Dig deep into Ireland’s intricate history and culture in this ancient and under-appreciated region.
Ireland’s Ancient East, spread across South East Ireland, really has it all. Explore a rich tapestry of history amid gorgeous scenery. Savour amazing cuisine, crafts and culture in quaint villages. We’ve run down our list of unmissable spots.
The Wicklow Mountains are located only 32km (20 miles) south of Dublin. As you head southward, you’ll pass between the conical Sugarloaf hills, entering a world away from the bustle of the capital city. For 100s of years, these uplands provided refuge to rebellious Irish fighting back against British rule. They really are wild!
Nestled in the heart of Wicklow is the 6th century monastic city of Glendalough. Translated from Irish as ‘the valley of the two lakes’, Glendalough is an ancient pilgrimage site located in a steep glaciated valley. Saint Kevin was a hermit monk who founded Glendalough in the early Christian period.
The stone round tower is the first thing you’ll notice in Glendalough. A landmark for many Irish monasteries, these towers were tall for a reason, providing refuge during medieval Viking raids. Monks would climb a ladder to the upper floors before pulling it up behind them.
❤️ You’re in Glendalough? Don’t dare miss…
A popular hike leads past Kevin’s Bed, a cave above the upper lake where the holy man reputedly lived. Follow the steep ‘Spink’ steps for spectacular views, looping around the valley past abandoned mines and miner’s cotttages.
2. Hook Head, Co. Wexford
With its distinctive black and white striped exterior, the silhouette of the oldest working lighthouse in the world is unmistakable. The present structure is over 800 years old. Legend has it, however, that monks lit beacons here to warn off sailors as far back as the 5th century.
Hook Head is the endpoint of the Hook peninsula. Cut off from the rest of South East Ireland by the Celtic Sea on both sides, you may notice a distinctive local accent.
❤️ You’re on the Hook? Don’t dare miss…
Owing to its position, thrust out into the ocean, Hook Head is one of Ireland’s best spots for whale and dolphin watching from land. Grab a coffee – or a pint – sit back, and wait for the humpbacks to breach!
3. Kinsale, Co. Cork
Seafood fans rejoice! Kinsale is a maritime town that carries a strong culinary rep. Enjoy a local menu of vibrant restaurants, atmospheric pubs and abundant craft shops in the gourmet capital of Ireland. Wander the town’s colourful and narrow streets, where you’re never far from the water’s edge.
Kinsale has a rich history. In 1601, the town played host to the Battle of Kinsale. With the help of Spanish forces, Irish chieftains attempted to regain control of Ireland from Elizabethan England. A heroic but unsuccessful military endeavour, the battle dealt a mortal blow to Irish Catholic rebels. The British had wrested full control over Ireland.
❤️ You’re in Kinsale? Don’t dare miss…
History buff? You’ll love the dramatically-sited Charles Fort. Weather allowing, a hike out to the star-shaped fortress along Kinsale’s harbour edge is a grand use of your time. Make sure you stop for the odd photo and – just maybe – a swift pint in one of the characterful Irish pubs you meet along the way.
4. Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny
Kilkenny was Ireland’s capital city in the medieval era. The historic wealth of the ‘Marble City’ is still visible in its architecture. Fabulous marble decorates many of the landmarks along the medieval mile in the city centre. Dark worn limestone on Kilkenny’s pavements, especially after rain, give the impression the city is paved in marble.
Exploring the narrow streets and old buildings, the city retains much of its old charm. The most striking feature is Kilkenny Castle, built in the 12th century but then re-modelled in the Victorian style. Built to control a ford point, it stands dramatically over the river Nore.
❤️ You’re in Kilkenny? Don’t dare miss…
See history unearthed at Newtown Jerpoint and Jerpoint Park, just outside Kilkenny. Look out for the purported grave of Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus).
5. The Comeragh Mountains, Co. Waterford
The Comeraghs are Ireland’s best kept secret. This glaciated mountain range in Waterford offers beautiful vistas. Don’t miss Mahon Falls, an 80 metre high waterfall, especially impressive after heavy rains. Hiking to the falls is relatively easy.
❤️ You’re in the Comeraghs? Don’t dare miss…
A magic road where cars are known to roll uphill is one of the Comeragh’s hidden gems. Some say it’s the fairies at play, more than likely it’s an optical illusion on the land. Either way it has been known to catch out many an unknowing visitor.