The ancient landscape of Ireland's East tells the story of education, love and religion. The Rock of Dunamase was a wedding present given by Lord Strongbow to Aoife, the King of Leinster's daughter. The monastic site of Glendalough is known as one of Ireland's first schools of learning. Clonmacnoise Monastery stands as a reminder of what was once a major centre, not only in Ireland but throughout Europe, of religion, learning and trade.
Here we take a look at the most popular castles, ruins and ancient sites in Dublin and around Ireland's Eastern counties.
Trim Castle is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter built it over a 30 year period, finished in 1206.
The castle is a 30-minute drive from Dublin and parking is free on Sundays. On other days, a small charge of a few Euro applies.
Perhaps best known internationally as an outdoor rock/pop music venue, the open-air castle grounds and the main building (serving as a studio) have played host to the likes of U2, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Guns 'n' Roses, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, David Bowie, Queen and REM.
But U2's Unfortgettable Fire is not the only conflagration to have left its mark here. Following a major blaze in 1991, the iconic castle building was closed for restoration until a full decade later.
Today, guided tours of the castle are popular with visiting tourists who enjoy the famous whiskey tasting here as much as the legendary interiors and ancient ramparts.
On a sunny day, pack a picnic and enjoy a restful lunch in the outdoor seating provided on the riverbank.
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.
If you enjoy the great outdoors, be sure to leave enough time to enjoy the many walking trails which are here, as well as the settlement itself.
Perched on the banks of the River Shannon, Clonmacnoise is perhaps the foremost of Ireland's monastic cities. For those interested in early Christianity, it is a must-see destination. Enclosed within the ancient city walls are various ecclesiastical ruins including a cathedral, seven ancient churches, three high crosses, round towers and the largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe - all remarkably well preserved and fascinating to anyone, not just those with a special interest in Ireland's religious history.
Full Disclosure: it is a bit of a stretch to include Clonmacnoise in Ireland's east-coast attractions. Really, it lies in the very centre of Ireland - about 90 minutes' drive from Dublin. This makes it the perfect stopping-off point for anyone heading west.
Clonmacnoise is a popular tourist attraction and gets busy throughout the summer months. Anyone seeking to experience the spiritual gravity of this ancient site should arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds. Clonmacnoise is open for visitors from 09:30 and is usually getting busy by 11:00.
Situated close to the River Boyne. The Hill of Tara is an archaeological site located between the towns of Navan and Dunshaughlin in County Meath. , it was the seat of the High King of Ireland. The Hill of Tara was in use as far back as the Neolithic era, from then until the 12th century it was used as a sacred and political centre.
A huge open-air space, this is a great place to let the dog have a run if you have brought your four-legged friend on a self-drive tour. However, this is a national monument so don't forget to pack some doggy-doo bags!
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 ancient burial sites are understandably kept at a distance from the parking and traffic. Some walking and a short bus ride are required to reach the main attractions. Visitors are always glad they went to the effort, but you may want to allow a little extra time for the journey.
Visitors who set off in search of ramparts and turrets are likely to walk past Dublin Castle in search for something more medieval-looking. So, be warned that there won't be jousting and suits of armour. For 700 years the bastion of British rule in Ireland, the castle is really a Victorian architectural mish-mash, and wouldn't look out of place in London or Paris.
This is perhaps one of the more sedate attractions you'll find set against Dublin's bustling backdrop, and it's certainly not a day out for the kids, but the 45-minute tours are frequent and informative. A visit to the castle will appeal to anyone who has a keen interest in Irish history.
Especially for visitors following a tour guide for one quick 'lap', Dublin Castle will be more of a short visit than a full day out.
Leap Castle is privately owned by Irish musician, Sean Ryan, who has been restoring the property since he bought it in the early 1990s. Said to be haunted by a sadistic chieftain, the original 16th-century fortress is mostly ruins. But the Ryan family have filled the main house with historical artefacts from around the globe, providing a fascinating basis for the rich and informative tours which Sean is happy to offer in person.
This may be among Ireland's more eccentric castle tours but very few guests leave disappointed, having received a warm Irish welcome into what is ultimately a private family home.
Leap Castle is a private home under restoration. There is no gift shop and no cafeteria so bring anything you need.
Rock of Dunamase has a rich, many-layered history. Believed to have been first settled by Christians in the Sixth Century, it was invaded by Vikings in 842AD. The Tenth and Eleventh Centuries then saw the site lie vacant before the castle, whose ruins crown the Rock today, was built in the second half of the Twelfth Century.
If a fascinating history brings first-time visitors here, it's the amazing views that bring them back. The hilltop location presents a series of stunning panoramas which, on a clear day, are truly breathtaking.
Amateur photographers will be glad they packed their cameras in a location which is a dream for anyone with an eye for a creative shot.
This hilltop location is quite exposed so, during the cooler months of the year, be sure to pack an extra layer to keep warm.
Visitors to Loughcrew Cairns will be glad they put on their walking boots and climbed up to find these ancient neolithic burial chambers that seem to reach skyward from their hilltop location. The burial chambers date back to 3300BC and feature stone carvings as well as rock paintings.
Those looking to connect with the spirituality of this ancient site will be struck by how much quiter it is than Newgrange, its more tourist-friendly cousin. For everyone else, the quiet here is still very much a positive as you drink in the stunning views on offer here.
For a pleasant detour, be sure to stop at Loughcrew Estate and Gardens, just five minutes' drive away.