Heritage Ireland

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.

Phoenix Park – People’s Flower Gardens

A 9-hectare section of the massive Phoenix Park is given over to this enclosed and immaculately manicured Victorian flower garden.

The garden was laid out and opened in the mid-nineteenth century as the Promenade Grounds. It provides an opportunity to enjoy the horticulture of that era at its best. A large ornamental lake with various fowl, a children’s playground, picnic areas and Victorian bedding schemes are just some of the attractions you will come across here.

You will find the People’s Flower Gardens between the Parkgate Street entrance and the North Circular Road entrance to the Phoenix Park.

Whether you’re looking to relax in the sun, have a picnic or simply take a pleasant walk, don’t miss this enchanting portion of the capital’s largest green space.

Phoenix Park

The Phoenix Park is the largest enclosed public park in any capital city in Europe, at more than 700 hectares in area. It was created as a royal deer-hunting park in the 1660s and only opened to the public in 1747. The park is now home to Dublin Zoo and Áras an Uachtaráin – home to the President of Ireland.

The Phoenix Park has been the location for a number of major events – from an international motor-racing event in 1929 to the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, when more than a million people attended the celebrations.

The park itself is exceptionally scenic. A large herd of fallow deer still calls it home. Enjoy the landscape from one of the many walks and cycle routes available to the public.

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.

Garden of Remembrance

This beautiful garden in the centre of the city was designed by architect Dáithí Hanly and dedicated to the memory of ‘all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom’.

The garden was officially opened on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

The focus point is a magnificent sculpture by Oisín Kelly, based on the legend of the Children of Lir, in which four children are transformed into swans and remain so for 900 years before becoming human again. A poem by Liam Mac Uistin is inscribed on the wall behind the sculpture. It concludes: ‘O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.’

The garden is intended as a place of quiet remembrance. It is a perfect place to enjoy some respite from the clamour of the city.

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.

Reginald’s Tower

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.

Ballyhack Castle

Ballyhack Castle commands an imperious position on a steep-sided valley overlooking Waterford Estuary. It is thought that the Knights Hospitallers of St John, one of the two mighty military orders founded at the time of the Crusades, built this sturdy tower house around 1450.

The tower is five stories tall and the walls survive complete to the wall walk. Built into the north-east wall of the second floor is a small chapel complete with a piscina, aumbry and altar. The entrance to the castle is protected externally by a machicolation and internally by a murder hole - that is, an opening through which defenders could throw rocks or pour boiling water, hot sand or boiling oil, on anyone foolish enough to attack.

Currently on display at Ballyhack Castle are assorted items of replica armour relating to the Crusades and the Normans –  guaranteed to ignite the imagination!

Tintern Abbey

This Cistercian monastery was founded c. 1200 by William, Earl Marshal on lands held through his marriage to the Irish heiress, Isabella de Clare. This abbey, founded as a daughter-house of Tintern Major in Wales is often referred to as Tintern de Voto.

The nave, chancel, tower, chapel and cloister still stand. In the 16th century the old abbey was granted to the Colclough family and soon after the church was partly converted into living quarters and further adapted over the centuries. The Colcloughs occupied the abbey from the sixteenth century until the mid-twentieth.

Conservation works have included special measures to protect the local bat colonies. The abbey is set in a special area of conservation and is surrounded by woodland within which are walking trails. Not to be missed is the restored Colclough Walled Garden situated within the old estate.

National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh

There was a monastery at Kilmacurragh, in this tranquil corner of County Wicklow, in the seventh century, and a religious foundation remained right up until the dissolution of the monasteries. After Cromwell invaded the land passed to the Acton family.

By the time the estate came to Thomas Acton in 1854, an unprecedented period of botanical and geographical exploration was afoot. In collaboration with the curators of the National Botanic Gardens, Acton built a new and pioneering garden.

In 1996, a 21-hectare portion of the old demesne officially became part of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. The following ten years were spent giving the estate’s rare and beautiful plants a new lease of life.

Kilmacurragh is now part of the National Botanic Gardens, providing a complementary collection of plants to its parent garden at Glasnevin. Arrive in spring to witness the transformation of the walks, as fallen rhododendron blossoms form a stunning magenta carpet.

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