100 Photos and Travel Guide to 13 Magical Places in Ireland’s Ancient East

The world is full of myth, magic, and lore. Take it from me, I’ve spent my entire career looking for it. But, of all the places I’ve been to, of all the ruins, caves, woods and castles, there’s no place which quite compares to Ireland. I’ve spent the better part of four years exploring it, and every time it feels like a fairy tale. So, in 2016, when Ireland announced its latest tourism route which focuses on ancient Irish history, it was only natural for me to head to the Emerald Isle. I was delighted to spend a week with my dear friend and colleague Ed Hannon of Visions of the Past Blog where we explored the Land of the 5,000 Dawns, the Celtic Coast and the Historic Heartlands which make up Ireland’s Ancient East. And it was as every bit of magical as it sounds.

 

If you prefer to trek about with help, check these out.

 

Ireland's Ancient East,

 

Exploring Ireland’s Ancient East

Understanding the History Behind the Lore

 

It’s no secret that Ireland is rich with magic and lore. From fairy sites to enchanted hilltops, its legends are many. Known for its pristine preservation of stories, the footprint of Ireland’s ancient past is captivating and exploring it, alluring. However, before you dive into the magic, you must understand the history behind the lore. And with a destination like Ireland, which cradles hundreds, even thousands of places teaming with age, we must learn why they are so important to Irish legends. To simplify this, it comes down to converting to Christianity.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Kilkenny Castle

Carving on the side of Kilkenny Castle

 

The ancient Irish had very strong beliefs all of which were taught through the art of verbal storytelling. When St. Kevin came along and created the Monastic Settlement of Glendalough in County Wicklow, he ordered these pagan beliefs to be transcribed by ancient monks. Converted in translation, the Fae (fairies) who were once a very real belief to the ancient people of Ireland, were forever banished to the underworld. In fact, this is what spawned Halloween as we know it (but that’s another story).

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Abbey of Kells

Abbey of Kells photo Christa Thompson

 

When we look at this transition, we can take away from it three important structures which hold an echo of this past: megaliths, abbeys and castles. Many of them still stand all over Ireland, with a large quantity of them in what is now known as Ireland’s Ancient East.

 

Understanding the Structures of Ireland’s Ancient East – Megaliths, Abbeys and Castles

 

Megaliths

Ireland's Ancient East, Loughcrew

Me at Loughcrew photo by Ed Hannon

 

Megaliths carry a huge importance as they are the most mysterious of the three. Their construction and perfect alignment with solstices have raised more questions than answers. Irish Mythology and folklore tell us these are sacred places. They were (and by many still are) thought of as portals to the other world where the fae were banished and now dwell. They are sacred sites and continue to serve as ritualistic gathering points for many.

 

Abbeys

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel photo Christa Thompson

 

The ancient abbeys of Ireland’s east are spectacular and well preserved. Even in ruins, they attract thousands of people for their beauty and astounding photographic qualities. One visit and you will surely understand why. These abbeys mark the earliest architectural footprint of Ireland’s conversion to Christianity and are where most of the legends we hear today were transcribed.

 

Castles

Ireland's Ancient East, Trim Castle

Trim Castle photo Christa Thompson

 

One of the direct ties to the construction of castles in Ireland are the social and cultural changes from its conversion to Christianity. Some working and some in ruins, the castles of Ireland are all magnificent and easily draw the attention of many. There’s something incredibly magical about passing a castle ruin along a country road and exploring the ones which are maintained. It’s a remarkable way to take a trip back in time and get a first look at the way of life as it was then.

 

Where is Ireland’s Ancient East Anyway?

Ireland's Ancient East,

The route along Ireland’s Ancient East photo Christa Thompson

 

Ireland’s Ancient East consists of three regions; The Land of the 5,000 Dawns; The Historic Heartlands and The Celtic Coast. They stretch from the central County Cavin south to County Cork and along the southern coast back up into County Monaghan, making a complete circle of eastern Ireland. There is quite a bit of ground to cover, and www.Ireland.com offers incredible planning tips for each region. Structured and equally as magical as the Wild Atlantic Way, this tourism route offers just as much in the way of hospitality as it does adventure. 

 

Here is a Breakdown of Our Week

While it would take you about two weeks, in my opinion, to explore the whole of Ireland’s Ancient East, we hit some of the places which logistically made sense. We started our trip in Dublin (see travel guide below). And while we weren’t able to explore all the counties, we did cover a lot of ground.

