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The Four Best of Leinster
Ireland was divided into four ancient kingdoms (or four fields as the song goes). These are Leinster in the east, Munster to the south, Connaught in the west and Ulster up north. Technically, there were five originally, the fifth being Mide, the seat of the High King. Mide is roughly equivalent to modern day county Meath and was absorbed into Leinster around the 12th century. Modern Ireland may not have High Kings anymore, but the seat of power, Dublin, is still in the eastern sector of the country. Ireland's parliament is at home in Leinster House.
Leinster is composed of Dublin and counties Kildare, Offaly, Wicklow, Wexford, Laois, Longford, Louth, Carlow, Kilkenny, Meath and Westmeath. It has the highest population density in Ireland and is arguably the wealthiest part of the country. This has been a long established trend with Leinster associated with wealth from ancient times.
Even though the bulk of the Irish population huddles in this part of the island, you can still find plenty of countryside if you venture into the Wicklow Mountains. The county towns of the flat midlands - Longford, Carlow, Offaly, Kildare and Laois - offer all the charms of small towns that are a train journey from a capital city.
Here are what I consider the best that Leinster offers a traveller to Ireland.
1) Great Public Transport
If you are visiting Ireland and are reluctant to rent a car and self-drive, Leinster offers the most extensive public transport network in the country. In Dublin there are buses, the LUAS tram and DART train networks. Connelly and Heuston stations connect you not only to other Leinster towns, but the rest of Ireland. Tour operators run many themed daylong bus trips to top tourist spots like Tara, Newgrange and Glendalough.
Kilkenny hosts Ireland's only Comedy Festival. It also hosts an annual Beerfest for craft beers. Offaly hosts the Slieve Bloom Walking Festival. Drogheda has more than the Battle of the Boyne; it has a summer music festival and Slane Castle often hosts headline music acts. At all times of year there is sure to be a special festival happening that will appeal to a broad range of interests, from sports to food and drink, music or other arts events.
3) History in Abundance
Ancient heritage? Newgrange and Tara.
Medieval sites? Glendalough. Monasterboice and Mellifont Abbey
18th century? Georgian Dublin, Powerscourt in Wicklow, Celbridge
Early Republic? Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, the Post Office on O'Connell Street
Check! Check! Check!
4) A Pilgrim's Trail
A recent development has been the creation of an Irish Camino dedicated to Ireland's matron saint, Brigid. Brigid's Way includes a trail that begins at her birthplace in Louth, tracks through Tara, until it ends at the abbey ruins of her monastic foundation in Kildare Town. The routes can be done as a 10 day pilgrimage or part of the route on a day long walk. In all cases, the routes take you through some of Ireland's most sacred landscape.
Whether you want to see a sports spectacular at Croke Park in Dublin, culture vulture at festivals, or drink from the spiritual wells of Leinster's ancient and holy sites, a traveller to Leinster will be unlikely to return home disappointed. The east direction has always been associated with abundance and Leinster lives up to the reputation.
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