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heritage ireland

The king in 'high spirits' who arrived to Ireland stuffed with goose pie and Irish whiskey

Plus: Being young in the1980s and coveting a football-shaped radio.

IN THE LATEST edition of the Hidden Heritage series, archaeologist Neil Jackman has more suggestions for great historical sites to visit around the island of Ireland.

In this edition we explore some of the wealth of heritage in North County Dublin and Fingal, beginning with the picturesque town of Howth.


Along with being well known for its lovely walks and the stunning views from Howth Summit, the town of Howth has many fascinating stories to tell.

The Irish name for Howth, Binn Éadair [meaning Éadair’s Peak or Hill], was replaced some time around the ninth or 10th century by variations of the Old Norse ‘Hǫfuð’ [meaning ‘headland’] before being later Anglicised to Howth.

The first Viking raid on Howth was mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters in the year 819. They recorded ‘the plundering of Etar by the foreigners, who carried off a great prey of women’.

The Vikings would later establish one of their largest slave markets on Dalkey Island and in Dublin, where they sold their captives alongside their other exports as part of the largest trading network of the day, connecting their Irish settlements like Dublin and Waterford to Scandinavia, the Baltic, Russia, Byzantium, and the Middle East.

The story of the Vikings (or Hiberno-Norse) is entwined with that of Howth; after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 some of the defeated Norsemen are said to have fled to Howth to regroup and establish a new settlement.

There is little that can be seen today in the town that dates to the time of the Vikings, though you can still visit the ruins of St. Mary’s Church.


The church was originally founded by the Viking King of Dublin Sitric Silkenbeard in circa 1042.

Nothing survives from the original church, as it was replaced by an Abbey in around 1235, which in turn was largely reconstructed in the 14th century and transformed into a collegiate church (‘collegiate meaning the church was served by three or more priests).

The large medieval building alongside the graveyard is known as the ‘College of Howth’, where the priests are thought to have lived. It appears to date to the 15–16th century, though today it is a private home.

Within the church you can find the double effigy grave-slab of Christopher St Lawrence (died 1492) and his wife Anna Plunkett.

The St. Lawrences were Howth’s pre-eminent family during the medieval period. The founder of the Howth family was the Norman adventurer Almeric Tristram. He accompanied John de Courcy during the Norman Invasion of Ireland. On 10 August 1177, a ferocious battle was fought at the Bridge of Evora (thought to be close to where the DART Station stands today).

Almeric Tristam led the Norman forces against the Hiberno-Norse of Howth. At the end of a bloody battle, the Normans stood victorious, and Almeric was named Baron of Howth by King Henry II. As the battle had been fought on St. Lawrence’s feast day, Almeric adopted the saints name and the family have used it ever since.

The St. Lawrence’s still live in Howth Castle, though the castle has been much altered from the original timber fortification. It was built on its present site in c.1235, and was altered further throughout its history, particularly in the 18th century.

The castle is not generally open to the public, though educational groups and associations can make arrangements to visit. See their website for more information.

On the grounds of the castle, near the golf course, you can see one of Howth’s oldest monuments, Aideen’s Grave.



This portal tomb probably dates back to around 3,500BC and is one of around 174 portal tombs recorded in Ireland.

Portal tombs may be one of the earliest megalithic tomb types. Typically a portal tomb is a simple chamber formed of upright stones with a large capstone. The monument was then possibly covered with kern of small stones or a mound of earth.

Aideen’s Grave has an entrance at the south east which leads you into a single chamber but the large capstone covering the tomb has slipped over the last few centuries and the tomb has suffered extensive collapse.

This tomb is imbued with legends and folklore and is associated with Aideen, daughter of Angus of Benn Atar.

The legend says that Aideen died of grief for the loss of her husband Oscar who was killed at the Battle of Gavra.

