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Top 10 heritage gems in Ireland’s Ancient East

Millions of visitors are drawn to Ireland by their family heritage, and the sense of returning home to the land of their ancestors.

Along the west coast of the island is the Wild Atlantic Way, but the east also has several fascinating sites filled with myths and legends.

Ireland’s Ancient East is strewn with centuries-old monuments telling dramatic, romantic and heart-breaking stories that stretch over 5,000 years. Here are the top attractions you must visit.

Newgrange

1. Brú na Bóinne, Co. Meath

Older than both Stonehenge and the Pyramids, this UNESCO World Heritage Site resonates with otherworldliness Neolithic Newgrange is the centrepiece, a 5,000-year-old tomb that is penetrated by the rising sun on the winter solstice.

2. Hill of Uisneach, Co. Westmeath

Ireland’s sacred hill has been at the heart of the island’s history over millennia. Here a great fire was lit each year to usher in summer, an event celebrated today in the annual Bealtaine Fire Festival.

Clonmacnoise

3. Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly

Once a great centre of monastic learning, Clonmacnoise boasts impressive high crosses and round towers, the ruins of a cathedral and churches, plus the largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe.

4. Castletown House, Co. Kildare

Ireland’s largest and grandest Palladian style house was built by an Irish commoner. Ornate and opulent, 18th-century Castletown tells tales of lords, rebels and rock stars.

Wicklow Gaol

5. Wicklow Gaol, Wicklow

For 200 years, this prison held the poor and desperate alongside rogues and rebels. An interactive tour led by costumed actors tells the story of its prisoners.

6. Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary

The iconic Rock of Cashel is an impressive medieval, walled stronghold containing a castle, a cathedral and a round tower. Shrouded in legend, this was the ancient seat of royal and religious power.

7. Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle, a Norman bastion boasting majestic halls, extensive parklands and an art gallery, overlooks the River Nore and marks the beginning of Kilkenny’s famous medieval mile.

Dunbrody Famine Ship

8. Dunbrody Famine Ship, Co. Wexford

The Dunbrody Famine Ship is a replica ‘coffin ship’ that ferried poor emigrants across the Atlantic. With exhibitions and costumed performers it gives a unique insight into the plight of those fleeing the famine.

9. The Viking Triangle, Waterford

Ireland’s oldest city is famous for its Viking connections. At its heart is the Viking Triangle, where the Waterford Museum of Treasures displays artefacts from over 1,000 years of history. 

10. Cobh, Co. Cork

This charming seaside town was the Titanic’s last stop before beginning her maiden voyage. The liner’s tragic tale and its enduring connection with the town are told in Titanic Experience Cobh. 

Ireland’s Ancient East is packed with exciting and interesting stories, and it would be almost impossible to take in all of them in one trip, but this should give you a few ideas of how best to plan your trip.

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Written by Andrew Moore