Land of 5000 Dawns

Cavan to Longford

4 Days
  • History & Heritage
  • Family
  • Cavan Burren Park
  • Carrickmacross Workhouse
  • Newgrange
  • Hill of Uisneach
Must-see

Ireland’s Ancient East is a road trip like no other, taking you on an adventure dating back some 5,000 years as you come face to face with famous landmarks and attractions from Ireland’s ancient past.  The Land of 5000 Dawns route will see you embark on a journey through the middle of Ireland as you travel through some of the most historic spots in Ireland. This route takes in the counties of Cavan, Longford, Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Westmeath, helping you discover mythical landscapes and Neolithic landmarks which have been steeped in Irish history for thousands of years.

Day 1

Cavan to Monaghan

Your first day exploring the ‘land of 5000 dawns’ will begin in the border counties of Cavan and Monaghan where you could easily spend a couple of days getting familiar with the lay of this ancient land.  Begin your trip from Cavan and enjoy travelling through this wonderful county as you pass Monaghan on route to Louth and the Cooley Peninsula.  Here’s just some of the attractions for you to check out as you explore Cavan and Monaghan.

5,000 years of history at Cavan Burren Park

The Cavan Burren Park is part of a global Geopark that takes in the stunning landscapes of Cavan, Fermanagh and Lough MacNean whose waters lie in both the north and south of Ireland.  Megalithic tombs and dramatic landscapes await you at Cavan Burren Park and give you a real sense of what to expect as you travel along Ireland’s Ancient East.  This is all about embracing the history and heritage of Ancient Ireland, and Cavan Burren Park is the perfect starting point for this adventure.  The park has four great walking trails to explore and a visitor information centre to help you explore the story and archaeological and mythological history of this land.  With guided tours and picnic facilities, this is the perfect place to start the day, as you spend a few hours getting to know Cavan.

Clough Oughter Castle

From Cavan Burren Park, head south towards one of Cavan’s most iconic heritage attractions, Clough Oughter Castle.  Standing alone in the middle of Lough Oughter, the castle is one of the most historic locations in Cavan as it was part of the historic Kingdom of Breifne.  The castle is thought to date back to the 13th century and is part of the Marble Arch Geopark, which is highly worth visiting while exploring Cavan and the surrounding area.  Recent refurbishments have transformed the castle into one of Cavan’s must see attractions, although the castle is only accessible by boat.  Guided tours are provided by the nearby Cavan Canoe Centre.

From Clough Oughter Castle, make your way into Cavan Town where there are plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes to relax with a bit of lunch.

Cavan Museum

Continue your exploration of Ireland’s ancient past by visiting the award winning Cavan Museum in the town of Ballyjamesduff (a name you’re sure to remember).  Cavan Museum takes you on a journey of Irish history, with exhibitions dating back thousands of years to the Iron Age, and more recent events like World War 1 and the 1916 Easter Rising.  With facilities including a 350 metre long trench, and ancient artifacts dating back some 4,000 – 5,000 years, you’ll get a real taste of Irish history in this magnificent museum.  The museum has even re-created the GPO headquarters from O’Connell Street as part of its exhibition to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising.

Onwards to Monaghan

From Cavan, make your way east to their Ulster neighbour and the county of Monaghan.  Begin by visiting the stunning grounds at Castle Leslie, a popular choice of accommodation for many as they travel through Monaghan.  With over 1,000 acres waiting to be explored, Castle Leslie will provide a stunning backdrop for a leisurely stroll in the Monaghan countryside.

From here make your way towards Monaghan Town and explore the history of the county and indeed this part of Ireland at the Monaghan County Museum.  The museum houses many ancient artifacts which will tie in perfectly to your trip exploring Ireland’s Ancient East.  From early stone-age tools to weapons and tools dating back to the Bronze Age, Monaghan County Museum gives you a real taste for history of Monaghan.  Indeed, one of the most popular exhibitions is Monaghan’s untold story of the 1916 Easter Rising and the impact the rebellion had on this border county.

