County Meath is known as the Royal County of Ireland.
It gets its name because the Hill of Tara in the center of County Meath, which is the location where the High Kings of Ireland were crowned.
Located in County Leinster, Meath was once the fifth province of Ireland. Known in the Irish language as Míde (pronounced mee-ja), this territory was located in what is now counties Meath, Westmeath, Cavan and Longford.
Locating County Meath on a Map:
County Meath is on Ireland’s eastern coast and stretches inland with extensive low-lying topography and rich pastures, along the valleys of the Boyne and Blackwater rivers.
Drumlin hills rise in the northern part of the county. Raised bog and peatlands are evident in the southwest. Vistas from its ancient hills and mythological sites show the fertile plains and green fields of Ireland’s eastern province. County Meath is a very historically significant Irish county.
County Crest and Flags:
The county colors for County Meath are green and yellow, and these are the colors sported by Gaelic Athletic Association players representing their county.
The county crest boasts a shield of green edged with gold, with blue representing the River Boyne. An antique Irish crown symbolizes the Royal county and ‘Tara of the Kings.’
Newgrange and Ireland’s ancient civilizations are represented by a concentric Celtic motif, and the Celtic Cross recalls the rich Christian heritiage of the county, with many old monasteries located within its boundaries. Saint Patrick brought Christianity to Tara when he lit the Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane.
A salmon features at the bottom of the crest referring to the “Salmon of Knowledge,” a magical fish caught in the River Boyne. Legend tells us that whomever first tasted this fish would be blessed with great wisdom. Fionn MacCumhaill, the mythical leader of the ancient Irish warriors known as the Fianna, was only a boy when his master caught the divine fish.
Fionn was ordered to cook the salmon for his master, but not to taste it. However, Fionn burned his thumb while cooking the fish and immediately eased his pain by putting his thumb in his mouth. Lo and behold, Fionn was granted the great gift of wisdom from the salmon.
Ancient Heritage Sites:
The Boyne Valley in County Meath is a treasure trove of ancient megalithic monuments and ancient heritage sites. It boasts the largest concentration of megalithic carved stones in Western Europe.
It’s home to one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites on the island of Ireland, with the ancient monument of Newgrange being 500 years older than the pyramids.
So let’s start our tour of County Meath with a look at its many heritage sites and ancient wonders.
Brú na Bóinne and the River Boyne:
Brú na Bóinne (pronounced brew nah bow-inn-ya) means the Bend of the Boyne, and is often called the Boyne Valley.
Humans have settled the banks of this magnificent river for at least 6,000 years. Our ancestors marked the landscape around the Boyne River by building incredible tombs, that have stood longer than the pyramids.
Upon visiting the Boyne Valley, visitors sense the spiritual importance of this special place, which held great significance to early settlers of Ireland.
Brú na Bóinne is a World Heritage Site, famous for the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.
These ancient burial mounds are among the most important Neolithic sites in the world.
Here, in this area around a bend in the River Boyne, remains the largest collection of megalithic art in western Europe.
A visit to this heritage site starts at a newly restored visitor center, where wonderful exhibits help illuminate the history of these extraordinary places, and guided tours are also offered.
Newgrange is the most famous of Ireland’s ancient passage tombs, and is the jewel in the crown of Ireland’s Ancient East tourist trail.
Constructed about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Consisting of a large circular earthen and stone mound, the interior reveals a stone passageway and interior chambers. The mound is surrounded by large kerbstones, many of which are decorated with megalithic art and engraved spiral patterns.
This is a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance that is now recognized as an Ancient Temple. The passageway leads to an inner chamber with a corbelled roof. A light box or window was built above the entrance to the passage tomb, and aligned with the sun on the morning of the winter solstice. When cloud and rain do not obstruct the sun’s rays, the inner chamber of the tomb is illuminated by the light of the rising sun.
Newgrange’s designers and builders were farmers, with the ability to design a mathematically complex building alignment, organize a skilled workforce, and build an incredible monument that has stood for millennia.
