Two years ago, while working on a project with Tourism Ireland, I spent quite a bit of time exploring the Boyne Valley in Ireland’s Ancient East. Home to some of the country’s most important historic sites, it’s also one of the most picturesque areas of Ireland. On a recent trip back to Ireland I once again had the opportunity to visit the Boyne Valley so I could revisit Slane Castle and see what they’ve been up to lately. Today I want to provide an update to my original post, most notably to share the incredible additions that Slane Castle has made to the visitor experience.
Slane Castle & Distillery
I was back in the Boyne Valley for one reason, to revisit Slane Castle and to finally see their new distillery experience. When I first visited this historic castle back in 2017, construction on the newest addition to the property was ongoing and I promised to return once it was all done. True to my word, I spent an afternoon there as I was driving to Northern Ireland and I’m thrilled that I found the time to visit.
Held in the same family for generations, today the castle has been remodeled and updated and offers a fantastic look into another era. Oddly enough though, today the castle is better known as being a world-class concert venue than for its impressive history. When I originally visited they were setting up for an impending Guns N’ Roses concert and everyone from Madonna to U2 have performed on the castle grounds. They’ve recently enhanced the visitor experience by adding a new video introduction that is really well done, and expanded their café and restaurant facilities. After you tour the castle, be sure to head over to the newest Slane venture, their distillery.
Using the bones of existing buildings, a new state of the art whiskey distillery was just opened along with an equally modern visitors center. I joined one of the distillery tours and was instantly impressed by everything going on at Slane. Visitors learn all about the distillation process before tasting some of the whiskey itself. Also in the new facility is a café and gift shop. Together, along with the castle visit, this is a fun excursion and an easy day trip from Dublin.
Before you leave the area, be sure to make the short drive up to nearby Hill of Slane, a quietly important site in Irish history. A cemetery, church and ruins dot the hill, which is said to be the spot where St. Patrick himself lit a Paschal fire and was allowed to continue his spread of Christianity around the country. The hill was a center of religious devotion for many centuries and a certain spirit of solemnity still exists there today. On a clear day you can also enjoy incredible views of the valley below, verdant green hills dotted with villages, towns and sheep.
Slane isn’t the only interesting site to visit in the Boyne Valley though, be sure to also stop by these fascinating spots.
Battle of the Boyne
Even for a history buff like myself, the Battle of the Boyne is a little arcane, but visiting the site of this important skirmish is key to understanding Irish history. Without going too deep into both British and Irish history, in 1690 King William fought the forces of the deposed King James II. William’s victory ensured his position on the English throne and the continue prominence of Protestantism in both the UK and Ireland. The ramifications of the Battle are still being felt today, most notably in Northern Ireland where the Orange Order has turned the Battle into a folkloric event. Ok, that’s your history lesson for today, but when you visit the Boyne Valley the battle site is well worth a visit not only for its historical importance, but because the grounds of the battlefield are a beautiful place to wander. Elaborate gardens, plenty of fantastic spots for a picnic and yes, historical relics are all part of the experience and if it’s a nice day, it’s the ideal place to relax for a while.
One of the most popular tourist sites in the country and certainly the Boyne Valley, Newgrange and surrounding tombs are some of the most amazing prehistoric structures you’ll ever visit. More than 5,000 years old, this passage tomb, along with others, sat undisturbed under pastureland for centuries until they were finally rediscovered and presented to the public. Walking into the tomb itself, I couldn’t help but be amazed as I espied the ornate circular design work carved into the rock, still there after all of these years. Newgrange, along with others nearby, are the best known tombs of this kind in Europe and to stand there in that spot was honestly humbling for me.
This 12th century fortress is also Ireland’s largest standing castle and while it has an impressive history, the castle is perhaps best known for a starring role it played in a movie. Many scenes from the movie “Braveheart” were shot in Ireland including here at Trim Castle. Even without its movie star past, it’s a beautiful place to visit and the views from the top of the Keep are well worth the trip alone. After (or before) touring the castle, be sure to spend some time walking around the historic city as well. Beautiful walking paths line the river, making it a fun way to get out experience a more natural side to the city.
To be honest, I still don’t think I can properly pronounce the name of this town by the river, but I enjoyed nearly every minute spent in Drogheda. An ideal home base from which to further explore the region, that’s exactly what I did on my first visit, checking into the upscale “d Hotel” located next to the River Boyne itself. The hotel enjoys a fantastic location in town, allowing great opportunities to get out and walk around this ancient place. Getting up early one morning, it seemed as if I had Drogheda all to myself as I meandered around the colorful streets, stopping by the church and other key landmarks. A highlight though was visiting an old graveyard that offered fantastic views of the river and aqueduct, still used today to ferry the train from Dublin. Drogheda is a slow-paced kind of place and using it as a place to come back to at night was ideal as I spent my days driving around the region.
There’s plenty to see and do in the Boyne Valley, from Ireland’s ancient past through to the modern era. No matter how you choose to spend your time though, I know you’ll have as much fun exploring the Boyne Valley as I did.