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Ireland

Main attractions

Old Library in Trinity College of Dublin, Ireland
Old Library in Trinity College of Dublin / Photo by David Iliff, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Regarding the attractions and landmarks Ireland definitely has its own style! There are few other countries in Europe with such a wide array of archaeological and early medieval heritage. In some places this island is virtually packed with multiple unusual monuments - witnesses of bygone times, bearers of unique traditions in art, architecture, philosophy. Most unusual landmarks here are:

Newgrange burial chamber, Ireland
Newgrange burial chamber / Jimmy Harris, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Megalithic passage graves. At first these comparatively small structures seem to be not that impressive until we find out that more than 5000 years ago people were able to build such complex structures, aligning them with stars and Sun at certain time of the year.
  • Early medieval monasteries. As most of the remaining Europe was undergoing the changes after the collapse of Roman Empire, in Ireland in the 4th - 6th centuries came educated people and monastic schools were founded. These schools became significant intellectual centres of Europe north from the Alps. Very special landmark is the unique Skellig Michael monastery, located on almost inaccessible island - cliff rising from the stormy Atlantic Ocean.

Natural landmarks

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Cliffs of Moher / Rodrigo Silva, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Cliffs

  • Cliffs of Moher - Clare. Mighty seaside cliffs, up to 214 m high. Fine views open from Victorian observation tower - O'Brien's Tower built in 1835. Very popular toruist destination.
  • Croaghaun Cliffs - Mayo. Some of the tallest sea cliffs in Europe, up to 688 m high. This is though not a vertical cliff. Area of high scenic beauty.
Burren, Ireland
Burren / LWYang, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Other natural landmarks

  • Aillwee Cave - Clare. 1,030 m long cave with underground river, waterfall, some impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Here have been found remnants of bears.
  • Burren - Clare. One of the best examples of glaciokarst anywhere. These undulating hills for most part consist of barren limestone pavements. In the limestone cracks grows unusual community of plants - a mix of arctic, alpine and Mediterranean species.
  • Powerscourt Waterfall - Wicklow. 121 m tall waterfall, tallest in Ireland. Waterfall slides down along a steep cliff.
  • Reenadinna Wood - Kerry. One of the few natural yew forests in the world, area 25 ha. This is an unusual forest where the ground is covered almost exclusively by moss.

Man made landmarks

Drombeg stone circle, Ireland
Drombeg stone circle / Gavin, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Megalithic stone circles, henges

  • Beltany stone circle - Donegal. Large circle made from upright stones. In total here are 64 stones laid closely together, enclosing a low tumulus. One stone is adorned with cup marks. This landmark was created and used around 1400 - 800 BC and could be related to a Celtic festival of fertility.
  • Bohonagh - Cork. Impressive stone circle - megalithic monument from the Bronze Age. 13 stones here are still standing, the highest are 2.4 m tall.
  • Drombeg stone circle - Cork. Megalithic site - a stone circle with 13 stones still standing, up to 1.9 m high. Some stones have cup marks, also with rings around them.
  • Dún Ailinne - Kildare. Ancient ceremonial site - enclosure (13 ha) inside a henge - a ring of earthworks and ditch inside the walls. It is possible place for the inauguration of ancient Irish kings and other important events. Site was developed in the Iron age and was largely abandoned by the 6th century AD.
  • Grange stone circle - Limerick. Largest stone circle in Ireland, with a diameter of 45 m, with 113 standing stones. Tallest stone is 2.8 m high. Circle most likely was created in the Neolithic age and is surrounded by earthen bank. Nearby are more megaliths.
  • Monknewtown Henge - Meath. A henge - area enclosed in a circular wall up to 3 m high. In the middle, enclosed by this wall, is a small pond. This is a possible site of rituals in Neolithic age.
Loughcrew, petroglyphs illuminated by rising Sun at equinox, Ireland
Loughcrew, petroglyphs illuminated by rising Sun at equinox / Rob Hurson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Megalithic graves

