIAL-ONLY-Tourism-Ireland

Waterford Greenway

OK, so this one may seem a little weird to add to the list – it’s by no means ancient! – but this is still an absolutely fantastic day out when you’re exploring the Ancient East! The Waterford Greenway is the longest cycling path in Ireland, measuring 46 km in length. It takes you on a stunning route along the former Waterford-Dungarvan railway line – you’ll be running, walking or cycling across old viaducts, past ruined castles and along some of the scenic and peaceful coastal landscapes in the area.

Along the way you’ll still have the chance to stop off and learn a little more about the history of the local area – places such as Waterford’s Viking Triangle, the Woodstone Viking Site and the Suir Valley Heritage Railway are close to the greenway and they’ll make the perfect little place to stop off, get some rest and even have a bite to eat. One of my favourite parts of the route has to be the amazing Ballyvoyle Tunnel, built in 1878. Walking through the tall, fern-covered cliffs as you approach the entrance and seeing the many alcoves – it’s quite the feat of engineering!

Top sights and experiences in Ireland's Ancient East

Ancient barrows, Viking artefacts and grand estates – millennia of history are at your fingertips. The beautiful forests, lush valleys and idyllic lakes only add to the magic! Check out the highlights and hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.

Exploring Ireland's Ancient East

This is just scratching the surface – as I’ve said before, Ireland’s Ancient East stretches as far north as Cavan and Monaghan and all the way down to Cork, so you’ve got a massive area that’s open to you to explore. Definitely check out the official website, since they have an excellent map with all of the attractions in the East of Ireland listed on it, and you can use one of their pre-made itineraries or plan your own. It’s an absolute gem when organising your own trips to the East of Ireland.

Browse all Ancient East deals

More Enchanted Ireland

comments

what do you think?