A survey this year has found that Newgrange, County Meath, remains Ireland’s number one heritage site. It is no wonder that this miracle of man’s creation the 5,000-year-old tomb tops the list ahead of the wonderful Burren, Glendalough, Cliffs of Moher and Hills of Tara.
The survey, carried out by Ecclesiastical Insurance, also found that 75 percent of Irish adults believed that these sites are hugely important to tourism in Ireland. What is also clear is that the Irish have a soft spot for natural wonders and so they should.
Here’s a run-down of Ireland’s top ten heritage sites:
1. Newgrange, Co Meath
Dating back to 3200 B.C the passage tomb at Newgrange is older than the pyramids in Egypt and is officially a World Heritage site.
A large mound, spread over an acre is surrounded by 97, uniquely carved curbstones. The cremated remains of the dead were buried a large stone basins under the mound in a chamber assessable by a narrow passage.
At dawn on the December 21, the shortest day of the year, every year, sunlight shines directly into the central chamber of the tomb. It is believed that this was an ancient way of measuring the passage of time, like a calendar for the ancient farmers, or that the light has some religious significance for those in the afterlife.
Newgrange is part of the Bru na Boinne complex which includes similar tombs at Knowth and Dowth.
2. The Burren, Co Clare
The Burren is a magical karst-landscape in the west of Ireland. You could spend weeks identifying the plethora of flora and fauna in the region. The area offers up some spectacular sights, including sheets of gold and cream Arctic-alpine even in May and the 22 varieties of orchids, which flower through the months until September.
3. Glendalough, Co Wicklow
Glendalough is a piece of heaven on earth. A glacial valley it is renowned for the Early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin, a hermit priest. It was destroyed by English troops in 1398.
This is the perfect place to go hiking, have a picnic and take in Wicklow “the Garden of Ireland”. It’s also conveniently located just 20 minutes outside Dublin.
4. Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare
The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare have been known to make the most jaded jaws drop.
Standing 700 feet above the raging Atlantic Ocean, the towering cliffs stretch out for a distance of about five miles and offer stunning cliff walks.
Make sure to stay back from the edge.
5. Hill of Tara, Meath
The Hill of Tara is also located near the River Boyne in Meath. It is an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin and contains a number of ancient monuments. According to tradition it was the seat of the High King of Ireland (Árd Rí na hÉireann).
The oldest archaeological site at Tara is the Mound of Hostages, which dates back to 2500 B.C.
The hill itself is 500-feet high and has some of the most panoramic views of the plains in Meath.
6. Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly
Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland's most important monasteries and is located on the banks of the River Shannon. It was founded in 545 by Ciaran of Clonmacnoise. Until the 9th century it had very strong ties with the Kings of Connacht.
Its strategic location also helped it to be become a center of religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade. Together with Clonard it is one of the most famous in Ireland and continues to be visited by scholars from all over Europe.
7. Giants Causeway, Co Antrim
The intriguing lunar landscape of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim was Northern Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. It has to be seen to be believed. This stretch of rock is a geological phenomenon, renowned for its columns of layered basalt. It mystified the ancients who believed it to be the work of giant Finn McCool.
8. Rock of Cashel, Co Tipperary
Is not a rock at all, a usual misperception of tourists reading the name off the map.
This Rock of Cashel was a fortress in the 4th century. The medieval structure with four edifices including the Connac’s Chapel, the round tower, the cathedral and the Hall of the Vicars Choral.
It was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years before the Norman invasion. Although very little of the original structure survives the building which have survived date from the 12th and 13th century.
9. Wicklow Mountains, Co Wicklow
Wicklow is known as the 'Garden of Ireland' and its lush valleys and spectacular mountains will not disappoint. A great way to explore these mountains (which are really hills by international standards) is by walking the Wicklow Way.
The Wicklow Way stretches along 83 miles through the Wicklow mountains right up to the suburbs of Dublin City.
The central section of the trail is covered by the Wicklow Mountains National Park - its headquarters are in Glendalough. The route follows on occasion the Military Road, constructed by the British in the early 19th century to gain access to the lower regions of the county and the Irish rebels hiding within.
10. Phoenix Park, Co Dublin
Officially the largest enclosed recreational space within any European capital city, the Phoenix Park is amazing. Established in 1662 it is 707 hectares (1,753 acres) of parkland which house the Irish presidential palace, the Zoo, the Victorian People's Flower Gardens, Ashtown Demense and a Victorian Tea Kiosk.
About 30 percent trees, the park is filled with beautiful wildlife including herds of deer.