- Kate Phelan
With sites that predate the Egyptian pyramids, Ireland has some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring prehistoric monuments in the world. Here are seven must-visit ancient areas in the Irish countryside.
Hill of Tara, County Meath
Less than an hour’s drive north of Dublin, you will find the Hill of Tara 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 at the hill’s summit known as Ráith na Ríogh (the Fort of the Kings) with a standing stone named the Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny). 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 BC.
Hill of Tara Visitor Centre, Castleboy, County Meath, Ireland, +353 46 902 5903
Brú na Bóinne, County Meath
Close to the Hill of Tara, the landscape of Brú na Bóinne (meaning 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 BC, 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.
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, Donore, County Meath, Ireland, +353 41 988 0300
Rathcroghan, County Roscommon
Travelling west, 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 ring-forts. Farther south in Roscommon, you will find the Castlestrange Stone inscribed in the Celtic La Tène style, dated around 200 BC.
Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, Tulsk, County Roscommon, Ireland, +353 71 963 9268
Carrowmore, County Sligo
The megalithic cemetery at Carrowmore, County Sligo, is one of the largest in the country. Comprising a series of so-called satellite tombs surrounding a central monument, most of the constructions here are believed to have been made between 4300 and 3500 BC 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.
Carrowmore Visitor Centre, Carrowmore, County Sligo, Ireland, +353 71 916 1534
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Boa Island, Fermanagh
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 73 centimetres high, the design is thought to depict an early Celtic deity. The figure 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’.
Boa Island, Enniskillen, UK
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Located in the vast karst landscape of the Burren, County Clare, the Poulnabrone Dolmen (Poll na mBrón, or ‘hole of the quern stones’, in Irish) is a portal tomb from the Neolithic period. Consisting of a 12-foot-long capstone held in place by two six-foot portal stones, the chamber of this tomb held the bodies of between 16 and 22 adults and six children, along with many of the dead’s personal items.
Poulnabrone Dolmen, Poulnabrone, County Clare, Ireland
Burren, contea di Clare. Una regione unica al mondo, caratterizzata da un paesaggio carsico costellato di grotte, dolmen, fiori e piante di tutti i tipi. Consigliatissima è la #burrenway, percorso nel cuore di questo paesaggio lunare e suggestivo, passando per #poulnabronedolmen, una tomba neolitica risalente al 2.500AC 👍🏻 #magicairlanda #irlanda
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Drombeg Stone Circle
The protected national monument of Drombeg (also known as The Druid’s Altar) is a circle of standing stones spanning nearly ten metres in diameter. It is thought to have been active around 1100-800 BC 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 a young adolescent bound in cloth.
Drombeg Stone Circle, Drombeg, West Cork, County Cork, Ireland
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