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POSTED BY October 18, 2021

Millions of years old burial mounds, remains of the Celts and natural areas created during the Ice Age – Ireland has no shortage of ancient heritage. Some of these spots may be off the beaten track, but all of them are worth a visit. Ireland’s historical heritage makes it one of the ultimate travel destinations! Will you be visiting the stone circles in Cavan Burren Park or the fascinating monastery village in the Glendalough Valley this year? Learn all about Irish history at these archaeological hotspots!

1. Burial mounds older than Giza

historisch erfgoed in Ierland ierse geschiedenis knowth
The burial mounds of Knowth and Newgrange are older than the pyramids at Giza or Stonehenge. Photo: theilr / Flickr

Newgrange and Knowth are among the most important archaeological finds in Irish history. These two burial mounds are older than the pyramids at Giza and Stongehenge in England, but offer an equally interesting look into the history of their area. The building blocks of the temples feature fascinating carvings that are some of the most important prehistoric rock art in Europe.

During the shortest day of the year, the sun shines directly into the narrow entrance to the burial mounds, causing a narrow strip of light to reach the center of the ritual chamber. This spectacle annually attracts visitors from all over the world. It remains a mystery how the people of Ireland produced such an ingenious structure five thousand years ago.

2. Primal landscape of Cavan

The fascinating landscape of Cavan Burren Park took shape during the last glacial period, when huge glaciers slid across the land and carved out valleys. The ice caps have now left Ireland, but the ancient nature reserve still looks largely like it did in prehistoric times. Huge sandstone rocks are still exactly where they were left by glaciers.

The stones in the landscape tell the story of this historical heritage: millions of years old fossils, ancient rock art and mysterious stone circles are waiting to be discovered in the park!

3. Last port for Titanic

historisch erfgoed in Ierland ierse geschiedenis cobh titanic
The coastal town of Cobh was the last place the Titanic docked for its disastrous voyage across the Atlantic. Photo: visitcobh.com

Ireland’s human history goes back many thousands of years. However, the country’s recent history is also filled with fascinating stories. Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland? In the coastal town of Cobh, on the south coast of the island, you can also learn all about this infamous passenger ship. After all, Cobh was the very last place the Titanic anchored before the craft began its maiden and final voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Three days after departure from this Irish place (then called Queenstown) the ship sank.

In addition, Cobh was instrumental in the mass emigration of Irish people to North America. Of the 6 million Irish who emigrated between 1848 and 1950, about 2.5 million people left Cobh.

4. Prehistoric dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen, The Burren

Poulnabrone dolmen is a thousands of years old dolmen and one of the most fascinating sights in the Burren, a vast karst stone landscape in County Clare. The Burren is the largest karst landscape in Europe, and is a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers. Consisting of gray rock full of holes and slots, the harsh environment looks almost otherworldly. The Poulnabrone dolmen adds a touch of mystery to that. Who made this funerary monument and who are the 33 people buried here?

A great way to explore the Burren area is to walk the Burren Way. This walking route passes several unforgettable sights in Western Ireland. For example the famous Cliffs of Moher, the cozy town of Doolin and of course Poulnabrone Dolmen!

5. Excellent view

historisch erfgoed in Ierland ierse geschiedenis uisneach
Every year, an ancient festival takes place on Uisneach Hill, during which a bonfire is lit. Photo: Andrea Nuzzo / CC BY-ND 2.0

Uisneach hill is the geographical and spiritual center of Ireland. Although the hill itself is less than 200 meters high, the view from the top is spectacular. In good weather, no fewer than 20 of Ireland’s 32 counties are visible!

Archaeologists found remains of burial mounds, ring forts and a sumptuous royal palace here. Uisneach is one of Ireland’s lesser known historical heritage destinations – a true hidden gem if you ask us!

6. End of the world

Dun Aengus, part of the West of Ireland/Connemara tour
Dun Aengus, Aran Islands

The largest of the Aran Islands, Inishmore is a great destination. Especially for those who like to spend time in the fresh Atlantic air! Walk or cycle around the sparsely populated island and get to know the seal family that lives here.

On the south coast of the island, on the edge of a steep cliff, lie the foundations of a prehistoric ring fortress: Dun Aengus. This structure is estimated to be over three thousand years old. Europe has few ring fortresses from this period that are so well preserved and offer such an unforgettable view. This breathtaking location is without a doubt one of the highlights of Ireland’s historical heritage!

We can also visit Inishmore as part of a walking tour of Connemara and the West of Ireland.

7. Creepy prison

Most travelers visiting Ireland stay in Dublin for at least a day or two. The Irish capital has a huge range of historical sites, including Viking artifacts, an enchanting castle and dozens of churches and cathedrals – each with their own stories and legends.

But a very unique attraction is the Kilmainham Gaol, an old prison that can now be visited as a museum. Tales of the Irish Civil War, the uprisings against British rule and the Irish Famine are all united in this eerie building. Please note: the prison can only be visited with a pre-booked tour!

8. Calm monastery valley

Glendalough, Wicklow Way

Anyone visiting County Wicklow – south of Dublin – cannot miss this place. The peaceful Glendalough Valley is not only one of the most beautiful natural areas in the country, but also the site of a unique historical heritage! Glendalough was a religious village in the early Middle Ages.

The remnants of the sixth-century monastery site make you feel as if you are going back in time. A high, round tower, a church, a cemetery and various foundations can still be admired. The peaceful surroundings of the East Ireland valley are also worth a visit. The spectacular view of the valley with a mirrored lake and the iconic tower is a highlight of their visit to Ireland for many.

Glendalough can also be visited as part of a hiking tour through the famous Wicklow Mountains.

9. Monks from Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael
Credit: CHB1848 / Flickr

Just off the coast of Kerry’s mountainous landscapes lie the Skellig Islands, which rise like jagged rocks from the ocean. Skellig Michael is known for the many puffins that live here and the Star Wars scenes that were filmed here. In recent years, the venue has gained notoriety among Star Wars fans and has become one of the most popular attractions in Ireland.

Slightly less known than its connection to Star Wars is the island’s seventh-century monastery village. Here monks lived a hard and lonely life in stone beehive huts. Today the islands are an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. That is why they may only be visited by a limited number of tourists each day. However, anyone who gets the chance to set foot on Skellig Michael will not soon forget this. Narrow stone steps lead up the steep cliffs of the island. It is difficult to comprehend how the monks lived here in their simple stone huts, isolated from civilization and completely at the mercy of the changeable Atlantean weather.

Visiting Skellig Michael is a great idea for an extra day activity while walking the Kerry Way, Ireland’s longest walking trail.

We hope that you enjoyed this guide to Ireland’s historical heritage: 9 places not to miss! If you’re interested in taking an Ireland walking tour, just get in touch.