Phoenix Park Visitor Centre – Ashtown Castle
Ashtown Castle is a tower house that probably dates from the seventeenth century, but may be as early as the fifteenth.
For years it was completely hidden within the walls of a Georgian mansion once occupied by the under-secretary for Ireland. When that house was demolished in the late 1980s, the castle was rediscovered. It has since been fully restored and now welcomes visitors.
Surrounding the castle is Ashtown Demesne, which boasts a plethora of attractions. Chief among them is the walled kitchen garden, which has being beautifully restored to its original Victorian layout. There are also woodland walks, picnic areas and a universal-access playground.
The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, adjoining the castle, contains an entertaining exhibition on the park’s history from 3500 BC right through to the present day. There is a charming restaurant in the visitor-centre grounds.
National Botanic Gardens
The National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, just 3 kilometres from Dublin city centre, are renowned for the exquisite plant collections held there. They are home to over 15,000 plant species and cultivars from a variety of habitats from all around the world.
The jewel in the gardens’ crown is a set of exquisitely restored and planted historic glasshouses. Most notable among these are Richard Turner’s Curvilinear Range and the Great Palm House, both winners of an award for excellence in conservation architecture.
Conservation plays an important role in the life of the gardens and Glasnevin is home to over 300 endangered plant species, 6 of which are already extinct in the wild.
The gardens have been closely associated with their counterpart in Kilmacurragh, County Wicklow, since 1854. Unlike the Wicklow branch, though, they provide a calm and beautiful green space in the midst of the nation’s capital.
The Blasket Centre – Ionad an Bhlascaoid
In Dún Chaoin, at the very tip of the Dingle Peninsula, is an utterly unique heritage centre and museum. A stunning piece of architecture in itself, the Blasket Centre tells the story of the Blasket Islands and the tiny but tenacious Irish speaking community who lived there until the mid-20th century.
Life on the Blaskets was tough. People survived by fishing and farming and every day involved a struggle against the elements. Emigration and decline led to the final evacuation of this extraordinary island in 1953.
The island population has left a massive cultural footprint. They documented the life of their community in a series of books which are invaluable social records and classics of Irish literature. They are both a window into the past and a fascinating resource for today.
Visit Ionad an Bhlascaoid - the Blasket Centre - to experience the extraordinary legacy of the Blasket Islanders and delve into the heart of Irish culture, language and history.
Once described as ‘a massive hinge of stone connecting the two outstretched wings of the city’ this tower has never fallen into ruin and has been in continuous use for over 800 years.
Originally the site of a wooden Viking fort, the stone tower we see today actually owes its existence to the Anglo-Normans who made it the strongest point of the medieval defensive walls. Later it was utilised as a mint under King John, before serving various functions under many English monarchs. Weapons, gunpowder and cannons have all been stored here reflecting various periods of Waterford’s turbulent history.
Take the spiral stairs up and en route see the remains of a 19th century prison cell, artefacts from Waterford’s Viking history, and the sword of the Chief Constable whose family were the last residents of the tower.
On two floors are housed one branch of the Waterford Museum of Treasures, concentrating on the town’s thrilling Viking heritage.
St. Mary’s Church Gowran
This church was built in the late thirteenth century as a collegiate church and was served by a college - clerics who lived in a community but did not submit to the rule of a monastery.
The church was patronised by the Butler family and many early family members are commemorated here with elaborate medieval tombs. The impressive ruins were decorated by the Gowran Master whose stone carvings are immortalised in the poetry of Nobel Laureate Séamus Heaney.
The once medieval church was later partly reconstructed in the early 19th century and functioned as a Church of Ireland church until the 1970’s when it was gifted to the State as a National Monument. Today the restored part of the church preserves a collection of monuments dating from the 5th to the 20th centuries.
Take a free in-depth tour in the company of one of the church’s famously engaging guides.
St Ciarán founded his monastery on the banks of the River Shannon in the 6th Century. The monastery flourished and became a great seat of learning, a University of its time with students from all over Europe.
The ruins include a Cathedral, two round Towers, three high crosses, nine Churches and over 700 Early Christian graveslabs.
The original high crosses, including the magnificent 10th century Cross of the Scriptures area on display in a purpose built visitor centre adjacent the monastic enclosure.
An audiovisual presentation will give you an insight into the history of this hallowed space.
Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles. It stands proudly on a rocky island on the River Suir.
The castle was was built in the thirteenth century and served as the stronghold of the powerful Butler family. So effective was its design that it was believed to be impregnable, but it finally fell to the earl of Essex in 1599 when heavy artillery was used against it for the first time. During the Irish Confederate Wars it was besieged twice more.
At the time of building, Cahir Castle was at the cutting edge of defensive castle design and much of the original structure remains.
An excellent audiovisual show now provides sightseers with a detailed appreciation of the castle’s long history. Visitors also flock to the castle because of its role as a film and TV location – it has featured in productions like Excalibur and The Tudors.