As one of the country’s largest military installations, Charles Fort has been part of some of the most momentous events of Irish history. During the Williamite Wars, for example, it withstood a 13-day siege before it fell. Later, in the Civil War of the early 1920s, anti-Treaty forces on the retreat burned it out.
Charles Fort is a massive star-shaped structure of the late seventeenth century, well preserved despite its history. William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin, is credited with designing it. Its dimensions are awe-inspiring – some of the outer defences are 16 metres high.
The view from the ramparts looking out over Kinsale Harbour is spectacular.
Royal Hospital Kilmainham
The Royal Hospital Kilmainham stands on the site of a seventh-century early Christian settlement, replaced in Norman times with a monastery of the Knights Hospitallers.
The building as we know it today was begun in 1680. Leading architects such as William Robinson, Thomas Burgh and Francis Johnson made it the starting point for Dublin’s development into a city of European standing.
Inspired by Les Invalides in Paris, the building was to be a retirement home for old soldiers. Over the next 247 years, thousands of army pensioners lived out their final days within its walls.
In 1991, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham became home to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest unoccupied gaols in Europe. It opened in 1796 as the new county gaol for Dublin and finally shut its doors as such in 1924. During that period it witnessed some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland’s emergence as a modern nation.
Among those detained – and in some cases executed – here were leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916, as well as members of the Irish republican movement during the War of Independence and Civil War.
Names like Henry Joy McCracken, Robert Emmet, Anne Devlin and Charles Stewart Parnell will always be associated with the building. Not to be forgotten, however, are the thousands of men, women and children that Kilmainham held in its capacity as county gaol.
Kilmainham Gaol is now a major museum. The tour of the prison includes an audio-visual presentation.
Grangegorman Military Cemetery
The largest military cemetery in Ireland, Grangegorman is a stone’s throw from the landmark Phoenix Park.
The graveyard was opened in 1876 as a resting place for service personnel of the British Empire and their families. It contains war graves from both world wars, as well as the graves of some of the British soldiers who lost their lives during the 1916 Rising.
A simply designed screen-wall memorial, built of Irish limestone and standing nearly 2 metres high, commemorates those war casualties whose graves lie elsewhere in Ireland and can no longer be maintained.
Mature trees and well-maintained lawns cast a sombre and reflective atmosphere over this restful place.
The imposing complex of Government Buildings on Upper Merrion Street, next door to Leinster House, was the last major public building the British constructed in Ireland. It was intended as accommodation for the Royal College of Science and various departments of the administration.
Fortuitously, it was complete by 1922. When independence dawned, the new Free State government moved in.
In more recent times, Taoiseach Charles Haughey converted and entirely refurbished the building to form state-of-the-art accommodation for a number of departments, including the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Finance and the Office of the Attorney General. Despite criticism of the expenditure involved, the renovated building won awards for its architectural design when it opened in the 1990s.
There are free guided tours every Saturday, although they are subject to occasional cancellation for urgent government business.
Arbour Hill Cemetery
The military cemetery at Arbour Hill is the last resting place of 14 of the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising. It is therefore a place of pilgrimage for students and aficionados of this tempestuous moment in Irish history.
There is an adjoining church, the chapel for Arbour Hill Prison. At the rear of the church lies the old cemetery, containing fascinating memorials to British military personnel.
The clear focus of Arbour Hill, however, is the legend of the rising. Among those buried here are Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and Major John MacBride. Their bodies were put into an unmarked pit and covered with quicklime, but their grave has now been saved from obscurity with an impressive memorial inscribed in English and Irish.
Arbour Hill Cemetery is at the rear of the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, where you can currently find a large display of 1916-related material.
Irish National War Memorial Gardens
These gardens in Islandbridge, a Dublin suburb, are one of the most famous memorial gardens in Europe. They are dedicated to the memory of the 49,400 Irish soldiers who died in the First World War. The name of every single soldier is contained in the sumptuously illustrated Harry Clarke manuscripts in the granite bookrooms.
These gardens are not only a place of remembrance; they are also of great architectural interest and beauty. The great Sir Edwin Lutyens designed them. Lutyens was a prolific garden designer, especially of war memorials, but nonetheless lent his expertise to only four gardens in Ireland.
Sunken rose gardens, herbaceous borders and extensive tree-planting make for an enjoyable visit in any season. The solemn, serene atmosphere of this elegant garden makes it a perfect place in which to relax and reflect.
Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh, Connemara – Pearse’s Cottage
Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh is located in Ros Muc, in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht. It was here that Patrick Pearse, leader of the 1916 rebellion against British rule, built a summer cottage for himself.
In the state-of-the-art visitor centre you can explore the things that drew Pearse to Connemara – the area’s unique landscape and the ancient Gaelic culture and language which is still alive today. You will get a warm welcome from our local guides, who are steeped in the local culture and take great pride in it.
A short stroll across the bog will take you to the cottage itself. You will find it just as it was when Pearse left for the last time in 1915.
This castle dates from the early days of the Anglo-Norman settlement in Ireland. It was built c.1209 to safeguard the entrance to Dungarvan Harbour. The polygonal shell keep – a rare building type in Ireland – is the earliest structure on the site.
The castle has an enclosing curtain wall, a corner tower and a gate tower. Within the wall is a two-storey military barracks, which dates from the first half of the eighteenth century. It was used by the British Army and the Royal Irish Constabulary until 1922. During the Irish Civil War Dungarvan Castle was destroyed by the Anti-Treaty IRA. It was subsequently refurbished and served as the Headquarters of the local Garda Síochana.
Today the Barracks and Castle grounds are open to visitors. Inside you will find a revealing exhibition on the Castle’s long and intriguing history.
Dwyer McAllister Cottage
This thatched and whitewashed cottage nestles in the shade of Keadeen Mountain off the Donard to Rathdangan road in County Wicklow.
Today, it seems like an unlikely site of conflict. However, in the winter of 1799 it was a different story. It was from this cottage that the famed rebel Michael Dwyer fought the encircling British. One of Dwyer’s compatriots, Samuel McAllister, drew fire upon himself and was killed. This allowed Dwyer to make good his escape over the snow-covered mountains.
The cottage was later destroyed by fire and lay in ruins for almost 150 years. It was restored to its original form in the twentieth century. Now, it contains various items of the period – both those that characterised everyday life, such a roasting spit and a churn, and those that only appeared in the throes of combat, such as deadly pikes.