For summer 2019, we are partnering with theJournal.ie to bring you 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.
This week, Paul Wilson passes by high crosses, passage tombs and blockbuster filming locations in Meath’s Boyne Valley.
- Name: The Boyne Valley Drive. See a map of the full route here.
- Where: Co Meath
- The route: From central Dublin head for Blanchardstown, into Meath and the Hill of Tara. Head northwest to Kells and Loughcrew, then back east to Brú na Boinne for Newgrange, taking in Slane Castle, Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice.
- What makes it one of Ireland’s Great Drives? A relaxed, easy-going drive through town and countryside full of historical landmarks and fertile, lush greenery.
- Journey time: 3 hrs, approx.
- Photo opportunities: Get the height and the view from the Hill of Tara. This spectacular vista looks all the way across central Ireland.
- Hidden gems: Pretend you’re an extra in Braveheart with a stop at Trim Castle. While you’re in the town, try one of the epic homemade cakes at Harvest Home Bakery.
- If you’re feeling courageous: Off the beaten tourist track, Loughcrew’s cairns are an authentic journey into prehistory
COUNTY MEATH IS an ancient treasure trove of history. It’s the land of the people who crafted the elaborately decorated silver Tara Brooch. To start from Dublin city, take the R148, crossing the Liffey to the northside. Head for Blanchardstown and onward to Meath.
The river Boyne flows northeast through the Royal County, passing the entire length of the Boyne Valley. In 1690, the infamous Battle of the Boyne was fought here.
The wide stretch of the River Boyne. Source: Shutterstock
Join the Boyne at the Hill of Tara, one of the best known Iron Age sites in Ireland. It’s located 300 feet above sea level, and from the top, you can see a quarter of Ireland. This was once the seat of Irish pre-Christian Kings, and the Stone of Destiny, or ‘Lia Fail’ is on the hill’s inauguration mound.
Heading slightly northeast, your next stop is Trim Castle. Movie fans might recognise it as King John’s castle from Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.
Trim Castle. Source: Shutterstock
Trim itself is a walled town (though the original walls are somewhat reduced), and strolling through it, you’ll find medieval ruins, like the steeple of St Mary’s Abbey, the tallest surviving medieval landmark in Ireland.
In Trim, include a stop at Harvest Home Bakery for a warming bowl of homemade soup, sandwiches on thick fresh bread, carrot cake, or a fluffy scone with tea.
Moving on, Kells lies on one of the five ancient roads extending out from Tara. Here, the Book of Kells remained for centuries, before moving to Trinity College in the 1600s.
Northwest, you’ll find Loughcrew, surrounded by the storied hills of Slieve na Calliagh. The gentle hilly landscape reveals time-eroded cairns and tombs. The Loughcrew Cairns are not as tourist-ready as Newgrange (and they’re probably the better for it).
Next up, take the N51 to the 18th century Slane Castle. There’s now a distillery on the estate with daily tours, tastings (though not for the driver), and a place to have a bite to eat – the Gandon Room restaurant.
Taking the N2 for Monasterboice, you’ll find a monastic settlement and the 20 ft Muiredach Cross, which is said to be one of the best-preserved high crosses in Ireland.
The most awe-inspiring – and famous – passage tomb in this area has to be Newgrange. Make sure you head early or late in the day to help avoid the inevitable tour bus traffic jams.
The entrance at Newgrange. Source: Shutterstock
The 5,200 year old neolithic Newgrange is more ancient than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. The massive entrance stone features intricate patterns of spirals and circles.
The port town of Drogheda lies a few kilometres east on the mouth of the River Boyne. Drogheda is one of the oldest towns in Ireland, and the head of St Oliver Plunkett, a 17th century martyr who was executed, can be viewed at a shrine in St Peter’s Church. From here, the M1 will zoom you straight back to the centre of Dublin.