The Emerald Isle: Ireland’s most historical sites
As part of our Irish road trip series, we’ll be exploring the myths and magic that lace the Emerald Isle’s most significant historical sites. We’ve even avoided Dublin Castle, the usual go-to destination for a post like this, to provide you with a little more variation.
Rent a car with easyCar as soon as you arrive on the island to make the most of the country. You can then start visiting Ireland’s finest relics and impressing the locals with your newfound understanding of their proud heritage.
Newgrange, County Meath
The passage tomb at Newgrange is a prehistoric burial mound, spread over an acre of land and surrounded by 97 carved kerbstones. Dating back to 3200BC, the site is significantly older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, classifying it as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Its most extraordinary feature is the alignment with the rising sun during winter solstice when, on the shortest day of the year, the inner chamber is filled with a beam of sunlight. Believed to have either been of religious significance or an ancient method to measure time, it certainly adds an element of mystery to the site.
All access to the monument is via the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre in Donore village, around 45 minutes north of Dublin.
Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary
Don’t be fooled by the name; this is more than just a big stone.
The Rock of Cashel was a medieval fortress from the 4th century, set upon an outcrop of limestone in the Golden Vale and one of Ireland’s most spectacular archaeological sites. It was originally the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years, before the Norman invasion, and now sits in ruins.
The trip from Waterford, Cork and Shannon airports all take between 1 and 2 hours, and there’s plenty of parking and other things to explore.
Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone, County Cork
Another medieval stronghold, alongside the River Martin and dating back to the MacCarthy dynasty of 1446, Blarney Castle and its stone are amongst the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland.
Legend tells us that, by kissing the Blarney stone, you are imbued with the gift of eloquence. However, they make it no easy feat: it involves having to hang precariously upside-down from the castle’s battlements! I think I’ll choose ineloquence…
As is the curse of tourist hotspots, people assume Blarney Castle is only known for its stone. Well, travel only 8km north from Cork (or 3-4 hours from Dublin) and learn more about the Witch’s Kitchen, Wishing Steps and take in the stunning views from the battlements.
Leap Castle, County Offaly
Leap Castle is not for the faint-hearted, the castle is shrouded in layers of mystery and horror stories.
The structure was originally named “Leap of the O’Bannons,” acknowledging the family who built it during the 15th century. By 1557, the O’Carrolls had taken possession following a succession of brutal battles, but there was great rivalry within the family. Many were murdered in the chapel, just one sordid chapter of Leap Castle, while a dungeon was also discovered in which people were left to die.
Maybe leave this trip to the adults, but it’s certainly worth the 1-2 hour drive from both Dublin and Cork.
Skellig Michael, County Kerry
Michael’s Rock, the literal name of this site, protrudes as a rocky island out of the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Kerry. You won’t be able to drive right up to the rock, but you can drive down to South Kerry, the very South East point of Ireland, and hop onto a ferry for the experience.
It was founded in the 7th century and, for 600 years, was the center of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. In 1996, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and became one of Europe’s most famous, but least accessible, monasteries. It’s a truly astonishing site, so be sure not to miss it.
Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
With free admission, and described as not just the best museum in Ireland but, arguably, one of the best in Europe, the Chester Beatty Library is a must-see on the itinerary of any visitor to Dublin or, indeed, Ireland.
A hidden gem in the heart of the city, it has one of the world’s greatest collections of manuscripts and art from across the world, with a particular emphasis on the great cultures and religions of the world.
Kilmainham Jail, Dublin
If you have the desire to fully understand Irish history, especially the incredible story of Ireland’s resistance to English rule, then visiting this former prison in Dublin (a short 3.5km drive from the centre) is a must.
This imposing grey building, built in 1795, has played a role in virtually every act of Ireland’s excruciating path to independence. Upon its closure in 1924, it had sentenced and hosted the executions of some of Ireland’s most prominent figures in history. In 1916, for example, members of the Easter Uprising were held and executed in one of the prison’s exercise yards.
Today, Kilmainham Jail stands as Europe’s largest unoccupied prison and acts as a museum, offering visitors the chance to explore its barbaric history. Some sites are quite gruesome; in addition to cells, visitors can see the block upon which Robert Emmet was beheaded, as well as the doorway where prisoners were hanged.
There is a rich and undiscovered history available to visitors of Ireland. The country is often reduced to just one or two historical events and little else is known. If you are struggling for holiday inspiration this summer perhaps consider the emerald isles and while there don’t forget your Irish easyCar rental, perfect for packing in all the sites.