PHOTOS - Ireland’s top ten free heritage sites photo gallery

In a bid to make Ireland's beautiful and historic tourist attractions accessible, Ireland's Office of Public Works (OPW) introduced  free first Wednesdays of every month in 2011, making Ireland's famous heritage sites open to everyone once a month.

Here is our list of the top ten heritage sites that everyone should go and visit -

1. Kilmainham Gaol, County Dublin

Kilmainham Gaol is now a museum but played an important part in Irish history, as many leaders of Irish rebellions were imprisoned and some executed in the prison by the British and latterly in 1923 by the Irish Free State.

In the period of time extending from its opening in 1796 until its decommissioning in 1924 it has been, barring the notable exceptions of Daniel O'Connell and Michael Collins, a site of incarceration of every significant Irish nationalist leader of both the constitutional and physical force traditions. Its history as an institution is intimately linked with the story of the Irish nationalism.

2. Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle was built in 1195 by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. It was a symbol of Norman occupation and in its original thirteenth-century condition it would have formed an important element of the defenses.

In 1967 the property was transferred to the people of Kilkenny for £50.

PHOTOS - Ireland’s top ten free heritage sites photo gallery

3. Newgrange, County 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.

4. Dublin Castle, State Apartments, County Dublin

The State Apartments in Dublin Castle are an extensive suite of rooms which were used by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for personal accommodation and public entertaining. Most of the rooms date from the era of British rule in Ireland.

Nowadays these richly decorated rooms are used by the Irish Government for official engagements including policy launches, hosting of State Visit ceremonial, and the inauguration of the President every seven years.

5. Patrick Pearse Cottage, County Galway

This small restored cottage overlooking the lakes and mountains of Connemara was used by Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) leader of the 1916 Rising, as a summer residence and summer school for his pupils from St Endas, in Dublin.

The interior, although burned during the War of Independence, has been reconstructed and contains an exhibition.

6. Dunmore Cave, County Kilkenny

Dunmore Cave is a limestone cave in Ballyfoyle, County Kilkenny. The cave is particularly well known for its rich archeological discoveries and for being the site of a Viking massacre in 928. It contains almost a quarter of a mile of passages and at its deepest point is 150 foot below the surface. The beauty and magic of its calcite formations as well as its scientific and historical interest make it one of Ireland's most fascinating caves.

7. Ross Castle, County Kerry

Ross Castle is is located on the edge of Lough Leane, in Killarney National Park. It is considered a typical example of the stronghold of an Irish Chieftain 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.

PHOTOS - Ireland’s top ten free heritage sites photo gallery

8. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, County Sligo

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery is one of the four major passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland. It is located at the centre of a prehistoric landscape on the Cúil Irra Peninsula in County Sligo in Ireland.

Around 30 megalithic tombs can be seen in Carrowmore today. The tombs (in their original state) were almost universally 'dolmen circles'; small dolmens each enclosed by a boulder ring of 12 to 15 meters.

9. John F. Kennedy Arboretum, County Wexford

Dedicated to the memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States from 1960 to 1963, the Arboretum is a plant collection of international standing. It covers 252 hectares (623 acres) on the southern slopes and summit of Slievecoiltia and contains 4,500 types of trees and shrubs from all temperate regions of the world, planted in botanical sequence.

10. Desmond Castle, County Cork

The castle was built as the Customs House for Kinsale about the year 1500 by Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond. It was used as a Customs House until 1641 when it was converted into a naval prison, following the construction of a new Customs House. The prisoners kept in the Castle were in the main French and Spanish, and the building became known locally as the "French Prison" as a result.

In January 1747, a fire broke out, killing 54 of the prisoners. In 1791, the castle was donated by James Kearney MP to the town of Kinsale, and it was subsequently used as a town gaol till 1846, and during the Irish Famine as a workhouse.

Admission to OPW managed heritage sites will be free on the first Wednesday of every month in 2011, beginning this month.

PHOTOS - Ireland’s top ten free heritage sites photo gallery

Full list of the free of charge sites included in the initiative (confirm participation with the individual sites before visiting): 

Barryscourt Castle
Desmond Castle (French Prison)
Ilnacullin (Garinish Island)
Donegal Castle
Glebe House and Gallery
The Casino, Marino
Dublin Castle, State Apartments
Kilmainham Gaol
Athenry Castle
Aughnanure Castle
Dún Aonghasa
Portumna Castle and Gardens
Patrick Pearse's Cottage (Teach an Phiarsaigh)
Ardfert Cathedral
Derrynane House, National Historic Park
Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir, The Blascaod Centre
Ross Castle
Dunmore Cave
Jerpoint Abbey
Kilkenny Castle
Emo Court
Parke's Castle
Old Mellifont Abbey
Céide Fields
Battle of the Boyne - Oldbridge Estate
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre (Newgrange) Knowth Open Easter to Late October
Hill of Tara
Trim Castle
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
Sligo Abbey
Cahir Castle
Rock of Cashel
Roscrea Heritage (Castle and Damer House) and the Blackmills
Swiss Cottage
Reginald's Tower
John F Kennedy Arboretum
Tintern Abbey
Glendalough Visitor Centre

Visit for more information.

PHOTOS - Ireland’s top ten free heritage sites photo gallery

Originally published in 2011.