Inspired by the legend, the Irish poet and antiquarian Samuel Ferguson wrote the following lines in c.1861:

‘They heaved the stone; they heap’d the cairn:
Said Ossian “In a queenly grave
We leave her, among her fields of fern
Between the cliff and wave…’.

For the full text of the poem please visit here. To find the tomb, park in the carpark of the Deer Park Hotel (just past the castle) and follow the path on the right hand side of the hotel, go past the pitch and putt course and follow the signs leading you to ‘The Dolmen’.

Back in the town and you discover many more historical features. On the West Pier you can find an unusual monument, the sculpted footprints of King George IV.



He arrived in Howth on 12 August 1821, which happened to be his birthday (he had just turned 59).

Within three weeks of being crowned King of Great Britain and Ireland and Hanover, he set sail for Ireland to carry out a positive public relations campaign around Dublin (and rumour has it to meet his mistress Lady Elizabeth Coyngham of Slane Castle).

It is said that on the voyage to Ireland, he stuffed himself with goose pie and Irish whiskey and was considered to be ‘fatigued’ but also in ‘very high spirits’ upon his arrival at Howth.

When George landed at Howth his first steps onto Irish soil as King were immortalised by the stonemason Robert Campbell. The slim and pointed footsteps can still be seen to this day, almost 200 years later at the end of the West Pier.


One of the highlights of Howth for me was the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio. Housed in a defensive Martello Tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars, you can find a wonderful collection of vintage radios, gramophones, televisions and communications equipment, reflecting the lifelong passion of collector Pat Herbert.


What I really liked about the museum is that so many of the eclectic collection of objects give you the opportunity to tell your own stories, as you may remember so many of the everyday items from past decades (I was particularly reminded of my youth in the 1980s coveting a football-shaped radio, seeing objects like that really does help to bring it all back). I found it a fascinating place and I highly recommend a visit!

North County Dublin and Fingal are absolutely packed with fantastic heritage sites.


A popular attraction that is well worth visiting is Malahide Castle, and close by I highly recommend a trip to the atmospheric St. Doulagh’s Church (covered in a previous article).


A short drive away and you can find yourself in the historic town of Swords. The town has grown exponentially over recent decades, but it has very early origins. The town derived its name from Sord Colmcille, ‘the Pure Spring of Colmcille’.

Local tradition has it that Colmcille founded the monastery, and drank from the holy well that you can still see in the town. The earliest structure in Swords is the round tower that marks the site of the ancient monastery.

It is one of the finest examples of a round tower in Ireland and well worth a visit. The tall rectangular tower next to it is the remains of a fourteenth century bell tower.


The other prominent monument in the town is of course Swords Castle. Interestingly, Swords Castle isn’t actually a true castle at all, it is in fact Ireland’s best remaining example of a medieval Episcopal Manor or Bishops’ Palace.


Rather than a defensive fortification, Swords Castle was designed as a residence for the Archbishop of Dublin, one of the most important people in Medieval Ireland, and as an administrative centre for the large medieval borough.

The Manor of Swords is listed as part of the property of the archbishops of Dublin in a Papal Bull by Pope Alexander the third in 1179. The castle represents at least 500 years of redevelopment, redesign, alteration, reuse and adaption reflecting the changing fortune and whims of the bishops and the architectural fashions of the time.

The castle has been recently reopened following renovation works and is well worth a visit. If you’d like to hear the story of Swords you can now download our free audiovisual app (for iOS and Android) please see here for a preview.


Fancy exploring some of Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites this weekend? Please visit my blog  where I have more suggestions for great places to visit.

You can also download audioguides from my website, where we have 25 guides that tell the story of Irish heritage and the majority are absolutely free to download.

If you’d like to keep up with daily images and information about Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites please consider following Neil’s company Abarta Audioguides on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Read: Brian Boru’s ‘Island of Churches’ is the perfect place to relax and unwind

More: The widowed Máire Rua married Cromwell’s junior officer to keep her Burren house 

Related: The doctor who wanted to turn a castle into a mental asylum but blew it up with dynamite

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