Glendalough Visitor Centre
In a stunning glaciated valley in County Wicklow, in the sixth century, one of Ireland’s most revered saints founded a monastery. The foundation of St Kevin at Glendalough became one of the most famous religious centres in Europe.
The remains of this ‘Monastic City’, which are dotted across the glen, include a superb round tower, numerous medieval stone churches and some decorated crosses. Of particular note is St Kevin’s Bed, a small man-made cave in the cliff face above the Upper Lake. It is said that St Kevin lived and prayed there, but it may actually be a prehistoric burial place that far predates him.
Learn all about this hallowed place in the fine interpretive centre before exploring the site for yourself. If you do, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the two lakes and a uniquely spiritual atmosphere.
Ilnacullin – Garinish Island
Ilnacullin is an island garden of diminutive size and rare beauty. Nestled in the sheltered coastal harbour at Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, the gardens display a wealth of unique horticultural and architectural gems. Bryce House is a fitting memorial to the visionary creators of this unique place.
The gardens of Ilnacullin owe their existence to the early twentieth-century creative partnership of Annan and Violet Bryce, the island’s owners, and Harold Peto, an architect and garden designer. The area enjoys a mild and humid micro-climate that makes for spectacular and flourishing plant life all year round.
Small ferry boats and 60-seater waterbuses take visitors to Ilnacullin regularly. The short crossing usually includes an extra treat – a visit to the nearby seal colony and an opportunity to glimpse majestic sea eagles.
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.
Scattery Island Centre
Off the northern bank of the Shannon Estuary lies Scattery Island, the site of an early Christian settlement founded by an extraordinary man.
St Senan, who was born in the area, built his monastery in the early sixth century. It included a mighty round tower, which at 36 metres is one of the tallest in Ireland.
There are six ruined churches on the site too. The Church of the Hill stands on a high spot, the very place where, legend has it, an angel placed Senan so that he could find – and then banish – the terrible sea-monster called the Cathach. It is believed that Senan is buried beside another of the medieval churches.
Scattery was invaded many times over the centuries. The Vikings in particular believed that the monastery held many riches and returned several times to ravage it.
A short boat trip will take you to the island, where you can explore its multi-layered, 1,500-year history.
The O’Briens of Thomond, who once ruled much of north Munster, founded this medieval Franciscan friary. It grew quickly into a huge foundation, with 350 friars and a famed school of 600 pupils by 1375. It was the very last school of Catholic theology to survive the Reformation.
The building contains an exceptional wealth of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century sculptures carved in the local hard limestone, including one of St Francis himself displaying the stigmata. An arch between the nave and transept bears a remarkable image of Christ with his hands bound.
Don’t forget to visit the sacristy, an impressive structure with a ribbed, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Take especial note of the beautiful east window, with its five lancets, as it lights up the chancel.
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.
Farmleigh House and Estate
Farmleigh is a 78-acre estate inside Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The government bought it in June 1999 to provide accommodation for high-level meetings and visiting guests of the nation.
Farmleigh is a unique representation of its heyday, the Edwardian period. Edward Cecil Guinness, great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, constructed Farmleigh around a smaller Georgian house in the 1880s. According to his tastes, the new building merged a variety of architectural styles.
Many of the artworks and furnishings that Guinness collected remain in the house. There is a stunning collection of rare books and manuscripts in the library. The extensive pleasure-grounds contain wonderful Victorian and Edwardian ornamental features, with walled and sunken gardens and scenic lakeside walks. The estate also boasts a working farm with a herd of Kerry cows.
Take a guided tour of the house before visiting the estate grounds and enjoying refreshment in the onsite restaurant.
The Casino is a remarkable building, both in terms of structure and history. Sir William Chambers designed it as a pleasure-house for James Caulfeild, first earl of Charlemont, beside his residence in what was then the countryside. It is a gem of eighteenth-century neo-classical architecture. In fact, it is one of the finest buildings of that style in Europe.
The term ‘casino’ in this case means ‘little house’, and from the outside it gives an impression of compactness. However, it contains 16 rooms, each of which is finely decorated and endlessly rich in subtle and rare design. The Zodiac Room, for example, has a domed ceiling which represents the sky with astrological symbols modelled around its base
The Casino is located at Marino, only three miles north of the centre of Dublin.
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.