Think of the Boyne Valley and heritage hits spring to mind: Newgrange, Monasterboice, Tara. Within minutes of arriving in Drogheda, however, I’ve got a cup of locally roasted Ariosa coffee and a couple of fresh crab claws in my hands.
“Do they need anything on them?” I ask the fishmonger at Kirwan’s. “Nope,” he says. And he’s right. I wolf down the sweet, soft, briny crabmeat on the spot.
Ireland’s biggest town is full of surprises. After my impromptu breakfast, a walking tour with Joan Duff of the Old Drogheda Society takes me from the grisly, Game of Thrones-worthy sight of Oliver Plunkett’s head in St Peter’s Church to stonking views from Millmount Museum and Tower.
The more we look, the more there is to see.
The short walk around Clogherhead will put salt on your lips in jig time. As the only high, rocky headland between Dublin and the Mourne Mountains, the views are special too — ranging on my visit from Skerries to the Cooley Peninsula.
Fun fact: the kerbstones around Newgrange were quarried here, and you can replace any lost calories with a warm bowl of chowder from the little stove bubbling away in Fisherman’s Catch (see gallery), a fish shop above Port Oriel. Think of it as an alternative elevenses…
Lunch (or dinner) doesn’t get more local than The Glyde Inn and its restaurant, Linn Duachaill. From whirls of Terry Butterly’s smoked salmon to a ‘Viking Burger’ plump with Hanratty’s beef, or a juicy fillet of hake embellished with jewel-like heritage potatoes from Ballymakenny Farm (pictured), it’s a lesson in place on a plate.
The inn dates from 1770, but its Pub of the Year prize at this year’s Irish Pub Awards shows how Paul and Anne O’Neill and their son Conor (above) have taken things to a whole new level. When they bought the place in the 1990s, soup and sambos were served. Now, a 100-seater restaurant overlooks the strand at Annagassan… but, crucially, it hasn’t lost that authentic, family-run feel.
How: 042 937 2350; theglydeinn.ie
Slane Castle has recovered in style since the unforgettable fire of 1991. Rock up today, and you’ll find a new bar and restaurant decked in concert memorabilia (Metallica play in 2019), the burgeoning Rock Farm, and Alex and Carina Mount Charles’ spanking new whiskey distillery in the old stables.
A short tour takes you through the distilling process, with stops to take in the pretty copper pot stills and a “tutored tasting”. Whether or not you take the tour, don’t miss the snug little Tack Room and its fireplace.
How: slanecastle.ie; slaneirishwhiskey.com; combined castle and distillery tours from €27pp.
“There’s a mini revolution going on here,” Olivia Duff tells me over dinner at the Vanilla Pod Restaurant in Kells. Her family owns it and the Headfort Arms Hotel next door and, like a growing number of businesses in the area, they’re passionate about putting local food on their menus. From “secret recipe” chicken wings with a Boyne Valley blue cheese dip to lamb rack crusted with Tom Doherty’s black pudding, it tastes good too.
How: headfortarms.ie; two nights’ B&B + dinner from €199
The Boyne Valley’s larder is bulging. I came home with huge bulbs of smoked Drummond House garlic, a tub of Oriel Sea Salt, stone-ground wholemeal flour from Martry Mill (above)… and that’s not even starting on the area’s blue cheese. Boyne Valley Flavours will soon publish a Food Series of events for next year — visit boynevalleyflavours.ie to find out more.
Did you know there’s a gin school in the Boyne Valley? Sign up at Listoke Distillery (listokedistillery.ie; €95pp). The class begins with a G&T (what else?) and proceeds through a guide to botanicals before you design and distil a 700ml bottle to take home. Elsewhere, BRÚ, Dan Kelly’s, Cooneys, Boyne Brewhouse and Slane Distillery are all revitalising a rich tradition of craft drinks.
You’ve heard of the High Crosses and Round Tower at Kells. But what about the Spire of Lloyd (pictured, top of page)? The “inland lighthouse” is a folly dating from 1791, when it was built as a local famine relief work by the Headfort family. Views from the top, reached via a 164-step spiral staircase, stretch over several counties. It opens on bank holidays from 12-4pm. kahs.ie; visitingkells.ie.
Newgrange and Knowth are the rock stars of passage tombs but Loughcrew (above) is less crowded, and arguably more rewarding. You’ll find its cairns spread over the hills 3km east of Oldcastle, Co Meath.
Pól was a guest of Boyne Valley Flavours. The Boyne Valley is about an hour’s drive from Dublin in decent traffic. You can do it as a daytrip, but a layover of at least one night is recommended.
See boynevalleyflavours.ie and irelandsancienteast.com for more.
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