Daily Archives: February 20, 2011

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 21

Meath & Louth


The ‘Royal County’ of Meath boasts a dramatic history and proud heritage that no other country can match. Man has settled here for over 8,000 years and everywhere one turns one can see surviving monuments and relics scattered profusely beside the rolling rivers and on the lush plains. Formerly one of the five historic provinces of Ireland, it was from here that the ancient roads of Ireland radiated, spreading Royal Meath’s influence and affluence to all the corners of Ireland.


County Louth is a maritime county in the province of Leinster it has the major towns of Drogheda and Dundalk near both its northern and southern extremities.  These two towns together account for just over half the county’s population. The most strikingly beautiful part of the county is the Cooley Peninsula, which looks across the border with Northern Ireland to the majestic Mourne Mountains in County Down.  On the peninsula are the active port of Greenore, a small whiskey distillery, and the historic town of Carlingford (renowned for its oysters).

Drogheda straddles both Counties Meath and Louth, so that is where I will begin today.

Drogheda was an important walled town situated in an area with an abundance of archaeological monuments dating from the Neolithic period onwards, of which the large Passage Tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth are probably the best known.  A new pedestrian bridge has been recently opened called DeLacey Bridge. Many of the old town features still stand such as St Laurences Gate, Magdalenes tower, The Viaduct across the river dating from 1850, St Peters Church which houses the head of St Oliver Plunkett, Ireland’s only canonized martyr,  Martello Tower – Millmount, plus lots more to see.  Many old buildings have been refurbished such as The Tholsel, The Old Grammar School and a beautiful row of Stone houses opposite the bus station

The earliest monument in the town is the motte-and-bailey castle, now known as Millmount Fort, which overlooks the town from a bluff on the south bank of the Boyne, and which was probably erected by the Norman Lord of Meath, Hugh de Lacy sometime before 1186. The earliest known town charter is that granted to Drogheda-in-Meath by Walter de lacy in 1194.
Parts of the town walls dating to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries still survive. Most notable of the remains is St. Laurence’s Gate, regarded as the finest example of a barbican or fortress gate still to be seen in the country. Consisting of twin pillars four stories high, its imposing edifice dominates the western approaches to the town.

Donore is a small village near Drogheda. It is situated on the Meath–Louth border in the Boyne Valley on the route between Drogheda and the Bru na Boinne interpretive centre which is the point of access to Newgrange.  The Bronze Age tomb at Newgrange,is the focus for attention at the winter solstice, the sun’s rays shine down the passageway inside, illuminating the burial chamber.

During the late 17th Century, the village of Donore was used as a defensive position by the Jacobite army of King James II against King William III during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, some 6 km west of the town, on the banks of the River Boyne, at Oldbridge.

Two miles from Drogheda on the Ballymakenny Road, Listoke Gardens – 6 acre Edwardian garden with walled garden, herbaceous borders and woodland walks.  Over 25 years landscape gardener Patricia Barrow has worked to put the Edwardian garden back to its original state.

Slane occupies an attractive curve on the River Boyne and is overlooked by the Hill of Slane,  where tradition has it, St Patrick lit his paschal fire in AD433 in defiance of the orders of King Laoghaire.  In his persuasive speech to the king, Patrick used the shamrock as his illustration of the Trinity.  He won his argument and permission to preach Christianity throughout the land.

Slane Castle was bought by the Coyninghams after the Battle of the Boyne when the estate was confiscated by the victorious King of England. This family has held it ever since, presently represented by Henry Lord Mountcharles.  His stewardship of the castle is marked by the rock concerts he has promoted on the castle lawn.  The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and David Bowie have attracted hundred of thousands to the narrow valley over the years.  Kings of Leon will headline the 2011 Slane Castle concert.
The Book of Kells. The book is a “rare illuminated manuscript”, as the experts call it, now housed in Trinity College Dublin, but created in a County Meath monastery in the early ninth century. However, the book’s purported origins are doubted by some, and it may well have originated on the Scottish isle of Iona.  The people of Kells certainly have every reason to believe that the book was manufactured in the area, however, rich in early Christian architecture as it is.

Loughcrew, just east of Oldcastle, County Meath, features a Megalithic Cemetery series of burial mounds, or Cairns, and tombs that experts believe pre-date the Egyptian pyramids by up to 2000 years. Located in three hills, the largest known as Cairn T provides an experience similar to Newgrange with an Autumn Equinox which lights up the main chamber. Loughcrew Cairns are a much under-rated treasure that deserves much more worldwide exposure.  Nearby are the famous Loughcrew Gardens, inside which stand the Family Church of St. Oliver Plunkett, who was born there in 1625.  Charles and Emily Naper run a fantastic school of gilding at Loughcrew Gardens and the entire experience of the a trip to the Gardens is a very fulfilling one.
Navan is the county town of County Meath. It is one of the few places in the world to have a palindromic name.  Navan was the childhood home of Pierce Brosnan, who appeared in the television series Remington Steele and was the fifth film actor to play James Bond.
Sir Francis Beaufort famous for his wind scale.

