With over 5,000 years of history embedded in its roots, the Irish Ancient East is a rare collection of cultural sites spread across seventeen eastern counties of Ireland. Monks, scholars, and even Vikings were drawn to the charm of the East, and tokens of their presence still remain around many of the region’s cities today. With millennia of story-telling heritage found within its prehistoric and medieval sites, Ireland’s Ancient East is an unforgettable destination you won’t want to miss on your next trip. Here is a list of our top six must-see stops to make along the way.
Kilkenny is renowned for its Viking legacy, as it was once the hub and capital of medieval Ireland. The Vikings were a significant part of Kilkenny’s past, and ancient treasures left behind by clans have been found in many areas hidden across its grounds. Kilkenny is home to the Medieval Mile, a trail of historical sites located throughout the center of the city. Here, visitors can travel back in time and explore ancient architecture like Kilkenny castle, as well as landmark cathedrals and abbeys. In addition to the Medieval Mile, Kilkenny is also home to the Kells Priory, an ancient village just south of the King’s River. It is the burial site of Nialle Caille, who was once High King of Ireland. Today, the ruins of the priory still remain, and it is one of the nation’s largest monuments.
Located along the River Shannon in County Offaly, Clonmacnoise is an ancient monastery founded by St. Ciaran. In the 6th century, St. Ciaran created the site to practice Christianity and bring the religion back to Ireland. It grew to be the gathering place of scholars from all around Europe, and is the birthplace of many religious manuscripts. Three centuries after its creation, it became a burial site for the High Kings of Tara and Connacht. Today, Christians still visit the monastery as part of a pilgrimage, but many visit the site simply to admire its tranquility and beauty.
Bru na Boinne
This collection of ancient tombs built by Stone-Age farmers out-dates Stonehenge by over a thousand years, and even out-dates the Egyptian pyramids by six centuries. The most notable of the tombs is Newgrange, which has remained both a national treasure and a mystery for centuries. During dawn on the winter solstice, the rising sun shines a beam of light through an opening and illuminates the entire heart of the burial chamber. Today, visitors still frequent this historic site to marvel at its global rarity. Bru na Boinne is home to additional passage tombs, including Dowth and Knowth. Knowth is considered an archaeological treasure, as it contains the largest gathering of megalithic art in Western Europe. Also in the area is The Hill of Tara, the seat of over a hundred kings in prehistoric Ireland, as well as Trim castle, the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland.
Rock of Cashel
This Tipperary treasure dates back to the 4th century, and legend has it that it was once the location where St. Patrick lived and practiced. Additionally, it was home to many of the Kings of Munster, and King Aenghus was baptised and converted to Christianity at the Rock by Saint Patrick himself. Today, its ruins are well preserved and sit atop a picturesque hill of limestone overlooking acres of rolling green land below. It’s the perfect location to get a feel of historical Ireland, as well as snap a few photos of its majestic ruins.
At over one thousand years old, Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city. In 853, it was settled by Vikings and became one of Ireland’s largest and most famous ports. There are plenty of remnants of clan life within the city, many of which can be found in the city’s Viking Triangle and the three famous museums that detail Ireland’s Middle Ages, the Waterford Treasures. In addition to this, Waterford is known for its world-renowned crystal, and has gained a reputation as being the crystal capital of the world. Visitors today can enjoy Waterford’s historical roots, as well as its modern art and festival culture.
This Wicklow gem literally means “valley of the two lakes”. It is a picturesque ancient monastery that is one of Ireland’s earliest Christian sites. Similar to Clonmacnoise, this monastic settlement was founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin, who wanted to combine elements of natural beauty with religion. Around 1000 A.D., the valley was at its most powerful point serving as a center of learning for scholars. Today, it is filled with cemeteries and remnants of chapels, as well as walking trails, lakes, even small areas of woodland. This is a great destination for visitors who enjoy the history of the Ancient East, as well as those who enjoy a serene and scenic walk.
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