Off the Beaten Track travel writer Valentino Muller shares his thoughts on Drogheda’s three walking tours – The Official Drogheda on the Boyne Walking Tour, the My Streets Walking Tour and the latest addition, Tramp Town Walking Tour, which takes in alternative town attractions and really piqued Mr. Muller’s interest.
I’m told that before 2001, Drogheda had never had a tourist. Naturally people did come to the town but generally only to visit relatives, conduct business or be laid to rest in the family plot. These visitors were generally advised not to look above street level or as the joke goes, make eye contact with the locals – as it would either end in violence or marriage, or if they were lucky, both!
A look at the guide books and travelogues of yore which include snippets on Drogheda makes for uncomfortable reading.
“Looking at Drogheda is like looking at a once glamorous woman fallen on hard times. Her dilapidated features scream of past glories but now only sigh with pale breath; a life succumbed to vice and self-neglect.” – H.V. Morton, In Search of Ireland, 1930.
“Cromwell had the right idea when he attacked the town. However, the locals appear to have finished his work for him and removed the town walls without the need for a siege. They have devoured almost everything of architectural interest from within. It makes Coventry look like Florence.” – Baedeker’s Guide to Ireland, 1962.
The Official Drogheda on the Boyne Walking Tour
Run by the tourist office at Millmount and ably assisted by fully trained staff, this walking tour takes in all the major attractions, culminating in a visit to the shin bones and shrunken head of a decapitated saint, Oliver Plunkett. Selfie-sticks can be rented at a discount from the tour guide.
The tour also includes a visit to St. Peter’s Protestant Church, where another Oliver, this one of House Cromwell, massacred peasants by burning them for fun in the church. The blood of the burnt then flowed uphill where it stopped, turned right and flowed down the subsequently named Scarlett Street. The tour is full of such gems and really brings historical Drogheda to life. The guides are knowledgeable, passionate and are talented tale tellers. Recommended – €3, €2 with a concession for the dyslexic.
My Streets Walking Tour
Drogheda Civic Trust in conjunction with an American financial institution have teamed up with Drogheda Homeless Aid to provide the town with a walking tour with a social conscience. All tour guides are either former homeless or motivated homeless, but don’t let that fool you. With intimate knowledge of the streets, the tour covers all the major attractions. Worth a look if it’s not raining – pricing at discretion of tourist.
Tramp Town Walking Tours
Drogheda’s most recent walking tour came into being after a bitter falling out between the town’s respective homeless and tramp communities. The tramp community felt discriminated against for not being homeless while the homeless felt that the tramps were invading their space during the day and effing off home at night. Tramp Tours caters for those who wish to snuggle up to Drogheda’s voluminous underbelly.
Starting from the alley where Drogheda son Pierce Brosnan was conceived, the tour takes us past the derelict ruins of 1950s Narrow West Street to the house of ‘a young one’ in Ballsgrove who once shifted Colin Farrell.
After having a photo taken with Tommy the weight lifting dwarf at Ship Street (where Drogheda’s dwarf colony was once housed) we then tip in to the town’s most intimidating drinking den, The Hole in the Wall, for a pint. This is where legendary snooker player Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins propped himself up when in town and is home to a curious architectural oddity whereby all tables and chairs are secured to the floor ‘for the safety of patrons.’
The West Court Hotel was where Lord of the Rings (LOTR) author J.R.R. Tolkien was said to have stayed and been inspired to write his magnum opus. We are then led to the site of the former Bridgeford leisure centre, mentioned in the LOTR, which was sadly engulfed by the flames of Smaug the dragon in 2004.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the tour was the section on Drogheda’s long removed phone boxes. I transcribed the following:
It was 1994. INLA man Dominic ‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchy had just been gunned down in a hail of bullets as he made a phone call in the box that stood here [points to the corner of Hardman’s Gardens]. The kiosk was one of the more reliable ones in the town and though it soldiered on for a while after the assassination, it was eventually replaced by an altogether inferior model.
Local teacher Bernard Coddington told me in that pub we were in earlier about the wider implications of the assassination. And I quote –
“We were due to have a student exchange with a school in Hamburg later that week. But the shooting spooked the German principal who naturally I suppose was concerned for the safety of his students. Now, setting up the exchange had taken months of planning and sure the whole thing was nearly called off until Sister Monika [School Principal] herself got involved and reminded the Germans that one roadside assassination was nothing in comparison to the havoc wreaked by the Wehrmacht across Europe and that it was only in the spirit of forgiveness and EC subsidies that her school was even taking part in an exchange with a nation capable of such wanton barbarity. In the end the Germans saw the sense in Sister Monika’s words. No Germans were shot and the students were made call home from the very same bullet riddled phone box to prove a point.”
But what really grabbed me about this tour was how interactive it was. Our tour guide brought us to the entrance to the Marsh Road where we were transported back to 5.31pm on the 9th of February 1996. He got a volunteer [muggins] to reinact the phonecall made by an IRA man to warn the British police of a massive bomb in Canary Wharf. I called the UK number he gave me and handed me a piece of paper to read, which I did. He then instructed me to say codeword Kerrygold, which I did before thanking the police officer and hanging up.
Our guide then laughed and said he’d buy me a pint. As sirens got louder we made our way into the Augustinian church where our guide led us into a tunnel under the altar that led us up to the Top Shop pub at Millmount where there was a creamy pint of the black stuff waiting for us all. Highly recommended – €4 and/or the price of a pint.
Valentino Muller is a travel writer for Off the Beaten Track, the well known travel guide series. This was his first visit to Ireland.