A whistle-stop tour of Ireland’s Ancient South East
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A few days spent touring Ireland’s South East coastline with its
fantastic beaches and medieval heritage was not nearly long enough to explore
everything on offer – next time!
With an invitation to an Irish wedding at the wonderful Kilruddery
House, just south of Dublin, we took the opportunity to extend the trip to
explore Ireland’s fabulous South East. Famous for its miles of wild, unspoilt,
beaches and its medieval history and buildings we packed a lot in and loved our
Driving from Dublin Airport on the M50 ring road was easy taking the
N/M11 down to Wexford where we stopped for a quick lunch before moving onto
Waterford, home of the famous crystal. Its also claimed the origin of the old
saying, “By Hook or by Crook” – derived from a vow by Oliver Cromwell to take
Waterford by Hook (on the Wexford side of the estuary) or by Crook (a village
on the Waterford side) hails from and we did drive up the Hook and down the
Crook as part of our trip. We also saw Hook Lighthouse, the oldest functioning
lighthouse in the world.
Our first overnight stop was Youghal at the head of the Blackford River
in East Cork, a town with Viking roots and full of medieval treasures. Around
1250 the medieval walls, which still remain in parts, were built to protect the
town and today remain the most complete town walls in the Irish republic. Over the years notable
characters such as Walter Raleigh, Oliver Cromwell, John Wesley, to name but a
few, visited and lived in the town. For his services to the Crown, Raleigh was
given more than 42,000 acres as well as properties in Youghal and Lismore by
Elizabeth I and during the 17-year period he held land in Ireland he lived for
short periods in Youghal, even being elected Mayor in 1588 and 1589. His
Elizabethan gabled house, Myrtle Grove, is a rare example in Ireland of a 16th
century unfortified house and is situated close to the Collegiate Church of St.
Mary, which as well as having the oldest surviving roof of any church in
Ireland is also the oldest church still in operation. Even more unusually it
has the best collection of acoustic jars inserted into the wall of the choir
for early amplification. In this area, known as the Raleigh Quarter, there are
also some wonderful Georgian houses and gardens.
Youghal High Streets is not quite as
bustling as perhaps it used to be, though. still has some interesting shops with
a choice of cafes and eateries. We ate at Aherne’s, who have a well-deserved
reputation for seafood, run by three generations of the Fitzgibbon family. Unpretentious,
friendly and with a congenial atmosphere the food was excellent. They also served
the most delicious home-made brown bread I have ever eaten. The centre is quite
compact so easy to undertake the historical walking tour. Overnight we stayed
in a superior suite at the centrally located Roseville House, which offers
excellent value and I highly recommend for quality, service and outstanding
In this area there are other places of
interest, such as Midleton (the home of Jameson Whisky where you can tour the
distillery) and nearby Ardmore, the oldest monastic site in Ireland with its
impressive 12th century round tower and ruined cathedral. If you are
staying longer it would be worth taking a boat up the Blackwater river to
Lismore with its imposing castle overlooking the valley, which was highly
recommended – next time!
From Youghal we headed to Cork, Ireland’s second city
for a quick look around the centre and the delightful Victorian English market where
fresh produce and speciality foods from the area are sold. From here we drove
to Cashel and visited the Rock of Cashel, one of Ireland’s most historical
sites which was the seat of Kings from the 4th century until 1101
when it was presented to the church, who built a complex which apparently has
one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture
to be found anywhere in Europe.
Next was Kilkenny, a large medieval town with a grand
Norman castle built in 1195. With many
well-preserved churches and ecclesiastical buildings, there’s a lot to see. It’s
also a centre for high-quality local crafts with fabulous galleries and
workshops. Winding lanes full of shops and cafes. Kilkenny is a really
beautiful town, but to explore it fully we would have needed another day – next
Thirty-minutes-drive from Kilkenny in
glorious countryside is the 500acre Mount Juliet Estate, our next overnight
stay. The original manor house is now an exclusive luxury hotel with Michelin
star dining and elegant accommodation. There is also a 93 room contemporary
hotel built around the old stables, Hunter’s Yard, which is where we stayed.
With its famous golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus it also has an equestrian
centre and spa. During our stay some aspects of the service didn’t quite match
its 5-star rating - hopefully just an off day as the Juliet Estate is
definitely worth a visit.
Jerpoint Abbey, an outstanding Cisterian
abbey founded in the late 12th century with a visitor and exhibition
centre is close by to Mount Juliet. The site of the Lost Town of Newton
Jerpoint is also in the vicinity. Founded in the 12th century this
apparent vibrant town of approximately 27 houses had 14 taverns – almost one for
every two houses!
Our coffee stop was in Thomastown, a market
town with a small, picturesque, main street. Driving on minor roads we crossed stunning
countryside to the coast and our next stop, Curracloe Beach, where the opening
scenes of Saving Private Ryan were filmed. A stunning, wide, white sand
beach backed by dunes that stretched as far as the eye could see, it’s one of the
longest beaches in Europe. Wonderful for a windswept walk along the water’s
edge and one of the best beaches I have ever seen anywhere.
Our next destination was just outside the
bustling market town of Gorey for our overnight stay at the renowned Marlfield
House. With history dating back to Norman times and a wide boulevard main
street with an array of independent shops and cafes Gorey is a bustling town.
Our overnight stop was at Marlfield House a
few miles outside Gorey. Set in 36 acres of gardens and woodlands, this luxury
19 bedroomed Regency Country House Hotel was built as a family home. Bought by
the Bowes family, who lovingly restored it to its former genteel glory, they
have been welcoming guests since 1977 and collected many awards along the way. Service
and food were exceptional at this family run hotel. Highly recommended.
Other places in County Wexford we wanted to
visit but sadly ran out of time: the Kennedy Homestead, following the journey
of a famine emigrant to president; the Wicklow Mountains and Avoca; Powerscourt
House (reputedly one of the top ten Houses and Mansions worldwide according to
Lonely Planet) – next time.
The wedding in The Orangery at Kilruddery House, complete with marble statues brought back from Italy, was
wonderful. A 17th century house with large parkland gardens dating
back to 1682, Kilruddery is another Irish historical house worth exploring.
We ended our stay in Dublin, which we have previously
visited. A great city, full of lively bars and restaurants, friendly atmosphere
and a compact city centre which makes it easy to get around on foot or on a
cycle tour. Following Ireland’s well-documented financial downturn a few years
ago Dublin seems to be booming and buildings, particularly along the River
Liffey, are breathing new life into the city - wonderful to see.
Ireland’s towns and villages have an interesting
array of bars and traditional pubs, many of which haven’t changed for years and
still retain a traditional Irish welcome. I’ve never been a fan of Guinness but
it tasted completely different in Ireland – I think they must keep all the best
barrels for themselves – I absolutely loved it.
The Emerald Isle is full of clichés and the
South East was no exception: remarkably green and verdant countryside;
extremely friendly and welcoming locals; delicious produce and seafood; miles
and miles of stunning beaches; a rich history with a range of architectural
gems to explore.
Sadly, our whistle-stop tour didn’t allow us to see everything but with
appetites wetted and a new appreciation of Guinness by Hook or by Crook we will
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