History in Ireland isn’t just in books. It’s right there for you to explore, to visit and to touch.
Passage tombs and saints
At a place called Mountsandel, remnants of a small cluster of houses were found on the banks of the River Bann in County Londonderry. They date back 9,000 years. The island hasn’t sat still ever since.
On the East coast you’ll find County Meath. Greened by patchwork fields and sliced by the Boyne River, Meath’s treasure is 5,000-year-old Newgrange. Predating the pyramids, this UFO-shaped, grass-roofed passage tomb is a striking window into Ireland’s pagan past and a testament to an engineering talent that was ahead of its time.
From pagan to Christian, Ireland’s religious history was largely shaped by Saint Patrick. He endured life-changing experiences as a boy on County Down’s Slemish Mountain, and baptised kings at the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary.
Amid the pastoral peace of a County Down field sits Saul Church. History suggests Patrick died here. A donkey and cart took him to where he now remains by the imposing Downpatrick Cathedral.
It was from a modest point on Kerry’s coastline in the southwest, where another saint, Brendan the Navigator, began his journey to America. Kerry locals say he beat Columbus there.
Legacy of turbulent times
To Ireland’s east coast, and the city of Dublin still echoes with its Viking roots. Longboats, helmets and weaponry found under the city’s streets hint at their time here. Dublinia museum confirms it. Across the cobbles of Trinity College, smoothed by the feet of Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Bram Stoker, hides a treasure: The Book of Kells. At almost 1,200 years old, its mere existence is a miracle.
Just south of Dublin in a verdant Wicklow valley, Glendalough’s round towers spear the sky, while chapels crumble beside two serene lakes. A short distance away, the vast house and gardens of Powerscourt Estate speak of total grandeur.
Back in Northern Ireland, in Derry-Londonderry city, 400-year-old walls embrace the city. Its cannons allude to a turbulent past that never saw these walls being breached.
Castles, castles everywhere
Castles are in plentiful supply. Kilkenny’s pile is a nod to a period of Norman occupation. While in Antrim, the crumbing Dunluce has hosted warring Vikings and survivors of the shipwrecked Spanish Armada. At Ireland’s centre, Offaly’s Leap Castle ripples with tales of murderous brothers and kidnapped brides. Locals will tell you their ghosts still reside there…
From famine to feast
Just 160 years in the memory, Ireland’s Famine, a time of ruthless landowners, death and mass emigration is still keenly felt. Roscommon’s Strokestown Park and Famine Museum pays homage to a period that had such an immense impact on our diaspora.
Leaving our shores became optional, and so it was that in a Belfast shipyard, ‘the ship of dreams’, Titanic was born. Just another chapter in our story, and another reason why history should never be confined to books.