Trip through Ireland Ancient East

The Emerald Isle might be small in size but it packs a powerful historical punch. Hit the road on a fascinating five-day trip through the picturesque landscapes and villages, towns and cities of Ireland’s Ancient East en route from Dublin to Waterford, visiting Neolithic burial tombs, high crosses, castles and cathedrals, and traversing 560km and five millennia of history.

Dublin

Kick off in the Irish capital with an overview of the country’s history at the 1877-established National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology. Just some of its highlights are the world’s most complete collection of medieval Celtic metalwork, and four preserved Iron Age ‘bog bodies’ with intact features such as fingernails. Other exhibitions include Medieval Ireland, and Viking Ireland, featuring finds excavated at Dublin’s Wood Quay.

Brú na Bóinne

A Unesco World Heritage-listed wonder from around 3200 BC, the vast Neolithic necropolis Brú na Bóinne, 50km north of Dublin, predates both Stonehenge (by a millennia) and the Great Pyramids of Egypt (by six centuries). In fertile farmland scattered with standing stones, the complex encompasses three main burial tombs: Newgrange, a white quartzite-encircled grass-topped passage tomb measuring 80m in diameter and 13m high, which aligns with the winter solstice; Knowth, containing extraordinary passage-grave art; and sheep-roamed Dowth.

Less than 10km west, in the 18th-century town of Slane, coaching innConyngham Arms, makes a charming overnight stop.

Hill of Slane

The Hill of Slane is where, allegedly, St Patrick lit a paschal (Easter) fire in 433 against the ruling of the Irish high king. Patrick then described the holy trinity to him by plucking a shamrock to illustrate the paradox of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one, kindling Christianity in Ireland. Only faint remnants of subsequent religious buildings here remain, but the views are sublime.

Hill of Tara

Once the home of ancient Ireland’s druids, followed by its high kings, the Hill of Tara is 24km south of Slane. This sacred site is one of the most important in Europe, with prehistoric burial mounds and a Stone Age passage tomb, dating back 5000 years. It’s steeped in Irish folklore and history, and visiting the grounds is free.

Glendalough

Glendalough’s Irish name, Gleann dá Loch, means ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’, and the Upper and Lower lakes at this spot 100km south of Tara – along with wild Wicklow Mountains scenery and a cache of religious relics – are magical. In 498, St Kevin set up here on the site of a Bronze Age tomb and the monastery later established here lasted until the 17th century. The Glendalough Visitor Centre (visitwicklow.ie/item/glendalough-visitor-centre) is a mine of information. Next door, the comfortable Glendalough Hotel, makes a convenient base.

Moone

Amid stone ruins 50km west of Glendalough, stop off to see the distinctive Moone High Cross. Dating from the 8th or 9th century, it’s renowned for its intricately carved biblical scenes.

Browne’s Hill Dolmen

Topped by Europe’s largest capstone, weighing over 100 tonnes, the 5000-year-old granite portal dolmen (tomb chamber) Browne’s Hill Dolmen sits about 20km south of Moone and is one of Ireland’s most intriguing prehistoric monuments.

Enniscorthy

A pivotal chapter in Irish history played out at Vinegar Hill, 53km south of Browne’s Hill, during the 1798 rebellion against British rule. Nearby, the National 1798 Rebellion Centre has evocative displays. The rebels used Norman-built Enniscorthy Castle as a prison; it’s now a museum with superb rooftop views.

Wexford town

Named Waesfjord (‘harbour of mudflats’) by the Vikings, who are thought to have landed here around 850, Wexford town is 22km south of Enniscorthy. Traces of the fort built by the Normans, who conquered it in 1169, are still visible in the grounds of the Irish National Heritage Park open-air museum.