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mizen head

Step into the Myths of Ireland's Ancient East

Rabbie
Posted on 5 Feb 2024

A Saint and a blackbird. The lost pirate treasure of Mizen Head. The curse of the Viscountess of Powerscourt.  

Piqued your interest? Us too. The thing about travelling is... there’s always more than meets the eye. You may be staring at a beautiful view, but what were sailors saying about this region hundreds of years ago? As you wander the ruins of a once impressive stronghold, don’t you want to know the secrets of those who used to live there?  

That’s Ireland for you. And, in particular, a region known as Ireland’s Ancient East. A region brimming with hidden stories, tucked away in the dark corners and hidden crevices of castles, lost in the crashing waves hundreds of feet below you, whispering to you from the depths of a still lake.  

Intrigued to know more? We were too, which is why we have a whole new multi-day tour that explores this beautiful region. There’s so much to see, even beyond our tour, and that got us thinking... about you. About if you were to visit this part of Ireland and what you might like to see and know about.

So, here’s a quick list of a few places we think you’d love in Ireland’s ‘Ancient East’. 

Glendalough, County Wicklow

Who doesn’t love a picturesque valley? A place where you’re almost arrested by the sight before you. Your car comes to a stop on the side of the road, you scramble in the back seat for your camera, and out you pop... mesmerised by the views around you.  

But Glendalough is more than its beautiful landscape. It’s renowned for its medieval monastic settlement, for its church ruins and ancient towers.  

Glendalough means “Valley of the Two Lakes” and was founded as a monastic settlement back in the 6th century by Irish Saint, St Kevin. Old Kev was a little done with society (we assume), seeking solitude and a spiritual retreat... and his settlement flourished as the centuries went by, becoming one of Ireland’s most vital hubs of learning, spirituality, and pilgrimage. So much for solitude, Kev.  

What’s left behind for us today are the impressive ancient monastic ruins – from churches to towers, crosses to cathedrals. And surrounding this are the two beautiful lakes and stunning scenery that drew in St Kevin in the first place.  

St Kevin and the Blackbird

We love a good legend here at Rabbie’s. Stories are what drive us, after all. And one of the more popular legends associated with St Kevin’s home is that of St Kevin and the Blackbird. So powerful was Kev that, when he held out his hands in prayer, a blackbird landed and nested in his palm, laying eggs. St Kevin engaged his core strength and stayed completely still until the eggs hatched, flexing his deep connection with nature and God’s creatures at the same time as flexing his muscles. Only kidding.  

An aside: There’s another legend that states that the waters of Glendalough possess healing powers, from curing ailments to bringing spiritual renewal. So, while you’re there, if you fancy bathing in the lake or taking a little sip or two... let us know if it works, will you?  

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Edublin (@e_dublin)

Newgrange, County Meath

One word: obsessed. Anytime we see an attraction with the word ‘prehistoric’ attached to it, we’re frothing at the mouth to see it. The prehistoric monument of Newgrange is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in County Meath (we love how everything in Ireland is County This or County That), and dates back over 5,000 years. That makes it older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza... though many haven’t even heard of Newgrange.  

This large circular mound covers about an acre of land and its grand passage leads into an unfathomable central chamber. A big part of the magic that lies in this place is in the passage, which aligns with the rising sun on the winter solstice. As that sun rises, sunlight streams through into the chamber, illuminating the stone as if Newgrange was chosen by the Gods themselves. No wonder people came to worship, using it as a ceremonial and ritualistic site. We’re tempted to go there right now and do just that. Cremated human remains and grave goods have been found during archaeological excavations, not to mention the intricate megalithic artwork throughout.  

The Legend of Aengus and Caer

Who doesn’t crave a good love story? Preferably one that doesn’t end in tragedy. Lo and behold, we have one of those for you today. This legend tells us of Aengus asleep one night in bed. A beautiful woman known as Caer appears to him in his dreams. Aengus was a goner the moment he saw her, falling madly in love. But when Caer transformed into a swan (how, we wonder?), Aengus spent years searching for her. Guess where he eventually found her? You guessed it. At Newgrange – or, rather, swimming with a bunch of other swans in the nearby Boyne River. Close enough.  

 

The Hill of Tara, County Meath

Ireland wouldn’t be Ireland without endless ancient sites to choose from. And here’s another doozy. The Hill of Tara is a sacred ceremonial site dating back to the Neolithic period. The hill served as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland (how fancy does that sound?) and for a long time it was the symbolic and political heart of Ireland. A place of coronations, religious ceremonies, assemblies, and where laws were enacted.  

