The Hill of Tara is located in County Meath, in the province of Leinster. Meath is rich in Irish mythology, heritage and plays host to some of the most beautiful rural landscapes on the Emerald Isle. Located in the heart of The Boyne Valley
there are a wealth of sites to visit that are steeped in history and linked to The Hill of Tara.
In 1849 William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde, wrote of The Boyne that the history of Ireland may be traced through its monuments. This remains true today. Moreover, its sites and monuments are amongst the best examples of their kind in Europe and are all within a short distance of each other.
The River Boyne is the pricipal waterway in Leinster, the most easterly of the Irish provinces. The river rises at Trinity Well, near Cadbury Co Kildare and meanders slowly north-eastwards through the fertile and gentle plains of Co Meath before entering the Irish Sea at Drogheda. There is a long history of continuous settlement along the banks of The Boyne – stretching back over five thousand years.
Follow the Boyne Valley route to trace the footsteps and delve in to the history of the people who have gone before us and carved this beautiful landscape.
Begin your route in Drogheda at Millmount Museum and Martello Tower
This castle formed part of the defences of the town during Cromwell’s siege of Drogheda in 1649. The garrison were massacred when they surrendered to Parliamentarian troops on September 11th, 1649. In the early 1800′s the earlier fortifications were demolished and replaced by a Martello tower as part of a series of defences erected along the Irish Coast by teh British in expectation of an invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. Millmount Museum houses various exhibitions dealing with archaeology, folk life and local history. The museum also houses one of the four surviving examples of an ancient type of fishing vessel called a “coracle” which was once a common sight on the River Boyne.
More recently, the fort at Millmount was damaged during the Irish Civil War (1922- 1923) when it was occupied by the Anti Treaty forces and was shelled for several hours by the Irish Free State Army. It was restored by Drogheda Corporation and re-opened in 2000.
From The Martello Tower continue to the town centre on West Street to St Peter’s Church
Constructed in 1791, St Peter’s Church is one of the most notable buildings in Drogheda. The present building was built in the 1880′s and incorporates part of the earlier structure. The style is Gothic revival and is built of local limestone. The interior of the church is lavishly decorated. The west transept of the church contains a special chapel which houses the preserved head of St Oliver Plunkett (1625 – 1681), the last catholic martyr to die in England.
Born in 1625 at Loughcrew near Oldcastle, Co Meath, he was sent to be educated by the Jesuits in the newly established Irish College in Rome where he was ordained. In 1669 Oliver Plunkett was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland. He was arrested in Dublin in 1679 on trumped up charges of plotting to bring a French army in to the country and of organising Irishmen for rebellion. An initial trial in Dundalk collapsed in 1680. He was then transferred to England where despite several petitons, he was found gulity of high treason. On the first of July 1681, Oliver Plunkett was hanged, disembowelled and quatered at Tyburn, England. His remains were recovered immediately after the execution and were eventually entrusted to the Sienna Nuns of the Dominican Convent in Drogheda. They are permanently on view in St Peter’s Church as is the door from his cell at Newgate in London. St Oliver Plunkett was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975 by Pope Paul VI. He was the first Irish saint for more than 700 years. St Malachy, founder of the Cistercial Abbey at Mellifont, was canonised in 1199.
From Drogheda head to Beaulieu House and Gardens
Beaulieu house is situated on the north bank of the river Boyne between Drogheda and the Irish Sea. The estate was originally by the St Oliver branch of the Plunkett family and was aquired about 1650 by Sir Henry Tichbourne, who was Marshall of the Army in Ireland and Governor General of Drogheda at the time of the Restoration of Charles II
Beaulieu House was turned in to the house we know today by the Tichbournes in the mid 17th century and early 18th century and has remained largely unchanged since. Originally a stone Plunkett Caslte, the present structure is a mixture of stone and brick which was rendered in the late 19th century, leaving exposed the Dutch brick surrounds to windows and doors. The Dutch style in unique in Ireland.
The walled garden is believed to be designed by Dutch artist Willem Van De Hargen, who settled in Ireland in the 1720′s and is one of the earliest examples of a walled garden in Ireland.
Gabriel DeFreitas, the current owner of Beaulieu House is a tenth generation descendant of Henry Tichbourne. There is a museum on site which displays a collection of classic racing cars and memorabilia. Guided tours of the house, four acre walled garden and museum are available. Gabriel DeFreitas had a very successful career in motor racing in the 1960′s and 1970′s under the name of Gabriel Konig.
