The Boyne Valley
A drive through the Boyne Valley is a drive through the historical heart of Ireland. Burial tombs, ruined abbeys, medieval castles and contentious battlefields line the route of this most archaeologically dense of areas.
The jewels in the crown are undoubtedly the megalithic tombs of Newgrange and Knowth. Pre-dating the Egyptian pyramids these historical giants are a fascinating look into the ancient world. Minibuses run from the Bru na Boinne visitor centre and exhibition to the sites where knowledgeable guides delve into their 3000 year old histories.
Whereas Newgrange and Knowth are protected and the visits are very regimented, Loughcrew Cairns, at the other end of the Boyne Valley, is the polar opposite. Three burial tombs from the same time period of the above sit on three small hills with not a minibus or official tour in sight. Stunning 360 degree views over the countryside are massive payoffs for a little uphill hike.
Trim Castle is a simple but classic castle which gives you everything you might look for when in search of medieval Ireland. Plump for the tour of the keep as it’s worth the few extra Euros to learn more about Trim Castle and its role in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Located in the middle of a bustling little town (and wedding capital of Ireland), this is also a perfect stop for a coffee and bite to eat.
Then there’s the 12th century ruins of Old Mellifont Abbey which was Ireland’s first Cistercian Abbey. Not to be mistaken for the unprefixed Mellifont Abbey where the monks still live, Old Mellifont Abbey is an interesting religious site with a decent exhibition on the work of masons.
The Hill of Slane is a worthy little stop – a sidekick to another main event. Unassumingly tucked away behind a housing estate, the Hill of Slane affords pleasant views of the surrounding countryside (and a giant cement factory, to be honest). Most importantly it’s a small no-holds-barred collection of ruins that you’re free to clamber all over – history not behind a velvet rope is priceless in our childlike minds.
There’s nowhere quite so bafflingly important in Ireland as Oldbridge House, the location of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. A little museum here tells the story of a battle that still has massive reverberations in today’s Ireland. To the outsider, this was a battle between two sides so complexly put together you probably won’t be much more clued up as to what happened and why when leaving. There’s also a house, gardens and grounds that are pleasant if not spectacular and there’s a nice hidden riverside walk complete with dragonflies, concrete wartime bunkers and tonnes of nettles.
All these attractions are within an hour’s drive of each other so it couldn’t be simpler to create a two or three site Boyne Valley itinerary and go crazy. Speaking as a stone cold cheapskate, I can also vouch for the amazing value for money of this area and you could easily go home with change for a tenner.
However, if you do have the cash to splash - perhaps you're a rapper from New York or an oil tycoon from from Saudi Arabia - there's a fairly new excellent double visit at Slane Castle. Explore the history of one of Ireland's biggest music festivals in Slane Castle and then head across the beautiful grounds to the very polished Slane Distillery