Newgrange (c. 3200 B.C.) is the best-known monument of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne, predating the ancient pyramids by 400 years and Stonehenge by 1000. The passage tomb is surrounded by 97 kerb stones, the most impressive is the large entrance stone which is covered in swirls and designs. Inside the large mound there is a long passage leading into a chamber which branches off three ways. The cremated remains of the dead were laid on large stone basins inside the chamber. At dawn on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year (December 21st), a shaft of sunlight enters the chamber of Newgrange through a specially designed opening over the doorway which illuminates the chamber. The Knowth passage tomb complex lies to the west of Newgrange. The large mound covers two passage tombs placed back to back which is surrounded by 127 massive kerbstones. Outside this large passage tomb there are eighteen smaller tombs. Over three hundred decorated stones make up Knowth which represents the greatest concentration of megalithic art in Western Europe. Critical Information Tours of both Knowth and Newgrange are available. Brú na Bóinne is a very busy site and visitors may experience delay during the summer months. Individuals are advised to arrive early. All admission to Newgrange and Knowth is through the Visitor Centre, there is no direct access to these monuments otherwise. The visitor centre is being refurbished in 2019, see website for details.
The Hill of Tara is a low-lying ridge located between Navan and Dunshaughlin in Co. Meath. Tara gets its name from Teamhair na Rí meaning ‘sanctuary of the Kings.' It is important as the traditional inauguration site of the High Kings of Ireland. It is an evocative place, much celebrated in Irish myth and legend. Tara was an important site in prehistoric times. A passage tomb known as Dumha na nGiall (meaning ‘the mound of the hostages') is the oldest visible monument and dates from around 3,000 BC. However, Tara became truly significant in the Iron Age (600 BC to 400 AD) and into the Early Christian Period, and legends describe the kingship rituals and assembles that took place on the hill. According to tradition St. Patrick, on the nearby Hill of Slane, lit his Easter Paschal fire in defiance of the Pagan King of Tara. Tara was the royal centre of Mide (meaning ‘the middle kingdom'), the fifth province of ancient Ireland. To be king of Tara was to be king of all Ireland. The Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) is a standing stone located within an area known as the Forrad (The Royal Seat). As the inauguration stone of the High Kings of Tara, when a rightful king touched the Lia Fáil it cried out to announce his rightful reign.
Tara was finally abandoned as a royal site in 1022. However the hill has always retained its importance to the Irish identity. During the 1798 rebellion the United Irishmen in County Meath chose Tara as their rallying point, before they were heavily defeated by government forces. In 1843 an estimated one million people gathered there to hear Daniel ‘The Liberator' O'Connell speak against the Union of Great Britain and Ireland. It remains to this day the symbolic heart of Gaelic Ireland. Tara is open to visit all year and the visitor centre is open from mi-April to mid-September, with an audio visual show and guided tours available; see website for details.
The Battle of the Boyne is one of the most significant events in Irish history, part of a wider struggle for power across 17th century Europe. The Battle of the Boyne was fought between King William III and his father-in-law King James II on 1 July 1690. The kings were rival claimants to the English, Scottish and Irish thrones. Protestant King William (of Orange) had deposed Catholic King James (his father-in-law) in 1688. James went to Ireland where he rallied his mostly Catholic army, making a stand on the banks of the Boyne outside Drogheda. However James’ forces were outmanoeuvred by William’s army and defeated. James fled to France and his Jacobite supporters continued to fight on until the Treaty of Limerick in 1691. The battle is brought to life using a laser battle site model, audio visual film, real and replica weaponry and interactive guided tours. The Visitor Centre is located in the restored 18th century Oldbridge House surrounded by Victorian gardens, a luxury tearoom and many battle site walks. There is a varied programme of events all summer, including childrens’ history workshops, Victorian Garden Games and outdoor theatre (see website and social media for details).
