Visiting County Louth? This part of the Irish Province of Leinster has a number of attractions you will not want to miss. Plus some interesting sights that are slightly off the beaten path. So, why not take your time and spend a day or two in Louth, which is quaintly known as the "Wee County", when visiting Ireland?
Louth may be "wee" (which is "small" - the county is the smallest in Ireland), but it packs a punch. And here are some facts to make you an insider of sorts:
- The Irish name for County Louth is the shortest county name of them all, Contae Lú. The literal meaning of this is "smaller" – a fitting name for Ireland’s smallest county.
- Speaking of size, County Louth stretches over a mere 319 square miles (821 square kilometers).
- Cars registered in Louth have the letters LH on their number plates.
- The county town of Louth is Dundalk, other towns of regional importance are Ardee, Carlingford, and Drogheda.
- The number of inhabitants stands at 128,884, according to the census of 2016.
- If you haven't already picked up on it, the common nickname for Louth is the "Wee County".
The Cattle Raid of Cooley is one of the greatest epics known to man, yet the Cooley peninsula itself is not very often part of a visitor's itinerary. What a shame that is. To experience it for yourself, leave the motorway near Dundalk and circle the peninsula on fairly good local roads - exploring history from the Proleek Dolmen (tucked away on a golf course) to King John's Castle in historic Carlingford. The castle may not have a famous or bloody history, but a leisurely afternoon around the royal grounds in Carlingford will have you relaxed by rights. Head for the still fairly busy harbor of Greenore to gaze at the splendid panorama of the Mourne Mountains just across Carlingford Lough. Head for the hills, search for the "Long Woman's Grave" or simply do a bit of hill-walking.
Drogheda, named after the bridge (over the Boyne), has lost a lot of traffic and a number of casual visitors since the M1 was opened, as zipping through was never an option and even the toll bridge is a better choice. Even in the old days, the historic town never presented its best side to through traffic. So, we'd encourage you to make an intentional detour and see the interesting spots of Drogheda for yourself. Amongst those are medieval ruins and an almost complete town gate, the museum on the Millmount, the streets lined with Georgian buildings to rival Dublin and a real saint. Well, at least part of him: the head of Saint Oliver Plunkett is plainly visible in the glass shrine, shriveled and darkened, but awe-inspiring in a slightly creepy way.
The monastic settlement of Monasterboice is hidden away a bit and sign-posting seems to encourage the boy-scout in the casual traveler (as in "It should be roughly in that direction ..."), but even the most tortuous route taken is rewarded with the splendid remains of an Irish-Celtic sacred site. Pride of place goes, at first glance, to the massive round tower, still standing strong amongst far younger gravesites. Closer inspection will take the discerning traveler to the fabulous high crosses scattered around the tower which boast splendid carvings full of detail, Christian motifs and humor. See if you can spot the guys pulling each other's beard in a weird version of "tug of war" on one of the grave markers.
In contrast, the younger Mellifont Abbey reflects a totally different kind of monasticism to Monasterboice. This was the first "European style" monastery in Ireland and became the signpost Christianity oriented itself from. Well, organized Christianity at least. Gone were the days of carefree Celtic cloisters, the more muted monks of Mellifont who led a strict life. And also a clean life - the "lavabo", used for washing, is a complete reminder of former splendor here.
The battlefield proper may be located on the Meath side, but the Battle of the Boyne actually started in Louth for King William's army. Marching down William's Glen the Dutch Guards crossed the Boyne and then into Meath, so the fight for progress and Protestantism really pushed southwards from Louth. Even today still cheered on from the North and (at least slightly) frowned upon by the South.
The Louth County Museum in Dundalk highlights not the scenic splendor of the wee county, but the industry that made it prosperous. It may seem like a sleepy county not, but even cars were once produced here. Though the developments promised by Xerox have spectacularly failed (a brand new factory catering for the home office market was surplus to requirements when the printer giant decided to stop ink-jet technology), new business has been found with multinationals opting to have some of their Irish offices here. The town itself is not really much to look at, but when visiting the museum, a stroll through the center can be rewarding.
Visiting County Louth and stuck for something to do in the evening? Well, you could do worse than head out into a local pub (which, by default, will be an "original Irish pub") and then join a traditional Irish session ... so why not give it a try?
Most sessions start at around 9:30 pm or whenever a few musicians have gathered. Here are some reliable venues:
Ardee - "Danny Boy"
Drogheda - "Bridgeford Arms"
Dundalk - "Cheers Bar" and "Lisdoo Arms"