Stunning scenery, vivid tales and adventure with the ancients - discover the power of the past in this incredible part of the island of Ireland.
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Comprising 17 counties east of the River Shannon and tracing 5,000 years, the past comes alive in Ireland's Ancient East with every step you take, from gracious mansions set in lush valleys to bogs that harbour secrets of Iron Age Ireland. Trace Ireland's maritime history along a coastline with Titanic connections, walk with the Vikings through one of Ireland's oldest cities and encounter the world of Stone Age man. A trip around Ireland's Ancient East brings history to life. It's time to peel back the centuries.......
With so much at your fingertips in Ireland's Ancient East, it can be hard to know where to start. There is one thing, however, that links these amazing places, from the medieval city of Kilkenny to the mystical Hill of Tara, and that's the stories.............Discover the tales behind these landmarks and you'll unearth the hopes and dreams that fuelled the lives of high kings and heroes, saints and scholars. Here are some ideas to help your clients plan their trip to this ancient part of Ireland.
History inhabits almost every corner of County Meath, an apt place to kickstart your journey. Here, over 5,000 years ago, Neolithic people cultivated land and created farms, but what they left behind are among the world's most astonishing monuments: curving softly from the green fields of the Boyne Valley is the passage tomb of Newgrange, dating back to 3,200BC. Enter the Brú na Boinne Visitor Centre and it's your key to 5,000 year-old ingenuity at Newgrange - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - the passage tomb erected to line up with the first rays of sunlight on the winter solstice, and the equally fascinating burial mounds of Knowth and Dowth. County Meath also boasts the Loughcrew Cairns (4,000BC), which according to legend were made when a witch dropped an apronful of rocks as she leapt across mountains. Its 30 or so tombs make up what's said to be the world's oldest cemetery.
Everyone loves a good story, and in Ireland's Ancient East you can delve into some of the most fascinating around. Ireland's ancient kings ruled the landscape 2,000 years ago, and keeping the gods happy was a driving force in their lives, wth sacrificial deaths a way of appeasing their deities. The history of these kings is wrapped in fabulous legends, such as the story of King Laoghaire who was buried upright on the Hill of Tara, the ancient captial of Ireland, with a sword in hand to keep his enemies at bay - even in death. Around 145 kings reigned at Tara, crowned on a coronation stone called the Lia Fáil, which is still standing today.
The longest Viking ship ever recorded was built from the beams from Glendalough in 1042, but this idyllic Wicklow valley of the two lakes is best known for its early medieval monastic site. Although raided by marauding Norsemen at times, the remarkable cathedral, round tower and stone huts testify to the life of worship enjoyed here since the 6th century, when St. Kevin founded the site. Similar serenity can be found at Jerpoint Abbey, a 12th century church that was once the spiritual heart of a now vanished Irish province, the Kingdom of Osraige. In a time of saints and scholars in Ireland, women made their mark in County Kildare at the religious settlement now occupied by St. Brigid's Cathedral. The resident abbess held so much sway that even the bishop of the region used to bow to her will when visiting.
In a similarly sacred settling, this time on the banks of the mighty River Shannon in Offaly, is Clonmacnoise. Complete with round towers, churches, cathedral and high crosses, this Early Christian site was once one of Europe's most important centres of learning and religion. Part of Clonmacnoise's importance likes in it's position - at the heart of the island's ancient crossroads on the Shannon, a watery highway that has been used as far back as the Iron Age. Today it's all about pleasure, stunning unpoilt waters, boating and watersports, as well as the great towns and villages along the banks.
Bearing down on an unsuspecting Ireland from Scandanavia, hordes of Vikings first arrived in the 8th century. They looted Ireland's monasteries, battled kings and established cities that still exist today. Waterford, which dates back to 914, is one of the oldest cities in Ireland, and one of the most important for Viking history. Take a walking tour of the Viking triangle and step inside the trio of museums called Waterford Treasures to discover all about the Viking's effect on the city.
"Prehistoric passage tombs haunted by the past; stunning monastic sites that once drew scholars from all over Europe; dramatic castles rocked by bloody sieges. This is Ireland's Ancient East, a vast playground of fascinating history, compelling characters and beautiful green pastures."
Castles don't come more fairytale than the spellbinding Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. Traditionally the seat of the Kings of Munster and visited by St. Patrick in the 5th century, this remarkable place has one of the most impressive collections of medieval architecture and Celtic art in Europe. Over at the Rock of Dunamase in County Laois, you'll find another storybook sight. If it looks like an unlikely wedding present, that's because it is. History tells of how in 1170, the castle of Dunamase once formed part of the dowry of Aoife Rua, daughter of the King of Leinster. Equally impressive is Kilkenny Castle, the pride of the Medieval Mile and an ode to the glory days of epic architecture. As you stand in the beautifully kept grounds and look up at the castle, it's hard to imagine that it was nearly brought to its knees during a siege in 1922.
Hidden within quiet valleys are some of the island's most spectacular reminders of indulgent aristocratic life, including Russborough House in County Wicklow, Beaulieu House in County Louth, and Curraghmore House in County Waterford. One of the most beautiful is Castletown House in County Kildare - a Palladian Manor built by William Connolly, once the wealthiest commoner in Ireland. While in County Westmeath, seek out the scars of a spiteful family feud amid the tranquil surrounds of Belvedere House. In stark contrast, life was very different for poverty-stricken locals. You can find out more about their experiences at the Dunbrody Famine Ship and Irish Emigrant Experience in New Ross, County Wexford.
Ireland's relationship with the sea stretches back millenia. At the pretty port town of Cobh in County Cork, you'll find rows of multicoloured houses and the heartbreaking stories of emigrants. It's thought that over 2.5 million people departed from here between 1848 and 1950. Cobh was also the last port of call for the Titanic. Take a ticket in the name of a real-life passenger at the Titanic Experience to see how you would have fared on that tragic night.
From 3rd century kings racing their chariots to the lush landscapes ready for a countryside canter or a race for the finish line, nowhere is our love affair with the steed more clearly seen than County Kildare. Witness the spectacle of long lines of thoroughbreds training across miles of flat, rich plains at the Curragh, or visit the Curragh Military Museum and see how these grounds, in their time, were used for the Jacobites and their war horses in 1686, as well as British soldiers during WW1.