From Beaulieu head to The Battle of The Boyne Visitor Centre
The Battle of The Boyne was fought between King William III and his father in law King James II on 1st July 1690. The kings were rival claimants to the English, Scottish and Irish thrones. Protestant King William had deposed Catholic King James in 1688.
Williams army numbered some 36,000 and were known as Williamites. They were made up of English, Irish, Scottish, Dutch, Danish and Huguenots. The opposing army – Jacobites – were mainly Irish Catholics reinforced by some 6500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV.
The Jacobites chose the River Boyne as the best defence against the Williamites progress south towards Dublin. Drogheda was garrisoned and a force of 25000 men were positioned at Oldbridge, the most likely crossing point. The armies camped on opposite sides of the river.
Williams plan outsmarted James and William’s victory at The Battle of the Boyne was the turning point in James’s unsuccessful attempt to regain the Crown and ultimately ensured the continuation of protestant supremacy in Ireland. Of the 61,000 men that fought in the battle, a relatively small number were killed, 1,000 Jacobites and 500 Wiliamites.
The Battle of The Boyne Visitor Centre is located in the recently restored 18th Century Oldbridge House, which is on the battle sight. There is an excellent interpretive centre there where they do live re-enactments on horseback.
From Oldbridge, head to Mellifont Abbey on the banks of the River Mattock
Mellifont Abbey was one of the wealthiest and most influential monastic houses in medieval Ireland and is situated on a tranquil stretch of the River Mattock, a tributary of The River Boyne. The Abbey gets its name from the Latin Font Mellis – or fountain of honey. Mellifont Abbey was founded in 1142 on lands granted by Donagh O’Carroll, King of Oriel. It was founded by St Malachy Archbishop of Armagh with a community of Irish and French Monks in 1142.
It was the first Cistercian Monastery founded in Ireland and over 20 other Cistercian houses were founded directly or indirectly from it. Mellifont Abbey became one of the wealthiest abbeys in Ireland with vast holdings of land in the fertile Boyne Valley.
Mellifont heralded a new era in monasticism. Prior to its foundation, older Irish monasteries such as Monasterboice, were essentially self governed, spiritual centres under the direction of an abbot who was his own master. These older monasteries were often not affiliated to any other monastery or even any other religious order.
Mellifont was dissolved in 1539 and passed in to the hands of Sir Edward Moore who converted the abbey in to a residence. In 1603, following Irish defeat at the Battle of Kinsale, Hugh O’Neill, The Earl of Tyrone, formally submitted to Lord Mountjoy at Mellifont Abbey signing The Treaty of Mellifont. This sounded the death knell for Gaelic civilisation in Ireland.
During The Battle of The Boyne in 1690, King William based his headquarters at Mellifont. The house was abandoned and fell in to disrepair in the early 1700′s.
Although the remains of the abbe are fragmentory, Mellifont is historically and architecturally significant. It was the first Irish Abbey to follow the European cloistral plan. It also had an octagonal lavabo, constructed about 1200. This was a place for monks to wash their hands before going to pray.
From Mellifont, head to Monasterboice where you will find The Cross of Muiredach – the finest High Cross in Ireland
Christinanity was introduced to Ireland probably from Roman Britain during the 5th century AD, around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Monasterboice is one of Irelands earliest and best known religious sites. Its name derives from the Irish – Mainistir Bhuithe meaning the monastery of Buite.
St Buite was an Irish monk and follower of St Patrick. In 480, according to legend, St Buite, on a return trip from Rome raised Nechtan Morbet, the King of Pictland (Scotland) from the dead. Another legend states that he ascended to heaven on a golden ladder lowered from the skies by angels. St Buite died on the day St Columba was born (7th December 521).
The site of Monasterboice comprises 2 churches and a round tower. Although round towers were originally thought to have been places of refuge from The Vikings, the Irish name for these towers – cloic theach meaning a bell house – hints at another possible function.
The tower at Monasterboice was burned in 1097, destroying the monastic library and other treasures. however it is still in excellent condition. Despite missing its conical cap it is the second highest round tower in Ireland.
The Vikings occupied the site until they were routed by Domhnall, King of Tara in 968. St Buites monastery remained an important centre of spirituality and learning for many centuries until the establishment of Mellifont Abbey in 1142.
The site also contains two of the finest high crosses in Ireland – the South Cross (or cross of Muiredach) and the West Cross (or tall cross) – which date from the 9th century. The sandstone crosses are finely carved and depict biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Today the image of The High Cross is recognised internationally, not merely as a religious icon but also as a symbol of Irish Cultural Heritage.
From Monasterboice, head south to Slane Castle – residence of Lord Henry Mount Charches and the best rock concerts in Ireland !
Following the Williamite War (1689 – 1691), half a million Irish Acres were confiscated from those who supported James II. The Conynghams purchased the estate in 1701 following the Williamite confiscations. Prior to this the lands were in the possesion of The Flemings, Anglo Norman Catholics who supported The Jacobites.
Slane Castle in its existing form was reconstructed under the direction of William Burton Conyngham, together with his nephew the first Marquess Conyngham. The reconstruction dates form 1785 and was undertaken by the most distinguished architects of the day – most notably James Gandon who designed The Custom House and The Four Courts in Dublin and Francis Johnson who is responsible for the GPO in Dublin
The parklands were laid out by the renowned landscape architect – Capability Brown known as Britain’s greatest gardener. In 1991 a fire in the castle caused extensive damage and completely destroyed the East Wing facing the River Boyne. It re-opened to the public in 2001 following a 10 year restoration programme funded by the family.
Over the last quarter of a century, Slane Castle has become internationally famous for its summer concerts. Its natural amphitheatre attracts 80,000 music fans annually. Queen, thin Lizzy, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Guns N’ Roses, Neil Young, REM, Bryan Adams, U2, Stereophonics, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Madonna and Oasis have all performed under the shadow of the castle.
U2 recorded part of their 4th studio album in the castle.
From Slane follow the Boyne East to The World Heritage site of Bru na Boinne – otherwise known as Newgrange
Bru na Boinne is one of the largest and most important prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe. It is an extensive complex situated on the North bank of the river Boyne, 8 kilometers west of Drogheda. The site is dominated by three large passage tombs, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth – which were declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1993
Passage tombs consist of a burial chamber reached by a long straight passage lined with stones, and set within a large mound known as a cairn. They are usually sited on hilltops and grouped in cemeteries. Although primarily burial sights, they also serve as status symbols, focal points for the community, places to honour dead ancestors and as territorial markers.
It is estimated that there are 700 decorated stones at Bru na Boinne making it Europes largest and most important concentration of megalithic art. The most famous of these stones is the one marking the entrance to Newgrange where the triple spiral, unique to this site, can be seen.
It was constructed during the New Stone Age (or Neolithic Period – from the Greek “neo” meaning new and “lithos” meaning stone). The tombs at Newgrange are more than 5000 years old. Although the people who built these tombs were primarily farmers, they also possessed experties in engineering, geology, art and even astronomy.
At dawn on the morning of the winter solstice and for a few days before and after, the main chamber at Newgrange is illuminated by a beam of sunlight for 17 minutes. This alignment is too precise to have occurred by chance. It is thought that Newgrange is the oldest surviving deliberately aligned structure in the world.
Although Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth were constructed somewhere around 3000 BC, activity at the sites continued for many millenia. Knowth for example served as a burial site during the Iron Age. It also served as the royal seat of the King of Northern Brega in the early Christian period, and as an Anglo – Norman Motte in the early Mediaeval period.
There is no direct access to Newgrange and Knowth. All admission is through the Bru na Boinne visitor centre which is on the other side of the river near the village of Donore. The excellent exhibitions at the visitor centre include a full scale replica of the chamber at Newgrsange. Visitors are brought from the centre to the monuments by shuttle bus.
Did you know that Newgrange is 1000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the Pyramids in Egypt
From Newgrange head South West to Trim which boasts the largest, best preserved and most impressive Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland
Trim gets its name from the Irish – Ath Truim, meaning ‘The Ford of The Elder Trees’, indicating that this was an important fording point on the River Boyne. Such was the significance of this crossing point that by the fifth century a chieftain’s dun (fort) and an early monastery were sited there.
in 1172, shortly after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland, King Henry II granted Hugh De Lacy the Kingdom of Meath , along with the custody of Dublin. The King feared that Strongbow (Richard de Clare) might set up a rival Anglo-Norman Kingdom in Ireland.
For strategic reasons, de Lacy decided to make Trim, rather than Drogheda, the centre of his newly acquired lordship. De Lacy converted a ringfort into a wooden castle with a spiked stockade. This was seen as a threat to the locals and in 1174, Rory O’Connor, King of Connacht (and last king of Ireland), attacked and it was destroyed.
The following year work began or a more permanent stone structure and over the following decades, Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter constructed the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Europe.
Initially a stone keep replaced the wooden fortification. The keep was remodeled and then surrounded by curtain walls and a moat. The wall punctuated by several towers and a gatehouse, fortified and area of about 3 acres. Most of the castle visible today was completed by 1220.
The unique 20 sided cruciform design of the keep is an example of the experimental military architecture of the period. It served as both the administrative and domestic centre of the castle. By 1500 much of Ireland was back in the hands of Gaelic chieftains and the territory under English control had been reduced to an area around Dublin known as ‘The Pale’. By this time trim Castle was in decline, however it remained an important outpost protecting the north western frontier of The Pale
Over the centuries, Trim Castle was adapted to suit the needs of its owners and the changing political climate. However much if the fabric of the castle remains to this day.
Trim Castle served as a ‘castle double’ for York Castle in Mel Gibson’s 1996 Oscar winning movie ‘Braveheart”
Trim contains more medieval buildings than any town in Ireland.
From Trim travel Northwest to the Heritage Town of Kells
Kells derives from the Irish Ceanannas Mor, meaning ‘great residence’. Long before the coming of Christianity, Kells was a royal residence associated with the legendary Conn Ceadchatach (Con of the Hundred Battles) and Cormac mac Airt
In 550, Columba, also known as St Colmcille, established a religious settlement at Kells. In 563 he went in to self imposed exile on the Isle of Iona, off the West coast of Scotland and founded another settlement. The island was raided in 795, 802 and again in 804 when sixty eight people were killed. Shortly after, the community of St Columba’s monastery on Iona were granted lands at Kells as a safe haven from invaders.
The first church at Kells was completed by 814 and in 878 the relics of St Columba were relocated from Iona. However Kells was itself raided by the Vikings in 919, 950 and 969, and many times throughout the 11th century, this time by the Irish. The most famous treasure created by the community of St Columba is The Book of Kells, a highly ornate version of the four gospels in Latin. It was written around the year 800, though it remains unclear whether it was written in whole or in part in Kells.
Although Kells became an important Anglo-Norman walled settlement, it is its monastic heritage that best survives. Kells round tower, though roofless, stands at a height of 25m. IN 1076 Murchadh Mac Flainn, who was fighting for The High Kings of Ireland, was murdered in the tower. The tower is surrounded by several finely carved high crosses, in various states of preservation. A stone church known as St Columba’s House, dating from the 9th century is possibly the oldest surviving structure in the town. It is a classic example of an early Irish church with a steeply pointed stone roof.
The Kells Courthouse was originally designed in 1801 by Francis Johnson, who also designed The GPO on O’Connell street in Dublin. The Market Cross of Kells which dates form the 9th century and depicts scenes from the Old and the New Testaments, can be seen at the junction of the Navan/Dublin Road and The Slane Road.
From Kells head North to Loughcrew
The Loughcrew comples is a megalithic cemetery containing around 30 passage tombs and is situated around the summit of three hills near the town of Oldcastle. Nearby is the restored 17th century Loughcrew Gardens.
Loughcrew is roughly contemporary with Newgrange. There are four main types of tombs named after a particular defining feature – court tombs, portal tombs, passage tombs and wedge tombs. The typical passage tomb is cruciform in plan with a long central passage leading to a main chamber, off which there are three smaller chambers. The dead were cremated and the remains placed in the chambers above the ground. The tombs were then covered in great mounds of earth and stones called ‘cairns’, though often these do not survive.
A distinguishing feature of Irish passage tombs is the presence of rock art – carved or picked designs on the internal or external stones of the tombs. Certain symbols seem to have been favoured at particular tombs or cemeteries: spirals at Newgrange, concentric rectangles at Knowth and rayed circles at Loughcrew.
One of the best preserved and most accessible tombs at Loughcrew, known as Cairn T, appears to be the central tomb of the whole complex. It faces the rising sun at the vernal (March) and autumnal (September) equinoxes which shine through the passage chamber to illuminate symbols carved on to the back wall of the chamber. This tomb is reputed to be the resting place of Ollamh Fodhla, a legendary King of Ireland
Loughcrew Gardens are open 17th March – 30th October