Top Ten Stays & Attractions Ireland’s Ancient East
As the saying goes, Ireland’s Ancient East does exactly what it says on the tin, but with quite a few surprises. So, yes, you have great legends and historical enlightenment with Norman knights, studious monks, High Kings, castles, towers, World Heritage Sites and Viking invaders, but you also have contemporary grandeur in the form of restaurants and hotels, bars and cafés, and natural majesty with gardens and forests, nature trails, Greenways, harbours and beaches. Something for everyone in the audience? No doubt – read on!
Attraction: Altamont Gardens – A mix of informal and formal gardens that cover over 40 acres, prepare your eyes for rare trees, exotic shrubs, ancient oaks, stone outcrops, sculpted yews, floral gardens, an arboretum, and manicured lawns. Anyone that appreciates natural beauty will find much to admire here. And when you’ve walked the legs off yourself, sit down at the Sugar & Spice Café for a cuppa and a cake.
Stay: Minutes away is the perfect base: Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort, a luxury establishment with down-to-earth prices, lovely rooms, a great restaurant (Fredericks) and imperial décor. www.mountwolseley.ie
Attraction: Hill of Uisneac –
You can’t underestimate the importance of the Hill of Uisneach in the context of virtually every notable episode of Ireland’s religious, mythological, geographical and cultural existence. Located between the villages of Ballymore and Loughanvally, this is one of the world’s most revered and historic natural reserves, whose roots are buried way beyond recorded history.
Stay: Located about 30km from Uisneach, Bloomfield House Hotel nestles comfortably in a gorgeous setting that overlooks Lough Ennell. An ideal 4-star base. www.bloomfieldhousehotel.ie
Attraction: Kilkenny Castle and Medieval Mile – It’s true: amidst the charm and the sophistication of contemporary living in Kilkenny is a discovery trail that connects history and religion from one end of time to another. Known to all and sundry as the Medieval Mile, you can walk through narrow streets and lanes that take you to landmarks such as St Canice’s Cathedral and the equally famed Kilkenny Castle.
Stay: Situated in the centre of the compact city, the 4-star Pembroke Hotel is the closest you’ll get to Kilkenny Castle – the hotel even has castle view rooms. Lords and ladies, you are sorted. www.pembrokekilkenny.com
Attraction: Cobh – This inviting Co Cork waterfront town has, believe it or not, the second-biggest natural harbour in the world. Cobh isn’t only known for its geographical significance – nautical history buffs will know that the final dropping of the anchor for the Titanic occurred here. The town is a beautiful, organic visitor attraction – from pastel-shade buildings to an imposing cathedral, as well as an absorbing museum that remembers the Titanic’s fatal bon voyage. (Oh, and just in case you’re asking – Sydney, Australia, has the world’s largest natural harbour.)
Stay: In existence since 1854, the CommodoreHotel – situated on the town’s main street – is an old-charm Georgian establishment that overlooks the harbour. High ceilings, large windows, and elegance personified.www.commodorehotel.ie
Attraction: Glendalough – Talk about wide and open spaces! Located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, there are many aspects of this splendid natural area to keep you occupied and healthy in mind and body. Some visit specifically to see the internationally renowned Monastic Site in the small town, but the primary reason for people to step into a good pair of walking boots is to soak up the scenery provided by the valleys and lakes.
Stay: You know the old saying about something being at the centre of the storm? Well, the long-established and much loved Glendalough Hotel – surrounded by nature and history – is at the centre of the calm. www.glendaloughhotel.com
Attraction: Rock of Cashel – What a sight for sore eyes. It is also a site you can see for miles before you’re beside it. Known variously as Cashel of the Kings and St Patrick’s Rock, this imposing and indisputably iconic structure contains one of the most impressive groupings of Celtic art and medieval architecture – characterising Germanic and Hiberno-Romanesque influences – in Europe.
Stay: Situated in the very centre of Cashel town, Baileys Hotel is a four-star restored Georgian building. It dates from 1709, and is ideally located to cater for your rest and recreation needs after a busy day sight-seeing. www.baileyshotelcashel.com
Attraction: Dunbrody Famine Ship – Appropriate measures for desperate times – that’s the basis of the history of the Dunbrody Famine Ship, one of the most important visitor attractions on Ireland’s South East. An accurate reproduction of an 1840s emigrant vessel, this interprets the famine emigrant experience via themed exhibitions, performative interactions and a guided tour.
Stay: Steeped in history, New Ross is the location of not only the Dunbrody Famine Ship but also the Brandon House Hotel. With almost 80 bedrooms and one of the best spas in Ireland (the Solas Croí), the hotel is a smart and suave home from home. In other words, you don’t live here but you really wish you could! www.brandonhousehotel.ie
Attraction: Viking Triangle – Imagine walking through 1,000 years of history! That’s what takes place when you head into the Viking Triangle, which is to be found in the Old Town part of Waterford city, Ireland’s oldest. Amongst the triangle’s treasures are craft/art studios, restaurants, a Medieval Museum, a 13th-century tower (a defence fortification) and the rather more contemporary Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre.
Stay: Located a few minutes away from the Viking Triangle (as well as the quayside, the cultural quarter and the city’s primary shopping thoroughfares) the Fitzwilton Hotel is tailor-made for solo visitors, couples and/or families.
Attraction: Brú na Bóinne / Newgrange / Hill of Tara – The World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne is one of the world’s most significant prehistoric terrains. Located less than 10km from Drogheda and about 5km from Slane, the site is dominated by three large passage tombs: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. Nearby is the ancient ceremonial site of the Hill of Tara, a protected national monument.
Stay: Pretty much equidistant to all three sites is The Snail Box, a restaurant-with-rooms that is, frankly, hard to beat for quality, quantity, service and value. www.snailbox.ie
Attraction: Castletown House – Anglo-Irish gentry back in the day sure knew how to look after themselves – and what better example than Castletown House, Ireland’s earliest and most grandiose Palladian house? There are informative guided tours available, but if you don’t want to be tied to time, even strolling around will give you a great understanding of how the rich people of Ireland’s 18th century lived.
Stay: Located very close to Castletown House is the privately owned luxury hotel Cliff at Lyons, which has an array of accommodation (rooms, apartments, cottages) to suit all requirements. As if that isn’t good enough, it has a two-Michelin star restaurant, Aimsir. That, as they say in Kildare, is a double yum. www.cliffatlyons.ie
WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA