Historic Sites in Ireland

10 of the Best Historic Sites in Ireland

History Hit

24 Nov 2020

There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Ireland to visit and among the very best are Newgrange, Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery and Rock of Cashel. Other popular sites tend to include Blarney Castle, Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Jail.

We’ve put together an experts guide to Irish cultural places, landmarks and monuments, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Ireland, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.

What are the best Historic Sites in Ireland?

1. Newgrange

Newgrange is a dramatic prehistoric burial mound complex in County Meath in Ireland.

Comprised of several elements including a passage grave, a henge and a circle of standing stones, Newgrange is thought to have been built sometime between 3300 and 2900BC. This would make it older than both Stonehenge and Egypt’s pyramids, pre-dating the latter by some 500 years.

An extraordinary aspect of Newgrange is its alignment with the rising sun during winter solstice when its inner chamber is filled with sunlight. This unique feature adds to the mystery and wonder of this famous site.

Newgrange is part of megalithic cemetery and UNESCO listed site of Brú na Bóinne, in which there are over forty other such burial mounds including Knowth and Dowth.

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Image Credit: Brian Maudsley / Shutterstock.

2. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is a prehistoric burial site where archaeologists have found sixty graves believed to predate Egypt’s pyramids. In fact, the graves at Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery are thought to date back to between 3500 and 4500 BC.

Today, visitors can see up to thirty of these prehistoric tombs and an exhibition about the site. Managed by Heritage Ireland, Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery offers self-guide booklets in English, Irish, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Czech, Dutch, Japanese, Polish, Hungarian, Portuguese, Basque and Danish. There are also guided tours. Visits usually last around an hour and involve some walking.

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3. Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel (Carraig Phádraig) in Ireland is a medieval complex steeped in centuries of history, both royal and ecclesiastical.

It is thought that the first main structures to be built on the site of the Rock of Cashel were erected in the fourth or fifth century AD. Said to have been founded by Conall Corc, King of Munster, it would become the royal residence of the Eóganacht Dynasty, rulers of Southern Ireland between the seventh and tenth centuries. This was the only dynasty at the time whose members were eligible to become overkings.

However, most of the structures found today at the Rock of Cashel date not to the time of the Eóganacht Dynasty, but to between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. These were built after the Eóganacht were ousted from power by the kings of Dál Cais in the tenth century. In 1101, the then king of Dál Cais, Muircheartach Ua Briain, gave the Rock of Cashel to the Church. Most of the historic sites seen there today were built under the remit of the church.

The sites include the twelfth century Round Tower and Cormac’s Chapel, the latter being a pretty Romanesque church. However the largest structure is the cathedral, initially constructed in the thirteenth century.

Tradition has it that King Aengus was converted at Cashel by St. Patrick, who travelled there and performed the monarch’s baptism. The story goes that St. Patrick pierced the king’s foot accidentally during the ceremony, but that the king remained silent, thinking it was part of the ritual.

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4. Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland is the pretty ruin of a medieval structure built by the King of Munster, Cormac Laidhir MacCarthy in 1446.

Steeped in mystery and legend, Blarney Castle is home to the Blarney Stone, which is believed to imbue anyone who kisses it with the gift of eloquence. This gift would be well deserved of anyone who actually manages this feat, it involving having to hang precariously upside down from the castle’s battlements.

Blarney Castle stands near the nineteenth century Blarney House, constructed by the Colhurst family.

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Image Credit: Bernabe Blanco / Shutterstock

5. Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle has served as everything from a fortification and royal home to a gunpowder storage facility and a prison. Construction of Dublin Castle began in 1204 by King John of England, on a site that previously housed a Danish fortress. This first incarnation of Dublin Castle, completed circa 1230, was primarily intended as a stronghold to defend the city as well as being a place from which the King could run the administration of Ireland. Few aspects of this original build remain, but those that do, such as the Record Tower, demonstrate its purpose as a fortification.

Over the centuries, Dublin Castle has been renovated and reconstructed several times, especially between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. As a result, it contains a mix of architectural influences, the most lavish of which date back to the Georgian period (eighteenth century) and include the State Apartments and St Patrick’s Hall.

Today, Dublin Castle is open to the public and one of many fascinating attractions in Ireland, but the castle still also serves official roles as the site of presidential inaugurations and international conferences.

