One of the things I love most about Ireland is that in every county, city, town and village around the country there is usually something fascinating to discover.
As an archaeologist I really enjoy visiting the multitude of heritage sites around Ireland, and the country is packed with iconic historical sites like Newgrange, The Rock of Cashel and Blarney Castle. While absolutely wonderful places to visit, sometimes it can also be very rewarding to stray off the beaten path and explore some of the lesser known gems of Ireland.
Here are five more suggestions to add to a must-see list for any intrepid explorers.
Lough Gur, County Limerick
For anyone interested in Irish archaeology, a visit to Lough Gur is almost like a pilgrimage as it is one of the most important and remarkable archaeological landscapes in Ireland. The site is possibly most famous for its Neolithic settlement.
Several houses, forming a small village, have been excavated on the south-facing slopes of the Knockadoon peninsula, which extends out into the lake. Two of the buildings have been reconstructed and now serve as an excellent visitor center.
From the visitor center, your first stop will be a lovely walk that takes you past ‘The Spectacles’ where you can see the foundations of a number of buildings and field systems dating to the early medieval period. As you follow the path beyond the Spectacles, you climb ever higher and get spectacular views over Lough Gur. From here you can see the castles built by the Earls of Desmond in the later medieval period and the earlier crannogs, small artificial islands, on the lake.
When you have finished your visit to Knockadoon, a short drive up the road will bring you to the cashels of Carraig Áille. These well-preserved early medieval stone ringforts have quite spectacular views. From there take another short drive to see a wonderful example of a Bronze Age wedge tomb, followed by a lovely atmospheric medieval church at Teampall Nua. Last of all is the spectacular Grange Stone Circle.
It really is a spectacular place, steeped in archaeology, history and folklore. For more information please visit their website LoughGur.com.
The River Walk at Trim Castle, County Meath
Lots of visitors stop to see the fantastic Trim Castle, but few realize that just next to the castle you can enjoy one of the nicest strolls in Ireland, as you get to see several fantastic medieval sites all positioned alongside the banks of the beautiful River Boyne. Leave your car in the parking lot below Trim Castle and cross the wooden bridge over the Boyne. From this vantage point you can get amazing views of Trim Castle, Ireland’s largest Norman fortress that was constructed by Hugh de Lacy in the late 12th century.
The unusual building directly across from the castle is Talbot’s Castle, a grand house and formerly the home of Jonathan Swift, author of “Gulliver’s Travels”. The ‘Yellow Steeple’ towers behind it, this was once the bell tower of an Augustinian priory that once thrived here.
Along the path following the bank of the river you will encounter the remains of the medieval town walls and you can find a number of information panels that inform you about life here in the medieval period. You will also encounter the beautiful remains of the cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, a small chapel with the Tomb of the Jealous Man and the medieval remains of the Priory Hospital of Saint John the Baptist. All of these sites are fantastic to explore, the walk from the castle car park to the Priory Hospital will take around 30–35mins and there is a great old pub, Marcey Reagan’s directly across from the last stop so you can reward yourself with a pint as the Boyne slides by.
Tullaghoge, County Tyrone
Tullaghoge in County Tyrone has to be one of the most atmospheric and evocative sites that I have visited. It was the inauguration site of the powerful O’Neill’s. During the crowning ceremony at Tullaghoge, the King elect was seated on a stone inauguration chair known as the Leac na Ri (Stone of the King). He swore oaths to rule by Brehon Law (the ancient laws of Ireland) and to give up the throne if he became too old to rule.
New sandals were placed on his feet by the chief of the O’Hagans and a golden sandal was ceremonially thrown over his head to indicate he would continue in the footsteps of his ancestors, and then the new king was handed the ceremonial rod of office. The primate of Armagh then anointed and crowned the O’Neill as chief and king.