A bright light on the coastal wildness of West Waterford, Ardmore is one of the oldest Christian settlements in Ireland. St. Declan founded a monastery here in the fifth century, and its round tower, cathedral, well and hermitage captivate visitors to this day.
Ardmore’s sweeping beach, celebrated bay and five-star design hotel have turned a sleepy little fishing village into a classy resort, but the origins of this West Waterford enclave go back centuries - to the arrival of St. Declan in the fifth century. Ardmore translates from Árd Mór (‘great height’ in Irish), and St. Declan’s monastic site is reckoned to be one of the oldest in Ireland. As well as the old ruins, visitors can see a beautifully-preserved round tower and cathedral added in the 12th century.
Unsurprisingly, the round tower and cathedral are the focal point for Ardmore’s brace of heritage trails - a 5km green route that starts at the monastic site and goes on to circle the cliff walk and a shorter red route, taking about 20 minutes to complete. Several other sites relating to St. Declan pepper the routes, including the saint’s oratory (where tradition has it, he is buried) and St. Declan’s Stone, which legend says was carried to Ardmore on the waves from Wales. Both, along with St. Declan’s Well and Church, are visited by pilgrims on the saint’s feast day, July 24.
Other heritage stops in the town include an old lifeboat station and the village’s Catholic (St. Declan’s) and protestant (St. Paul’s) churches. Two ogham stones are kept in the old cathedral – one of which constitutes the longest known ogham inscription in Ireland. After exploring the town itself, the red route continues past the Cliff House Hotel to a waterside loop taking in a watch tower abandoned in 1921, the wreck of the Samson (a crane ship that ran aground here in 1987) a World War II lookout point and Fr. O’Donnell’s Well, which is said to have some curative properties of its own...
If you like that walk, feel free to continue along St. Declan’s Way, an ancient pilgrim path running for 94km through Cappoquin all the way to Cashel!