In the province of Leister, County Wexford is the centre of Ireland’s Ancient East, a gateway to 5,000 years of history. Further north up Ireland’s east coast is Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland, a walker’s paradise, surrounded by valleys and mountains.

The east of Ireland is an ideal part of the world for a self-catering holiday in a holiday cottage, and both Wexford  and Wicklow  offer plenty of choice.

Exploring Along the Norman Way

The Norman Way is a heritage trail running along the south coast of County Wexford, where you can lose yourself in the magic and history of the region. It passes through medieval sites and picturesque seaside villages.

Intriguing and interesting landmarks along the Norman Way include: the Norman castle and tower on Lady’s Island; the medieval church of St Iberius; Sigginstown and Ballyhealy castles; and the Tacumshane Windmill, also dating from Norman times.

The Norman Way is suitable for both walkers and cyclists, and there are pubs and tearooms along the route to keep all travellers refreshed.

The Hook Lighthouse and a Haunted Hall

At the tip of the Hook Peninsula, this 13th century lighthouse is one of Ireland’s top attractions. The Hook lighthouse is more than just an artefact however, because it is the world’s oldest operational lighthouse.

The lighthouse balcony offers spectacular views, following a climb up its 115 steps, and there are guided tours of the lighthouse tower. There’s also a café and art workshops.

Further up the peninsula is Loftus Hall, said to be Ireland’s most haunted house. It has played host to numerous paranormal investigations and visitors can experience its full dark and troubled history on a guided tour.

Castles and Abbeys

Wexford has more than its fair share of historic buildings, including the imposing Dunbrody Abbey, Tintern Abbey – home to the Clodagh Walled Gardens – and the early Anglo Norman Enniscorthy Castle. Here you can also access the roof of the castle for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

Later, gothic architecture is on glorious show at Johnstown Castle, while Ferns Castle has a uniquely intact circular chapel.

For an immersive experience in Ireland’s ancient history, visit the Irish National Heritage Park. This outdoor museum is a detailed recreation of Ireland’s heritage, with ancient homesteads amid 35 acres of woodland. There are plenty of activities held here to leave your kids happily exhausted, while you enjoy the scenery, or join in.

Wild Wicklow

Wicklow is a walker’s paradise. The 131 kilometre Wicklow Way takes you up mountainous trails and through glacial valleys. It begins south of Dublin, in Rathfarnham, and takes you to the uplands of County Wicklow, finishing in the small village of Clonegal.

The full trail takes eight to ten days, but your time is rewarded with a sequence of varied and stunning scenery, from forest trails and parkland to mountain landscapes and deep, rolling hills.

The Glendalough Valley

Known as the valley of two lakes, Glendalough is home to a world famous, 6th century monastic site, a collection of ancient religious buildings including a cathedral, priests’ house, several churches and a round tower. It is a beautiful place, full of natural detail and a pervading sense of calm.

It’s a great centre for walkers and rock-climbers, with its network of trails and high, granite cliffs.

Ireland’s Ancient East manages to maintain an air of mystery while being widely accessible, combining great natural beauty with intriguing, manmade historical structures.