Hi, my name's Siobhán, archaeology graduate, and privileged to be a tour guide in the Boyne Valley. In my free time I love to explore new sites home and abroad and share my adventures on social media - siobhanrhein
A day in the Boyne Valley.
The Boyne Valley is a scenic and archeologically significant area centrered around the River Boyne which covers parts of counties Meath and Louth. It's just North of Co Dublin and can be reached easily by car in about 45 minutes which makes it a great day trip. Its monuments and landscapes are easily accesible via the Boyne Valley scenic drive which encompasses the main sites. Just follow the brown signs ! County Meath is considered the Heritage Capital of Ireland, and you can see why with the concentration of attractions available! Unfortunately I cannot cover all of the sites but below is just a snapshot of what the Boyne Valley has to offer. Here are some of my personal highlights which can be combined into one neat little day trip. At the end I will mention a few others you can mix and match or subsitute if you are planning a more expansive trip!
Newgrange and Knowth (Bru na Boinne)
Dating back 5000 years, the monument of Newgrange is the best example of what is called a passage tomb. It's basically a stone lined passageway leading to a burial chamber inside a man made mound.
They say that a picture can paint a thousand words so here;s a picture. Newgrange is not the only passage tomb in this area. There are about 40 in the valley alone. As well as Newgrange there are two more tombs comparable in size ; Knowth and Dowth. The remainder are quite small and not as impressive. Whilst Newgrange is not the largest (that accolade goes to Knowth), it is the most famous. Every December during the shortest days of the year (18-23rd) when the sun rises, light enters the passage way illuminating it and the chamber inside. This solar alignment was a delibrate act by the Stone Age people who constructed the tomb. What did it symbolise to the community who lived in the Boyne Valley? Did it represent a calendar, a belief in the afterlife, the cycle of life, death, rebirth ? Who knows ?
The passage tombs also holds a wealth of what we call Megalithic art. This art is made up of abstract shapes and motifs comprising of spirals, diamond shapes, wavy lines etc, all carved into the stones that make up the passage tombs, inside and out. Knowth has the highest concentration of this art in all of Europe. This art is over 5,000 years old, so the original meaning is lost to us, but that is what makes it so interesting ! Everyone who visits these sites have their own thoughts and theories as to what they may represent !
Newgrange and Knowth are one of the busiest sites in the country. It is important to note that access is by guided tour only via the newly revamped Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre !! Dowth is not part of the tour experience and is free to visit ! Allow the guts of 3 hours to get your fill of Neolithic history !
You'll find a coffee shop in the lower floor of the visitor centre which offers a variety of options but if you'd rather get out of there, head towards slane (about 15 minutes away). There you'll George's Pattisserie or the Conyngham Arms Hotel if you want something more substancial. If you want more options head into the Medieval town of Drogheda just a 10 minute drive from the Visitor Centre.
Info on tickets etc here : Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre (Newgrange and Knowth)
Dominating the landscape in the Medieval town of Trim, you have the oldest and largest stone built castle in the country. Built by an important Norman lord Hugh de Lacey and his son Walter in 1176.
The castle, now in ruins, is very well preserved. Guided tours take people up into the central tower detailing what life was like living in a castle.The highlight of the tour for most has to be climbing the original spiral stairs to the top where commanding views of Trim and its surroundings await ! For movie fans, Trim's claim to fame is being the filming location of Braveheart with Mel Gibson and you will find an information board with pictures etc across from the aptly named Trim Castle Hotel .
If you have time to spare the River Boyne walk is just the ticket! This is a looped walk of various distances starting from Trim Castle following the course of the River Boyne to Newtown and the impressive ruins of St. Peter's and Pauls Cathedral built in 1206. We often walk the different paths ourselves, the shorter loop will take you about 30 minutes, the longer 1 hour 30 depending on your pace. The walk is accesible to all levels of mobility and can be enjoyed all year long.
If you're looking for somewhere to eat, there are a range of cafes and restaurants. Our favourite is probably the Stockhouse which offers an excellent early bird or even the Castle Chipper for quality fish and chips !
A nice little pub stop is James Griffin's where you'll find a good selection of beers and whiskeys, like locally produced Bru beers. They often have trad sessions in the evenings but make sure to check out the particulars ahead of going.
Obvious places to stay are Trim Castle Hotel or Castle Arch hotel, both located in the town. If you're looking for a family friendly hotel with a pool and golf course, the Knightbrook's hotel is located on the Dublin Road.
For info on ticketing and opening hours of Trim Castle please follow this link - Trim Castle
One of the most important and scared landscapes in Ireland, it has a history spanning over 4,000 years. It was considered to be dwelling place of the gods, an anicent Royal site where 142 kings were inaugerated.
Numerous monuments in the form of earthen mounds are visible today. The oldest is a passage tomb dating to the Neolithic period (stone age). The most famous monument is the Lia Fáil / Stone of Destiny, which was used during the coronation of the Kings of Tara. The stone was said to shout out if the rightful King touched it.
Tara is a place where your imagination will be put to use, there are no buildings, no substantial structures, just earthern banks and mounds. We would recommend to have a good read of the information panels at the entrance before you head on up or take a picture of the map so you know what you are looking at !
If you are visiting between May and September there are guided tours available and a 20 minute video detailing the complex history of the site as well as fantastic aerial footage of the important monuments.
You can spend a half hour or 2 hours in Tara , there are over 100 acres for you to explore . After all that walking and History, take a bit of a breather in Maguire's restaurant, located at the foot of the hill in the carpark. Homemade baked goods, soup, sambos, paninis (I'd recommend the poached chicken and brie panini) to full on proper dinners, you wont go hungry ! They also have an excellent giftshop if you wish to purchase a souvenir . Make sure to check out the old second hand bookshop next door for a bargain !
Less than 10 minutes drive is another hill called Skreen hill and there you will find more ruins but more importantly, you will also find one of those concrete floored, cum-shop, cum-music school, type pub, straight out of the good auld days. We've had the pleasure to indulge there on a few cold evenings when then old turf fire was crackling and the guinness was flowing freely. Tis hard to beat. This pub is called O'connell's or Mrs O's and shot to fame as it featured in the Guinness christmas ad.
The best advice I can give you is to start with the busiest sites. If you're planning on doing those three sites on the one day, begin at Newgrange as it can get quite busy and tickets are on a first come first served basis. The other two sites are not as busy and can be visited in whichever order you prefer, just keep an eye on closing times .
Scratch your map !
Monasterboice is another site close by which is featured on the scratch map. This is more a stop than a visit but it is worth the detour ! There you will find the ruins of an old monastic site and round tower founded in the 5th century and a couple of 9th/10th century High Crosses on which are depicted biblical scenes .
Alternative sites :
Loughcrew passage tombs (if Newgrange is sold out)
Slane Castle and distillery (for a couple cheeky day time whiskeys)