Louth, the land of legends, from Cuchullain and Ferdia, has so much to see and offer, while the north east of the country has more to see and do, than you might first think.
rom the castles of north County Dublin with Ardgillan and Malahide Castles, the coastal village of Skerries, the world renowned UNESCO World Heritage site Newgrange just outside Drogheda to the shores of Carlingford Lough where the beautiful mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea, there is so much to see and do for young and old all within or a very short drive away in Ireland’s smallest county.
Millmount motte and bailey, or as it’s known affectionately, the ‘Cup and Saucer’ takes pride of place overlooking Drogheda and from this height enjoy spectacular views of the River Boyne, Drogheda and the majestic Boyne viaduct, Ireland’s greatest example of Victorian industrial architecture.
Lovingly restored after it was shelled during the Civil War of 1922, the tower was built in 1808 on the site of the mythical poet Amergin’s burial ground, and the neighbouring museum contains a wealth of local artefacts, such as guild and trade banners and a folk kitchen, giving a unique insight into Drogheda life through the centuries. You can also find beautiful artisan shops with designs by talented local artists and producers.
Newgrange and Bru na Boinne Centre
Drogheda is set in the rich lands of the stunning Boyne Valley, and nestling within a few minutes drive from the town centre is the UNESCO World Heritage site Newgrange.
This Neolithic burial ground was constructed over 5,000 years ago, making it older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
It forms part of a complex of monuments built along a bend of the River Boyne known collectively as Brú na Bóinne – the other two principal monuments are Knowth (the largest) and Dowth.
Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun.
Visitor access is by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre on the south side of the river .
Founded by St Buite in the 600s, Monasterboice is a fascinating monastic site with an impressive round tower and two high crosses.
On the site, visitors can discover an old graveyard, two churches and a sundial but Monasterboice is most famous for its spectacular high crosses. Inside the ruins stands the impressive Muiredach’s High Cross (5.5 metres high), regarded as the finest high cross in the whole of Ireland. It features biblical carvings of both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and a copy is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The Monasterboice round tower was used as a watchtower and refuge for monks and valuables during times of Viking attack. In 1097, the interior is thought to have caught fire, an incident that destroyed many valuable manuscripts.
Dundalk is the gateway to the north east and the ideal spot to get those Instagram holiday photos.
The town’s main streets have become an outdoor art gallery as the annual SEEK Urban Arts Festival brings top Irish and international street artists to create murals illustrating various aspects of the town’s history.
While in Dundalk, make sure to visit the County Museum in Jocelyn Street, and The Basement Gallery at An Tain Arts Centre, Crowe Street.
Dundalk is also the principal shopping town of the north east, with a tempting mix of independent shops and high street names.
It’s got a thriving cafe culture, with award-winning restaurants and coffee shops. Townspeople have embraced al fresco dining as well as the attractive Market Square with its sculpture panels inspired by the legend of An Tain Bo Chulige.
The picturesque village of Carlingford is a great base for a family holiday with lots of activities for all ages.
It’s beneath the slopes of Slieve Foy and overlooks the fjord from which it gets its name to the Mountains of Mournes.
The Carlingford Adventure Centre and Skypark offers a host of outdoor activities for all the family from mountain climbing to zip lines.
The lough is popular for watersports and cruises are available from the harbour, while sailors can berth at the Marina.
The narrow medieval streets are lined with ancient buildings and brightly coloured shops, restaurants and traditional Irish pubs.
Carlingford makes a great starting point for hill walking in the Cooley Mountains, while Slieve Gullion and the Mournes are just a short drive away.
Carlingford to Omeath Greenway
The Carlingford to Omeath Greenway is a 8km off-road path for cyclists and walkers which runs along the old railway line, hugging the southern shore of Carlingford Lough. Bike hire is available in Carlingford and there are plenty of cafes in both Omeath and Carlingford to reward yourself on completion of your journey.
Take the road from Omeath to Newry and you will come across another stretch of Greenway, running from Victoria Lock to Newry, where you can join the 29km Newry Canal Way to Portadown
Carlingford Lough Ferry
The Scenic Carlingford Ferry brings foot passengers, cyclists and motorists across Carlingford Lough from Greenore in Co Louth to Greencastle in Co Down.
If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of Finn, a solitary dolphin who has made its home in Greenore since last Spring.
Greenore is an attractive railway village and home to a beautiful links golf course.
Getting the ferry across to Co Down opens up the opportunity to go hill walking in the Mournes, to explore t the beautiful forest parks at Kilbroney, Castlewellan and Tollymore, as well as visiting National Trust properties such as Castle Ward and Mount Stewart on the shores of Strangford Lough.
Fingal’s Castles and Great Houses
Fingal has some of the finest heritage properties and regional parks on the east coast.
Ardgillan Castle lies between Balbriggan and Skerries and its surrounding parkland has some of the most spectacular views of the Fingal coastline visible anywhere. The castle itself is intertwined with local history and has many a tale to tell including the regular appearance of a ghostly figure, variously called the White Lady or the Lady of the Stairs.
Malahide Castle is set in spectacular parkland. You can tour the castle or enjoy the outdoor amenities in its grounds which include the Butterfly House and a Fairy Trail for the children.
Newbridge House and Farm has plenty on offer for the kids too with its popular farm and petting zoo offering an up close and personal encounter with some quite farm animals from the familiar variety to the more exotic.
A spectacular renovation project has been underway at Swords Castle. The medieval castle sits in the centre of Fingal’s capital town of Swords and it’s beautifully restored chapel is open to the public and doubles as a tourist office for the area while the more adventurous can walk the castle walls.
The Fry Model Railway Museum
The Fry Model Railway Museum houses a unique collection of handmade models of Irish trains, from the beginning of rail travel to modern times
The Casino building, an historic thatched cottage close to Malahide Castle, is hoe to th museum where you can enjoy one of the world’s largest miniature railways.
The exhibition contains a working railway covering an area 2,500 sq.ft.
Situated in the beautiful grounds surrounding Malahide Castle, this delightful collection is a treat for railway enthusiasts, children and adults alike.
The beautifully engineered models are from a collection originally built up in the 1920’s and 1930’s by Cyril Fry, a railway engineer and draughtsman, with each piece assembled with the finest attention to detail.
Irish and international exhibits from the earliest railway developments are run on a Grand Transport Complex which includes stations, bridges, trams, buses, barges and even the river Liffey.
No you are not in the Netherlands, this unique complex of two windmills and a watermill sits in the coastal town of Skerries in North County Dublin and provides a day out with a difference.
You can tour the mills, enjoy the craft shop and the Watermill Café and take in the surrounding parklands with even a playground to keep the children happy.
On Saturdays there is the added attraction of a farmers’ market packed with local-produced goods from a region that provides much of the nation’s fruit and veg.
The bonus is the complex’s location which is in the beautiful fishing village of Skerries, a recent winner of the National Tidy Towns competition and a charming town full of pubs and eateries to suit every taste.
The locals are friendly and there’s a wonderful beach beach to enjoy as you take in views of Lambay Island and maybe even partake a trip to the mysterious island where wallabies roam free and fine whiskey is made.