  • Carrowkeel - Sligo. Group of mehalithic graves, made roughly in 3400 - 3100 BC. In total in this group are 14 enormous stone cairns. In some tombs were found pieces of ritual ceramics, now named Carrowkeel Ware.
  • Carrowmore - Sligo. Group of Neolithic passage graves, built in 3700 - 2900 BC. Currently this is a group of some 30 survived monuments, most of them - smaller "satellite" tombs surrounding the largest cairn - Listoghil. Listoghil is made roughly at 3500 BC and has a diameter of 34 m and height of some 10 m. Some stones in its box-like chamber are adorned with petroglyphs.
  • Dowth - Meath. Neolithic passage grave, made approximately in 2500 - 2000 BC. The largest tumulus here is some 15 m high and has a diameter of some 85 m. Some kerbstones still are in their original places at the sides of hill, some stones are decorated. Passages of the grave most likely has been orientated to the winter solstice.
  • Knowth - Meath. Passage grave from the Neolithic age, roughly 2500 - 2000 BC. The largest mound is some 12 m high and 67 m in diameter, there are also 17 smaller tombs. Through this tomb lead two passages, each with its own burial chamber. Passages and kerbstones are adorned with megalithic art - here is concentrated approximately one third of all mehalithic art of Europe, with more than 200 decorated stones. Most of this adornment is spirals, lozenges, serpentiforms. Part of carvings are made on the back side of stones - it is hidden from the view. Later, in prehistoric times this place was used also as a shrine, then in the Iron Age - a hillfort. Passages in the tumulus might have exact orientation according to the Sun.
  • Loughcrew - Meath. Site with very old passage graves with megalithic structures, mostly made in 3500 - 3300 BC. Stones in this site are adorned with specific petroglyphs - leaf shapes, lozenges, circles with radiating lines.
  • Medb's Cairn, Ireland
    Medb's Cairn / K H, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
    Medb's Cairn (Meascán Méabha, Queen Maeve's Tomb) - Sligo. Enormous burial cairn from the Neolithic Age, made around 3000 BC. This cairn is some 55 m wide and 10 m high, located on the top of the impressive Knocknarea hill. On the top of mountain are many more smaller tombs.
  • Newgrange - Louth. Most famous megalithic site in Ireland: a tomb hill, 76 metres wide and 12 metres high grave with a passage built between 5500 - 3200 BC. Renowned due to its astronomic positioning: at the dawn of winter solstice day Sun shines through the 18 metre long passage.
  • Poulnabrone dolmen - Clare. Spectacular dolmen, made sometimes in the time period between 3800 BC and 3600 BC. Dolmen consists of two upright stones holding an enormous capstone, rised 1.8 m above the ground.

Groups of prehistoric monuments

  • Céide Fields - Mayo. Very well preserved, world's most extensive Neolithic site. Site contains remains of the world's oldest field system, created around 3700 - 3500 BC. Fields were divided with stone walls into strips. Afterwards these artefacts were covered with peat bog, conserving it.
  • Hill of Tara - Meath. Group of important archaeological monuments related to the legendary High Kings of Ireland who in the Iron Age and also in the early Medieval Ages ruled over the whole Ireland. Central feature in Tara is a high hill with many man-made earthworks on it. The largest is an 318 by 264 m large ringwall with smaller earthen structures inside it. Inside this ringwall is a standing stone believed to be a Stone of Destiny where High Kings were crowned. To the north from this complex is Dumha na nGiall - Mound of the Hostages, a Neolithic passage tomb which was built around 3400 BC.
  • Hill of Uisneach - Westmeath. Mythological centre of Ireland - 182 m tall hill with remains of numerous ancient structures. Here are henges, barrows, cairns as well as holy well. Important feature is Ail na Míreann - possible marker of county borders in the ancient times, some 6 m tall boulder. This most likely was an ancient (Iron Age) ceremonial centre.
  • Rathcroghan - Roscommon. Group of impressive archaeological sites, possible capital of Connachta. In ancient times this was an important place for gatherings and also a necropolis. Central feature is some 90 m wide mound with a flat top and a smaller mound on top of it - Rathcroghan Mound. Other interesting features are Rathmore (a raised, circular area some 30 m across), Oweynagat - a cave in limestone which was believed to be a gate to the otherworld - according to the legends from this gate came horrific creatures which in old times created much problems in Ireland.
Dún Aonghasa - prehistoric fort in Ireland
Dún Aonghasa / Christopher Brown, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Ancient and medieval ringforts

