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Get under the skin of some of the Emerald Isle's most bewitching historical locations on this 10-night road trip through Ireland’s Ancient East
This latest addition to McKinlay Kidd’s ‘Slowly’ collection of holidays takes you from Carlingford in the northwestern corner of the Republic, via ancient Newgrange to lush Wicklow, onwards to historic Kilkenny, before a final section through Viking-origin Waterford to the east Cork estuary town of Youghal.
As ever, we’ve done the legwork throughout this trip, identifying an appealing blend of authentic accommodation to sit alongside rewarding excursions, not forgetting many fine driving routes to enjoy.
For those who enjoy a more relaxed travel experience, explore our additional “Slowly…” holidays for inspiration.
Just under an hour from Dublin, and just over the same from Belfast, however you choose to arrive on the island of Ireland, you’re in for an immediate treat on a visit to Newgrange. Older than both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza, the 85m-diameter passage tomb in the Boyne Valley was built some 5,200 years ago by Stone-Age farmers and is possibly the most significant historical site in the country. Ringed by 97 kerbstones, many engraved with megalithic art, makes this one of the biggest collections of such in Europe.
Once you’ve taken in this enthralling site, it’s only 50 minutes’ drive to your first base, in the mediaeval village of Carlingford.
Your Accommodation in Carlingford
Built in the early 18th century, your accommodation for two nights in Carlingford, Co Louth, is a historic small hotel, one of the oldest private houses of its type in Ireland. There’s an unmistakable air of history and tradition here, though no sign of stuffiness, as the ebullient family and friendly staff welcome each guest as warmly as the next. Rooms are cosseting with a traditional feel, while dining here is a rare treat, an award-winning menu served in the elegant restaurant with views of the walled gardens and Mourne Mountains.
Our suggestion for today is to make the short drive to Greenore Port, where you board the ferry taking you across scenic Carlingford Lough to Greencastle in Co Down. You’re now in ‘the Kingdom of Mourne’; make your way up the coast through Kilkeel, Northern Ireland’s southernmost town and home to the province’s largest fishing fleet; carry on to Dundrum Bay for Murlough National Nature Reserve and the ruins of Dundrum Castle, and take time to discover Downpatrick, home to the patron saint’s final resting place and the St Patrick Centre. There’s no need to catch the return ferry as the drive back to base is a little over an hour.
Commence your journey south after breakfast, spearing your way through counties Louth and Meath, circling Dublin and into Co Wicklow for a stop at the incredible gardens of Powerscourt House. Stretching for around 47 acres, visitors are invited to wander the sublime blend of formal gardens, sweeping terraces, statues, ornamental lakes, secret hollows and rambling walks. Visit over, it’s only an hour or so further south to your Wicklow accommodation.
Your Accommodation in Wicklow
Around 15km from Arklow village and the Irish Sea coast, your accommodation in Wicklow is a unique property, set in a village whose origins go all the way back to the 5th century. 200 acres of rolling grounds incorporate a golf course and the hotel featuring country-style rooms, four restaurants focused on local, organic produce, a traditional Irish pub and extensive spa facilities.
Wine? Made in Ireland? It’s true, and today you get to taste for yourself on a tour at this award-winning, family-owned winery. Unique and delicious wines crafted from strawberry, raspberry and blackberry all grown in Ireland, whose story, told by the family, is a fascinating one, and whose taste could not be more surprising.
Having had a packed four days, why not spend today switching off at your hotel? Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a morning constitutional in the vast grounds, before relaxing by the tranquil, heated indoor pool, taking advantage of one or two of the treatments on offer. Should you prefer to go off exploring, the coast is just a short drive away, and you’re within easy distance of Glendalough and its 6th century monastic settlement.
A shorter day on the road today, giving you plenty of time to dawdle and detour. You could start by heading west to the coast and dropping in to Co Wexford, perhaps to the border village of Gorey for its famous lavender farm and the wonderful gardens at 17th-century Wells House. Take the winding roads east through multiple farming villages and market towns on your way to the ancient city of Kilkenny.
Your Accommodation in Kilkenny
Right in the heart of Kilkenny, just a four-minute walk from the castle, your accommodation is a colourful, family-owned hotel in the perfect position from which to explore the city. Peaceful rooms enjoy a dash of contemporary style, with a focus on high-quality beds and bedding, as well as user-friendly en-suites. The in-house restaurant operates on a farm-to-fork ethos, enjoying the very best produce from the local larder, while the intimate spa offers a range of relaxing treatments.
You can easily leave the car behind in the hotel car park today, as your location is within a short stroll of all of the gems of Kilkenny. Take time to traverse the Mediaeval Mile between the castle and St Canice’s Cathedral, with the 13th-century Dominican Abbey and Ireland’s only complete 17th-century merchant’s townhouse to visit along the way. Kilkenny is also filled with multiple dining opportunities and some authentic pubs, many featuring live traditional Irish music in the evening.
Another leisurely day on the road today, with plenty of time to ramble along a choice of routes, exploring as you go, on the way to your final stop in the fascinating east Cork town of Youghal. You could head west into Co Tipperary, making a stop at the staggering Rock of Cashel and detouring slightly to Cahir for its imposing castle. Or drop straight south to Waterford, Ireland’s first city, to discover its turbulent past via the wonderful Viking Triangle, as well as several superb museums. Arriving in Youghal, you’ll have three nights to get under the skin of the town and its surrounding area.
Your Accommodation in Youghal
At the very centre of life here in this vivacious east Cork town, your accommodation in Youghal has been in the hands of the same family for a century. A multiple award-winner for the quality of food and accommodation, this is a great place in which to round off your exploration of Ireland’s Ancient East, with cosseting rooms, a lively bar and superb seafood restaurant.
A gentle morning awaits as you board Meave Og at Youghal Harbour and take a guided cruise on the Blackwater River. At 168km long and reputed to be one of the best salmon-fishing rivers in Ireland, Blackwater rises in the Mullaghareirk Mountains of Kerry, meandering east through Co Cork and Waterford, turning south at Cappoquin to drain into the Irish Sea at Youghal.
From Meave Og, you’ll take in the sights of the old bridge of Youghal, the remains of Templemichael Castle, Ballinatray House Estate and Gardens, and Molana Abbey.
More time today to get to know this historic corner of Ireland’s Ancient East. Take in the 18th-century Clock Tower, whose history is recounted in person by superb storytellers, and uncover the Raleigh Quarter including St Mary’s Collegiate Church, the east’s mediaeval jewel. Slightly further afield, the town of Midleton is famous for its Jameson distillery, while the town of Cobh features a quite astonishing cathedral and is known as the last port of call of RMS Titanic. The town’s Titanic Experience Museum is an engaging and suitably sobering diversion.
Ferry services return to Fishguard and Pembroke Dock from Rosslare and we’ll be happy to provide a tailormade solution to get you home.
This self-drive holiday starts begins with two nights in Carlingford, Co Louth, then sets off for three nights in Wicklow, two in Kilkenny and three in Youghal, Co Cork
£1190 per person for April & October, £1250 per person for May to September.
Though car-rental is not included in the price, we would be happy to quote from a range of options.
Travel to and from Ireland
Ferry crossings are not included in the price, though we will be happy to tailor-make inbound and outbound travel from a range of ports in Scotland, England and Wales.
Before your departure, you will receive personalised holiday information including full directions and recommended routes from your specified starting point, and suggestions on places to visit depending on your interests and our local knowledge to help you get the most from your holiday.
All Ireland itineraries and room types are presented subject to availability at specific hotels.
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This holiday can be arranged from April to October.
Availability is individually checked for a hand-picked selection of smaller hotels, guest houses and other independent businesses, so please bear with us and we will respond in 1-2 working days.
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We guarantee to refund this service charge if you believe that arranging your holiday through McKinlay Kidd has not met your expectations for value. All we ask is that you write to us within 7 days of your return and explain your reason for claiming the refund. This will ensure that we can improve the experience for all our future guests.