Sounds kind of important, right? 

The Stone of Destiny

If you head there, make sure to check out the iconic Lia Fáil... also known as the Stone of Destiny. Please tell us we weren’t the only ones who read that out in a dramatic voice. Legend has it that the Stone of Destiny was brought to Ireland by a mythical race of gods known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. And when the rightful king of Ireland touched it, the stone was said to emit a loud cry.  

Sounds a lot easier than trying to pull a sword from a stone.  

 

Powerscourt Estate, County Wicklow 

Not too far from Dublin lies the historic estate known as Powerscourt Estate. Famous for its stately home and stunning gardens, it dates back to the 13th century when a medieval castle was built on the site. The estate passed from noble family to noble family until eventually it was ‘acquired’ by the Powerscourt family in the 17th century. Acquired could mean many things, we’ll let you decide.  

Today you won’t find a medieval castle sadly, however in its place is a stunning Palladian-style mansion that was designed by German architect Richard Cassels. Over the years, it has hosted many important events and welcomed many noteworthy political figures.  

One of the estate’s biggest draws is the landscaped gardens. Some 47 acres of formal gardens, terraces, ornamental lakes, Japanese gardens, herbaceous borders, walled gardens, even Ireland’s highest waterfall... you name it, they’ve got it.  

The Viscountess of Powerscourt’s Curse 

Love a good curse. Legend goes that the 1st Viscountess placed upon the estate a powerful curse after her husband failed to return from a voyage to the Americas. Was he dead? Did he leave her? Who knows. But the Viscountess declared that Powerscourt would never again prosper until its river flowed upstream. Head there today, and you’ll notice that the river flows downstream (as science demands), and therefore the curse remains unbroken.  

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Conor (@conorcorbett)

Mizen Head, County Cork 

They say photos never do Mizen Head justice, but you’re welcome to try. The raw beauty of Ireland’s most southwesterly point on the Wild Atlantic Way is worth at least a photo or two. Even if you’re afraid of heights, crossing the chasm via the suspension bridge is worth it so you can get that iconic cliff view. Once on the other side, you can even visit the Signal Station or have a bite to eat at the visitor centre.  

Once a strategic navigational point on Ireland’s coastline, the waters below Mizen Head were notorious for shipwrecks. Then someone smartly thought to build a lighthouse in the early 20th century, and it was first lit in 1909. The Signal Station was also built to serve as a communication hub for ships at sea. 

The Legend of the Lost Treasure  

Where be Jack? Captain Jack Sparrow, that is. For where there’s treasure, he can’t be far behind. Only joking. But one legend does state that treasure is hidden along the coastline of Mizen Head, the remnants of shipwrecks and pirate loot. Treasure hunters have long been lured to Mizen Head in search of the treasure... maybe you’ll be the lucky one? If you find it while on tour with us, be sure to give us our cut, alright? 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ramsey Selim (@ramseyselim)

Blarney Castle, County Cork 

Once upon a time, there was a stone of great significance. A stone of such beauty that all who lay before it were compelled to... give it a big smooch. We’re not kidding. We’re, in fact, talking about the Blarney Stone. Located within the medieval fortress that is Blarney Castle, this stone’s significance is shrouded in myth and legend.  

Many visit the castle with the sole purpose of kissing the stone. Renowned for its legendary powers, the tradition is thus: you lie flat on your back, crane your head backwards, and give the stone a big kiss. Should the stone grant you its powers, you receive the “gift of the gab” ... also known as eloquence. Bravery is required, some dexterity too... but most of all you mustn’t feel any embarrassment over the fact that you’re kissing a stone.  

The Witch of Blarney 

There are many thoughts about where the stone’s powers came from. One legend suggests that the stone was originally part of the Stone of Scone, an ancient coronation stone of the Scottish kings. Famous Scot Robert the Bruce gifted the stone to Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster. But witches got to be witching, as it were. So, some time later, a witch came by and enchanted the stone to bring prosperity to the castle and those inside. That’s actually a rather nice thing for a witch to do, isn’t it?  

We’re going to stop here, not because we’ve run out of things to talk about, but because we could literally go on forever. There are so many more places you should add to your list if visiting Ireland’s ‘Ancient East’, including the charming coastal village of Howth, the Rock of Dunamase, the ancient Hill of Slane, and even the vibrant metropolis of Dublin itself.  

What we’re hoping you take away from this rant is the desperate desire to visit this part of Ireland. To explore these places. To discover your own secrets (and maybe some pirate treasure). Just be sure to give us our cut, remember? 

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