Hook Peninsula, County Wexford
This tapering headland of gentle landscapes scattered with ancient ruins and quiet villages is perfect for a circular tour. The “Ring of Hook” route begins south of New Ross at Dunbrody Abbey, the ruins of a 12th century Cistercian church, but Ballyhack is another good place to start. Once a fortified crossing point into County Waterford, the town still has a ferry service to neighbouring Passage East.
Ballyhack Castle, built by the Knights Templar in about 1450, contains a small museum. About 4km beyond is the small resort of Duncannon, with a broad sandy beach and a star-shaped fort, which was built in 1588 in expectation of an attack by the Spanish Armada.
The coast road continues south to Hook Head. Here, perched on red sandstone, sits what is almost certainly the oldest lighthouse in Europe, dating from 1172. Paths skirt the coast, which attracts many seabirds and seals and is also famous for its fossils.
Just 2km east is the picturesque village of Slade. A ruined 15th century tower house, Slade Castle, presides over the tiny harbour where fishing boats cluster around the slipways. The road proceeds along the rugged coastline, past the resort of Fethard-on-Sea and Saltmills to the dramatic ruin of Tintern Abbey. This 13th century Cistercian foundation was built by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, in fulfilment of a vow made when his boat was caught in a storm off the coast nearby. The west end has been restored, but excavation work continues. Fields lead to an old stone bridge and views over Bannow Bay, where it is thought the Normans made their first landing in 1169.
Hook Peninsula is a hidden gem that is worth a visit on your Ireland tours.