From round towers to castle turrets in Meath, Offaly and Westmeath

Route:

Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Roscommon, Laois, Offaly


Features:

Hill of Tara, Kells, Clonmacnoise Monastic Site, Athlone, Athlone Castle, Baysports Water Sports Centre, Rock of Dunamase, Tullamore D.E.W Visitor Centre

Journey Overview:

This two-day itinerary takes in some of the beautiful sacred sites and castles of Ireland’s Ancient East, interspersed with stop offs for lunch in picturesque towns, water sports on Hodson Bay and tastings at a whiskey distillery. Begin your journey at the Hill of Tara, the beating heart of ancient Ireland, before exploring the magnificent ruins of Clonmacnoise. Pagan tribes and marauding Norsemen have all left their mark on this part of Ireland; explore the land of high kings and heroes by day and rest your head overnight in the medieval castle town of Athlone.

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Day

Day 1
The Hill of Tara

Day 1

  • 2 hrs
  • 18 mins
  • 159 km
  • 99 miles

Route:

Meath, Offaly, Westmeath


Points Of Interest:

Hill of Tara, Kells, Clonmacnoise Monastic Site, Athlone

Journey Overview:

Start your journey in Meath at the Hill of Tara, where myth and history come to life. The legendary seat of Ireland’s high kings for centuries, it stands at the centre of a pre-Celtic network of worship and settlement. The Hill of Tara is said to hold the remains of King Laoghaire, who was buried upright with a sword in hand to keep his enemies at bay – even in death. 

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Drive the short 20-minute journey to the pretty town of Kells where you’ll break for lunch. This historic location is where terrified monks fled to (with the famous Book of Kells) after escaping Viking raids on the island of Iona in the 9th century. Ancient history is everywhere in this bustling town, with the carved high crosses, oratory and round tower still whispering of the holy men and artists who lived here. Try the Bookmarket Café for books and coffee, or the Butterfly Café for wonderful cakes – then walk them off with a guided tour of the town.

Your next destination is one county over – Offaly, where you’ll discover the tranquil riverside location of Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon. The bones of Christian saints and ancient kings rest side by side at this world-famous monastic settlement, founded in 544 by St Ciarán. Look for the "whispering door" in the cathedral: lepers would stand here and still be heard across the cathedral when they came to confess their sins... while the priests would keep a safe distance. This medieval seat has been plundered by Irish tribes, Vikings and Normans alike and features a stunning collection of sculpted stone crosses.

Travel back in time to the early Middle Ages for the final destination of the day – the historic town of Athlone in Westmeath, where you’ll stay for the night. With a beautiful location on the banks of the Shannon and plenty of accommodation options, this easy-going town is home to a national monument in the form of its regal 13th century castle. You’ll have time for the castle tomorrow; in the meantime, head for dinner at Athlone’s Thyme restaurant, then enjoy a pint at Sean’s Bar, which claims to be the oldest pub in Europe.

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Day 2
Touring the Tullamore D.E.W. Distillery, Co. Offaly

Day 2

  • 2 hrs
  • 4 mins
  • 132 km
  • 82 miles

Route:

Westmeath, Roscommon, Laois, Offaly


Points Of Interest:

Athlone Castle, Baysports Water Sports Centre, Rock of Dunamase, Tullamore D.E.W. Visitor Centre

Engage With The Stories:

Bay Sports

Bay Sports

Take a scenic boat trip with Richie O’Hara from Baysports to the ringfort and monastic ruins on Inchmore Island at the heart of Lough Ree.

Journey Overview:

Your morning begins with a fascinating exploration of one of the landmarks of Ireland’s Ancient East. Athlone Castle was originally built for England’s King John in 1210, and today it offers a 360º cinematic recreation of the bloody 1691 Siege of Athlone – a ferocious 10-day assault on the town. Make the most of the state-of-the-art exhibition centre now housed here, before continuing your journey into nearby Roscommon for some scenic adventures. Your destination is Hodson Bay on stunning Lough Ree; book ahead with Baysports to take a scenic boat trip to the ringfort and monastic ruins on Inchmore Island at the heart of the famous lough.

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After your maritime adventure, you’ll travel south to Laois to view the imposing Rock of Dunamase. Christian settlement, Viking target, regal wedding gift: the Rock has worn many hats in its centuries-long history. Legends aside, the site is said to sit above ancient buried treasure, guarded by a fearsome hellhound – it's the castle ruins atop this rocky outcrop that lend the most romance to the tale though. Presented to Norman Lord Strongbow upon his marriage to Aoife, daughter of the King of Leinster, the castle fell into ruin within 200 years.

It’s been a long day, and a bit of a rest is in order. For your final stop of the day, head back to Offaly to visit the Tullamore D.E.W. distillery, which produces triple-distilled, triple-blend and triple-matured whiskey. Housed in a 19th century warehouse, Tullamore D.E.W. is so named after the whiskey’s creator Daniel E Williams. The full tour will take you through each stage of the whiskey-making craft, as well as giving you a chance to create your own unique blend of Uisce Beatha.

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