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Ireland’s Ancient East attractions

There’s plenty to see and do in Ireland’s Ancient East. The finest example of a Norman or medieval town in Ireland, the tiny city of Kilkenny is a destination city in itself, with an imposing Norman castle keeping lookout over the winding River Nore. Saunter around Kilkenny Castle park, and visit its quaint tea room, featuring original Victorian utensils. Although originally built by the Anglo-Norman William Marshal in 1195 – on the site of Strongbow’s earlier Norman stronghold, and earlier Gaelic fortifications – it has seen several changes over the years, and has a remarkable mix of styles. Walk down to the Medieval Mile and see Kilkenny’s other great structure, St Canice’s Cathedral, and its attendant round tower, which can be climbed to the top. The Medieval Mile Museum, housed in a converted church on the slightly tucked-away St Mary’s Lane, is the perfect place to find out more about the city’s rich past.

Carlow is Ireland’s most impressive small county. The county museum leaves you in little doubt as to its historical and cultural vibrancy. Curios include the last cigarette smoked by Irish nationalist martyr Kevin Barry, a fossilised 340 million-year-old squid, and a tribute to John Tyndall, the scientist who, in 1859, finally proved the existence of the greenhouse effect.

Wexford town, meanwhile, is beloved for its lanes and arts scene, and varied history. Westgate Heritage Tower and its twin churches – plus its brilliant Opera House – all give a good introduction to the area’s rich history, also found in the mind-boggling array of historic buildings in the county.

If you enjoy the historical wealth of Kilkenny and Wexford, try Waterford – the oldest city in Ireland, with its Viking Triangle (and ancient walls) and Norman and medieval quarters. Get a feel for it on the Waterford Eye before diving into the magnificently-restored buildings clustered around the Medieval Museum on Cathedral Square. There is the nearby Waterford Museum of Treasures, the 1,000-year-old Reginald’s Tower, a rebuilt Cultural Centre (including a 3D King of the Vikings tour), an 18th-century Bishop’s Palace and Christchurch Cathedral.

Our picks

Johnstown Castle
Johnstown Castle

Oldtown Ln, Murntown, Co. Wexford, Ireland

A dwelling of significance has been on this site for over 900 hundred years. Visit Johnstown Castle Estate and experience three major attractions; the Gothic Revival castle and rare 86-metre servants’ tunnel, the Irish Agricultural Museum with exhibitions exploring Irish rural life and the romantic ornamental gardens designed by Daniel Robertson. The site also features a visitor centre with gift shop and a 120-seat cafe. If time allows, relax by the castle lakeside with its Gothic towers, waterfall and statues and watch the peacocks strut by displaying their finery. Visit website

Irish National Heritage Park
Irish National Heritage Park

Ferrycarrig, Co. Wexford, Ireland

Take an adventure into the past at The Irish National Heritage Park, one of Europe’s great open-air experiences where 9,000 years of history comes to life in a magical woodland setting! There are outrageously good reconstructions of huts and crannóig – ancient Irish island settlements – plus wooden ringforts and a portal dolmen. Visit website

Kilkenny Famine Experience
Kilkenny Famine Experience

Hebron Rd, Highhays, Kilkenny, Ireland

Visit the Kilkenny Famine Experience at Kilkenny Union Workhouse, now beautifully restored as MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre to take this FREE AV tour. This award-winning tour will bring you around the buildings of the Workhouse telling the human stories of the inmates that lived and died within the walls. Learn about the unexpected discovery of of over 970 human remains described as the most significant discovery in the world relating to the Irish Famine. Visit website

Hook Lighthouse
Hook Head

Hook Head, Churchtown, Co. Wexford, Ireland

Take a guided tour at the world’s oldest intact working lighthouse. Hook Lighthouse is a gem on Ireland’s Ancient East, located on the tip of the Hook Peninsula in Wexford. Visit website

Kilmokea Country Manor and Gardens
Kilmokea Country Manor and House

Greatisland, Campile, Co. Wexford, Y34 TH58, Ireland

Have a brilliant day out in Kilmokea’s seven-acre garden and immerse yourself in its history. Stop for lunch in the ‘mainly organic’ café and then learn of the legend of Cessair, 7th-century monks and the smallest high cross in Ireland. Visit website

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Image credits: ©Irish National Heriatge Centre; Johnstown Castle/Irish Heritage Trust; Kilkenny Famine Experience; Kilmokea Manor House & Gardens; Paul Holmes/Hook Lighthouse; Tourism Ireland/Ireland's Content Pool

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