We saved the best for last on our Ireland trip.
We drove from Ashford Castle to County Meath to tour all the sites we’ve only read and dreamed about.
It’s about a 3-hour drive, depending on traffic and weather…and GPS mistakes.
We stopped first at Trim Castle.
My ancestor, Hugh de Lacy, constructed Trim Castle over a thirty-year period with his son, Walter.
Construction of the massive three-storied keep, the central stronghold of the castle, was begun in 1176 on the site of an earlier wooden fortress. Ready for occupancy in 1173, Trim Castle is the largest, best-preserved Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. Trim get its name from the Irish áth Truim, meaning “The Ford of the Elder Trees.”
The kids were excited to run up to the gate.
We just opted for the self-guided tour instead of the extra group tour of the keep. It would have taken over an hour and we were a bit pinched for time. I didn’t know if Alex would have found it interesting enough to listen to the guide for that long.
We bought the guide book and that is quite comprehensive.
The keep is a twenty-sided cruciform design with walls 3m thick. It was protected by a ditch, curtain wall, and moat.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Trim Castle declined in importance, and it was allowed to deteriorate.
Adult €4 | Child/Student €2 | Family €10
Castle Excluding the Keep – Adult €2 | Child/Student €1 | Family €4
Alex enjoyed seeing the stocks outside the castle grounds. He had asked about them and had a hard time understanding.
Experiential learning is always best.
We walked the trail around the castle and across the River Boyne bridge to see the Sheep’s Gate and Yellow Steeple ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.
St. Patrick’s Church is in the background, to the left.
After getting a treat at a shop in town, we got back in the car.
Our next stop was The Hill of Tara.
It was cold, windy, misty, and quite muddy.
I lost my grip and slid halfway down one of the hills, thinking the Fenians were dragging me back to the Underworld.
The megalithic passage tomb called the Mound of the Hostages (Duma na nGiall) is the oldest monument on the Hill of Tara, dating between 2500 and 3000 B.C. The passage, 4 m in long and 1 m wide, is divided by sill stones into three compartments, each containing cremated remains. There’s a lovely etched stone inside with a triple spiral triskelion.
The Lia Fáil or Stone of Destiny stands about one meter high on the King’s Seat.
According to legend: if touched by a worthy king, the stone would scream its approval. It could be heard all over Ireland.
It didn’t scream for us.
Then, we drove to Newgrange.
We arrived just in time for the last bus from the visitor’s center to the site. You can only visit the Newgrange archaeological site with tickets, the bus trip, and a guide.
The mound dates to 3,200 BC, which makes it older than Stonehenge and Great Pyramids of Giza. It is approximately 80 m in diameter with the base consisting of 97 stones.
At dawn on the winter solstice and for a number of days before and after, a shaft of sunlight enters the chamber through an opening in the aperture above the entrance.
Pictures aren’t allowed inside. The ceiling is so low, adults have to bend over a bit, but can stand up at the end. The ground actually rises gradually from the entrance to the rear. The passage ends in a cross-shaped chamber. The passage points southeast and is a little fewer than 19 m long. The chamber consists of three recesses with a corbelled roof. To construct this roof, the builders overlapped layers of large rocks until the roof could be sealed with a capstone, 6 meters above the floor. After 5,000 years, the roof is still waterproof.
There are large stone basins in each recess and the walls are decorated with carvings of geometric designs like diamonds, triangles, spirals, and triskelia.
Kerbstone 52 is directly opposite the entrance stone on the outside of Newgrange. You can see carved spirals, diamonds, and triangles on the left, and more elaborate shapes on the right.
Visitors Center and Newgrange Megalithic Tomb
Average Length of Visit is 2 hours.
Some great educational resources on the Brú na Bóinne site.
The Battle of the Boyne site and museum is just down the road from Newgrange, but it was getting late and we were tired and hungry.
We drove to the city of Kells to see some sites and eat dinner.
Kells derives from the Irish Ceanannas Mór, meaning “great residence.”
We saw the 9th century Market High Cross as soon as we drove into Kells. The carvings depict scenes from the Old Testament.
The Abbey of Kells was first founded by St. Columba in 554. We’re so glad we watched The Secret of Kells!
The Book of Kells remained at Kells Abbey until the 1650s, when Cromwell’s troops were stationed in the town. It was sent then to Dublin for safekeeping. In 1661, the Book of Kells ended up in Trinity College, Dublin, where it remains.
The Round Tower is 90 feet high and unusual in that it has five windows, rather than the usual four, overlooking the five main roads into the town. The Churchyard Wall marks the original limit of the monastery. It was rebuilt in 1714 and 1998.
St. Columcille’s House probably dates from the early 10th century and is characteristic of an oratory from that period. There is no mortar in the house, it is stacked and angled stones, an amazing feat of early architecture. There was an underground passage from the house to the church.
The Abbey gates were locked and the old lady who holds the key to St. Columba’s house wasn’t home.
We had dinner at The Bective. It was recommended by a sweet local passerby when we were looking at the Round Tower.
The food was quite divine. I’m just not sure what the restaurant wants to be: it’s not a pub, but neither is it fancy white tablecloths.
We were squeezed into a small table in the middle of the room since we didn’t have a reservation.
Instead of water, we were served a Tang-like orange cordial. We loved that. Don’t get me wrong: I grew up with Tang and it’s a delightful memory.
The service was iffy.
I had to beg for a waitress to explain their beer selection from a smudged chalkboard in the far back corner of the restaurant. If they advertise “local craft beer” then maybe they should have a menu I can read up close. I was never quite sure which lady was our main waitress.
They didn’t pay attention when we all ordered and then switched up two of my daughters’ meals so I had to scramble to share around to cover up their mistake. I understand it’s odd for my teen to order off the kids’ menu and my 10-year-old to order an adult meal, but that’s just normal for us. The chicken wings my one daughter ordered off the kids’ menu came out all spicy sauce and all, but they quickly replaced them with plain ones. Maybe the menu descriptions could be a little clearer.
The salmon and trout were some of the best I’ve ever had.
I ordered a mushroom au gratin that was like cheesy cream soup. It was good, but not what I expected.
Their card machine was on the fritz so we had to pay cash.
We then drove back to Ashford Castle. It was late when we arrived.