Human beings have lived in Ireland for about 10,000 years. A great many relics of ancient cultures have been found in Ireland. Standing stones (many of them in circles) are found throughout the country. County Cork has a large number of prehistoric stone circles.
Newgrange Tomb (shown above) is thought to be about 5200 years old, a thousand years older than Stonehenge. It is 279 feet in diameter and 45 feet high at its peak. It’s called a “passage tomb” and visitors can walk into the center of the tomb where there are three large chambers. The tomb was constructed to allow a beam of sunlight to pass directly through it on the morning of the winter solstice, illuminating the chamber 60 feet inside.
This site, Newgrange.com, has an excellent description of the tomb. The Irish government has constructed a visitors center at Newgrange that provides a helpful explanation of its history and construction. There are a number of other passage tombs located near Newgrange but none as large. Many are still buried in centuries of earth. The famous “Hill of Tara” where Irish kings were crowned and reigned many centuries ago is located nearby in this area of Ireland’s Ancient East.
Christianity came to Ireland in the year 432 AD with the arrival of Saint Patrick. Since that time it has been the most important cultural influence in Ireland. Many monasteries were built and their remains can be found throughout Ireland today. My favorite is Jerpoint Abbey located near Thomastown in County Kilkenny. It is roofless but the walls of the abbey church still stand. Sculptures are found on medieval tombs and on the reconstructed cloisters, some of them sacred and some of them actually humorous. Glendalough, located on a hilltop not far from Dublin, the “Rock of Cashel” in County Tipperary and Clonmacnoice mid-way between Dublin and Galway, are among the most important historic sites in Ireland.
If you’re going to Dublin don’t miss spending an hour or two at the National Museum of Ireland. Under Irish law, every artifact found in the country must be sold to the government. This has resulted in a spectacular collection of ancient gold jewelry and many other relics of centuries long past. The Museum occupies several locations. The most important articles are housed in the main museum building in central Dublin which is open Tuesday through Sunday with free admission and frequent guided tours.
I’ve just skimmed the surface in telling you about the many important historical places to experience in Ireland. The site, Ireland’s Ancient East and the site for the Wild Atlantic Way, covering western Ireland, will show you much more. They are valuable planning tools for people who would prefer to enjoy Ireland’s history rather than Guinness’s brewery.