Dublin is a fine place to visit and explore. On any trip to Ireland, though, you owe it to yourself to see a bit of the rest of the island. Day trips from Dublin may be just the right way to do this. You’ll see many suggestions for this on flyers, websites, and posters, and you may want to take them in.
Come along and learn a bit about three less explored locations — a castle and its surrounds, a site where people built in ancient times, and a town filled with vibrant history and interesting shops too — that will take you deeper into the heart and story of Ireland.
Trim is the place with the castle, and quite a castle it is, too.
The structure, built in years spanning the end of the 1100s and the beginning of the 1200s, was meant to be forbidding: it sat at the edge of the Pale, the region around Dublin controlled by Anglo Normans. Beyond the Pale (you’ve heard that expression? this is where it comes from) was the wild area controlled by Celtic chieftains. Trim and its castle were borderlands.
That’s one reason Trim Castle, or King John’s Castle as it is also known, was the largest Anglo Norman castle built. It also used a rare many sided design, which proved out to be a bit impractical to defend. Over the years, too, the castle has taken a number of hits — not least from Cromwellian forces — but it is still imposing and well worth a visit. The keep is only by guided tour, though you may walk the grounds on your own. It might look familiar, too — the castle has appeared in several films, the best known to date being Braveheart.
Elsewhere in Trim, the whole of which has been designated a heritage town, you may want to stop in at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral ( Saint Patrick is said to have had a hand in the founding of Trim and also of Newry, which you’ll learn more of in a bit) which among other things has a stained glass window showing Saint Patrick preaching on the hill of Tara. The ruins of twelfth century Saint Mary’s Abbey are just across the river. In the fifteenth century part of it was made into a dwelling by the Talbot family and is known as Talbot castle. You can see a steeple remaining from the abbey and find the Talbot coat of arms on the north wall of the castle. Trim is about an hour northwest of Dublin.
Further to the west and slightly further north, you will find Loughcrew cairns.
This is a place were people built graves and cairns and created art work from time before the pyramids were built three millennia ago up until around 750 BCE, still quite a long way back in time. In summer you can take a tour with a guide from Heritage Ireland. In winter months the cairn is locked but you can get a gate key from the cafe nearby in Loughcrew Gardens or from the Loughcrew Megalithic Centre.
Keep a lookout for outlying stones as you make your way to the entrance to Cairn T, as there are several carved with ring and cup and other prehistoric artwork.
You may have seen or heard that the cairns and passage tombs at Newgrange are designed to allow the sun’s light at the winter solstice. At Loughcrew, the light is meant come in and create patterns shaped by stones at the spring and autumn equinoxes. With the exceptions of these times of year and sometimes even then, you will find Loughcrew to be uncrowded. Stand and look over the landscape, where among other things you’ll see the ruins of other cairns. Take a moment to think of those people so long ago who stood in this same landscape. Some of them stood here during a solar eclipse more than five thousand years ago, archaeology tells us. Their memory of that is one of the things they carved into the stones.
Newry is a border town, lying along borders in both ancient and modern times. Sitting at the head of Carlingford Lough between the mountains of the Cooley Peninsula and those of Slieve Gullion, and facing the Mournes to its southeast, Newry has been a crossroads of trade and travel across time. These days, it sits just across the border from the Republic. Newry is in Northern Ireland.
That means, among other things, that Newry has seen its share of the Troubles. In fact, one thing that’s really good to do while you are in Newry is visit the Museum of Newry and Mourne. It is an excellent museum which will give you an understanding of the area through all its exhibits. Be sure to make your way up to the third floor and spend time with areas about emigration, about the Troubles, and especially the section on what makes a border. Newry has been a border town for a long time.
It’s also a vibrant present day town. The high street, which is called Hill Street, is filled with shops of all sorts from the elegant to the down home sort, along with bakers, grocers, a shop across from the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Colman selling religious goods, banks in historic buildings, and many sorts of cafes and pubs.
On the side streets you will find more of these, as well as high fashion shops and coffeehouses, and charity stores. If you can schedule your visit for a time when the open air Newry market is going on, you’ll be well rewarded not only with goods but with a look at everyday Ireland, where people sell all sorts of things including home baked cakes, 1970s vintage music, baby clothes, vegetables, firewood, and home baked goods including tarts, cookies, and brown bread.
Not far from Hill Street are two of the regions largest shopping malls, too. There are branches of Waterstone’s and Eason’s in these, both with varied selections of books on Irish history, politics, and present day.
Newry is about an hour straight north of Dublin, or you can take a bit more time and make part or most of the journey along the coast road.
In crossing the border, you’ll want sterling in your pocket rather than euros, although many stores in Newry do accept both, and there are plenty of cash points. The post office in the back of the SuperValu market on Hill Street will change your euros or dollars to sterling as well. The SuperValu has lots of made on premises food, so it is a good place to pick up a take away meal or just check out what a Northern Irish grocer is like, too.
At this writing in mid autumn of 2016, there are no formalities required to cross the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. As Brexit — that is, the UK’s leaving of the European Union — evolves, that may change.
Music for your journey could include Arising from the Troubles from Tommy Sands. Sands, an internationally respected songwriter, is from Rostrevor, near Newry. Carolan’s Cup, from Joemy Wilson, is also a fine choice. Seventeenth century composer Turlough O’Carolan was born in County Meath near Trim and Loughcrew. He composed on the harp, and Wilson has put his music over on to the hammer dulcimer to great effect.
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