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Historical attractions in Ireland

Ireland is a place like no other. Millions of travellers flock to our shores every year to experience our rich and ancient culture, our dramatic, unspoilt scenery and, of course, our country’s captivating history. And those who come are inevitably touched by this unforgettable isle, as writer Frank Delaney declared, “No land in the world can inspire such love in a common man.”

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Ireland boasts an ancient lineage, with evidence of human settlements dating back all the way to Mesolithic times (c. 8000 BC.). The island’s long and tumultuous history is one of successive invasions and occupations, as well as more peaceful immigration, emigration and influence from other cultures. Ireland has been shaped by its relationship with the Celts, Romans, Normans, Vikings and (perhaps most fractiously) the English. But Ireland has also maintained its unique identity; this proud and ancient land has remained, throughout it all, thoroughly itself.

This diverse and action packed history makes this a fascinating place to explore. Although Ireland may be small, it is packed with more incredible experiences and attractions than you could fit in just one visit. It can be tricky to know where to start! Here are our five top picks of the best historical attractions across Ireland.

1. Blarney Castle, County Cork

Blarney Castle

In our humble opinion, any trip to Ireland must include a visit to Blarney Castle. Steeped in history, myth and mystery, Blarney Castle is a world landmark and one of Ireland’s greatest treasures.

The medieval stronghold which stands today is in fact the third castle to have been erected on this site; first a 10th century wooden structure, next a stone building was erected around 1210 A.D., and finally the third and final castle, built from the foundations of the former in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster. 

The word ‘Blarney’ itself is said to have been introduced to the English language by Queen Elizabeth I. Despite her efforts to take possession of the castle, she was continually thwarted by the cunning and smooth-talking McCathy. ‘Blarney’ describes  ‘pleasant talk, intended to deceive without offending’.  Visitors too can possess McCarthy’s gift of the gab by kissing the mythical Blarney Stone (or stone of eloquence), a treasure which has brought travellers to the castle for hundreds of years.

Blarney Castle is set in over 60 acres of stunning parkland, filled with rare and unusual plants and trees and is steeped in its own history. See our ancient trees and stones, believed to be a garden of druidic origin and a centre of worship in pre-Christian days. Visit the Druid’s Cave, Wishing Steps and Witch's Kitchen, and immerse yourself in the wild magic of ancient Ireland.

2. Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange), County Meath

Brú na Bóinne

UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne contains over 90 Neolithic monuments dotted across the River Boyne Valley, including Ireland’s most famous Neolithic site Newgrange passage tomb. 

Brú na Bóinne is among the most important Neolithic sites in the world and contains the largest collection of megalithic art in Western Europe. These sacred sites date back over 5,000 years to approximately 3,200 B.C. That makes it older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

Any visit to Newgrange must start at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. Here you can learn all about the history of the site in an interactive exhibit which explores Neolithic culture, landscape and monuments.

Standing 80-metres high and encircled by painstakingly engraved white stones, the mound of Newgrange is a sight to behold, and once looking like a natural extension of the green countryside, and alien from it. The most famous attraction is the roof box, which aligns with the rising sun on winter solstice (21st December) filling the chamber with sunlight. Very few people are able to witness this sacred event, with a lucky few chosen by lottery each year, but the rest of us can at least experience the next best thing with artificial lighting.

Pre-booking tickets is essential when visiting Brú na Bóinne.

3. Trinity College, Dublin City

Trinity College, Dublin City

Founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592, Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest university. Some of Ireland’s finest minds received their education at Trinity, including Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.

Visitors can stroll around the beautiful campus, admire the beautiful architecture of the quads, arches and spires, and truly feel like they’ve taken a step back in time when passing from the busy Dublin highstreet through the university’s stone entranceway.

The main attraction for most visitors is the iconic Long Room library. Said to be the inspiration for the library in Harry Potter, the Long Room is filled from floor to ceiling with row upon row of leather-bound books. 

The university is also the home of the Book of Kells, a priceless 9th century illuminated manuscript, which visitors can learn about and witness first hand in a special display.

4. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel, also known as St Patrick’s Rock and The Cashel of the Kings, is one of Ireland’s most visited historical attractions. 

The seat of the High Kings of Munster, Cashel was built between the 12th and 13th centuries. The legend goes that St Patrick visited in 432 A.D. to convert and baptize King Aengus. 

This large, imposing fortress looks down on the beautiful surroundings of Cashel’s rolling hills and distant mountains, providing many magnificent views and excellent photo opportunities.

Visitors today can explore alone or take a guided tour of Cashel’s ruins including the cathedral, chapel and graveyard, and learn about this historical landmark’s role in the story of Ireland and of early Christianity. Cashel is also home to one of Europe’s most significant collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture.

5. Glendalough Monastery, County Wicklow

Glendalough Monastery

Glendalough monastery is situated within Wicklow Mountains National Park, the largest national park in Ireland, covering over 129,500 square kilometers.

The park is well worth a visit, boasting mountains (as the name implies), verdant forests, the Glendalough glacial lake and, of course, the Glendalough monastic site. 

Nestled in the Glendalough valley and surrounded by the protective walls of the Wicklow mountains, the monastic site was founded in the early 6th century by the hermit monk, St Kevin, who sought a place for peaceful, religious reflection. The monastery ran successfully for over 900 years. 

Today, pilgrims can see the ruins of the ancient monastic site scattered throughout this stunning valley, many dating back almost 1000 years. The most famous landmark is probably the round tower, standing 112 feet high with a base measuring 52 feet in circumference.

Steeped in monastic history, Glendalough remains a special place for peaceful reflection and contemplation of the profound beauty of this pristine natural landscape.