Perilously perched on a sheer sea-cliff, Dún Aonghasa defiantly faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest of the prehistoric stone forts of the Aran Islands.
The fort consists of three massive drystone defence walls. Outside them is a chevaux-de-frise – that is, a dense band of jagged, upright stones, thousands in number. A devastatingly effective way to impede intruders, the chevaux-de-frise surrounds the entire fort from cliff to cliff.
Dún Aonghasa is over 3,000 years old. Excavations have revealed significant evidence of prehistoric metalworking, as well as several houses and burials. The whole complex was refortified in AD 700–800.
The visit involves a short hike over rising ground and rough, natural rock, so come prepared with boots or strong walking shoes. Be careful, too, when walking near the cliff – there is no fence or barrier at the edge of the 87-metre drop.
Beneath the wild boglands of north Mayo lies a system of fields, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs which together make up the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world.
The stone-walled fields, extending over hundreds of hectares, are the oldest known globally, dating back almost 6,000 years. They are covered by a natural blanket bog with its own unique vegetation and wildlife.
The award-winning visitor centre is set against some of the most dramatic rock formations in Ireland. A viewing platform on the edge of the 110-metre-high cliff will help you make the most of the breathtaking scenery. Come prepared with protective clothing and sturdy footwear, though. The terrain – and the weather – can be challenging.
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre (Newgrange and Knowth)
The World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne is situated within a bend in the River Boyne. It is famous for the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, built some five millennia ago.
These ceremonial structures are among the most important Neolithic sites in the world. They contain the largest collection of megalithic art in western Europe.
The visitor centre has just undergone a major reimagining and its state-of-the-art exhibitions illuminate the history of these extraordinary places. Starting in the Visitor Centre a visit to Newgrange and Knowth is now a combined interconnected visiting experience. This allows for greater access to the sites and for the first time an outside only option is available at Newgrange when chamber access is full.
Hill of Tara
The Hill of Tara has been important since the late Stone Age, when a passage tomb was built there. However, the site became truly significant in the Iron Age (600 BC to 400 AD) and into the Early Christian Period when it rose to supreme prominence – as the seat of the high kings of Ireland. All old Irish roads lead to this critical site.
St Patrick himself went there in the fifth century. As Christianity achieved dominance over the following centuries, Tara’s importance became symbolic. Its halls and palaces have now disappeared and only earthworks remain.
There are still remarkable sights to be seen, however. Just one example is the Lia Fáil – the great coronation stone and one of the four legendary treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann – which stands proudly on the monument known as An Forradh.
Guided tours of the site will help you understand the regal history of this exceptional place and imagine its former splendour.
The Loughcrew cairns, also known as the Hills of the Witch, are a group of Neolithic passage tombs near Oldcastle in County Meath. Spread over four undulating peaks, the tombs are of great antiquity, dating to 3000 BC.
Cairn T is one of the largest tombs in the complex. Inside it lies a cruciform chamber, a corbelled roof and some of the most beautiful examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. The cairn is aligned to sunrise at the spring and autumn equinoxes and at these times people gather there to greet the first rays of the sun.
Guided tours of the site explore the history and mythology of these fascinating monuments.
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
Carrowmore – the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland. It lies just south-west of Sligo town, right at the heart of the Cúil Írra Peninsula, an area alive with prehistoric significance.
Packed together at Carrowmore are more than 30 stone tombs, many of which are still visible. Most are passage tombs and boulder circles. There are various forts and standing stones in the area too. The origins of these monuments reach far into prehistory – the most ancient among them is close to 6,000 years old.
A restored cottage houses an exciting new exhibition that will satisfy the curiosity of even the most demanding visitors. Come prepared for a hike across rugged terrain.
Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre
Hidden away in the boglands of Longford, not far from Kenagh village, is an inspiring relic of prehistory: a togher – an Iron Age road – built in 148 BC. Known locally as the Danes’ Road, it is the largest of its kind to have been uncovered in Europe.
Historians agree that it was part of a routeway of great importance. It may have been a section of a ceremonial highway connecting the Hill of Uisneach, the ritual centre of Ireland, and the royal site of Rathcroghan.
The trackway was built from heavy planks of oak, which sank into the peat after a short time. This made it unusable, of course, but also ensured it remained perfectly preserved in the bog for the next two millennia.
Inside the interpretive centre, an 18-metre stretch of the ancient wooden structure is on permanent display in a hall specially designed to preserve it. Don’t miss this amazing remnant of our ancient past.