County Meath, the “Royal County,” is home to some of the most important historic monuments in all of Ireland, including the Hill of Tara, once the seat of the High Kings, and the archaeological complex of Brú na Bóinne which is 5,000 years old and includes the burial sites of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. At the summit of the Hill of Tara lies an oval Iron Age enclosure known as the Fort of the Kings. Within are two linked enclosures, known as Cormac’s House and the Royal Seat. In the center of the latter is the Stone of Destiny, where legend holds the High Kings were crowned. Newgrange, meanwhile, is a World Heritage Site, and one of the most important Neolithic chamber tombs in Europe, predating both the Great Pyramid in Egypt and Stonehenge. It was built in such a way that at dawn on the winter solstice each year, a beam of sunlight illuminates the chamber floor of the construction. No visit to Meath is complete without a visit to the village of Slane – the cradle of Irish Christianity where St. Patrick lit the paschal fire.
President Obama can trace his Irish ancestors to Moneygall, County Offaly, but the the true gem of Offaly is Clonmacnoise, one of Ireland’s most well known monastic sites, which was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979. Known to the locals as the Seven Churches, this historic site is home to not just those churches but two round towers and two high crosses constructed from quartzose sandstone taken from the foot of the Bernagh Mountains. The ancient monastery is also home to the structure known as the Whispering Arch where it is fabled that the monks would give their confessions. If one whispers into one corner of the structure, someone standing at the opposite corner can hear its echoes, making it a favorite stop on tourists’ walks through the site.
County Westmeath is home to many tourist attractions from its idyllic lakes to the Belvedere House and Gardens. This parkland estate was once home to Earl Robert Rochfort, the infamously wicked man who locked up his wife for 31 years after suspecting her of infidelity. Belvedere House is now open to the public and has many events year-round which celebrate the natural beauty of Ireland. The town of Mullingar boasts a strong sporting tradition with plenty of greyhound races, golf courses, and clubs dedicated to rugby, football, tennis, basketball, snooker and countless other sports.
New Ross, Co. Wexford is the site of the Dunbrody, a replica of Ireland’s historic Famine-era emigrant ship. Docked off the South Quay, the Dunbrody recreates the conditions surrounding the 19th-century mass migration from Ireland. Visit the J.F. Kennedy Homestead, in nearby Duganstown, which is the birthplace of the late John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather Patrick, who lived at the homestead prior to sailing to America to start a new life with his family. Other tourist attractions include the Irish National Heritage Park, and the nearby Barrow, Nore and Suir River Valleys.
The Wexford Opera Festival plays a central role in the cultural life of Ireland, and in the world of opera and arts internationally. The Festival will run from Saturday, October 16th until Saturday, October 30th, 2010.
County Wicklow is known as the Garden of Ireland, and this spectacular county on the doorstep of Dublin is one of the country’s hidden secrets. The highlights of a visit include the magnificent coastline around Bray; the Vale of Avoca; Glendalough, which houses the site of St. Kevin’s monastery; and the waterfall and gardens of Powerscourt one of the most beautiful country estates in all of Ireland.
Wicklow is also home to Avondale House, the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell, one of the great political leaders of Irish history. The house is situated in Avondale Forest, a national historic site for its California redwoods, on the west bank of the Avonmore River.