Dundalk is the county town in County Louth located in the north-east of the Republic of Ireland, near the border with Northern Ireland. Set along the Castletown River leading to Dundalk Bay, the area is known for its associations with Ireland’s ancient folk heroes and has been settled since Neolithic times.
Located halfway between Dublin and Belfast, Dundalk has long a history as a market town and travelers have come from all over Ireland to trade and shop here for 300 years. In addition to its historic attractions, Dundalk also has a thriving arts and culture scene and natural spaces to be explored.
Here are the top things to do on your next trip to Dundalk.
Channel the Ancients at Proleek Dolmen
Dundalk is renowned for its ancient history and the crown jewel of its fascinating monuments is the Proleek portal tomb (known as a dolmen). Found on the golf course of the Ballymascanlon Hotel, the tomb has stood here for thousands of years, with legend claiming it was carried to Ireland by a giant. It would indeed have required a huge show of strength (or engineering) to place the 35-ton capstone atop the three supporting rocks which hold it up. It is supposed to be good luck to toss a pebble on top of the upper stone, and if it stays in place, some say you will get married within the next year.
Housed in a former grain warehouse that was once part of the local Irish whiskey distillery, the County Museum Dundalk is dedicated to sharing the history of County Louth. The local museum has exhibits and interactive experiences which document the story of the Dundalk area from the stone age to present times. The award-winning museum has some of the earliest human artifacts ever discovered in Ireland as well as a leather coat supposedly worn by King William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne.
Shop for Local Products at the Dundalk Farmer’s Market
If you are on the hunt for fresh, local produce, be sure to stop by Dundalk on Friday when the farmer’s market sets up at The Square. The farmers bring everything from seasonal vegetables to Irish cheese as well as smoked fish local meats, and the sellers are happy to chat about their products. On the second and fourth Fridays of the month, the market expands to the Craft and Farmers Market so you will find a mix of handmade goods in addition to the homegrown foods. The historic market has been taking place here for 300 years.
No visit to Dundalk is complete without stopping to admire the beautiful art and architecture inside St. Joseph's Redemptorist Church. The Redemptorists are a community of missionary priests who came to Dundalk in 1876. Their stunning place of worship is a Romanesque style church dedicated to St. Joseph in the 1890s. Inside are stained glass windows, gorgeous ceilings, and artistic stations of the cross, among other unique architectural details. If you plan to stay for a service, you will be treated to wonderful music performed by the talented Redemptorist choir.
Tour the Ruins of Castle Roche
Just outside of Dundalk, in the verdant and hilly countryside, the ruins of Castle Roche sit regally on a low slope. The castle was the local seat of power for the de Verdun family, who came to Ireland from England and built their strategic fortress here in the 13th century. Look out for the "murder window" where Lady Rohesia de Verdun supposedly pushed the castle's architect over the edge so that no one else would know all the secrets tucked away in her new home. The castle is picturesque even in its crumbling state which it was left in after being destroyed by Cromwell’s forces in 1641.
Hike the Táin Way
Not far outside of the town of Dundalk, the Cooley Peninsula offers some of the most untouched wilderness in the area. Stretching out between Dundalk Bay and the Irish Sea, the peninsula is thought to be the mythical setting for the Cattle Raid of Cooley, where Irish folk hero Cú Chulainn triumphed over Queen Meabh and the Brown Bull of Cooley. In modern times, the area is popular for hiking with the most popular trail being the Táin Way. The 25-mile path circles around Carlingford Mountain and can take up to two days to complete the entire loop. The hike is worth it for the quiet trails and wonderful views towards the Mourne Mountains.
Take in a Performance at An Táin Arts Centre
In 2014, the former Táin Theatre was transformed into an independent performance and cultural space that is now known as An Táin Arts Centre. The center regularly hosts live dramas, comedies and plays, and curates multiple exhibits every year to showcase the work of artists from all over Ireland. Stop by to see the gallery and meet their artist in residence, book tickets for a show, or even join a workshop—there is always something creative happening thanks to the packed program of events.
Horse racing in Ireland is often a social event, made for dressing up and enjoying a day out. Dundalk Stadium is Ireland’s only all-weather racecourse, so there is no need to worry about rain ruining the day because the stands are fully covered. The stadium hosts both horse and greyhound races depending on the time of year. Of course, you can place a wager, but there are also bars and restaurants to add to the festive atmosphere.
Visit St. Brigid’s Shrine and Well
Following on the heels of St. Patrick, St. Brigid of Kildare is Ireland’s second patron saint. The abbess is buried in Kildare, where she founded a convent and held a rank equal to a bishop in the early 6th century. However, St. Brigid is believed to have been born in Faughart, County Louth, just north of Dundalk. Here you will find early Christian ruins including a well and shrine dedicated to the popular Irish saint.
Birdwatch at Dundalk Bay
Bird lovers should beeline to the Dundalk Bay Bird Observatory and information point, a two-story observation platform which offers views over special aviary breeding grounds on the bay. Over 68,000 birds come from all over Europe to winter in Dundalk and the bay is also a special conservation area for migratory and water birds. The observatory, which is located at Soldiers Point, has more information about the types of birds you may be able to spot as well as binoculars to use to get a better birding view.