Visiting County Meath? 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 Meath, also called the "Royal County", when visiting Ireland?
Get to grips with the basic facts on County Meath, so your visit will be starting from a knowledgeable base:
- The Irish name of County Meath is Contae na Mhí, the literal (and rather unexciting) meaning being "The Middle".
- Together with County Westmeath, County Meath once formed the "Fifth Province" of Ireland, the one politically in the middle of things.
- Cars registered in County Meath will have the letters MH on their number plates.
- The county town is Navan, other important towns include Ashbourne, Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin, Kells, Oldcastle, and Trim. Especially those towns near to the Dublin border have grown immensely during the boom years, housing commuters more than anything else.
- Meath has a size of 2,338 square kilometers.
- According to the 2011 census, 184,135 people live here, since 1991, the population of County Meath grew by 75%, this is the highest population growth in Ireland and mainly due to Dublin "expanding".
- The most common county nickname is “Royal Meath“, after the former seat of the Irish High Kings on the Hill of Tara.
- With the 1690 battle site Boyne river, Meath has the most important "pilgrimage site" for Unionists.
Meath is not only the "Royal County", but chock-a-block with historic and majestic sites. Pride of place must, however, go to Bru na Bóinne, which provides a very informative visitor center and a gateway to the passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth. Access to both is by guided tour only and all start at the visitor center (which is well sign-posted, but actually on the other side of the river).
The reconstruction of the mound at Newgrange might be debatable, but impressive it is. If you want to get away from the (in summer often) maddening crowd, make your own way to Dowth - the third major mound of the Bru na Bóinne complex, freely accessible, not restored and often left in solitary peace.
Maybe second in fame only to Newgrange, the Hill of Tara is more a general feeling of antiquity than a tangible sight. When you come here, you'll see something akin to a not-very-well-kept golf course or rough-ish landscape park. Only with a guidebook and some imagination will you be able to explore the hidden wonders of this sprawling complex.
The audio-visual show in the visitor center helps a lot, walking the Hill of Tara with an open mind and a bit of time will (maybe) open up its mysteries to you. Those tourists jumping from the bus, checking off their list and having a quick gander will not get the most from this site. Personally, we recommend cold, crisp winter mornings around sunrise, if you can live with the sheep droppings.
Tayto Park is a "theme park" in County Meath and geared at families with children, though the selection of animals on view makes it interesting for adults too. It is very good for a day out with the family, quite good if you visit without kids and are not on the lookout for peace and quiet. The focus is on physical activity and a learning experience, a very welcome change from passive entertainment. This is a top destination if you need to keep the kids amused in the greater Dublin area and the weather is with you.
If you are interested in megalithic culture and art you should make a beeline here, a sight much less frequented than both Newgrange and Tara, but of similar importance - situated on a group of hills near the town of Oldcastle you will find the second largest (after Carrowmore in County Sligo) megalithic cemetery in Ireland, Loughcrew. Albeit at an elevated site, so access is via a steep cross-country walk uphill.
Astronomical alignments make the Loughcrew tombs as interesting as their distant (and larger) cousins in the Bru na Bóinne. And they are free to explore, pick up the keys at the Loughcrew Gardens, also well worth a visit for relaxed walks and a good cup of tea.
The famous "Book of Kells" (which, actually, was not made in Kells) may rest in Dublin, but the small town of Kells certainly is worth a visit. From whatever direction you approach it, you'll most likely see its main feature, the round tower. Tucked away in a corner of the old churchyard right on top of a hill, it certainly is a landmark.
And surrounded by high crosses, one unfinished and providing an interesting glimpse into the art of the mason. The medieval church tower is also worth exploring, as is the third tower of Kells, a lighthouse-like structure in the People's Park.
Saint Patrick challenged the High King of Tara here, today the challenge may be to actually find the place. The Hill of Slane is situated just outside the picturesque village of Slane, but you may have to ask locals to find the easiest way. Don't know how Patrick did it. Yet, he climbed up here, gazed over to Tara and then violated everything the Irish held sacred by defying the age-old orders of the high kings and lighting a bonfire before the Tara one was blazing away. A challenge if ever there was one. Makes you wonder how he survived it. Divine intervention, maybe?
If you like your castles strong and your towns medieval, the heritage town of Trim is the place to go. Once the most important stronghold outside of Dublin and the seat of Anglo-Norman power, it still fascinates. Having the largest castle ever in Ireland helps. It is still sprawling along the banks of the Boyne, though much of it is in ruin these days.
Make a point to take a tour of the central tower building, the view from the top alone is worth it. Many more medieval remains await the visitor, either close by or just a short stroll downstream. Enough to spend most of a day here. And then finishing off this excursion into the middle ages by visiting the splendid remains of Bective Abbey just a short (but winding) drive from the town.
The Battle of the Boyne holds an iconic status in Irish history, William III forced a crossing of the River Boyne to carry on towards Dublin, James II fled the battle and ultimately Ireland. All in a fight for the crown of England. The battle site has been redeveloped in cooperation between the government of the Republic and the Orange Order as part of the peace process. And the museum in the restored Oldbridge House will tell you the whole story without bias.