Prehistoric Sites to Visit Around Ireland

The Ardgroom Stone Circle in County Cork is one of the top prehistoric sites to check out in Ireland
The Ardgroom Stone Circle in County Cork is one of the top prehistoric sites to check out in Ireland | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Kate Phelan

With sites that predate the Egyptian pyramids, Ireland has some of the most impressive prehistoric attractions in the world. On a visit to the country, you can take in stone circles, monuments and tombs, to name but a few. From the Hill of Tara to the Drombeg Stone Circle, here are 10 must-visit ancient areas in the Irish countryside.

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Hill of Tara, County Meath

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark

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Less than an hour’s drive north of Dublin, you will find the Hill of Tara, an archaeological complex in County Meath believed to have been the seat of the High King of Ireland during Ireland’s Viking Age. Monuments of interest here include an oval Iron Age enclosure known as Ráith na Ríogh (the Fort of the Kings) with a standing stone named the Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny), all at the hill’s summit. The Stone of Destiny is credited as being the place where Irish High Kings were crowned. There is also a Neolithic passage tomb from around 3400 BCE.

Brú na Bóinne, County Meath

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark
Close to the Hill of Tara, the landscape of Brú na Bóinne (Palace or Mansion of the Boyne) in County Meath is home to some of the most significant Neolithic-period constructions in the world. A designated Unesco World Heritage site in the valley of the Boyne River, this area has almost 100 monuments dating back as early as the 35th century BCE, meaning it is older than the pyramids in Egypt. Its most famous elements are the famous stone passage graves known as Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth.

Rathcroghan, County Roscommon

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark
The lands around the villages of Tulsk and Athleague in County Roscommon are abundant with ancient monuments. Particularly well known is the Rathcroghan Complex, widely documented in early Irish manuscripts as the Cruachan, home of the Connachta, or rulers of the west. This complex boasts more than 240 archaeological sites and 60 protected national monuments, from burial mounds to cairns to ring forts. Farther south in Roscommon, you will find the Castlestrange Stone inscribed in the Celtic La Tène style, dated around 200 BCE.

Carrowmore, County Sligo

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark

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The megalithic cemetery at Carrowmore, County Sligo, is one of the largest in the country, comprising a series of satellite tombs surrounding a central monument. Most of the constructions here are believed to have been made between 4300 BCE and 3500 BCE by a community of hunter-gatherers. The Listoghil monument at the centre was the only tomb to have been marked with a cairn or stack of stones. It is significantly larger than the tombs that surround it.

Boa Island, County Fermanagh

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark
Across the Northern Ireland border in County Fermanagh, the Caldragh graveyard on Boa Island in Lower Lough Erne is the site of one of Ireland’s most curious stone sculptures, the Boa Island bilateral figure. A two-faced stone standing 73cm (29in) high, the figure is thought to depict an early Celtic deity. It has been likened to the two-faced Roman god of beginnings, Janus, and was mentioned by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney in his poem “January God”.

Drombeg Stone Circle, County Cork

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark
The protected national monument of Drombeg (also known as the Druid’s Altar) is a circle of standing stones spanning nearly 10m (33ft) in diameter. It is thought to have been active between 1100 BCE and 800 BCE and to have been built to align with the winter solstice sunset. Two ruined prehistoric huts and a fulacht fiadh cooking pit were discovered close to the circle, and excavations during the late 1950s uncovered an inverted pot at the circle’s centre, containing cremated remains of an adolescent bound in cloth.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark

© Gareth McCormack / Alamy Stock Photo

Located in the vast karst landscape of the Burren, County Clare, the Poulnabrone Dolmen (hole of the quern stones) is a portal tomb from the Neolithic period. Consisting of a 12ft (7m) capstone held in place by two 6ft (2m) portal stones, this tomb held the bodies of between 16 and 22 adults and six children, along with many of the dead’s personal items.

Ardgroom Stone Circle

Archaeological site, Historical Landmark
Located on rolling plains overlooking Kenmare Bay and sweeping mountain ranges, Ardgroom Stone Circle is a huddle of jagged rocks measuring 7m (23ft) in diameter. The circle contains 11 stones (nine standing, two lopsided), while some of the original stones have disappeared over the years. The narrow, uneven rocks reach up to 2m (6.5ft) in height. Here, the location is just as beautiful as the circle itself, set on craggy marshland with excellent views over the bay.

Prehistoric rock art in Inishowen, County Donegal

Historical Landmark, Natural Feature, Archaeological site
An excellent opportunity to get to grips with early human expression, the Isle of Doagh in Inishowen boasts one of the most interesting sites in Europe for rock art dating back to at least 3000 BCE. There are over 40 known sites – the largest collection in all of Ireland – and more are still being discovered, with two new findings recently made near the isle. The art contains cup and ring carvings, a tradition that started in the Neolithic times and sees circular petroglyphs impressed into the rockface. Little is known about their meaning, but they were significant in rituals that could be a sign of territorial marking or star mapping. Legend has it that in ancient times, the Isle of Donagh was thought of as a sacred island.

Queen Maeve’s tomb, County Sligo

Historical Landmark, Archaeological site

© David L. Moore – IRE / Alamy Stock Photo

The great cairn of Knocknarea is an impressive neolithic monument that dates before 3200 BCE. Located 327m (1,073ft) above sea level, the gigantic mound measures 60m (197ft) in diameter and contains 27,000 tons (24,493 tonnes) of stone. The megalithic tomb of Queen Maeve crowns its summit. The climb offers pristine mountain views, and on a clear day, you can even see Croagh Patrick in the west.

Additional reporting by Justin McDonnell

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