 

The Land of the 5,000 Dawns – County Meath

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Trim Castle

Trim Castle, photo Christa Thompson

 

Newgrange – Newgrange is a 5,000-year-old passage tomb built in the Neolithic period making it older than the pyramids of Egypt. Every Winter Solstice hundreds gather, with just a select few who are allowed inside, to witness the light of dawn as it pierces the small opening above the tomb’s entrance to illuminate the burial chamber inside.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Newgrange, Gauge Rybak, KidFriendly

My son admiring Newgrange, a 5,000 year old tomb, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Newgrange

At Newgrange, the space which reveals a sunbeam from the dawn of the winter solstice, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Newgrange Tomb

The path into the tomb at Newgrange, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Newgrange, Gauge Rybak, KidFriendly

Exploring a beehive hut at Newgrange, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Newgrange

Inside the beehive hut at Newgrange a sunbeam peeks in, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Newgrange

The path to Newgrange, photo Christa Thompson

 

Loughcrew – Loughcrew is a Megalithic Tomb similar to Newgrange. It requires a short hike up a bald hill leading you at a vista beside the tomb which overlooks the countryside. It is a stunning and peaceful place to visit.

Looking for deals on flights? You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get to Ireland. Save your money for the pints of Guinness!

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Loughcrew, Christa Thompson

Loughcrew a 5,000 year old tomb, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Loughcrew, Christa Thompson

Enjoying the view from the hilltop hike at Loughcrew, photo by Ed Hannon

 

Trim Castle – Trim Castle is where they filmed parts of Braveheart. It is in ruins however, you can explore inside the ruins and the grounds. It is a lovely place for an afternoon sunset and great for photos. It’s Ireland’s largest Anglo-Norman castle, set in the ancient Boyne Valley in the medieval village of Trim.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Trim Castle, Christa Thompson

Trim Castle, photo by Ed Hannon

Ireland's Ancient East, Trim Castle

Trim Castle, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Trim Castle

Trim Castle, photo Christa Thompson

 

Abbey of Kells Monastery – First founded in 554, the Abbey of Kells Monastery is where much of the Book of Kells was created. It’s known for its four high crosses built in the 9th century by the monks of St Colmcille’s of Iona, Scotland in 804.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Abbey of Kells

Abbey of Kells, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Abbey of Kells

Abbey of Kells ancient high cross, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Abbey of Kells

Abbey of Kells wooden door, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Abbey of Kells

Abbey of Kells, photo Christa Thompson

 

Bective Abbey – Bective Abbey is a Cistercian abbey on the River Boyne. Founded by Murchad O’Maeil-Sheachlainn in 1147. Due to its castle-like resemblance, it was chosen to be used in Braveheart as well.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Bective Abbey

Bective Abbey, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Bective Abbey

Bective Abbey, photo by Christa Thompson

 

Historic Heartlands – Counties Tipperary, Laois and Kilkenny

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

The Castletown House photo by Christa Thompson

 

County Tipperary

 

The Rock of Cashel – The Rock of Cashel, also known as Cashel of the Kings, is a magnificent medieval site erected at the top of a hill overlooking the countryside. This is the site of the conversion of Aenghus the King of Munster and where Saint Patrick baptized him. The Rock of Cashel was once the seat of the Kings of Munster. It’s also undergoing restoration of the oldest wall murals in Ireland which date over 800 years in age.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel, Christa Thompson

At the Rock of Cashel, photo Ed Hannon

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

Details of the ruins of the Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

Tombs overlook the countryside at the Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

From the Rock of Cashel you can see another abbey photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

Tomb at the Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

A tomb at the Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

 

According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil’s Bit, a mountain 20 miles (30 km) north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock’s landing in Cashel.” Wikipedia

 

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East,

Inside the Rock of Cashel ruins, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

A high cross at the Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

 

The Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland’s most significant historic landmarks. Three of the most famous people of Irish legend and history are associated with it. St. Patrick whom as mentioned before is said to have baptized King Aengus in 432 AD, who became Ireland’s first Christian ruler. And the third was Brian Boru, he was crowned High King here in 990.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

A carved bench inside the Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

Details inside the Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

Ravens cuddle at the Rock of Cashel, photo by Christa Thompson

 

The 15th-century castle and the Hall of the Vicars is the entry point to the ecclesiastical enclosure. The Hall houses the museum where the original Cross of St. Patrick can be found.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

15th-century castle and the Hall of the Vicars at the Rock of Cashel, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, The Rock of Cashel

photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East,

A lovely place to get a bite after a day at the Rock of Cashel, photo Christa Thompson