Knowth (pronounced with a silent k) is a sister site to Newgrange and part of this ancient complex which was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Great Mound at Knowth is over 5,000 years old, but was probably built after construction of Newgrange was completed, and just before a third site known as Dowth was erected.
Knowth consists of a great burial mound which is similar in size to Newgrange, but there are also smaller satellite mounds surrounding it.
Two passages with entrances on opposite sides of the great mound give access to a central chamber, which can be visited by those who take a guided tour of the site. Kerbstones with ancient examples of Ogham writing and spiral Celtic designs also line the perimeter of this mound.
Visitors can also climb to the top of the mound to take in the views of the surrounding countryside and landscape.
Dowth is less developed as a tourist attraction than the other sites of Brú na Bóinne.
The chamber underneath the mound is at a much lower level than at Knowth and Newgrange. The decorative stones are also less visible.
Unfortunately Dowth was excavated by the Royal Irish Academy in 1847 and they crated a large crater when they dynamited the roof.
These unskilled archeologists were not the first to damage this ancient site. Vikings are said to have pillaged this ancient tomb.
Just like its sister site at Newgrange, the passageway in the mound at Dowth is aligned to the winter sun. During the months of November to February the rays of the evening sun illuminate the inner passage, but on the day of the winter solstice the sun’s light reaches all the way into the inner circular chamber, where it lights up three stones.
The astronomical genius of the early Irish settlers, who built these burial chambers, is simply amazing.
Four Knocks Tomb:
Fourknocks is another ancient tomb found in the Boyne Valley between Ardcath in County Meath and the Naul in County Dublin.
This Passage Chamber Tomb was built about 5000 years ago.
The name Fourknocks is derived from the Irish language. Fuair (pronounced foo-ur) means cold and cnoc (pronounced kin-uck) means hill.
The main tomb in this complex is pictured above. It has been excavated and is open to the public.
This burial chamber was excavated in 1952 and fragments of 65 burials were found in the tomb. Decorated pottery, vessels, pendants and beads were also found. They are on display at the National Museum of Ireland.
Hill of Tara:
The Hill of Tara was the traditional inauguration site of the High Kings of Ireland in olden times.
Located on a low-lying ridge, local lore claims that on a fine day a quarter of Ireland’s landscape can be seen from the top of this historic hill.
Tara is one of the most popular Irish American girls’ names, and the inspiration for this name comes from this site, where the ancient kings of Ireland ruled.
In fact, the word Tara is derived from the Irish language term, Teamhair na Rí (pronounced chow-ur nah ree). This translates as ‘sanctuary of the Kings.’
A stone pillar stands atop the hill and is known as the Lia Fáil (pronounced lee-ah faw-il). This is the legendary inauguration stone of the Irish kings. Legend has it that when the rightful king of Ireland stood beside the stone, the very rock would exclaim in a resounding roar of joy.
Today few of the original monuments and artifacts from pre-Christian times survive at this site, but the mounds and shape of the rath or circular fort can still be appreciated.
Hill of Slane:
The Hill of Slane is visible from the Hill of Tara, and legend has it that Saint Patrick lit an Easter fire here in defiance of an order by the High King of Ireland, that no fires were to be lit to celebrate this Christian holiday.
Today, a tall tower stands atop this legendary hill, among the ruins of a Franciscan Monastery. These buildings date back to 1512. A monastery has stood here since the time of Saint Patrick, when one of his followers, St. Erc, built a holy enclave here.
A college building for monks stands beside the church ruins and this was supported by the Fleming family whose coat of arms can be seen on one of the stone walls.
This Franciscan Monastery was only in existence thirty years when it was dissolved by the infamous King Henry VIII. All of its land and wealth were confiscated. However, the Fleming family restored the monastery in 1631 Only twenty years later the unfortunate Capuchin monks living there were driven out by another infamous English invader, Oliver Cromwell.
