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Oldcastle

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Oldcastle is a town in County Meath in central Ireland, with a population in 2016 of 1383. The reason to visit is the collection of prehistoric tombs at Loughcrew Cairns - as fine as those at better-known Newgrange but even older, and without the tourist hordes.

Get in

From Dublin city centre or airport take the hourly Bus 109 to Kells, 80 min, and change to the 187.

Bus 187 runs from Kells via Carnaross,  Virginia (for buses from Enniskillen and Cavan Town), Ballyjamesduff and Mount Nugent to Oldcastle. There are four M-Sa, taking just under an hour.

1 The Square is the main bus stop; all the town's facilities are within 100 m or so of here. For more route info see the TFI route mapper.

By road from Dublin follow M3 / N3 to Kells then R163 west onto R154; maybe 90 min.

Get around

It's 3 km to Loughcrew Cairns: a bike would do.

See

  • Town centre is clustered around The Square. St Bride's is the C of I church west side of The Square; St Brigid's east on Church St is RC, with a shrine to Saint Oliver Plunkett. There's nothing left of the Workhouse, which from 1916 to 1918 was a detention camp for German / Austrian POWs and interned civilians; the area is now a housing estate just south of town. Also there but not worth seeking out is the site of the castle, a Norman motte-and-bailey, now an overgrown mound.
  • 1 Loughcrew Cairns, Corstown A82 A6N7 (3 km east of town off R163). Jun-Aug daily 10:00-17:00. The largest collection of megalithic graves in Ireland, with 30 passage tombs from around 3300 BC, older than Newgrange. They're ranged across four small hills together known as Slieve na Calliagh, "the witch's hills", and the hill you visit is Carnbane East (194 m). Its largest tomb is Cairn T, 35 m in diameter with Neolithic artwork: the sunrise at spring and autumn equinox penetrates its depths. Entry within is by guided tour. (In early 2021 this tomb is closed for conservation, others remain accessible.) "The Hag's Chair" nearby is a large carved kerbstone. The area is steep and rocky, wear stout shoes. (updated Apr 2021)
  • Carnbane West (206 m) is 1 km away. Cairns D and L are both 60 m in diameter. They've been damaged so nowadays there's no public entry within.
  • Carrickbrack "the speckled hill" between Carnbane West and the lane has the grassy Cairn M, which hasn't been excavated.
  • Patrickstown Hill (276 m), the highest point in the county, is 3 km east of Carnbane East. The stones have been raided to use as masonry so the cairns are in poor condition and you mainly come for the view, along the path from R154.
  • 2 Loughcrew Estate, Loughcrew A82 X4Y1. Daily 11:00-17:00. Charming gardens with many original 17th century features. The house is now an event venue and can't routinely be visited. It's burnt down three times, with only outbuildings surviving, especially the Orangery. This has been converted into plush self-catering, sleeps 17. The Plunkett family backed the breakaway Irish Confederacy in the 1640s, so their lands were forfeited to the loyal Napers, who still own it. The Napers restored the gardens; they also staged an annual opera festival here but this is no longer held. Adult €7, child €3.50, conc €5. (updated Apr 2021)
  • Saint Oliver Plunkett’s Memorial Church is within Loughcrew Estate and open daily 10:00-17:00. Plunkett (1625-1681) was born at Loughcrew: there's an annual pilgrimage and mass here on 1 July, the date he was executed at Tyburn. See Drogheda for more of his life and works.
  • 3 Moylagh Castle is the ruin of a medieval turret, with a few fragments of a church nearby.
  • 4 Fore Abbey was the mother-house of Moylagh church. It's across the boundary in County Westmeath, see Mullingar.

Do

  • For anglers, Lough Ramor 6 km north near  Virginia has coarse fishing, and Lough Sheelin 10 km west has trout.
  • Oldcastle Pitch and Putt is open seven days a week. The nearest full golf course is in  Virginia.
  • Oldcastle Agricultural Show is in July. The next is probably Sunday 17 July 2022 but tba.
  • Le Chéile was an arts festival held in August. The last event was 2018 and it's unlikely to return in 2022.

Buy

  • Cadden's SuperValu is the main store. It's on The Square and open M-Sa 08:45-19:00, Su 08:45-18:00.

Eat

  • Cheap and cheerful places include Little Panda and Thien Loc, plus take-aways.
  • The hotels have the best dining, see Sleep.

Drink

  • Clustered around the Square are Dublin Bar, Farrelly's, Crean Bar, Mountain Dew, Caffrey's, Ramble Inn and Smith's Railway Bar.

Sleep

  • Curran's B&B, Millbrook Rd A82 TK82, ☏ +353 49 854 1390. Reliable welcoming B&B 200 m south of town centre. (updated Apr 2021)
  • The Fincourt, Oliver Plunkett St A82 T9Y1, ☏ +353 49 854 1153. Clean well-run pub with rooms in town centre. B&B double €90. (updated Apr 2021)
  • Oldcastle House Hotel, Cogan St A82 NF79, ☏ +353 49 854 1708. Friendly place right in town centre, with bar and Nan's Parlour restaurant. (updated Apr 2021)
  • Naper Arms Hotel is nowadays just an auction house.
  • Loughcrew Cairns has camping, caravan pitches and the inevitable glamping yurts. Tent €12 ppn.

Connect

As of April 2021, Oldcastle has a good 4G signal from Three and a patchy service from Eir, but no coverage by Vodafone. 5G has not reached this area.

Go next

  • Brú Na Bóinne Archaeological Park towards Drogheda is another collection of astronomically-aligned megaliths dating to 3200 BC.
  • Kells has the remains of the abbey that housed the Book of Kells.
  • Cavan Town is in the drumlin country, with islet-studded lakes.



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