Historically, the ancient port towns of Wexford and Waterford served as entry points for countless invasions. The most deadly of these took place in 1170 under the command of Lord Strongbow. The following year, King Henry of England also landed in Waterford, setting in motion what would become 800 years of British rule in Ireland. Like the ancient settlements that predate them, many of the region's castles and fortifications count among its most popular tourist attractions today.
Here we take a look at the most popular castles, ruins and ancient sites in Ireland's south-eastern counties.
Ireland has more than its fair share of outstanding archaeological sites, but the Rock of Cashel is arguably the most impressive. The 'rock' from which it takes its name is, in fact, a limestone hill, covered in luscious green, rising from the plain which characterises the surrounding area. The word 'cashel', by contrast, is derived from the Irish Gaelic word caiseal, meaning stone fortress.
In both respects, the Rock of Cashel lives up to its title. The rock itself is vast and imposing, and one can only imagine the difficulties it would have posed for attackers throughout the ages who had designs on the stone fortress above. The masonry of the fort itself is no less spectacular and is remarkably well preserved almost a full millennium after its original construction.
The history of the site itself is long and varied. First used as a base for Welsh invaders, the Eóghanachta clan, who would become kings of this region of Ireland. The clan, and hence the rock, have been closely associated with St. Patrick (considered by many historians to be a Welshman), earning Cashel's pseudonym, St. Patrick's Rock.
Although under Eóghanachta rule, Cashel would rival Tara as Ireland's centre of power, it was wrested from their control in the Tenth Century before being presented to the Church in 1101. The site would change hands many times again in the centuries to follow, giving rise to the various buildings whose remains now occupy it.
The Rock of Cashel is just a five-minute walk from Cashel town.
Standing proud on the banks of the River Nore since 1195, Kilkenny Castle is a dominant feature on the landscape of this popular tourist town less than two hours from Dublin. The original fortifications were a wooden structure in the prevailing Normal style of that period. What visitors see today was built throughout the Nineteenth Century and has hosted royalty and nobility since that time.
There are extensive grounds which are a must on a warm summer's day. Also, there are several other points of historical interest within easy walking distance, including Talbot's Tower, Madlin Castle and Corner Tower.
Be sure to stop at the formal Rose Garden with fountains for a group photo before taking the family to the outdoor play area. Afterwards, the grown-ups can refuel with coffee and cakes in the Castle Kitchen.
Like the Rock of Cashel, Tintern Abbey owes its heritage to Wales, founded as it was by the Earl of Pembroke in the Thirteenth Century for the benefit of its Welsh monk inhabitants. Today, there remains a Welsh counterpart with the same name.
Much of the original building still stands, including the cloister walls and crossing tower, as well as the chancel and transept chapels. But visitors will enjoy the surroundings at least as much as the abbey itself, with lakes, streams, woods and ruins providing distractions for all age groups. Perhaps most alluring of all is the Colclough Walled Garden, built over 200 years ago and restored since 2010.
Break up the beautiful walks around the walled gardens with a visit to the tea rooms for coffee and waffles.
With its monumental round tower, St Canice's Cathedral rises majestically above the north of Kilkenny's city centre. Perhaps understandably so: ranking just behind St Patrick's in Dublin, it is Ireland's second-largest medieval cathedral. Gothic in style, it is characterized by its iconic round tower which affords commanding views of the surrounding area. The history of the building itself, long and varied, began - at least according to legend - in the Sixth Century with the establishment of a monastery there by St Canice, Kilkenny's patron saint.
The top of the tower is reachable only by a series of steep staircases. But the view that awaits is worth the effort and the price of admission combined.
Founded in the second half of the Twelfth century and recently partially restored, Jerpoint Abbey is one of Ireland's finest Cistercian ruins. It is located close to Thomastown in County Offaly. The main church, with its Romanesque flourishes, dates from these earliest days in the abbey's long history, but visitors will also find tombs dating from the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, the tower and the cloisters date back to the fifteenth century. Look out for figures carved into the cloister pillars, some of them are quite entertaining.
The abbey itself was built around 1180 and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Jerpoint Abbey continued to prosper until the English King, Henry VIII, called for the 'Dissolution of the Monasteries' between 1536 and 1541. The last abbot of the abbey, Oliver Grace, surrendered it to the king during this time. Since 1880, Jerpoint Abbey has been classified as a national monument and has been in the care of the Office of Public Works.
Drivers should note that the free-to-use car park entrance/exit is on a blind bend. Take care when leaving!
If you were looking for a single example of what people might expect a picture-postcard Irish castle to look like, Lismore Castle might be the one. Although the original castle dated back to 1185, what visitors see today was in fact built in the early 1800s, so its turrets and towers are in immaculate condition.
What might impress visitors rather less is the lack of access, so take note before you make a special trip: you won't be able to go inside the castle itself, the interior spaces of which are closed to the public. You will, however, be able to explore the extensive and ornate gardens which, considered the oldest in Ireland, are arguably worth the trip in themselves, especially for the more green-fingered visitor.
Photograhy enthusiasts should sure to make their way to the old watch tower at the far corner where great photo opps await.
The first stone castle in this location was built in the 1190s by Anglo-Normans whose descendents continued to reside here for 200 years. The structure which tourists and historians visit today was built in the Fifteenth Century and the history of the setting since that time is the story of Ireland itself. The castle was occupied by Cromwellian forces in 1649 and was used as a prison during the 1798 rebellion.
Against this striking historical backdrop, the castle commonly plays host to various exhibitions whose connection to the castle isn't always obvious. Some visitors love this, though some have found it confusing.
Be sure to ascend to the roof: for many visitors, the views across Enniscorthy are the highlight of their visit.
First established in 1225AD, Black Abbey was one of the first houses of the Dominican Order in Ireland and is architecturally Normal in style. Historically, "Black Friars" was the term used to describe members of the Dominican Order, and it is from this that the Abbey takes its name. Perhaps the biggest draw for tourist visitors the Abbey is the spectacular Rosary Window in the south transcept. The thirteenth century alabaster statur of the trinity is no less impressive.
There is car parking outside and admission is free. St Mary's and St Canice's Cathedrals are both within 300 yards. Kilkenny Tourist Office is less than half a mile away.
Adare is a small town in Co. Limerick, known for its quaint and colourful thatched cottages. Adare is considered to be one of Ireland's most beautiful towns so stop and take in the view. Don't forget your camera today - the perfect chance to capture the essence of old Ireland.
Explore Adare Village along the Wild Atlantic Way
Take a journey through this once troubled city. See the murals of the Loyalist Shankill Road & Nationalist Falls Road. The Troubles took their toll on the economic life of Belfast, but the past ten years of peace have returned much prosperity while the genuine friendliness of the city never left.
Originally built in 1823, Blarney Woollen Mills was mainly used for the spinning and weaving of wool. After it closed in 1973, it reopened in 1975 — as an Irish heritage shop.
The Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre commemorates the last pitched battle fought on British soil, in April 1746. Learn more about the Jacobite intent to overthrow the House of Hanover and return the House of Stuart to the British throne.
Located within Glenveagh National Park, Glenveagh Castle was built by Captain John George Adair between 1870 and 1873. Having made his fortune through land speculation in America, Adair return to Ireland and began large amounts of land in County Donegal. The castle was built in the Scottish Baronial style and is surrounded by a garden and commands stunning views of the nearby mountains, lakes, woodlands and valleys.
About Highland Folk Museum is a museum and open-air attraction located in the Scottish Highlands. It is designed to showcase the domestic and working lives of the early highland people.
Located alongside the River Shannon in County Limerick, on King's Island. Dating back to 922, to a time when Vikings were the inhabitants of the island (Thormodr Helgason, the Viking sea-king, built the first settlement here. The castle itself was built in 1200, under the instruction of King John of England.
Located close to the Killarney National Park, Moriarty's is an Authentic Irish Gift Store and Restaurant. Hand crafted Irish jewellery, Waterford Crystal and classic and modern tweed fashions and furnishings are all on offer at the gift store. The restaurant is an 85 seater offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Mount Congreve Gardens. Located in Kilmeaden, County Waterford, Mount Congreve Gardens is an 18th century Georgian estate and mansion. It was designed by the same architect that created both of Waterford's cathedrals, John Roberts.
Recently recognised as being one of the top 10 gardens in the world, Mount Stewart is a rich tapestry of planting plant life and stunning walking trails. The house dates back to the 19th century, and was the Irish seat of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family.
Located on the grounds of the expansive and idylic Killarney National Park. Muckross House, and its 11,000-acre grounds, was donated to the Irish state in 1932.
Located on the grounds of the picturesque Muckross House and its impeccable gardens. Take a step back in time and see the Irish farming lifestyle of the 1930s and '40s. A time when the horse was responsible for much of the labour and the weather was the be all and end all in terms of production.
The Quiet Man Museum. A reproduction of the quaint thatched cottage from the John Wayne starring, John Ford directed movie of the same name. all costumes, artifacts and furnishings have been recreated in precise detail, to reflect the setting of the 1952 classic. Located in the picturesque village of Cong, County Mayo.