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(2018 - Spring Issue)


Off Ireland’s southeast coast a nubby peninsula hangs into the great big sea. Beneath a blue speckless sky, whales breach in the distance. The moody landscape grips my senses as does the winding road trip that brought me here.

Crooked motorways trickle through postcard-pretty settings laden in ancient ruins and quiet villages that seem to have been here since the dawn of time. We threw down the map a while ago insisting the GPS would get us here. It doesn’t matter though.

The tapering headland of the Hook Peninsula abruptly appears. The giveaway is the tell-all gleaming striped black and white tower. The Hook Lighthouse, the world’s oldest operational lighthouse, shines against the steely-blue sea. We think we have arrived at the motherlode of antiquities. 

But hanging around the Ancient East coast we realize we only barely scratched the surface. In Ireland the landscape spills secrets thick and fast and the Ancient East coast is one of them.


Framed by the River Shannon and the Irish Sea, the newly named Ancient East coast, which covers 17 counties, ironically boasts the country’s oldest hubs spanning over 5,000 years of history from the Stone Age and the Vikings to early Christianity and Medievalism. It’s the land of towers, turrets and castles mired in local legends and epic sagas with many quirky footnotes that still prevail today.

In Wexford County, I am in the windswept Hook made famous by the phrase, “By hook or by crook,” uttered by Oliver Cromwell in 1649 to take Waterford by Hook or by the village Crooke. The tower experience with its imposing views of sea and sky lights up my whole trip. Who needs to see neighbouring Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city and part of Ireland’s Ancient East, or the madding crowds around Star Wars film locations, which take in the West Atlantic coast?

Not I.

The gnarly weather-beaten strip is one of the many charming links in a string of time-travelled towns on my voyage of discovery. My time capsule quest starts in Dublin at Trinity College, the bastion of learning and home to Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure—the Book of Kells. The book’s significance is appreciated even more on a visit to Kells in County Meath, one of my stops.


Dubbed “So Old, So New,” the artsy port town of Wexford is a hub of Vikings and medieval lore and a hopscotch of craft shops, quaint restaurants and watering holes that line narrow passages. A city of contrasts, the new National Opera House draws in music fans while history buffs snake through a heritage trail making stops at the historic Norse-built Keyser’s Lane, the old Westgate Tower and the ruins of St. Patrick’s Church.  

I tuck inside The Yard, home to an olive tree and a renegade chef whose no-nonsense mantra mimics his sign outside: Good Food. “We get the best of all worlds going on here,” says chef Peter Murphy on Wexford’s robust dining scene. I order the roasted cod caught from nearby Kilmore Quay and topped with a tomato tapenade on a bed of warm potato salad. Everything on my plate is sourced from less than an hour away. His chives are plucked from the Yard’s garden. Nothing disappoints.

At Tintern Abbey, a partially restored Cistercian abbey open for tours, there’s the adjoining Colclough walled garden in full bloom. Alan Ryan, head gardener, explains, “We are so far south in the Hook Peninsula, we get warmer weather and more sunshine than anywhere else in Ireland.”

After some loquacious driving tips (be prepared for poetic ballads that seemingly last for hours), I was off to dare the spirits from beyond in the place “next door.” Reputed to be Ireland’s most haunted house, the Loftus Hall in Wexford reeks of dread and gloom. It’s said the ghost of a young woman who went mad after seeing the Devil himself lurks inside.

That evening I slept with one eye open as I contemplated my own harrowing escape from the nightmarish clutches of the same dark stranger who spooked a young Lady Anne in the Tapestry Room all those centuries ago.


In County Meath, folks enjoy floating through time on the River Boyne and marvel at medieval Trim where more medieval buildings are found than any other town in Ireland. At Trim Castle, the massive 20-sided tower boggles my mind as does a nervous King Henry II historical footnote. The 12th-century dwelling was built to keep his enemies in check. Since then, the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland has served as a family home, a prison and even as a film location for Braveheart. 

“Where are you going next?” asks a curious Irishman. I mention Kells, home of the famous Book of Kells in the “City of God,” and the Hill of Tara where the High Kings of Ireland once ruled. Both wise stops, I’m told.  

In Kells, the historic town baffles. High Crosses splay across the town as visitors enter the shrine that sheltered the famous religious manuscript for around 850 years. A tour inside the stone-weathered St. Colmcille’s House shows the house to be like a mythical hobbit’s dwelling. “We believe this is where the Book of Kells was completed,” says local guide Lucy O’Reilly.   

Before turning in for the night at the Headfort Arms Hotel, I bid adieu to a pristine copy immaculately displayed in the lobby. “It is perfection,” notes a friendly stranger.

The next morning a teeming rain escorts me through the Boyne Valley. I cannot help but wonder if the storm is an omen of what lies ahead. Miraculously the sun bursts through the ominous clouds at the Hill of Tara. Irish luck, perhaps?

Visitors congregate by the statue of St. Patrick. Guides utter descriptive soliloquies on the three-leaf clover and Ireland’s patron saint. “The shamrock represents the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” says one, describing St. Patrick’s oratorical skills used to explain the Holy Trinity and Christianity to the pagan high king.  

Tall grasses dance in the wind by the Hill of Tara. Mysterious mounds created by Neolithic man store unknown secrets. Some believe this magical place is where fairies gather. For more than 5,000 years this dramatic setting has been the centrepiece of Ireland. Over 142 kings have been crowned by the Stone of Destiny.

Follow me. It’s time to walk in the footsteps of Ireland’s Greats.

Travel Planner

In Newgrange, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, predates both the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and Stonehenge in Britain. More information on Ireland’s Ancient East coast is found at:

Boyne Valley Tourism:

County Wexford: 

Ireland’s Ancient East coast:

Tourism Ireland:

Headfort Arms: 

Hook Lighthouse & Heritage Centre:

Loftus Hall:

The Yard:

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