Escaping the bustle of Dublin and heading south, you will encounter the scenic beauty of Wicklow, wild and enchanting. Stunning vistas surround you as you explore the majestic glacial valleys and dramatic mountain passes.
This rugged landscape of gorse and bracken is home to many of Ireland's most significant archaeological finds, from the stately homes of 18th-century gentry to the very earliest Christian dwellings.
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Even the briefest visit to this Palladian mansion, with extensive Italianate gardens, will give a sense of the inequality which existed in Ireland during the Eighteenth Century when Powerscourt was built. Originally built by Richard Cassels between 1731 and 1743, the main building was the subject of continued rejuvenation for generations to come, with considerable alterations being made in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. The last chapter in this story of renovation would not arrive until 1974 when, tragically gutted by fire, the mansion was subjected to a painstaking restoration which continues to this day. This, sadly, restricts visitor-access to the first (i.e. ground) floor.
Powerscourt is a very popular attraction and, during the summer months, draws significant crowds. Visitors should allow for this by avoiding peak times wherever possible. Mid-week, visiting tourists can enjoy the estate's many attractions at a relaxed pace, both indoors and out. The formal gardens, redesigned in the Nineteenth Century by Daniel Robinson, are truly breathtaking in their beauty and encompass a panoply of different landscaping styles.
An ancient monastic settlement, Glendalough (meaning: Valley of the Two Lakes) presents today's visitors with a chance to walk not only through the idyllic hills of Ireland's East, but also through the rough-hewn landscapes of ancient Irish history. Founded in the Fifth Century by St. Kevin, the settlement would grow to be very powerful at its zenith, some four hundred years later. By the start of the Fifteenth Century, this stronghold was in decline but the stone monuments and buildings remain as evocative and powerful today, as they surely must have been then.
A thousand years older than Stonehenge, Brú na Bóinne is a huge Neolithic necropolis, built to house the bodies of the social elites who ruled this region of ancient Ireland. Covering a large area, Brú na Bóinne is perhaps best known for three main sites - Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth (Dowth is closed to tourists).
The eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish gentry left plenty of reminders of the opulence they enjoyed, as the Powerscourt Estate (above) will attest. But even among the many stately homes of Ireland, Castletown House stands out as Ireland's largest and most imposing Georgian estate.
Built over a period of ten years from 1722, the house itself was to be the home of Ireland's richest man, William Conolly (1662-1729) who died three years before the house was completed. The speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Conolly was something of a rags-to-riches figure who had made his fortune from astute property trading in the flux which followed the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
This palatial mansion is built in the Italian style and retains a cohesive architectural identity despite the mixed contributions of first- and second-wave architects, not to mention Conolly's creative widow. Visitors will enjoy the Long Gallery, in particular, which houses a large number of impressive family portraits and stucco work by the Francinis.
Just over a mile south of Kildare town, The Irish National stud is perhaps the biggest tourist attraction in this part of Ireland. In her historic 2011 visit to Ireland, Queen Elizabeth II fed her passion for all things equestrian by visiting the stud which is home to some of the world's finest horses. Owned by the Irish government, the stud breeds competition-quality stallions for breeding programs the world-over.
Hourly guided tours of the stud bring you face-to-face with renowned stallions and feature a visit to the intensive-care unit for newly-born foals and visitors between February and June can even see foals being delivered.
The Japanese Gardens are perhaps not large enough to merit a special visit in their own right, but they are very pretty and, when in bloom, add a very pleasant side note to the main attraction, the stud itself.
Go off the beaten track in East Ireland and discover some of the region's hidden treasures.
Fought in 1690 between two rival claimants of the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones, catholic King James II and protestant King William III of Orange, the Battle of The Boyne would shore up the growing strength of protestantism in Ireland, precipitating James's swift departure for safety in France.
The battle itself was fought on a stretch of land between the counties of Meath and Louth which now belongs to the Oldbridge Estate Farm. On site, there is a visitor centre with a short show, original and replica weapons, and a battlefield model. There is also a tea pavilion to which the battle-weary can retreat for hot drinks and cakes.
For information about great driving routes in this area, look up www.boynevalleyroute.com - a really useful resource for those considering a self-drive tour of East Ireland.
Accessible by car, this is also one for the thousands hill walkers who visit Ireland each year. Sally Gap offers visitors some of the most beautiful scenery you will find anywhere on your tour of Ireland, so don't forget to bring your camera along with you. Sally Gap is one of two west-east passes across the Wicklow Mountains, and affords fantastic views of Lough Tay and Lough Dan.
The many small towns along Ireland's east coast are a dream for anyone wanting to uncover the real face of Ireland, known and loved by the locals.
As just one example, while perhaps less well known for its own tourist attractions, Kildare Town remains a great little stop-off for those who wanting to experience the bustle of East-Ireland life.
Similarly, Trim in County Meath is a quaint town sitting the shadow of its dramatic castle and ruins. You'll find a busy bustle of little streets so look out for your souvenirs here. Also look out for St Brigid's Cathedral before heading over to the Irish National Stud. Another town of note, 30 miles north of Dublin, Drogheda straddles the River Boyne. There is a great museum here and plenty of beautiful old buildings.
The Jealous Wall is a 'sham-ruin' or folly, a building designed with no other reason apart from decoration, constructed in Belvedere House and Gardens, County Westmeath. It is one of three Gothic follies found on the gardens, along with the Gothic Arch & the Octagonal Gazebo.
It is said to have been built by Robert Rochfort as a way to block the view of his brother George's house. George, apparently, had a nicer looking house.
Revealing the location of this small beach could land us in some hot water with the locals. Silver Strand Beach, about a 10-minute drive from Wicklow Town, remains relatively unknown compared to the beaches closer to Dublin: Howth and Portmarnock. The difference between those two beaches and Silver Strand is that Silver Strand is never over crowded and has silky smooth sand instead of course fine stones disguised as sand.
The cliffs surrounding the beach keep the wind to a minimum and the blue water, combined with the silky sand, could trick you into thinking that you are on a beach in the Mediterranean... weather permitting of course.
Lough Dan is a picturesque, boomerang shaped, lake in County Wicklow. It remains relatively unknown by tourists but is hugely popular with locals for kayaking and hiking. Lough Dan has an average depth of 44ft.
Luas, meaning 'speed' in Irish is a tram/light rail system running through Dublin City. There are 2 main lines, Red & Green. The Red Line runs in an east-west direction. The Green Line runs in a north-south direction.
The Dublin Area Rapid Transit system, known as 'the Dart' is a railway network serving Dublin city centre and the Dublin coastline.
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