Religion and Pilgrimage (3 day itinerary)
Follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick: Much like early conquerors the Milesians, St. Patrick began his religious conquest of Ireland in the Boyne Valley travelling from the mouth of the river Boyne near Drogheda to Trim where he established Ireland’s first great church. The Boyne Valley Drive offers you the unique opportunity to take the same route as St. Patrick and create your own pilgrimage in honour of Ireland’s patron saint.
You will begin your pilgrimage through the Boyne Valley in the imposing medieval town of Drogheda. There’s no better way to see the town where you’ll spend your first night than by foot, see www.drogheda.ie/boyne-valley/tours/walking-tour.html for tour details. There are five beautiful churches to visit; the most impressive of which is St. Peter’s Catholic Church. This towering Gothic Revival church dating back to the 18th century has a lavish interior. It is most famous for housing the preserved head of St. Oliver Plunkett (1625-81).
Try out one of Drogheda’s many fine cafés for lunch.
It’s a short trip to Monasterboice where one of St. Patrick’s original followers St. Buite established one of Ireland’s first monasteries in the 5th century. The site is home to some of the finest High Crosses in Ireland. Your local tour guides will explain to you how these crosses were used to illustrate Bible stories.
After Monasterboice you should visit Ireland’s first Cistercian Abbey. St. Malachy established Old Mellifont abbey in the 12th century. It signalled the end of the Celtic monastic period and the beginning of stronger ties between the church in Ireland and Rome. There is still a functioning Cistercian Abbey, called Mellifont Abbey, at Collon. It’s a relatively short drive and you will be welcomed to join the monks for afternoon prayer and enjoy the grounds (www.mellifontabbey.ie).
You may wish to have dinner in Collon or wait until you return to Drogheda to sample many of the fine restaurants in the town and surrounding areas.
Spend the evening as you wish, Drogheda has many great venues and pubs to choose from if you’d like some live entertainment and the opportunity to mingle with the locals.
After a hearty Irish breakfast at your accommodation you’ll pick up St. Patrick’s trail and head for Slane village. Leave yourself time to make stops at the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre and be sure to check out Newgrange and Knowth at Brú na Bóinne. Allow 1-2 hours for each stop.
Once in Slane take the short hike up the Hill of Slane just as St. Patrick did. Patrick chose the Hill of Slane to announce his arrival in the Boyne Valley and Ireland in 433. As the druids prepared to celebrate the Feast of Tara, St. Patrick celebrating Easter lit the Paschal Fire in direct defiance of the pagan ritual. St. Erc, who was one of Patrick’s followers, founded a monastery on the Hill of Slane.
You may wish to have a picnic lunch on the hill or perhaps you’d prefer to sample the many fine restaurants in picturesque Slane village.
Make your way to the monastic town of Kells. Be sure to organise a tour at www.kellsexperience.ie for a memorable and informative visit to St. Colmcille’s Monastic Site. Take time to enjoy the excellent High Crosses and other notable stops on the Kells Historic Trail before heading south to Navan, where you’ll spend the night.
Both Kells and Navan have excellent restaurants and pubs to choose from for dinner.
St. Mary’s Church Navan is worth visiting to see its impressive crucifix. The Edward Smyth Crucifix is a life size wooden sculpture commissioned by the people of Navan and completed in 1792. It is believed to be the only wooden sculptor created by Edward Smyth who is most noted for the stone sculptures that adorn the Custom House in Dublin. The adjoining Adoration Chapel at St. Mary’s may be of interested for those seeking some quiet prayer and reflection.
Navan also offers great pubs with live music and friendly locals or perhaps you would rather spend your evening enjoying a tranquil walk. The Navan Points of Pride Walk beginning at the Solstice Arts Centre, where an audio guide and brochure are available, and the ramparts along the Boyne offer beautiful routes.
Enjoy a light breakfast before making your way north towards the Hill of Tara. Dalgan Park is a worthwhile stop along the way. Here you will find the home of retired Columban missionaries (www.imudalganpark.com) and Dowdstown House (www.dowdstownhouse.com). The grounds are beautifully kept and there are several walking routes to choose from.
Carry on to the Hill of Tara where you may wish to have a mid morning snack at Maguires. Try downloading the audio tour before you arrive or buy the tour on a handy souvenir player at the gift shop. The tour allows you to discover Tara at your own pace; it covers all the sacred monuments, the legends and the stories. Skryne Church is visible from the Hill of Tara and you may wish to make a visit.
There are several nice restaurants and pubs in the area for lunch.
Make your way towards Trim for the last stop on your Boyne Valley Pilgrimage. The scenic Bective Abbey is along the way. It was Ireland’s second Cistercian Abbey; a daughter house to Old Mellifont.
Arriving in Trim you’ll be awestruck by the medieval townscape. The Trim Historic Trail, beginning at Visitor Centre/Trim Castle, encompasses many of the old abbeys and churches. The town was the site of St. Patrick’s and Ireland’s first great Church. Following his successes on the Hills of Slane and Tara Patrick continued up the Boyne to Trim where his follower Loman had already been granted the town lands. He chose this site on the Boyne to establish a stronghold for Christianity in Ireland. Trim was also a noteworthy place of pilgrimage in the middle ages when people from Britain and Ireland travelled to worship the statue of “Our Lady of Trymme.”
Trim has a host of wonderful restaurants to choose from for dinner.
You may wish to stay another night in Trim and continue westwards in the footsteps of Ireland’s patron saint to Croagh Patrick. Either way you will leave the Boyne Valley rested and relaxed after a spiritually enlightening experience.