Ireland holds a fascination for almost everyone. Its history ranges from megalithic tombs, Vikings and Normans, through heart-tugging tales of famine and emigration, to more modern day troubles. There’s the music, stories, and people who know how to pass the time of day, as well as stunning jagged coastlines, misty mountains and irregular patchworks of vibrant green fields and ancient stone walls. Fabulous local seafood and other produce make for great eats – from pubs to fine dining – and a growing craft beer scene means there’s much more than Guinness to enjoy. Here’s a taste of five of the counties in Ireland’s Ancient East that I explored on a long weekend road trip.
Stay Ballymaloe House (Co. Cork)
Ballymaloe, Darina Allen’s wonderful cooking school, also refers to the nearby estate where her in-laws opened a restaurant in the 1960s. Today this charming country house is a comfortable boutique hotel, serving delicious breakfasts and dinners from local and estate-grown produce.
Drive The Copper Coast (Co. Waterford)
Several roads criss-cross this geopark named for the area’s copper-mining past. Hug the jagged coastline as best you can for spectacular scenery including impressive sea stacks trailing out to sea, dramatic waves and great views up the coast.
Walk The Wicklow Way (Co. Wicklow)
Wicklow Mountains’ misty moorland, where peat-stained rivers and waterfalls look like they’re flowing with Guinness, is among the most hauntingly beautiful landscapes in a country full of superlatives. Well-marked walking trails make it easy to immerse yourself, though the less hardy can drive, and Ballyorney Farm is a wonderful place to stay.
Pre-history Newgrange (Co. Meath)
It’s an incredible feeling walking along the passage of this megalithic tomb, which may be the oldest manmade structure on earth (circa 3,200BC). The small corbelled-roofed chamber at the end, with stone bowls that once held cremated ashes, is lit by a shaft of sunlight at dawn on the winter solstice.
Pub The Templar’s Inn (Co. Wexford)
The scenic Hook Peninsular and historic Norman Way are County Wexford highlights. And this pub, named for the neighbouring Knights Templar church, is the place to stop for sustenance, including fabulous locally-caught seafood and locally-brewed boutique beers.
Ireland’s Ancient East is a region stretching from the border with Northern Ireland to County Cork; it’s the perfect way to get a taste of Ireland over a long weekend or few days … see www.ireland.com for more info. And if you’re keen to see more of Ireland while you’re there, south of this stretch lie the stunning Southern Peninsulas of Counties Cork and Kerry, and to the west is County Clare and the dramatic Cliff Coast.