Meath's rich soil, laid down during the last ice age, drew settlers as early as 8000 BC. They worked their way up the banks of the River Boyne, transforming the landscape from forest to farmland. One of the five provinces of ancient Ireland, Meath was at the centre of Irish politics for centuries.
Only 48km north of Dublin, Drogheda is a historic fortified town straddling the River Boyne. A clutch of fine old buildings, a handsome cathedral and a riveting museum provide plenty of cultural interest, while its atmospheric pubs, fine restaurants, numerous sleeping options and good transport links make it a handy base for exploring the region.
Dominated by its mighty castle, the quiet town of Trim was an important settlement in medieval times. Five city gates surrounded a busy jumble of streets, and as many as seven monasteries were established in the immediate area. It's hard to imagine nowadays, but a measure of Trim's importance was that Elizabeth I considered building Trinity College here.
Cavan is paradise for boaters, anglers, walkers, cyclists and artists. Known as the 'Lake Country', there's supposedly a lake for every day of the year (including leap years), and the county is famed for its coarse fishing. Between them is a gentle landscape of meandering streams, bogs and drumlins.
Monaghan's quiet, undulating landscape is known for its tiny rounded hills that resemble bubbles in badly pasted wallpaper. Known as drumlins, these bumps are the result of debris left by retreating glaciers during the last ice age. The county's lakes attract plenty of anglers, but few others make it here, making it a tranquil place to explore.
Forested slopes and sun-dappled, multihued hills rise above the the dark waters of Carlingford Lough cleaving the picturesque Cooley Peninsula. Country lanes wind their scenic way down to deserted stony beaches, while sweeping views stretch north across the water (and border) to the majestic Mourne Mountains. The medieval village of Carlingford is an ideal base.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Cuilcagh Mountains, the remote western stretch of the county straddles the border with the North. Few buses serve this isolated fragment of the county. The express Donegal–Dublin buses pass through Ballyconnell, Bawnboy and Swanlinbar four times daily.
Although an industrial hub and an increasingly busy business centre due to its proximity to both Dublin and Belfast, Dundalk is a surprisingly pleasant town with a couple of interesting sites. In the Middle Ages, the city was at the northern limits of the English-controlled Pale, and with partition in 1921 it once again became a border town, this time with South Armagh.
The Hill of Tara is Ireland's most sacred stretch of turf, occupying a place at the heart of Irish history, legend and folklore. It was the home of the mystical druids, the priest-rulers of ancient Ireland, who practised their particular form of Celtic paganism under the watchful gaze of the all-powerful goddess Maeve (Medbh).