With a phenomenal array of historical attractions, Ireland is a thrilling destination for anyone with even a fleeting interest in the relics of the past
If you don’t know your Megalithic from your Neolithic, here’s a quick synopsis of Ireland's rich cultural heritage:
- The first settlers in Ireland probably arrived from northern Britain some 9,000 years ago. They headed up the River Bann and probably settled at the foot of Mount Sandel, near Coleraine, in County Londonderry.
- The Neolithic farmers lasted until around 2000BC when the Bronze Age started.
- The first Celts arrived around 500BC.
- When the Christians arrived, they were intent to reshape the land of pagans. Every county has monastic ruins, and the golden age of Christianity in Ireland can be seen in the misty St Kevin’s monastery at Glendalough, County Wicklow, the 6th Century monastic settlement of Devenish, County Fermanagh, and Clonmacnoise at the River Shannon.
It’s all well and good knowing your history, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing the real thing.
- Older than the pyramids, the megalithic passage tomb at Newgrange in County Meath is a UNESCO World Heritage site and draws over 200,000 visitors a year. Built around 3200BC, this dramatic mound covers around an acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones, some of which are decorated with megalithic art.
The passage and chamber are designed to light up for the summer and winter solstice, but you’ll have to get in line to nab a place. In 2007, almost 28,106 people applied onsite with only 50 places available.
- Beaghmore Stones, County Tyrone, were discovered during peat cutting in the 1940s and date back to approximately 1500BC. The site at Beaghmore consists of seven stone circles and several theories for their use have been put forward, including burials, ceremonial rituals and astronomical observations of lunar, solar or stellor events.
- The Great Mound at Knowth in County Meath is similar to the nearby Newgrange, but was built around 5000 years ago. Access is by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre located close to the village of Donore. Tours of Knowth are from April to October.
- Kells, a stunning round tower that was built for protection against the Vikings, still remains, as does part of the original monastery where the Book of Kells was created over a thousand years ago. The book is now housed in Trinity College Dublin.
- Navan Fort, County Armagh, was the royal seat of the Kings of Ulster and the province's ancient capital. It is a large circular earthwork that encloses two monuments on the hilltop, a ring barrow (Iron Age burial site) and a large mound. The Navan Centre interprets this important ancient monument and offers visitors an understanding of the diverse history of the area.
- Ireland’s cities are ancient monuments in themselves. The archaic, narrow streets of Waterford follow a map begun by Norsemen over a thousand years ago, while Dublin is an older Viking settlement than either Stockholm or Oslo.
- The arrival of the Normans in the 12th century transformed the Irish landscape. You can’t go far without seeing a castle in Ireland – from the operatic grandeur of the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary to romantic ruins such as the keep of Kildownet Castle, once the Achill Island redoubt of the pirate queen Grace O'Malley; or Narrow Water Castle in County Down, which guards over the inlet of Carlingford Lough.