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 love 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 suggestions to add to a must-see list for any intrepid explorers, they are all free to enter and you’ll often find you have them all to yourself.
Carrowkeel Megalithic Tomb Cemetery, County Sligo
The megalithic cemetery of Carrowkeel still remains one of the most spectacular and breathtaking archaeological landscapes in Ireland, and is simply a must-see for anyone with any interest in our prehistoric past.
The tombs are situated at the northern end of the Bricklieve Mountains, in County Sligo, and cover a number of the peaks that tower over the surrounding landscape. They are passage tombs, and were built around 5,000 years ago in the Neolithic period. This was the time of the first farmers in Ireland, the people who began to cut back the dense forests that covered the country to create fields for tillage and pasture.
Arguably the most famous passage tomb cemetery in Ireland is the Brú na Bóinne (Bend of the Boyne) including the iconic sites of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, but Carrowkeel is equally as important, with fourteen tombs. Of those tombs three (Cairns G, H, and K) are very accessible.
You’ll find Carrowkeel around 30km or so from Sligo Town. Aim for Castlebaldwin on the N4 road between Sligo and Boyle, and the tombs are well signposted from there. For more detailed directions and information on the history of the site please visit our blog post at TimeTravelIreland.
Rindoon Deserted Medieval Village, County Roscommon.
Rindoon is one of Ireland’s best preserved deserted medieval towns. The castle at Rindoon is thought to date to 1227 and was constructed by Geoffrey de Marisco.
It appears that de Marisco was a villain on a Game of Thrones level of nastiness. He was Justiciar of Ireland between 1215 and 1228, and took full advantage of the young King Henry III by being as corrupt in his dealings in Ireland as possible. He amassed huge swathes of land and a fortune by seizing goods, lands and taxes in the King's name and then keeping the rewards for himself. He was eventually dismissed from office in 1228. He was even excommunicated from the Church for misappropriating funds (the money was just resting in ye olde account apparently).
When you visit the site you can encounter the remains of the medieval castle, church, town walls and you can even still make out the plots where houses and field systems give tantalising glimpses of everyday life in medieval Ireland. Rindoon is a fantastic site to visit, and as well as the intriguing history and archaeology, it makes for a lovely walk. Rindoon is roughly halfway between Roscommon town and Athlone on the N61 and it is well signposted from the road. The main part of the site is about a 15min walk through fields, the fields are full of livestock (cattle and sheep) so do remember to bring appropriate footwear and please close all gates behind you.
For more information about Rindoon and for the story of the villainous Geoffrey de Marisco please see my blogpost at TimeTravelIreland.
The Rock of Dunamase, County Laois.
Perched on a steep rocky crag above the low lying plains of Laois, The Rock of Dunamase is one of the most atmospheric sites to visit in Ireland. The first historical reference to the Rock of Dunamase came from the Annals that record it being plundered by Viking raiders in 843 AD.
But the site was extensively refortified after the Norman invasions of Ireland. The site was said to be part of the dowry given by Diarmuid MacMurrough when his daughter Aoife married the leader of the Norman invasions, Richard de Clare (Strongbow). Strongbow appointed Meiler FitzHenry, a famous Norman knight, as custodian and he began to fortify the Rock to ensure the Normans would have a foothold in the notoriously dangerous borderlands between the Norman colony and the Gaelic Irish kingdoms.