There are thousands of incredible places waiting to be visited in Ireland’s ancient east and the landscape is imbued with unique stories and tales, writes Gerry Breen.
Ireland’s eastern coast has inherited a vast array of treasures from raiders, from visitors and from settlers over the past five thousand years.
In his recently published Ireland’s Ancient East, Neil Jackman, an experienced archaeologist, provides a guide to these historic treasures and helps visitors to explore counties Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Longford, Westmeath, Meath, Kildare, Offaly, Laois, Carlow, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford, Waterford and the eastern parts of Limerick and Cork.
As the author points out in his introduction, Ireland is internationally famous for its wealth of early Christian monasteries, with their intricate high crosses and soaring round towers. There are thousands of incredible places waiting to be visited in Ireland’s ancient east and the landscape is imbued with unique stories and tales, where you can encounter an authentic cultural experience and be inspired by the lives of the people.
The guidebook suggests 100 archaeological and historical places to visit. These sites are a mix of large, well-known attractions like the Rock of Cashel and hidden gems such as Gaulstown Dolmen. These ancient ruins, mighty fortresses and great houses in all their splendour still resonate with echoes of the past.
In Co. Louth, the author suggests a visit to Carlingford, an atmospheric town that still retains its medieval character, to explore King John’s Castle, which was established around 1200; the remains of Carlingford’s Dominican friary which date back to the early fourteenth century; the Tholsel, the only surviving medieval gateway into Carlingford; The Mint, a fortified townhouse located on the Main Street; Taaffe’s Castle, another fortified townhouse situated close to the harbour front, and the Church of the Holy Trinity. an early nineteenth-century Church of Ireland place of worship.
Within the golf course of Ballymacscanlon House Hotel are two megalithic tombs, reminders of Co. Louth’s ancient past.
Castleroche, Co. Louth, is arguably the finest example of a thirteenth century castle in Ireland, and it is the only one of this period to have been commissioned by a woman. She was Lady Rohesia de Verdun, who, according to legend, had the castle’s architect thrown from one of the tower’s windows so he could never reveal the castle’s secrets.
Mellifont Abbey, Co. Louth, was the first Cistercian Abbey in Ireland, known to the Cistercians in Ireland as the ‘mother house’. It was one of the richest monastic institutions in Ireland and that was probably the reason that Mellifont was one of the first of the Irish monastic sites to be dissolved in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Monasterboice, Co. Louth, as a monastery is thought to have been founded in the sixth century. Today all that is visible is the very heart of the monastery, with a fine round tower and three high crosses, one of which is arguably the finest high cross in Ireland.