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Ancient East inspires with historic tales, fine food and great activities

Cian Byrne takes an eventful journey along Ireland’s eastern coast, where a wealth of great destinations and activities await

This historic Ireland’s Ancient East stretches from the shimmering lakes of Monaghan to the colourful houses in Cobh via 500km of coastline, brimming with flowing green landscapes, ancient ruins and enthralling stories all the while.

The rebirth of staycations has seen this part of the county pop back onto people’s radars.

Easily accessible, incredibly varied and even if you’re from the region — like I am — full of so many new and exciting things that lie just off the beaten track from the most popular spots.

Eat, fish, walk in Louth

Embrace your inner-foodie on a succulent tour along the coast of County Louth, that weaves its way through villages perched above the sea and bustling towns with a dizzying array of acclaimed local produce.

The newly developed Sea Louth trail is an epicurean journey along the coast of Ireland’s smallest county.

What Louth lacks in size, it makes up for it with bountiful hauls from the Irish Sea.

Here are the best places to experience seafood in the Wee County.

Head for the hills on the Cooley Peninsula in the north of the county.

Visit The Long Woman’s Grave, gaze across Northern Ireland and hike Slieve Foye in Carlingford, the outdoor capital of the Northeast. Famed for the Cooley Mountains and of course Carlingford oysters, this is the ideal starting point for your foodie staycation.

Bike the Great Eastern Greenway, kayak on Carlingford Lough or slow it all down and explore the buzzing streets of this medieval town. Finish up for the day in a cosy pub serving up the freshest of produce straight from the sea as the sun sets behind the hills.

Watch eagle-eyed fishermen gently walk across the wet sand of Dundalk Bay in Annagassan, just 40 minutes from Carlingford, as they scour the ground for razor clams hidden below the surface.

Order a plate of the freshly caught delicacy in a nearby pub and hear how the Vikings initially settled here, before deciding to make the deeper waters of Dublin their home. Afterwards, wander down the quiet coast and join the local swimmers taking a dip at Salterstown Pier.

See the famous resident seals of Clogherhead Harbour put on a show for walkers as they toss fish high in the air and catch them in their mouths. Enjoy your own catch of the day at one of the nearby fish and chips vans after a windswept walk along the rugged Clogherhead Headland. Stretch the legs even further and stroll the pristine beach and grassy dunes south all the way to Termonfeckin.

The Sea Louth trail runs from Carlingford to Drogheda via Dundalk, with plenty of boutique guesthouses and family-friendly hotels along the way.

Mini expeditions into the wild in Wicklow

Find an idyllic slice of mountain paradise in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains, the perfect spot for an outdoorsy staycation – without sacrificing any of your creature comforts.

The fairytale-like village of Enniskerry with its charming boutique shops and cafés pouring perfect flat whites is an unbeatable place to base yourself for your holiday.

Fill your backpack with all your essentials and venture off into the hills for incredible days out.

The 131km long Wicklow Way runs the length of the county, taking hikers through vibrant, wooded valleys and to towering, panoramic peaks. The trail is easily accessed at many points with the 7km return route from the lookout above Lough Tay, along the boardwalk to the top of Djouce being a local’s favourite. For a more remote ramble, start this hike at Crone Woods and see Powerscourt Waterfall from above. Expect this challenging hike to Lough Tay and back to take about five hours to complete.

Swap the hiking boots for a helmet and tackle the trails on two wheels. The Wicklow Mountains are home to some of the best mountain bike trails in Ireland, with something for all ability levels. Head to Roundwood or Ballinastoe and feel the buzz of zipping down flowy trails as your beefy suspension eats up all the bumps. Local guides are available to take beginners out on confidence-inspiring spins and show experts the most technical trails. For something completely different, rent a fatbike and explore where other cyclists can’t go. The monstrous tires smooth out the roughest of paths, allowing you to go deeper into the Wicklow Mountains than you ever imagined.

Soak in the tub back at your hotel, order a local craft beer with dinner and get ready for tomorrow’s adventure in this awe-inspiring national park.

High kings and high tales in Meath

The Boyne Valley is one of the most historically important regions in Ireland and it, rightly so, attracts a slew of international visitors to the likes of Newgrange and Oldbridge. But once you step away from the more popular spots, you’ll discover another whole host of captivating places and riveting stories.

The Hill of Tara, once the seat of the High King of Ireland, is well known for its iconic raised earth mounds and place in Irish mythology. Keep an eye out for the Mound of Hostages on your short walk around the site. This somberly named tomb is believed to contain the remains of 500 people dating as far back as 3,000 BC. The grassy domed tombs of Dowth pop out of the landscape and are more reminiscent of a scene from a Tolkien novel than what you may expect to see in East Meath. With pieces of ancient art like the magically named ‘The Stone of the Seven Suns’, Dowth might just be the place where prehistoric Ireland springs to life in front of you.

The Royal County also has more than its fair share of recent historical attractions too. The Spire of Llyod near Kells has got to be high on the list of the most unique buildings in Ireland. Described as an inland lighthouse, this 30m high tower was initially built to provide locals with work during the Famine but later used as a viewing platform for the First Earl of Bective to watch the hunt from. Keep the weird and wonderful stories flowing at the museums and visitor centres dotted across the county. Hear all about Albert Cashier, the Irish immigrant who fought under Ulysses S. Grant in the American Civil War. The story takes a turn when we find out that Cashier grew up in nearby County Louth as Jennie Irene Hodgers before emigrating and disguising herself as a man to fight in the war.

Stay in one of the many luxurious former castles now operating as hotels during your visit. Live like royalty and stroll through sumptuous gardens, enjoy afternoon tea and imagine what life was like in the Boyne Valley hundreds of years ago.

Load up the car, or hop on the train and head east for your next staycation. It’s a smorgasbord of pure Irish adventures that will leave you waxing lyrical for the rest of the year. Ireland’s Ancient Easy may just surprise you.