  • Cahercommaun - Clare. Ringfort with three concentric walls, built around 800 AD. The inner wall alone includes some 16,500 tons of stone and is more than 4 m tall. People in this settlement livedf also before the medieval ages, in the 5th - 6th century AD.
  • Caherconnell Stone Fort - Clare. Fine ringfort - fortified settlement, made in the medieval times from dry stone. Walls are up to 3 m tall and enclose area with a diameter of 42 m. Ringfort was made in the time period between the early 10th century and middle of the 12th century.
  • Dún Aonghasa (Dun Aengus) - Galway, Aran Islands. Very impressive prehistoric fort made from stones. First construction was made here around 1100 BC and further fortifications were built around 500 BC. Fort consists of four concentric walls on the cliff which towers some 100 m above the sea. It most likely was rather a religious and not military site.
  • Dún Chonchúir - Galway, Aran Islands. Prehistoric fort from stone. It has an oval form, walls are some 160 m long and up to 5.5 m high.
  • Dún Dúchathair - Galway, Aran Islands. Enormous stone fort which was built in prehistoric times. It's walls are up to 6 m tall and 5 m wide. Fort is located in a dramatic location - small peninsula with steep cliffs.
  • Dún Eochla - Galway, Aran Islands. Stone ring fort with up to 5 m high walls. Fort has been preserved in very good condition and is located inpicturesque site. Constructed sometimes between 550 and 800 AD.
  • Grianan of Aileach - Donegal. Very well preserved stone ringwall from the 6th - 7th century AD, seat of the Kingdom of Ailech. Wall is some 5 m tall, 4.5 m wide.
  • Staigue stone fort - Kerry. Impressive stone ringfort which could be built between 300 and 400 AD. Its walls are up to 5.5 m high. Possible cult place.
Ross Castle, Ireland
Ross Castle / Denis Moynihan, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Castles

  • Ashford Castle - Mayo. Enormous castle, construction started around 1228. The old building got two fine extensions in Victorian style after 1852. Now it is a luxury hotel.
  • Blarney Castle - Cork. Large castle, popular tourist destination. Stone castle here was built around 1210, rebuilt after 1446. Castle is surrounded with fine gardens, here is also a fine mansion which was built in 1874.
  • Cahir Castle - Tipperary. One of largest and best preserved castles in Ireland. Construction of this castle started in 1142 and it was gradually rebuilt and extended until the 17th century. Castle has impressive outer walls.
  • Carrigaphooca Castle - Cork. Ruins of massive, five floor high tower house. This defensive tower was built in 1436.
  • Clondalkin Round Tower - Dublin. One of the oldest and best preserved round towers - typical Irish medieval fortifications. This tower is 25.6 m tall and has its original conical cap. Tower was built in the 8th century AD.
  • Kilkenny Castle - Kilkenny. Major castle, built in 1195 - 1213, later rebuilt and expanded.
  • King John's Castle - Limerick. Very well preserved Norman castle, built in 1200 - roughly 1210.
  • Rock of Cashel - Tipperary. Enormous castle and later church, seat of the kings of Munster. It was donated to the Church in 1101. One of msot impressive medieval castles anywhere. Tallest part is 28 m tall round tower from 1100 AD, made from dry stone. Impressive is Cormac's Chapel - sophisticated Romanesque structure with beautiful local frescoe.
  • Ross Castle - Kerry. Tower house and keep from the late 15th century, home of O'Donoghue clan. Tower house has five floors. Site of legends about ghosts, especially in May Day.
  • Trim Castle - Meath. Largest Norman castle in Ireland, built in the 12th century. It consists of impressive keep (donjon) with three floors and unusual form - in the plan it resembles a cross. Around it have been built massive curtain walls.
Powerscourt Estate, Ireland
Powerscourt Estate / Denis Moynihan, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Palaces

  • Powerscourt Estate - Wicklow. Majestic palace with gardens. In the 13th century here was built a castle which was rebuilt into a palace in 1731 - 1741. Around the palace are exquisite gardens, set in the 19th century. In the park grows a 61.5 m tall Douglas fir - the tallest tree in Ireland.

Churches

Gallarus Oratory, Ireland
Gallarus Oratory / Olivier Bruchez, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Christ Church Cathedral - Dublin. Major church, founded after 1028. Cathedral has Romanic - Gothic appearance but much of it has been rebuilt in the Victorian times - 19th century. Impressive is the 63.4 m long crypt, which was built in 1172 - 1173.
  • Gallarus Oratory - Kerry. Primitive and unusual structure from stone, somewhat similar to upturned boat. This is an rural Christian church. It most likely was built in the 12th century, although some consider that it was built in the time period betweeen the 6th and 9th century.
  • St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin - Dublin. Largest church in Ireland, founded in 1191. From the original church remains only Baptistry, other parts were built in the later centuries. Impressive Gothic architecture, ornate interiors.
Glendalough monastery, Ireland
Glendalough monastery / Claire Gribbin, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Early medieval monasteries

