5 Hidden Gems to Explore


From the Boyne Valley to the Timahoe Round Tower, Ireland’s Ancient East is home to excellent restaurants, food tours, festivals and breweries. It also offers a veritable showcase of 5,000 years of history and heritage. Follow a storytelling trail through the heart of the region, to see tales of bygone times brought to life in five exciting destinations.

Trim Castle on the River Boyne
Trim Castle on the River Boyne

Travel through time in the Boyne Valley

Visitors immersing themselves in a storytelling river tour (run by Boyne Valley Activities in Meath) will marvel at medieval Trim from their rafts, all the while experiencing the very best of Irish eco-tourism. Passengers float through time, as stories from the largest Norman castle in Europe to the oldest unaltered bridge in Ireland are brought to life from a river vantage point. Guides spin rich historical tales while passengers sailing up the River Boyne learn about the battles that changed history and see abbeys and castles established in medieval times.

Back on dry land, the Trim Hay Making Festival is a fun-filled family event promoting the cultural history of rural Ireland and Irish heritage in general. Depicted through music and dance as well as displaying traditional ways of work, it's a magical day for all ages.

Youghal Town Walls
Youghal Clock Gate Tower
Freshly harvested potatoes
Left: Youghal's town walls | Middle: The Clock Gate Tower | Right: Irish potatoes, storied legacy of former Youghal resident Sir Walter Raleigh

Hear Ireland’s only town crier

The Cork town of Youghal is another great spot from which to embark on a storytelling trail in Ireland’s Ancient East. Though its name derives from ‘Eochaill’, meaning Yew Wood in Irish, this is an Anglo-Norman town and its architecture reflects that. The Youghal Historic Town Walk follows the 13th century walls, revealing astonishing stories of its past and finishing at Youghal's best known landmark, the Clock Gate Tower. Bringing to life even more of the sights, sounds and smells of the medieval period, the Youghal Medieval Festival presents fantastic re-enactments, talks, walks, music and much more.

The most famous name associated with the seaside resort is Sir Walter Raleigh, who became mayor after helping to suppress a rebellion. One of the gems revealed by the storytellers is the tale of how Ireland’s first potatoes were said to have been planted here, thanks to Sir Walter. Youghal is also home to Ireland’s only Town Crier, who greets visitors to her streets every day.

Horses grazing in Glaslough Village on the outskirts of Castle Leslie Estate
Castle Leslie
Left: Glaslough Village on the Castle Leslie Estate | Right: Castle Leslie, Monaghan

The Big House story

Glaslough Village is a quaint, picturesque village on the outskirts of Castle Leslie Estate in north Monaghan. Visitors hear stories of the past and present, learning how the name 'Glaslough' comes from the Irish for ‘calm or green lake’.

On the Glaslough Village Heritage Trail there are a multitude of stories about this unspoilt spot, which boasts architectural features steeped in history and is surrounded by rolling, ancient woodlands and vast, glittering lakes. Castle Leslie is the centrepiece of many of the tales — set on 1,000 acres, it was built by the Leslie family who arrived in Ireland in the 16th century. Narratives of ghosts, W.B. Yeats and more will keep everybody entertained.

Travel only 15 minutes from the peace of Castle Leslie, and in Monaghan ​you'll find not one, but two lively music festivals to choose from. The Monaghan Town Country Music Festival has something for everyone who enjoys tuneful tales of heartbreak and homespun wisdom; while the Monaghan Rhythm & Blues Festival – Harvest Time Blues provides yet another kind of musical storytelling, this time from down Mississippi way.

Touring Jerpoint Park
Touring Jerpoint Park

Jerpoint – the story of the Lost Town

Jerpoint Park in Thomastown, Kilkenny, hosts a monument of national importance in Ireland — the 'Lost Town' of Newtown Jerpoint. Founded in the 12th century, it was once a vibrant community with approximately 27 dwelling houses, a court house, woollen mill, tannery, brewery and was said to have had 14 taverns. Visitors can take part in guided heritage tours of this extraordinary deserted medieval town.

The site also contains the Tomb Effigy of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. Many Christian churches and countries still observe 6 December as his feast day with celebrations, processions, services and gift giving.

Three people visiting the Heywood Gardens
Emo Court
Couple visiting the Rock of Dunamase
Three highlights on the Laois Heritage Trail. Left: Visiting Heywood Gardens; Middle: Emo Court; Right: Exploring the Rock of Dunamase

Laois Heritage Trail

For medieval architecture enthusiasts, Laois boasts a wealth of churches, abbeys and monasteries to explore. Now part of Ireland’s Ancient East, its treasures are being rediscovered — including vibrant stories and a rich history of local spots such as Timahoe Round Tower. Built on the site of a religious community founded by Saint Mochua, a 7th century warrior who converted to Christianity around 600 AD, this imposing carved example of 12th century stonework is one of the most elegant round towers in Ireland.

For those that want to further explore the Laois Heritage Trail (with highlights including Abbeyleix, Heywood Gardens, Emo Court, the Rock of Dunamase and many more) – there is also a free app now available, helping to guide visitors into the very heart of Ireland’s Ancient East.

A stone's thrown from the Laois Heritage Trail you'll find the 'Daddy of Irish Music Festivals' - Electric Picnic. With just the right balance of popular and avant garde artists, it has the music, the atmosphere, and all the makings of an event sure to become a memorable part of your own history.

Write the next chapter of your story and plan a holiday in the mythical surroundings of Ireland’s Ancient East.


Credit: Independent.ie

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