The Hill of Tara, located near the River Boyne, is an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin in County Meath. It contains a number of ancient monuments, and, according to tradition, was the seat of Árd Rí na hÉireann, or the High King of Ireland.
Travelling back to Drogheda we move north to The fishing village of Clogherhead is located on the east coast of Ireland in County Louth, approximately 70km north of Dublin. The village developed around the fishing industry with the waters of Clogherhead being reputed as being the best fishing waters in the country. The harbour known as Port Oriel was built in 1885. Clogherhead peninsula located just north of the village is designated a Natural Heritage Area under the 1997 Louth County Development Plan.

In Mellifont Abbey, the Cistercians founded their first Irish Monastery in the twelfth century.  It was one of many Irish Cistercian abbeys that rebelled not only against Anglo-Norman rule, but eventually against the Cistercian Order itself. Mellifont is an intersection chapter in medieval history.

Monasterboice is one of Ireland’s best-known and earliest religious sites. Here stand the remains of two churches, a Round Tower, three High Crosses and a pre Gothic sundial. Founded in the 6th century by St. Buite, or St. Boyce, the monastery became a renowned seat of learning and art.  The 95ft Round Tower dates from the 10th century and was used by monks for refuge from the marauding Viking hoards which ransacked many of the wealthy Irish monasteries during the 10th and 11th centuries. Amongst the finest remains on the site are surly the awe inspiring High Crosses, the most impressive of which is The Cross of Muiredach, standing a massive 17ft 8in, the cross clearly depicts scenes from the Bible, carved in the stone over one thousand years ago. Nearby is the West Cross, standing at over 12ft in height, it is the tallest High Cross in the country.

The Jumping Church of Kildemock, near Ardee, is a mystery that has few plausible explanations.  A plaque on the site reads: This wall by its pitch, tilt and position can be seen to have moved three feet from its foundation.  Contemporary accounts mention a severe storm in 1715 when the wall was lifted and deposited as it now stands but local tradition states that the wall jumped inwards to exclude the grave of an excommunicated person.  It is very doubtful if a storm could have moved the wall in such whole way and deposited it symmetrically as it now lies.

Dundalk town is close to the border with Northern Ireland and equi-distant from Dublin and Belfast.
The Proleek Dolmen is located behind the Ballymascanlon Hotel on the beautiful Cooley Pensinula, in County Louth.  The location is about 6 kilometres from the town of Dundalk and is actually part of the Ballymacsanlon Golf Course which winds its way north of the hotel. The dolmen is highlighted along the way as you walk through the golf course.  Legend says that if you throw a stone onto the top of the capstone and it stays there, make a wish and it will come true!

The Cooley Peninsula is most famous for the legendary epic Tan Bo Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), which chronicles Queen Maeve of Connacht’s attempts to carry off a prized bull from Cooley so that her herd could equal that of her husband’s.

Carlingford is a listed Medieval Heritage Town nestled between Carlingford Lough and Slieve Foy Mountain with magnificent views of the Mourne Mountains. It has boundless opportunities for sailing, hiking, fishing and horse riding.  A walk through the narrow streets is the best way to enjoy antique and craft shops alongside a range of eateries from sandwich shops and coffee bars to pubs and fine dining.  It was raided by the Vikings in the 8th and 9th centuries and the Normans in the 12th century.

King Johns Castle – the western part of the Castle was commissioned by Hugh de Lacy c. 1190, but the castle owes its name to King John (Richard the Lionhearts brother) who visited Carlingford in 1210.  The eastern part was constructed in the mid 13th century with alterations and editions occurring in the 15th and 16th centuries.  In the 1950s, the Office of Public Works (OPW) undertook conservation work to stabilize the structure.  An excellent view of the north pier and Carlingford Lough can be had from the viewing area on the western side of the castle, though the castle itself tends to remain locked to the general public for their safety.

Another castle to visit is Taff’s Castle from 15th century with its crenellated battlements, murder holes, slit windows for archers and barrel vaulted basement.

The ruins of Carlingford Abbey, a Dominican Friory, was founded by Richard de Burgo, earl of Ulster in 1305.

The Heritage Centre is situated just behind Ghan House in the tower of the original town wall, now part of the old Carlingford church.

Ghan House is very well kept secret, so much so that if you want to eat or stay here, you need to book well in advance! Built in 1727, it is an historic house in the Medieval Heritage town it is steeped in character and history, full of luxury and comfort, this family run house is known for fabulous food and a Cookery School.

Famous people:

  • Bagatelle Irish Rock Band.
  • Brendan O’Dowda (1925–2002), Irish tenor who popularised the songs of Percy French.
  • Francis Leopold McClintock, arctic explorer, discoverer of the fate of Franklin.
  • John Moore, film director, producer, and writer.
  • John Phillip Holland, Inventor of the submarine, worked as a teacher in Colaiste Ris, Dundalk.
  • Nicholas Callan, scientist who made the first induction coil went to primary school here.
  • Peter Rice (1935-1992). Noted engineer, worked on the Sydney Opera House, Louvre Pyramid and Centre Pompidou as well as numerous other world famous buildings.
  • The Corrs, Celtic folk rock group and family, born and raised in Dundalk.
  • Thomas Coulter, (1793-1843) botanist and doctor.
  • Henry McShane, Emigrated to the United States founded the McShane Bell Foundry and named the rail depot and subsequently the town Dundalk, Maryland after his home town in the 19th Century.