Drogheda has a long and fascinating history and is well worth at least a few hours exploration. Founded by the Vikings, it flourished during the medieval period into a walled town of great strategic importance.
Its success came to an end when Drogheda was attacked and taken by Cromwellian forces in 1649, an event which saw many people die and which plunged the town into a depression that lasted for centuries.
However in recent years Drogheda has boomed, turning from the rather down at heel provincial town it had become into a vibrant and forward looking satellite of Dublin. The DeLacey Bridge in its centre is something of a symbol of this rebirth.
What to see in Drogheda
St Lawrence Gate
Drogheda town centre retains its medieval street plan although all that remains of the original defensive walls is this 13th century Barbican, or gatehouse, and some smaller remnants beside St Mary’s Church of Ireland.
As well as providing physical protection the gate functioned as a lookout tower with a clear view from the top of more than four miles of the Boyne River and of its estuary. Sadly there is no visitor access to the towers to see this great view.
St Peter’s Catholic Church
A somewhat ghoulish attraction (and a great favourite with small boys!) is the preserved head of St Oliver Plunkett in St Peter’s Catholic church. Plunkett, who was the Catholic bishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland, was suspected by the British crown of plotting an invasion with the Catholic French.
Although this charge was never proven he was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in London in 1681, becoming the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England.
His head was exhumed about 2 years later and brought first to Germany, then Rome, then Armagh, finally ending up in Drogheda in 1921, where it can be seen today.
The local Protestant church, also called St Peter’s, is a among the finest Georgian church buildings in Ireland and was completed in 1757 on the site of previous church which dated to the 13th century. All that remains of the previous church is the elaborately decorated baptismal font. It has an especially fascinating graveyard with several interesting monuments.
In particular look out for the monument to Edmund Goldying and his wife Elizabeth Fleming who died in 1556, set in the old churchyard wall. The couple, continuing the ghoulish theme, are depicted as skeletal corpses in a style of monument known as a ‘cadaver stone’ which is understandably uncommon.
Millmount Fort & Martello Tower
You will find the Martello Tower easily as it sits on a high mound, believed to be man-made and to cover a great tomb, and is visible from most parts of the town. Little remains of the fort which once stood here and which played a key role in Cromwell’s defence of Drogheda. It was considerably damaged at that time and again during the Irish Civil war in 1922.
The tower now houses a military exhibition, but even if you’ve no interest in this it is worth a visit for the remarkable views over the town and the surrounding area.
The Old Abbey
Also known as the Magdelene Tower or the Hospital of St. Mary d’Urso, the Old Abbey was built in the very early 1200s by the Norman lord Ursus de Swemele as a hospital for the sick and infirm.
All that remains of this building is the central belfry tower and a single arch.
The Tichbourne family have lived in Beaulieu (pronounced Bewley) House for almost 400 years, with the house unusually passing down the female line. The grand English style mansion was built in the early 17oos and replaced an earlier Jacobean house which in turn replaced a norman keep built by the Plunketts in the 13th century. The house is open for tours and even has a few rooms available for rather upmarket B&B if you fancy experiencing life in the grand style.
Outside there are 4 acres of walled gardens and an absolutely wonderful car museum. The cars belonged to the redoubtable Gabriel Konig, a member of the Tichbourne family, who died in 2013. She was a famous racing driver who in the 60s and 70s raced in Europe and South American and competed at such well known tracks as Brands Hatch and Nurburging, on level pegging with male drivers.