The Loughcrew Cairns are a group of Neolithic passage tombs located near Oldcastle. Locally they’re known as the Hills of the Witch. A number of tombs are found on four adjacent peaks. These ancient tombs date back to around 3000 BC.
The largest of the tombs in this complex is referred to as Cairn T. It’s mound hides a cruciform chamber inside with a corbelled roof. The walls are illustrated with amazing examples of Irish Neolithic art. Many ancient Irish tombs are aligned to the sun at a solstice or equinox. Cairn T is no exception, being aligned with the sunrise at the spring and autumn equinoxes.
Our Stone Age ancestors greeted the sun on this very site thousands of years ago. Tourists are welcome to take guided tours of this incredible site, with expert tour guides sharing the history and mythology of these treasured monuments.
The Tailteann Games:
In ancient times the Irish held their very own version of the Olympic games. It was known as the Great Aonach (pronounced aah-nock) and it took place at Tailteann in County Meath, which is now Teltown. This culturally significant town is located half way between Kells and Navan, but little signs of its great history remain.
Every three years a great athletic festival was held at this site for over 3,000 years. Mythical Celtic warriors displayed their athletic prowess, and tested their agility with feats of daring, including wrestling, boxing, chariot racing, and swimming horses through the river at dawn.
The Tailteann Games were revived in the 1920’s by the new Irish Free State, but only held on three occasions. This great Irish cultural event may be lost to the annals of history.
Ireland is often known as the “land of saints and scholars” and evidence of this rich monastic tradition is clearly evident in County Meath. The remains of many Christian monasteries remain dotted throughout the landscape.
Bective Abbey was one of Ireland’s important monastic settlements from centuries past.
It was founded in 1147 for the Cistercian Order by the King of Meath, Murchad O’Maeil- Sheachlainn (pronounced Mur-kid Oh-Mu-wale-shock-lin). A sister abbey, Mellifont is located nearby in County Louth, and it too stands in ruins today.
The remains of the Abbey date mainly from a period between the 13th and 15th centuries. These ruins give us a glimpse into monastic life in Ireland long ago. A relatively well preserved church, chapter house and cloister with gothic arches still stand on the site.
As with most of Ireland’s monasteries Bective was suppressed following the dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII in 1543. The surrounding farm land was rented out and the monastery was used as a fortified house. It was purchased by Andrew Wyse in 1552.
These medieval ruins have caught the attention of Hollywood producers and they have featured in the 1995 blockbuster, Braveheart. Recently in 2020 they provided a backdrop to a new Ridley Scott movie, The Last Duel starring Matt Damon and Ben Afleck.
Kells Round Tower and Celtic High Cross:
St. Columba’s Church of Ireland is found in the town of Kells in the historic Boyne Valley.
The cemetery contains a round tower, several high crosses and an ancient oratory said to be the house of St. Columcille.
Standing at over 80 feet high, this ancient stone tower was built on the site of a monastery that was first started way back in the 9th century, by the monks of St Colmcille who came from Iona in Scotland.
The famous Book of Kells was completed at this monastery.
Unfortunately the roof cap on this tower is missing. This round tower is believed to date back to the 11th century.
The doorway entrance to the tower was nearly 12 feet from ground level.
The very top level of this bell tower has five windows, which is unusual in an Irish round tower. The local folklore claims each window was built to face the five roads which led into Kells in years gone by.
There are a total of four ancient High Crosses to be found in Kells. The one pictured above is known as the Broken Cross.
Priory of Saint John the Baptist:
The ruins of this old medieval priory stand near a bridge over the River Boyne near the town of Trim, County Meath.
It was founded by a group of friars known as the ‘Crutched Friars’ because they carried wooden staffs that were topped by a cross. This priory dates back to 1202. These Friars belonged to the Augustinian Order.
The friars ran hospitals to care for the sick. At this site on the banks of the River Boyne, there are remains of a church, a long two story building, and a wall with a turret.
This priory was dissolved in 1540 under the rule of Henry VIII of England, and the buildings were transformed into a private residence.