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Image Credit: graphicfootage / Shutterstock

6. Kilmainham Jail

Kilmainham Jail, also spelt ‘Kilmainham Gaol’, in Dublin was a notoriously fearsome prison housing a mixture of common criminals and high profile political prisoners. Whilst originally built in 1780, the current incarnation of Kilmainham Jail dates back to the 1860s.

By the time it was closed in 1924, Kilmainham Jail had held and been the site of the execution of some of the most famous figures in Irish history, particularly those imprisoned in the fight for Irish independence. For example, after leading the ultimately unsuccessful uprising against the English in 1803, Irish nationalist Robert Emmet was held at Kilmainham Jail together with 200 of his followers. He was later executed.

Other famous inmates of Kilmainham Jail included Nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell, imprisoned there in 1881. In 1916, the members of the Easter Uprising were held there and executed in one of the prison’s exercise yards.

Today, Kilmainham Jail stands as Europe’s largest unoccupied prison. It now acts as a museum, offering visitors the chance to explore its history. Some of the sites can be quite gruesome in nature. In addition to the cells and exercise sections, visitors can see the block on which Robert Emmet was beheaded and the doorway where prisoners were hanged.

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7. Rathcroghan

The Rathcroghan complex is a four square mile archaeological region located in Co. Roscommon, Ireland. It is noted for being one of the richest archaeological areas in Ireland with over 200 recorded monuments centring on the Celtic Royal Centre of Rathcroghan (Cruachan).

The area is located within a complex archaeological region with a history stretching back over 5000 years, with everything from burial monuments, pre-historic residential sites, royal places, temples and the entrance to the Otherworld (Oweynagat).

Today the region is mostly agricultural land. All that remains of this once great royal landscape is a series of field monuments and mounds which mark the location of the ancient sites.

The central Rathcroghan site is the only site in the complex freely open to the public (tours to other locations are arranged through the Rathcroghan Visitors Centre @ Cruachan Aí). This site is a broad flat-topped circular mound with a base of 90 meters and a height of 5.5 meters, sloping ramps on the east and west give access to the summit, on which there are traces of a small mound. Once thought to be a natural feature shaped by man to its present form, archaeological research has shown that it is in fact a man-made structure sitting on natural glacial ridge.

The mound was once the location of a large earth and stone structure which would have stood 15-20 feet high. The central stone monument was surrounded by a series of spiral henges and enclosed by a wooden palisade held in place by a revetment wall. A wooden passage extending to the east provided the only access to this monument which was the focal point of a spiritual and kingship tradition associated with both the Goddess Medb (sovereignty) and the Morrigan (Battle, Strife and Fertility).

While there has been no excavation of the mound, geophysical surveys have revealed there to be a second temple site beside the monument and a possible passage and chamber located beneath the site. It is unsure what this feature may represent at the present moment, but it been strongly suggest that the mound hides a passage tomb, similar to the Mound of the Hostage at Tara or Newgrange.

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8. Kells Priory

Originally founded by Geoffrey FitzRobert de Marisco in 1193, Kells Priory was mostly destroyed in attacks in both 1252 and 1327. It was later rebuilt, but then became one of the monasteries dissolved by King Henry VIII in the mid-sixteenth century.

Kells Priory continued to operate for another century or so, but eventually fell into disrepair. As a structure, Kells Priory seems more a fort than a monastery, its grand turrets and thick stone walls casting an imposing shadow. It is also quite vast, its land stretching over four acres and including, amongst other things, a church, domestic dwellings and a chapel.

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9. Chester Beatty Library

The Chester Beatty library has one of the world’s great collections of manuscripts and related art from across the world with a particular emphasis on the great cultures and religions of the world.

It is a truly remarkable museum, a hidden gem in the heart of the city and a place worth repeated revisits. It is also a great place to have a meal or coffee and baklava.

This article is a stub and is currently being expanded by our editorial team.

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10. The Main Guard

The Main Guard was built in 1675 by the First Duke of Ormond, James Butler. A sandstone building with open archways, it operated as a courthouse of the Palatine jurisdiction of County Tipperary until 1715, when this jurisdiction was extinguished.

In the early nineteenth century, the Main Guard was transformed into a shopping district and its structure was altered, including excavating the basement and adding further levels.

However, the Main Guard has now been restored to its seventeenth century form. Visitors can explore the Main Guard via guided tours, taking approximately forty minutes.

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