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Last updated : Nov 2009
East Coast Ireland
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Louth And Meath Counties

These two counties have much in common: outstanding Celtic, Neolithic ic and early-Christian history; extensive settlement by Normans; and a wealth of monasteries, castles, and rich farmland. They also share the River Boyne; wide, gentle and famous for the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when James II tried to regain the English throne, but was outmanoeuvred by William of Orange.

Drogheda, the harbour town of Co Louth, holds an important place in the history of the medieval times of Ireland. It was invaded by Oliver Cromwell in 1649, who massacred or transported most of the inhabitants. Today, it is a great base for exploring the Boyne Valley, with a meandering course between Trim and Drogheda, highlighted by an extensive list of prehistoric sites.

The prehistoric burial ruins of Brú na Bóinne, west of Drogheda, number over 40 and predate the pyramids. Among these, Newgrange is Western Europe’s most outstanding chambered tomb, built about 5000 years ago. Monasterboice was a former sixth-century monastery; in the cemetery stand three of the finest examples of High Crosses in the country.

Dundalk is an industrial, harbour township, founded in the 12th century, and largely rebuilt during Georgian times. Bordering Northern Ireland, the Cooley Peninsula forms a large upland covered by heather, megaliths and pine plantations. The best way to see the peninsula is by walking, following parts of the Táin Way, a circular walk from Carlingford and Omeath.

Carlingford is famed for its oysters and looks across the lough to the Mourne Mountains. Historical links are found in King John’s Castle, a stronghold overlooking the sea, and Taaffe’s Castle, one of many fortified residences in this area dating from the 16th century.

County Kildare

County Kildare is bounded by the Liffey and the Wicklow Mountains. It lies between the built-up area around Dublin and the boglands of The Midlands. The county has an enviable reputation for the breeding and exercising of thoroughbred horses.

Kildare Town is built around St Brigid’s Cathedral, which houses a number of Renaissance tombs and a timber roof shaped like the hull of a ship. Nearby is the round tower, the only tower in Ireland to have an external staircase.

Peatland World, at Lullymore, 25km or 15 miles north of Kildare, is the place to learn about all things peat. The National Stud at Tully, just outside Kildare Town was started by Colonel Hall-Walker and its importance in the racing world is immense. It is open for guided tours and includes a Horse Museum

Naas (pronounced Nace) is an industrial town on the edge of the Wicklow Mountains. Once the seat of the kings of the Province of Leinster, Naas was the centre of the ancient Irish kingdom of Ui Dunlainge. Today, it is a good place for shopping, and very much a hunting and horse-racing locality.

On the banks of the Poulaphouca Reservoir, 20km or 12.5 miles southeast of Naas, Russborough House is a elegant Palladian mansion begun in 1741, built in Wicklow granite. Here you can view works of art by European masters like Reynolds, Murillo, Rubens and Poussin.

County Wicklow

The beauty of County Wicklow is famous far and wide. This land of forests, mountains, waterfalls and lakes takes its name from the tiny county town and the adjacent mountain range. Wicklow lies between the heavily urban areas of Dublin and Wexford, and has the Irish Sea to the east. For centuries, the county was the base of Celtic Christianity, with a focal point around Glendalough.

At the northern end lies Bray. A lively seaside resort with an air of Victorian charm, now a bit faded and heavily reliant on day trippers from Dublin. A fine beach, with amusement arcades and the National Sea-Life Centre, continues to make Bray popular visit. Killruddery House Gardens, offer beautiful formal gardens, lakes and canals.

James Jameson of the distilling family created Glencormac Gardens, southwest of Bray. The 18th-century house at Powerscourt, west of Bray, is very popular, as are its formal gardens. A nice footpath leads to the Powerscourt Waterfall, the highest falls in Ireland, formed by the Dargle River which drops over cliffs 122m or 400ft high.

The town of Wicklow is a sleepy place bordering a shingle bay. The main attraction in the town is the Wicklow Historic Gaol, which recounts the events and unsavoury personalities of Irish history.

The displays of Mount Usher Gardens were set up in the 1860s by a Dublin linen manufacturer, Edward Walpole, and this place is a plant-lover’s paradise. Glendalough, the glen of the two lakes, is a place of holiness and a site of pilgrimage, where Saint Kevin founded a monastery in AD 570. The tall round tower is a known landmark, used as a lookout post, a grain store and a belfry. Today the cathedral is now in ruins, but is no less attractive for that. Towards the river is St Kevin’s Church, with its chimney-shaped belfry.

The little village of Avoca gained fame as Ballykissangel in the television drama of that name.
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