Close to Navan is the picturesque village of Slane. According to legend it was on the Hill of Slane that St. Patrick lit the first paschal fire in Ireland, symbolising the triumph of Christianity over Paganism. His disciple St. Erc is said to have founded the hill-top monastery here, which in the 16th century became a Franciscan friary supported by the Flemings. After the wars of the 17th century Slane passed into the hands of the Conyngham family. It is the Conynghams who are responsible for the design and layout of Slane village, a fine example of 18th century architecture. Slane's renowned First World War poet Francis Ledwidge is remembered at the nearby Francis Ledwidge Museum. Slane Castle is the ancestral home of the Conyngham family and now hosts world-famous rock concerts in the summer months, as well as a gourmet restaurant. In the castle stables is a new state-of-the-artSlane Distillery; barley from the estate is used to make Slane Whiskey. Tours of the castle and distillery are available.
To the west of Navan is the heritage town of Kells. St. Colmcille (also known as St. Columba) is said to have established a monastery here in the mid-6th century. He also founded a monastery on Iona off the coast of Scotland and when this came under Viking attack the monks fled to Kells, founding a new monastery there in the early 800s. Kells became one of the most important monasteries and towns in Early Medieval Ireland. Its most famous treasure is the Book of Kells, a highly ornate version of the four gospels in Latin. It was possibly begun in Iona and completed in Kells. A round tower from the monastery still survives in the town, along with many fine examples of Irish High Crosses. Designed by famed architect Francis Johnson and built in 1802, Kells Courthouse is now home to a tourism and cultural hub, hosting a special exhibition which inspires visitors and locals alike to explore this picturesque town and the surrounding Boyne Valley. The Spire of Lloyd, located outside Kells, is the only inland lighthouse in Ireland.
The Loughcrew complex is a megalithic cemetery containing around 30 passage tombs and is situated around the summit of three hills near the town of Oldcastle, Co. Meath. Loughcrew is roughly contemporary with Newgrange (3200 BC), perhaps being built a bit earlier. Neolithic communities built large communal tombs, or megaliths, for their dead. A distinguishing feature of Irish passage tombs is the presence of rock art. 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 shines through the passage to illuminate symbols carved onto the back wall of the chamber. For more information see website. Cafe and camping facilities are located in the nearby Loughcrew Megalithic Centre and more cafe, family fun and excitement may be found at the Loughcrew Gardens and Adventure Centre.
Trim Castle is the largest, best-preserved & most impressive Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. Trim get its name from the Irish Baile Átha Troim, meaning ‘Town of 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 dún (fort) and an early monastery were sited here (reputably by St Loman, nephew of St Patrick). Trim Castle was built in 1172, shortly after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland. King Henry II granted his baron Hugh de Lacy the Kingdom of Meath, along with custody of Dublin. The King feared that another of his barons Richard de Clare (also known as Strongbow) might set up a rival Anglo-Norman kingdom in Ireland, and gave de Lacy Meath as a counterbalance to Strongbow's powerbase in the south of Leinster.
De Lacy converted a ringfort into a wooden castle but this structure was seen as a threat by the Gaelic Irish and in 1174 Rory O'Connor, King of Connacht (and last High King of Ireland), attacked and it was destroyed. The following year work began on a more permanent stone replacement and over the following decades Hugh de Lacy (d. 1186) and his son Walter constructed the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. Most of the castle visible today was completed by 1220. Tours of the castle are available, see website for times and details. The town of Trim features many historical sites, gourmet restaurants, luxury accommodation and cosy pubs. For more information call into Trim Visitor Centre, located in the historic Town Hall, right beside the castle. Take the Medieval Armoury Tour, stepping back in time to and hold a real sword, try on a Norman helmet and handle chainmail (booking recommended)..
The 9th/10th century Cross of Muiredach at Monasterboice monastery is the finest High Cross in Ireland and is highly regarded as one of the best surviving examples of Early Christian religious art in Ireland. The site is open all year, free of charge, and also features a fine round tower. Mellifont Abbey was one of the wealthiest and most influential monastic houses in medieval Ireland. St. Malachy along with a community of Irish and French monks, trained at Clairvaux, Burgundy, came back and founded this beautiful abbey, the first Cistercian Abbey in Ireland, in 1142. See website for opening times and charges.