 

Cahir Castle – Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s most well-preserved strongholds which is perched upon rocks and looks as if it erected right from the stones. Its eventful history can be explored via guided tours.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle by Christa Thompson

 

County Laois

 

Castletown House – A stunning and pristine Renaissance inspired Palladian manor which sits on an estate meant for exploring. Take walks along the river and open parkland or just tour the house itself. It’s a beautiful location for an afternoon or morning.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Castletown House

Castletown House by Christa Thompson

 

County Kilkenny

 

Jerpoint Abbey – Jerpoint Abbey is another fine Cistercian abbey built in 1158 AD and boasts tombstones, carvings and statues which give it its ancient presence. It’s a peaceful and quiet place to spend time taking photos.

 

Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint Abbey

Photo by Keith Ewing CCL
Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint Abbey

Photo by David Bergin CCL

 

Kilkenny Castle – Built in 1195 Kilkenny Castle is a working castle with an exquisitely maintained interior and grounds. Give yourself a couple hours to go through its elaborate halls and rooms.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Kilkenny Castle, Christa Thompson

Kilkenny Castle by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle by Christa Thompson

 

The Celtic Coast – Counties Carlow and Wicklow

 

Ireland's Ancient East,

On the drive photo Christa Thompson

 

County Carlow

 

Huntington Castle – There are many interesting sights at Huntington Castle. The 17th-century house is a jackpot of curious treasures and collections. It also boasts a secret cellar ornate with cult-like collectibles. Its grounds and interior make it quite the sight for anyone looking to tell an interesting story.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Huntington Castle, Christa Thompson

Holding some heavy armor at Huntington Castle, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle, photo Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle, photo Christa Thompson

 

Duckett’s Grove – A bit of a secret gem if you ask me. It has been taken over by the government but sits in ruins. The only company you’ll have here are the ravens which live inside. This 19th-century estate was formerly owned by the Duckett’s Family. I’m not sure about the story of how it ended up in the hands of the government, but I’ll tell you it’s pretty creepy.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Duckett's Grove, Christa Thompson

Photographing Duckett’s Grove photo by Ed Hannon

Ireland's Ancient East, Duckett's Grove

Duckett’s Grove photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Duckett's Grove

Duckett’s Grove photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Duckett's Grove

Duckett’s Grove photo by Christa Thompson

 

County Wicklow

 

The Monastic Settlement of Glendalough – The Monastic Settlement at Glendalough established in the late 6th century is where the first Irish legends were written by ancient monks. Settled by St. Kevin who lived there alone for years, it is now a compound of majestic ruins and tombstones tucked away in a fairy tale like glen.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, The Monastic Settlement at Glendalough

The Monastic Settlement at Glendalough photo by Christa Thompson

 

Travel Guide – Logistics, Accommodations and Other Cool Things to do

 

Ireland's Ancient East, The Butler House

The Butler House, photo by Christa Thompson

 

If you’re looking for a convenient trip to explore some of Ireland’s oldest ruins, you can base yourself either from Dublin or Kilkenny. I recommend both. They both offer different experiences. Dublin is clearly a much larger city, bustling with shops, restaurants, pubs and history, while Kilkenny offers a quieter much smaller city but also with a great variety of options for dining, shopping, pubs and history.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, The Butler House

The Butler House grounds, photo by Christa Thompson

 

Driving from the airport in Dublin is easy and you can pass through the northern counties while making your way into County Kilkenny in the southwest.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, The Butler House

Lovely daffodils in the spring at the Butler House, Christa Thompson

 

I can recommend the Brooks Hotel on Jury Street, it’s one of my favorite Dublin hotels and has a spectacular breakfast. In Kilkenny check out the Butler House for its large rooms and beautiful walled garden. It sits across from the Kilkenny Castle.

 

Ireland's Ancient East, Left Bank

Left Bank in Kilkenny photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East, Left Bank

Left Bank in Kilkenny photo by Christa Thompson

Ireland's Ancient East,

Left Bank in Kilkenny photo by Christa Thompson

 

For nightcaps in Dublin and other cool things to do read this. For nightcaps in Kilkenny, check out Left Bank, a lovely Victorian pub with a definite mood.

 

Exploring Ireland’s Ancient East is a remarkable journey which will leave you rich with the magic of Ireland. From hilltop ruins to riverside castles, it’s shrouded in the very mystery, enchantment and lore which makes Ireland such a legendary place.