Take a step back in time at Carrickmacross Workhouse

From Monaghan Town head south towards the of Carrickmacross to visit the popular Carrickmacross Workhouse.  This workhouse will give you an insight into days gone by and an era when the workhouse had such an influence on Irish culture.  The workhouse is also home to a famine museum, allowing you to explore the impact of the famine and indeed the workhouse generation in the South Monaghan area.  One of the highlights of the workhouse is the Life & Death Exhibition which takes you back over 6,000 years to get an idea of Carrickmacross in Neolithic times.

The workhouse also has a huge database helping you to trace your family routes.  Well worth visting to find out a little more about both Irish and your own family history.

Carrickmacross is not just home to one of Ireland’s few remaining workhouse’s, but also a town famous for Irish lace.  Before leaving, be sure to stop by Carrickmacross Lace Gallery to get an education on the process and history of lace making, and also take the opportunity to try making some lace to take home to family and friends.  From Carrickmacross, you are well placed for day two and counties Louth and Meath.

Cavan Burren Park

Cavan Burren Park

Take a journey back to Neolithic times at the spectacular Cavan Burren Park.

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Carrickmacross Workhouse

Carrickmacross Workhouse

Take a trip down memory lane, and discover the workhouse generation of Ireland's past in Carrickmacross.

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Day 2

Monaghan to Meath

Day two will see you leave Monaghan and head towards the border county of Louth and the stunning Carlingford Lough and Cooley Peninsula.  An area steeped in Irish myth and legend, Cooley is said to be the final resting place of Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) and the perfect place to begin exploring Louth.  As you head south from Louth, you will finish the day in the town of Drogheda, setting you up perfectly for your 3rd day of exploration as you visit ancient Meath.

Carlingford Lough and Cooley Peninsula

The Cooley Peninsula and Carlingford Lough is one with a deep history and a place to take time intimately exploring as you explore Louth.  With ties to the Viking era (dating back to the Viking invasion in the 9th Century), Irish warrior Cuchullain and the legendary Finn McCool, the Cooley Peninsula has a long story just waiting to be told.  Indeed, the name Carlingford is Scandinavian for ‘Fjord of Carlinn’, and the area is home to one of only 3 fjords in Ireland.

With a landscape dominated by the Cooley Mountains and Slieve Foy in particular, get out and explore Carlingford on foot with the 19km walk around The Train Way Trail.  Explore the peninsula before stopping in Carlingford for some lunch.  The town itself has a wonderful selection of craft and boutique shops as well as a bustling bar scene should you want to consider an extended break in the area.  For the more adventurous among you, take a break from Ancient Ireland by trying out some of the many water-based activities along Carlingford Lough.

Explore the heritage of Carlingford

Having taken time to explore the Cooley Peninsula and Mountains, next up is the heritage of this wonderful area.  First up is the Medieval, Carlingford Heritage Centre which will give you a great introduction to the history and heritage of Carlingford and the surrounding area.  Take a guided tour of the area and take in the famous sights of King John’s Castle, Taaffe’s Castle and the Carlingford Dominican Priory.  Carlingford is also an area with a strong connection to leprechauns and even holds an annual festival and leprechaun hunt.  Indeed, local myth has it that the last 236 leprechauns in Ireland are hiding in Carlingford’s Fairy Hill.

Onwards to Meath

As you leave Louth be sure to make a quick stop off at Mellifont Abbey before making the short trip to Drogheda where you can visit St Peter’s Church to see St Oliver Plunkett’s head in a box (yes really).  The former Archbishop of Armagh, Plunkett was killed in 1681, and his head is now one of the most popular visitor attractions in the town of Drogheda.

As you continue to head south, be sure to visit Beaulieu House and the historic ruins and round tower at Monasterboice.  For food, the famous Monasterboice Inn is a good place to stop off to refuel.  From here, your next stop will take you to one of the most historical parts of Ireland.  Call it a night in Drogheda or head on towards the coastal towns of Bettystown and Laytown.

Carlingford

Carlingford

From the unspoiled beauty of Carlingford Lough to the vibrant streets and nightlife, Carlingford is a town just waiting to be explored.

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Beaulieu House

Beaulieu House

With a spectacular gardens and amazing gallery of artwork, Beaulieu House is a must for art lovers.

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Day 3

Boyne Valley, Meath

Day three of your trip along the Land of 5,000 Dawns leads you towards some of the most historic and mythical locations in Ireland as you explore some of the highlights of Meath and the Boyne Valley.  Leaving Drogheda, you will head inlands taking in the famous sights of Newgrange, Slane, Hill of Tara, Trim and Kells.  This route is one of the most memorable and significant stretches of land along Ireland’s Ancient East.  This will be a drive you will remember for many years to come.

Over 5,000 Years of History at Newgrange and Brú na Bóinne

As you depart from Drogheda, your first stop of the day will be Brú na Bóinne, home of Newgrange and an area of important prehistoric standing, not just in Ireland but in the world.  Brú na Bóinne (or the Palace of the Boyne as it can also be known) is a UNESCO Heritage Site that is older than both the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge.  The tombs of Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange dominate this landscape and are accessed via tours from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre.  The tombs contain the largest collection of megalithic art in Western Europe and represent a significant part of Irish history.  They are the undoubted highlight of Ireland’s Ancient East, and an area that you should spend some time getting to know more about.

Next stop Slane Castle

Famous in recent years for large music festivals, Slane Castle is located in the heart of Boyne Valley and offers some 1,500 acres for visitors to explore.  The castle has been owned by the Conyngham family since 1701 and offers guided tours across the summer months.  From Slane Castle, head off and explore the rest of Slane, taking time to visit the Hill of Slane, an area which ancient tales suggest is the location at which St Patrick lit the first paschal fire in defiance to the Irish pagans in the nearby town of Tara.  This sets you up perfectly for your next stop, and the famous ancient site; the Hill of Tara.

Hill of Tara

As you leave the town of Slane, you will make the short trip to Tara to explore another iconic location in terms of Ireland’s ancient past, and this is the famous Hill of Tara.  Dating back some 6,000 years, this sacred site has been used by Irishmen and women dating right back to Stone Age times, and was also once the seat of the High King of Ireland, so it holds huge significance with Ireland’s past.  Take time to explore the Hill of Tara, where on a good day you can enjoy unparalleled 360 views reaching out for miles.  One of the highlights of Hill of Tara is the Stone of Destiny, the ancient coronation stone for Ireland’s high kings.

Trim Castle

Fans of Braveheart may recognise Trim as the town was chosen as a location for parts of the Oscar winning blockbuster.  One of the highlights of the town is Trim Castle, Ireland’s largest Anglo-Norman castle which dates back to the 12th Century.  There are a number of ancient ruins in the town of Trim which you should also take time to explore on your road trip, including St Marys Abbey, The Yellow Steeple and the Newtown Monuments.

Call it a night in Navan

From Trim make your way to Navan, one of the most significant towns in Meath.  There are a number of ancient buildings to explore nearby Navan, the most significant of which are Bective Abbey and Donaghmore Round Tower.  The town has a number of shops, bars and restaurants just waiting to be explored, making Navan a great location to spend the night in preparation for your final day exploring the Land of 5,000 Dawns.

Newgrange

Newgrange

Discover a land older than Stonehenge and The Pyramids as you explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Newgrange.

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Battle of The Boyne Site

Battle of The Boyne Site

Visit the site of one of Ireland's most significant wars and learn about the story of The Battle of The Boyne.

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Day 4

Navan to Longford

Your final day exploring the Land of 5,000 Dawns continues to take you inland to the midland counties of Westmeath and Longford as you continue to explore thousands of years of ancient Irish history.  As you travel through the towns of Athlone and Mullingar you’ll reach the ancient centre of Ireland at Hill of Uisneach.  Among the highlights of your final day are Belvedere House, Athlone Castle, the Dolmens of Aughnacliffe and Corlea Trackway.

Explore the lakes of Mullingar

Leave Navan and head west towards Westmeath and the town of Mullingar.  Mullingar lies in the waterways heartland of Ireland with five lakes a short drive from the town.  Lough Ennell, just south of Mullingar is perhaps the most popular lake and is best viewed by getting on a boat and heading out to explore.  Lough Owel and Lough Derraverragh are also located close to the town and popular with anglers, sailors and visitors to the area.  If the weather is kind to you, begin your day by exploring one of of Mullingar’s nearby lakes.

While in Mullingar, explore the stunning Belvedere House, with 160 acres of parkland and a 2 acre walled garden just waiting to be explored.  This Georgian estate has regular events throughout the year, with plenty happening whether you are driving the Ancient East alone, with a loved one or with friends and family.

Visit the ancient centre of Ireland

As you leave Mullingar, continue to head west towards the town of Ballymore, and the ancient centre of Ireland; the Hill of Uisneach, located in Loughnavalley.  The Hill of Uisneach carries huge significance with Ireland’s past, and is said to be a place of inauguration for ancient high kings.  The summit of the hill is 600ft above sea level, and is said that on a good day you can see some 20 counties in Ireland, taking in all 4 provinces.

Guided tours of Uisneach run every Saturday and last about 2 hours with the highlight of any tour being Aill na Mireann (or Catstone), where the five ancient provinces of Ireland once met.  This spot holds significant importance in terms of ancient Ireland, and myth has it that the ancient goddess Ériu (whom Ireland is named after), was laid to rest under Catstone.

Onwards to Athlone

From Ballymore, continue heading west towards the popular town of Athlone, where you can explore more of Ireland’s ancient past by visiting Athlone Castle.  Originally built as a wooden fort in the 12th Century, the castle and visitor centre take you on a journey through time as you get familiar with the story of Athlone, in particular the 1691 Siege of Athlone.  While some of the initial castle structure remains, much of the building has been newly renovated, making it a popular attraction for visitors travelling along the Ancient East, exploring the Lakelands of Ireland, or on route to the Wild Atlantic Way.

Continue your heritage adventure in Athlone by visiting the Drum Heritage Centre, and get a real insight into the history of the midlands of Ireland.  This monastic site dates back to 3,500BC, so you can discover over 5,000 years of history in Athlone.

Exploring Longford

As you leave Athlone, head north towards the town of Keenagh and make Corlea Trackway your first stop.  Dating back to the Iron Age, the Corea Trackway is built from oak beams and dates back to 148BC.  Hidden in the bogland of the River Shannon, this stunning track went unnoticed for years and was only recently rediscovered in 1984.  The bog at Corlea perfectly preserved the tracks for 2,000 years and it is one of the biggest prehistoric roads to exist in Europe.  The exhibition centre takes you back in time to Ireland in the Iron Age, another story worth finding out more about as you explore the Ancient East.

From Keenagh, head north and continue your journey of discovery by visiting the heritage village of Ardagh.  The village holds religious importance to Ireland as it was here that St Patrick appointed his nephew Mel as one of Ireland’s earliest bishops, looking after the Diocese of Ardagh.  The town also holds strong ties to St Brigid who spent some time in Ardagh before heading south and founding Kildare Monastery.  Discover the full story about Ardagh by visiting the Ardagh Heritage Centre.

Last stop Longford town

Finish your day by heading towards Longford Town.  The town’s skyline is dominated by the spire from St Mel’s Cathedral, a cathedral that has played a big part in the life of people in Longford town and indeed the Diocese of Ardagh.  The cathedral was destroyed in a fire on Christmas Day in 2009 and was fully renovated, opening again 5 years later on Christmas Day 2014.  The newly renovated cathedral is one of the most popular attractions for visitors exploring Longford.

Longford has a number of quaint shops, bars and cafes, making it the perfect place to call it a night.  The town also has a number of accommodation options for visitors.  If you have time and are looking for more things to see and do in Longford, add the Dolmen Tombs of Aughnacliff, The Abbeyderg Monastery, Granard Motte and Bailey and the Glen Lough Nature Reserve to your ‘must see’ list.