The Emerald Isle’s fascinating past is echoed in its stunning landmarks, monuments, and historic houses. There are so many to visit that it can be difficult to know where to begin. Luckily, we’ve put together an expert’s guide to the best sites to visit. 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. One thing’s for certain – make sure you finish the day’s adventure with a pint of Guinness in a cosy Irish pub!
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.
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.
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. Guided tours are also available.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.