One of the best things we did when we first arrived in Ireland was purchase a one year family pass from Heritage Ireland. For €60 we got a year’s worth of monuments, castles and manor houses.
We purchased it on our visit to Tintern Abbey and Colclough Walled Gardens last September down in Wexford. Since then we’ve tried to visit as many Heritage Ireland sites as possible, though there are many more that we didn’t manage to get to. Some of our favourites were:
A Cistercian abbey, founded c. 1200 by William, the Earl Marshall, and named after Tintern in Wales. It was occupied until the 1960s by the Colclough family.
A 13th century castle where we received a private tour and learned all about how Diarmuid MacMurchada invited Strongbow into Ireland, which started the whole, you know, English occupation thing.
An Early Christian site founded by St. Ciarán in the mid-6th century on the eastern bank of the River Shannon. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, no less than seven churches, two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe.
More tower house than castle, this is a typical example of an Irish Chieftain’s stronghold during the Middle Ages. The date of its foundation is uncertain but it was probably built in the late 15th century by one of the O’Donoghue Ross chieftains. We learnt how uncomfortable the middle ages must have been, even for the wealthy: they had to smear themselves in animal fat to keep warm, and, disgustingly, they used the ammonia fumes from human waste to kill the fleas in their clothes (that’s what a garderobe was for).
The famous monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. It’s set in a glaciated valley with the two eponymous lakes (Glendalough means a glen with two lakes in Irish), and the monastic remains include a superb round tower, stone churches and decorated crosses. There are wonderful walks around the lakes too.
The largest and most significant Palladian style country house in Ireland, and set amongst beautiful 18th-century parklands
A Stone Age (Neolithic) passage tomb in the Boyne Valley, Newgrange was constructed about 5,200 years ago (3,200 B.C.), which makes it older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun.
On one occasion, on our way back from Connemara, we visited the site of the battle between King William III and his father-in-law, King James II, in July 1690. Both kings commanded their armies in person: 36,000 on the Williamite side, 25,000 on the Jacobite side, which was the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. At stake was the British throne, French dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland.
The largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland, Trim Castle was constructed over a thirty-year period by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter. Construction of the massive three-storied keep, the central stronghold of the castle, was begun around 1176 on the site of an earlier wooden fortress. This massive twenty-sided tower, cruciform in shape, was protected by a ditch, curtain wall and moat.