  • Abbey of Kells - Meath. Remnants of a monastery which was first founded around 554 AD and then later - in the early 9th century. Much of the Book of Kells was created here. Monastery is located in an earlier hillfort. Significant monument is a tall, slender guard tower as well as fine high crosses.
  • Clonmacnoise - Offaly. Ruins of early medieval monastery, founded in 544 AD, major centre of religion, crafts and teaching by the 9th century AD. By the 11th century it was a town with some 2,000 inhabitants and here were created some of the most beautiful stone and metal works in Ireland. Declined after the 12th century, now extensive ruins of many buildings remain. Here are also many fine sculptures, exquisitely carved stone crosses.
  • Glendalough monastery - Wicklow. Remnants of an Early Middle Age monastery and settlement around it. This monastery was founded in the 6th century AD by St. Kevin. It was an important centre of knowledge and teaching where were written and copied manuscripts. Visible remnants of structures were for most part built in the 10th - 12th centuries. Especially impressive is the gateway with granite arches, the impressive Round Tower which is some 30 m high, the cathedral, the rebuilt Priest's house in Romanesque style and several churches.
  • Inis Cealtra - Munster. Remnants of an early medieval monastery and settlement on a small island in lake - Lough Derg. This monastery was founded by St. Colum around 520 AD. Here still are standing a Baptism Church in Romanesque style, Romanesque St. Caimin's Church, the unfinished ROund Tower and other buildings.
  • Monasterboice - Louth. Remains of an early medieval monastery, founded by St.Buithe in the late 5th century AD. Most interesting remains here are the ornate high crosses from the 10th century including the 5.5 m tall Muiredach's High Cross - possibly the most beautiful example of Celtic stonework. Here is also some 35 m tall round tower and remains of two churches.
  • Reask - Kerry. Remnants of an early medieval monastery, built in the 7th century AD. Site includes remnants of fortification walls, stone huts. Notable are decorated stone slabs. One of these stones is especially interesting and contains inscription.
  • Skellig Michael monastery - Kerry, Skellig Michael island. Exceptionally well preserved remnants of an early medieval monastery located in a dramatic landscape - a cliff in the sea. This Christian monastery was founded here sometimes in the 6th - 8th century AD and occupied until the 13th century. Monastery was built on artificial terraces and contained six beehive cells, two oratories, church as well as stone crosses and slabs.

Parks and gardens

  • Birr Castle gardens - Offaly. Fine gardens next to a well maintained, inhabited medieval castle. Walled gardens in this park contain box hedges - tallest hedge in the world. Here is also the oldest wrought-iron bridge in Ireland, made in 1820.
  • Glanleam House and subtropical gardens - Kerry, Valentia Island. Lush gardens with subtropical plants, reminding rather New Zealand and not Europe. Here grow the tallest tree ferns in Europe.
Remains of some 1500 years old drystone tower in Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
Remains of some 1500 years old drystone tower in Dingle Peninsula / deek ay, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Other man made landmarks

  • Fahan, Dingle Peninsula - Kerry. Largest and most spectacular concentration of clochán - ancient and medieval huts, made from dry stone and resembling large beehives. This amazing rural area includes also cave dwellings, megaliths and other structures. There have been counted 414 clochán, most of them from the medieval times.
  • Irish Houses of Parliament - Dublin. Historical building of Irish Parliament, innovative building for its time. Built in Neo-Classicism style, construction started in 1729. This building inspired numerous other famous Neo-Classicism style government buildings around the world including the US Capitol, British Museum. Although building now is used for bank, it holds a high number of simbolics and traditions of Irish parliamentarism.
  • The Wonderful Barn - Kildare. A barn built as a round, conic tower with ladders going around it forming a shape similar to a corkscrew. It was built in 1743 next to Castletown House. It is not entirely clear why this structure has such a form.
  • Trinity College Old Library - Dublin. Impressive building of the university library, built in 1712 - 1732. Especially impressive is The Long Room - 65 m long hall with 200,000 oldest books in library. An item of special pride is the beautiful Book of Kells - illuminated manuscript created around 800 AD.

List of described attractions by counties

Ireland is divided into 26 traditional counties.

Carlow
Cavan
Clare
Cork
Donegal
Dublin
Galway
Kerry
ArrowSkellig Michael monasteryChristian monasteries
Kildare
Kilkenny
Laois
Leitrim
Limerick
Longford
Louth
Mayo
Meath
Monaghan
Offaly
Roscommon
Sligo
Tipperary
Waterford
Westmeath
Wexford
Wicklow

Map of Ireland

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