Top 10 Irish Sights You Must See
FAR too often Irish people set their sights on foreign lands in search of tourist attractions, having never seen the vast historical and cultural splendor of Ireland. Enjoy this list of the top 10 must-see sights and sounds in Ireland.
Kilmainham Gaol, Co. Dublin
If you have only the faintest interest in Irish history, the fascinating tour offered at Kilmainham is a must this summer. One of the largest unoccupied gaols in Europe, Kilmainham lies at the crux of Ireland’s emergence as a modern nation from the 1780s to the 1920s, where some of the most heroic and tragic events in the country’s history unravelled. Attractions include a major exhibition detailing the political and penal history of the prison, the prison’s courtyard poignant in Ireland’s national memory as the site where the leaders of 1916 were executed. The prison’s restoration has revealed even more marvels, most notably a mural of a Madonna, painted by Grace Gifford Plunkett who is intimately linked with the prison’s history. Aptly described as Ireland’s answer to Bastille, Kilmainham is sure to reignite patriotism within given its history as the site of incarceration of every significant nationalist leader, from the factions of both constitutional and physical force.
Croke Park, Co. Dublin
Most commonly associated with Irish sports lore, Croke Park should be high on your list of must-see heritage sights in Ireland’s capital. Ireland’s largest and most iconic sporting arena is the third largest stadium in Europe and the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association is steeped in Irish history. In 1920, Croke Park was stormed by the Black and Tans who opened fire on crowds watching Gaelic football, a momentous episode during the War of Independence which helped to swing support in favour of Irish Nationalists, while the famous Hill 16 acquired its name as a result of rubble from the 1916 uprising used to build it. Immerse yourself in Ireland’s sporting and cultural heritage in a showcasing of hurling and Gaelic football or enjoy a stadium tour. Visit the dressing rooms, walk pitch side via the player’s tunnel and take a seat in the VIP area. The guides will also bring you to the Players’ Lounge, corporate suites, and finally the media centre on the top tier of the stadium where you will enjoy a bird’s eye view. Tours last approximately 90 minutes but tend to get busier on match days. A visit to the GAA museum is sure to compliment your trip, as you learn of the commitment made by Ireland’s leading amateur sports personalities which is on a par with professionals. You are sure to leave with refined appreciation for Ireland’s national games, as well as gaining a greater understanding of how invaluable a gem the GAA remains in Irish culture. With a stadium tour, museum and now a skyline tour, be sure your first visit to Croke Park is GAA related before Garth Brooks takes over this summer!
The Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, Co. Clare
Narrowly piped for an award of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s premier tourist attractions. Located to the south of Doolin village in North Clare, the cliffs ascend to over 700 feet, reaching their highest point near O’Brien’s tour and stretch for almost five miles to Hags Head. Their sheer drop into the roaring waves of the Atlantic Ocean makes them a haven for sea birds. If you’re brave enough, you can lie flat on the cliff edge to see the view below for yourself. Situated against an idyllic backdrop of the Burren’s limestone rock expanse, the cliffs make for a perfect viewing point for the Aran Islands, the Twelve Pins and Maum Turk Mountains in Galway as well as Loop head at the mouth of the Shannon estuary. Though not for the fainthearted, a walk along the paved pathways near the cliffs edge is not to be missed!
Giants Causeway, Bushmills, Co. Antrim
This geological phenomenon renowned for its columns of layered basalt, the result of volcanic eruption, is a jewel in the crown of Irish heritage sites, a mere hour and a half drive from Belfast City. Declared a world heritage site in 1986 by UNESCO owned by the conservation charity The National Trust, it sits in an area of outstanding natural beauty on the North Antrim Coast. Legend has it that Irish mythological hero, Fionn Mac Cumhaill, built the causeway across the North Channel to form a pathway which would host a battle between Scottish giant Benandonner. A new visitors’ centre was opened in July 2012 while some of the structures in the area, having been subject to several million years of weathering, resemble objects, such as the Giant’s Boot and eyes, are sure to attract attention.
Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Co. Galway
Perched spectacularly on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, this is the largest of the prehistoric stone forts found on the Aran Islands. It is enclosed by three massive dry-stone walls and a ‘chevaux-de-frise’ consisting of tall blocks of limestone set vertically into the ground to deter attackers. The fort is about 900m from the Visitor Centre and is approached over rising ground. The fort is completely subject to the elements and involves a short hike from the visitors centre so suitable shoes are advisable to suit the uneven terrain. Plan your trip to coincide with the Red Bull diving series which comes to Inis Mór on June 29 and enjoy a coastal cycle or jaunt in pony and trap to see all the island has to share. Ferries sail daily from Ros a’ Mhíl or for truly spectacular views, choose to fly from Aerphort Chonamara in Indreabhán on the mainland.
Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal
One of six national parks in Ireland and situated in the Northwest of Co. Donegal, Glenveagh encompasses some 16,000 hectares in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains. Such a great wilderness is the haunt of many interesting plants and animals. These lands were managed as a private deer forest before becoming a national park in 1975. With the completion of public facilities Glenveagh National Park was officially opened to the public in 1986. The park extends over a large area of north Donegal between Fintown in the south west to Dungloe and Crolly in the north-west, north by Dunlewy, and almost to Muckish and Termon in the east. Walkers have free access to roam from all points. Hillwalking in Glenveagh National Park can be challenging for the novice, but there are also relatively easy trails described below for all levels within the park.
Gallarus Oratory, An Daingean, Co. Kerry
Located on the Dingle Peninsula, this is the most perfectly preserved of the celtic ‘boat-shaped’ oratories in Kerry, believed to have been built between the 9th and 12th Century, interpreted to mean a place of shelter for foreign pilgrims. Overlooking Ard na Caithne Harbour, the oratory is built from large-cut stones from the Dingle Beds of the Upper Silurian Old Red Sandstone, finished smoothly so they sit perfectly together. According to local legend, a person’s soul will be cleansed by climbing out of the oratory, via the window. While in the Kingdom, take a jaunt out even further west to the breath-taking sights the Corca Dhuibhne peninsula has to offer, from An Triúr Deirfiúr, just north of the village of Baile an Fheirtearaigh, the Blasket Islands, or situated between Slea head and Dunmore head, the beach which features in the Academy Award winning film Ryan’s Daughter.
Battle of the Boyne site, Oldbridge, Co. Meath
Situated in the vale of the river Boyne, the recently restored 18th century Oldbridge house has become the official commemoration site for the Battle of the Boyne, a battle which saw the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. At stake were the British throne, French dominance throughout Europe and religious supremacy in Ireland. You can choose to enjoy a self-guided walk along the Battlesite walkways or Boyne riverside walk, but be sure to give optimum time to the self-guided tour in the visitor’s centre, finishing with refreshments in the tearooms overlooking the Victorian Garden and Octagonal Garden. If time is of the essence when in Meath, be sure to take in the Hill of Tara and the Brú na Bóinne visitor’s centre.
Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny City, Co. Kilkenny
Kilkenny’s 12th century castle – remodelled in Victorian times and set in extensive parklands – was the principal seat of the Butler family, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde. Due to major restoration works, the central block now includes a library, drawing room, and bedrooms decorated in 1830s splendour as well as the beautiful Long Gallery. The original kitchen within the Castle has been transformed into a tearoom, open during high season, while a number of former servants’ rooms have been transformed into the Butler Art Gallery, which mounts frequently changing exhibitions of contemporary art. The Castle stands majestically at the heart of Kilkenny city, overlooking the river Nore and features all the classic elements of a Norman fortress.
Russborough House, Blessington, Co.Wicklow
A mere stone’s throw from Dublin, Russborough is a stately home situated between the towns of Blessington and Ballymore Eustace. Understood to be the longest mansion in Ireland, it represents one of Ireland’s most significant examples of neo-Palladian architecture, constructed for the 1st Earl of Miltown and adorned with ornate plasterwork on the interior ceilings. Most of the mansion’s current furnishings remain original, from rococo gilt to classic statuary while most of the extensive art collection has been donated to the National Gallery of Ireland. A tour of Russborough is sure to leave you with a greater sense of Irish gentry’s sociability, while opportunities for accommodation and private functions are offered in the mansion’s west wing.
Photos c/o rentaldublin.com, wikimedia.org, doolinlodge.com, insightguides.com, mediabox.ie, curiousireland.ie