Special thanks to Ireland. Flights and accommodation provided by Tourism Ireland. Visit www.Ireland.com for more information on travel planning.

TwitCount Button


About Christa Thompson

view all posts

Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day.

“It’s never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams.” -Christa Thompson

34 Comments on this post

  1. The photographs and stories you shared with the media on ancients East were amazing! The castles and tombs were so alluring. You covered so much on your journey and gave so much detailed information that it created and interest in me to want to learn more. In fact I felt like I was on the journey with you and your son to the extent of smelling the earth and the freshness of the trees and feeling a slight breeze against my face without leaving the comforts of my home. Job well done Christa Thompson keep up the good work and I enjoyed the pictures Ed took also.

    Carol Roos / Reply
  2. Fore, in County West Meath would give you more material – the 7 wonders of FORE, and lots of walking around, always a good trip finished at their only small village
    pub.

    Paul Fitzsimons / Reply
    • And this is why I love Ireland. Every turn I make and every Irish person I meet is always full of surprises! Thank you very much. I’ll be sure to check it out on my next visit!

  3. Thanks for the glimpse. Your photos proved that Ireland is quite enticing. Ancient East is absolutely full of mystery and inspiring.

    UK Student Visa / Reply
  4. This is awesome Christa! I love the photos. You should do an Outlander tour. I write about it on my site, you are inspirational.

    colette Lefebvre-Davis / Reply
  5. Honestly, if we didn’t have such deep roots, I would haul my entire family off to Ireland to live forever. I love it there.

  6. Ireland is so beautiful! I’ve been there with the family a few times, and I always feel like we should be wearing swords and looking for dragons.

    Vera Sweeney / Reply
  7. Wow, just wow. My dad spent a month in Ireland lately and he said it was the most beautiful place. I can see why now and I’ll send him your link so he can see all of your photos.

    Terri Ramsey Beavers / Reply
  8. This photos are amazing. I have always wanted to go explore Ireland. It would be a dream come true to see these castles in person.

    Claudia Krusch / Reply
  9. My best friend is half Irish and I am sure she would recognize many of the photos and landmarks you have visited. Makes me want to travel, too!

    LisaFavre / Reply
  10. Lucky you got such nice weather for your trip! It looks gorgeous!

    Karissa WithOurBest / Reply
  11. These photos are so stunning. Ireland is a dream vacation for me. I am saving all my travel points so I can go one day.

    Ann Bacciaglia / Reply
  12. Your photos are absolutely stunning. I’ve never been to a castle but it looks just as magical as I imagined.

    Mimi Green / Reply
  13. I have always wanted to go to Ireland!! Your photos are fabulous and make me want to start trip planning!!

    Ricci / Reply
  14. I would love to visit there. The fact that there are no snakes there really draws me in plus there are so many beautiful things to see.

    Melissa Dixon / Reply
  15. Wow, those photos are so beautiful. I would love to go to Ireland someday. Just looking at all your photos makes me wish I were there now.

    Kathy / Reply
  16. This is the first place to visit on my travel list! I love everything you’ve shared here, makes me so excited.

    Louise Bishop / Reply
  17. Loving all your photos! I’ve only been to Dublin but I’m heading back to Ireland later in the year so hopefully I can see more of the country.

  18. Those photos are stunning. I would love to see a few of these destinations in person. Thank you for sharing.

    uprunforlife / Reply
  19. It has always been a dream of mine to visit Ireland. These pictures are amazing and make me want to go even more!

    Natalie Z / Reply
  20. In short Ireland is such a beautiful place, and you captured that beauty perfectly. I cannot wait to travel and see this place in person.

    jessicasimms / Reply
  21. your photos are stunning, makes me wish I were there right now taking it all in! My younger brother went there for a month and a half and really enjoyed himself…

    Eloise / Reply
  22. my god i would lovvveee to visit this place.wow. you captured some amazing moments.

    Dawn Gibson-Thigpen / Reply
  23. I totally love all of your photos! That’s amazing place and unique! I’m sure you had fun adventure.

    My Teen Guide / Reply
  24. I didn’t know that Ireland is have an amazing spot like this! All your pictures are perfect!

    Victoria Heckstall / Reply
  25. How beautiful! Ireland is on my bucket list and you’ve more than added to my desire to visit. Absolutely gorgeous!!

    Heather Pfingsten / Reply
  26. Ireland is a spectacular destination and I really hope to cross it off my bucket list soon!

We love hearing your thoughts, stories and adventures. Share them here: