Aoife MacMurrough'S TRAIL
Begin your three-day adventure through the Historic Heartlands by visiting the town of Portlaoise in Laois. A trip to Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum will give great insight into the struggles of people in the area during the Great Famine of 1845, and the importance of workhouses around Ireland during this period. It is believed that around 10% of the local population sought refuge at Donaghmore from 1845 – 1849.
From Portlaoise make the short trip south to the historic Rock of Dunamase, one of the most popular visitor attractions in Laois. Although the site is now in ruins, this was a real strategic stronghold of Laois in years gone by and formed part of the dowry of Aoife. The Rock of Dunamase became an important Anglo-Norman stronghold in Laois after it was gifted to Strongbow on his wedding day. The Rock was a thank you from Dermot MacMurrough for Strongbow’s role in helping him regain control of Leinster (in addition to giving him his daughter’s hand in marriage). The castle and walls surrounding it were destroyed in the 17th century, but its presence in the Laois skyline, along with the significance to the kings of Leinster make it a must-see site. Spend time taking in the grandeur of this historic building, and its beautiful surrounding countryside.
Soak up more of Laois’s historic sites by exploring the popular Laois Heritage Trail. After visiting The Rock of Dunamase make your way to the 13th-century Aghaboe Abbey. The original abbey was burned down in 1234, with the current structure rebuilt in the 1700s.
Other historic attractions to consider visiting as you explore Laois include the stunning grounds of Emo Court and Heywood Gardens, while Timahoe Round Tower, Stradbally Steam Museum and the town of Abbeyleix will allow you to discover more of Laois’s ancient past.
If you want to explore Laois on foot, consider some of the walking routes of Lough Boora and Glenbarrow near the Slieve Bloom mountains, or the gardens of Ballintubbert, Castle Durrow and Clonohill.
From Laois, take a short detour into Carlow and the town of Borris,on your way to the Medieval Heartland in Kilkenny. Visit Borris House, the fascinating ancestral home of the MacMurrough Kavanagh’s, which is run by the 16th generation of the family.
Journey on to the medieval city of Kilkenny. One of the city’s most iconic landmarks is Kilkenny Castle, a 13th-century medieval castle in the heart of the city. Kilkenny Castle was an important site for Strongbow and Aoife MacMurrough, as Strongbow supposedly constructed the first castle on the site, most likely a wooden structure. A stone castle was completed in 1213 by William Marshall, the Earl of Pembroke, who was married to Aoife and Strongbow’s daughter, Isabel. Indeed, Kilkenny formed part of the lordship of Leinster granted to Strongbow following the death of Dermot MacMurrough.
From Kilkenny Castle, continue your exploration of the Medieval Heartland with a walk along Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile. Kilkenny has a long history of Irish arts and crafts, with places like the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny Design Centre and National Craft Gallery providing lots of opportunities to experience Kilkenny’s thriving creativity.
One of the most popular stops along the Medieval Mile is The Hole in the Wall, one of Ireland’s oldest pubs. The bar is located in Ireland’s oldest surviving townhouse, dating back to 1582. The oldest bar in Kilkenny, however, is Kyteler’s Inn, first opening in 1263.
From Kilkenny’s High Street, make your way towards Parliament Street and marvel at the beautiful 13th-century Grace’s Castle before continuing on towards Rothe House and Black Abbey. Other historical sites to check out are St Canice’s Cathedral & Round Tower and the Bishop’s Palace.
If you have time spare, be sure to visit the home of Smithwicks and discover the birth or the famous Irish ale, walking with the monks of St Francis Abbey as part of the Smithwicks Experience.
Kilkenny is famous for its nightlife. If you’re planning on exploring the area over the weekend, be ready for the buzzing bars and crowds of hen and stag dos.
After a visit to Kilkenny City, consider a trip to Jerpoint Abbey, a ruined 12th-century Cistercian Abbey in Thomastown. Another famous landmark in the area is Dunmore Cave, considered to be one of the finest caves in Ireland. The ancient Annals claim that over 1,000 people were murdered here by the Vikings at around 928 while travelling from Dublin to Waterford.
Make the 50 km trip south from Kilkenny City to Waterford City the next part of your journey.
Founded by the Vikings in 914, Waterford is a city that has been shaped by Vikings, and is one of the first places [in Ireland] captured by Aoife’s husband Strongbow on behalf of her father Dermot.
Like Kilkenny, Waterford City is best explored on foot. Following the journey of Aoife and Strongbow to Reginald’s Tower and Christchurch Cathedral. It is believed to be around this location that Aoife MacMurrough and Richard de Clare (Strongbow) married on 29th August 1170. While their marriage would be a rather short affair due to Strongbow’s death in 1176, their descendants included some of the most notable in Europe.
Discover the tale of one of Ireland’s most famous weddings by visiting Christchurch Cathedral, before visiting Reginald’s Tower, the only monument in Ireland to be named after a Viking. Here you will discover more about the story of Waterford, and how it became a significant area for the Anglo-Norman’s following Strongbow’s attack in 1170. Today, a bronze statue of Strongbow and Aoife MacMurrough can be found close to this location, commemorating the importance of this historic marriage.
Waterford’s Viking Triangle is a nod to the Vikings that helped shape the city and will provide you with great insight into the history of Ireland’s oldest city. Bishop’s Palace, Reginald’s Tower and the Medieval Museum are a trio of museums that make up Waterford’s historical treasures.
A short walk from the museums is one of the city’s most famous visitor attractions: the House of Waterford Crystal. Enjoy a tour of the premises and watch the craftsmen at work as they sculpt works of art that have helped make Ireland’s most famous crystal.
While you could easily fill up all your time in Waterford City, Waterford’s stunning coast and Copper Coast Geopark, a UNESCO Global Geopark, are certainly worth venturing to if you have time. This vast landscape dates back over 400 million years and some of the Geosites worth visiting include Tankardstown, Stradbally Cove, Ballydwan Bay and Fenor Bog.
Drive the 25 kilometres of spectacular coastline and take in the impressive sites of the Geopark, before visiting the popular seaside town of Tramore, a popular beach break during the summer months.