St. Mary’s Abbey:
All that remains of St Mary’s Abbey is a tall section of the east wall known as the Yellow Steeple.
It’s located just across the River Boyne from Trim Castle. The views of the castle are spectacular from this site.
This was formerly a house of Augustinian canons that was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, hence its name. The abbey was built on land given to St. Patrick, who is said to have founded the abbey.
Before the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, this abbey was an important pilgrimage site, and was famous because of the reported healing powers of its statue of the Virgin Mary.
When the setting sun hits this old yellow steeple, it lights up beautifully.
Hill of Skryne:
A 15th century church ruin stands on top of the Hill of Skryne. With medieval pointed arches this old church has close connections with St. Colmcille, who is sometimes referred to as St. Columba.
He founded the Monastery at Kells, famous for the Book of Kells.
The name Skryne comes from the Irish word scrín (pronounced skreen) and which means shrine.
In years gone by this old church was home to some of Saint Colmcille’s relics, and that is how the hill, the church and a local village came to be named.
Castles And Historical Sites:
County Meath was a Norman stronghold in Ireland, hence the countryside is dotted with many stone keeps, ancient monasteries, and historical sites.
The town of Trim is a heritage town, boasting many historical medieval buildings, the most impressive of which is Trim Castle.
This castle is the largest Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland. It was built by a Norman lord, Hugh de Lacy and his successors. The castle took 30 years to build.
The central keep is three stories high. This massive tower is in a cruciform shape, and was truly well defended in it’s day with turrets, battlements, a protective curtain wall, a ditch, and a water-filled moat.
Hugh de Lacy married the daughter of an Irish high king, infuriating King Henry II of England, who did not trust the Irish lord’s loyalty. He feared Hugh de Lacy wished to establish himself as an independent King of Ireland. Before Henry could deal with the matter, Hugh met an unfortunate end at the end of an Irishman’s axe.
However, royal concerns over the de Lacy family continued and Richard’s brother John was dispatched to Ireland to confront the de Lacy family. Hugh’s son Walter, did not welcome the future king, who had to stay in a tent on the opposite side of the River Boyne to the castle.
King John succeeded in subduing other rebelling Norman lords, but he never breached the walls of Trim Castle. The castle is sometimes called King John’s Castle and locals say this name was intended to mock the King who failed to take it when he visited Ireland.
This castle was also used as a location for filming the Mel Gibson film, Braveheart.
I highly recommend taking the castle tour, where guides share many stories and wonderful historical facts about this amazing castle.
Modern walkways allow visitors amble around the castle and along the banks of the River Boyne. There are many wonderful spots to photograph this amazing castle.
Situated in the Boyne Valley overlooking the River Boyne this impressive castle has been home to the Conyngham family for centuries.
The Hill of Slane overlooks the Castle, where St. Patrick lit his paschal fire.
The Castle is an architectural masterpiece and is one of Ireland’s premier outdoor concert venues.
The Castle is also a magnificent setting for weddings.
Killeen Castle dates back over eight hundred years to 1181.
Built by Hugh de Lacy , who also built Trim Castle, it was part of his defensive strategy for north Leinster.
Seat of the Plunkett family, the Earls of Fingall, from 1403 until the 1950’s, it became dilapidated by the late 18th century. It was renovated in the 18th century into the magnificent structure that still stands today.
The 12th and last Earl of Fingall sold the Castle in 1951 and it became a stud farm.
In 1981, Killeen Castle was burned, and was in ruins until 1997, when it was purchased and transformed into a magnificent estate and golf course.
Dunsany Castle dates back to the 12th century and is an example of an Anglo Norman castle.
One of Ireland’s oldest homes, it has been occupied continuously since it was first built in 1180. It’s another castle first built by Hugh de Lacy, and testament to his wealth and political power back in medieval Ireland.
The Cusack and Plunkett families have lived here since the castle’s first foundation.
Lands around the castle are referred to as a demesne. There is a working walled garden and a walled farm complex to be seen. This castle is usually open for tours during the summer months.
Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre:
The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre is located in Oldbridge in County Meath. It is located on the site where this famous battle between King William III and his father-in-law King James II took place in the year 1690.
This was a battle that changed the face of Irish and British history. At this informative visitor center with excellent historical displays, the tale of the Battle of the Boyne can be explored.
Reneactments of old style war fare and musket shooting are coordinated with actors in period costumes.
An 18th century home known as Oldbridge House has been restored and is home to a museum of artefacts from the period.
The gardens around the center are well worth a stroll with beautiful flower gardens and trees adding to the setting.
Francis Ledwidge Museum:
Irish poet, Francis Ledwidge is often called the Poet of the Blackbird.
He served as a soldier in the British Army fighting in World War 1 and was killed at the third battle of Ypres in 1917.
A museum has been dedicated to his life and works in his birthplace, the village of Slane.
His first volume of fifty poems, Songs of the Morning was published while he was fighting in World War I. Two more volumes were published after his death. In 1919, Baron Dunsany published his Complete Poems.
Here is a beautiful example of his lyrical poetry, called “A Little Boy In The Morning.”
“He will not come, and still I wait.
He whistles at another gate
Where angels listen. Ah I know
He will not come, yet if I go
How shall I know he did not pass
barefooted in the flowery grass?
The moon leans on one silver horn
Above the silhouettes of morn,
And from their nest-sills finches whistle
Or stooping pluck the downy thistle.
How is the morn so gay and fair
Without his whistling in its air?
The world is calling, I must go.
How shall I know he did not pass
Barefooted in the shining grass?”
In 1998, the “In Flanders Fields Museum” in Belgium, unveiled a memorial on the exact spot where the poet was killed on 31st July, 1917.
County Meath is located next to Ireland’s capital city with a population of over 1 million people. Adventure parks and discovery centers are within easy reach for weekend trips and outings.
Tayto Park is home to Ireland’s only wooden roller coaster, which is named after the Irish mythical warrior, Cú Chulainn.
This theme park, named after Ireland’s favorite crisps (or potato chips), offers a wide variety of things to see and do.
Tayto Park has a zoo with buffalo and other exotic creatures.
The petting farm is a big hit with little ones.
Causey Farm is a working cattle farm, that also offers tours and team building activities for visitors.
Many Irish children, especially from the cities visit Causey Farm to learn about rural Ireland.
It’s a way for children to meet the animals and learn about traditional Irish farming.
Horse Racing on the Beach:
County Meath is home to the only official strand or beach horse races in Europe,
The Laytown Races first began in 1868, when races were run on the beach in conjunction with the Boyne Regatta.
Horse races at the Hill of Crockafotha, in Bellewstown have taken place for over 2000 years.
Excavations at Newgrange revealed that horses have been in Ireland and County Meath since the Early Bronze Age, over 5000 years ago.
County Meath is home to vibrant towns, supporting its rural farming communities.
Navan is the county town, and is located where the Boyne and Blackwater Rivers meet. It was originally a walled and fortified town founded by Hugh de Lacy of Trim Castle. It was a defensive outpost around the Pale, the part of Ireland most settled by the English, that circled Dublin.
Kells is famous for its ancient monastery and the Book of Kells. The town contains many early Christian artefacts.
It is home to the Spire of Lloyd, described as an inland lighthouse.
Trim is another main town in County Meath, that is dominated by the medieval castle of Hugh de Lacy and many monastic ruins.
And so we have come to the end of our photographic tour of County Meath, the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland.
It boasts many mythical and sacred sites, associated with Bronze Age Man, the Celts, Saint Patrick and Saint Colmcille. I hope you get to visit the ancient sites of County Meath someday, and enjoy its ancient history.
Happy armchair travels around Ireland
If you would like to check out other stops in our alphabetical tour of Ireland county-by-county, here you’ll find all of the stops along our way so far.
Our previous stop on our journey was in County Mayo.
And next up we’ll head west to County Monaghan.
Thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and Blessings)
Irish American Mom
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