Ireland has a rich and varied history, from the time of the Celts, and not forgetting the Bronze and Iron Age eras. Add to this the fact that the island of Ireland is dotted with many fascinating megalithic and prehistoric monuments. We’ve put together a list of the top 10 prehistoric sites in Ireland. Read on for more…
Constructed around 3200 BC, Newgrange is perhaps the most important prehistoric site in Ireland, and maybe Europe. It outdates Stonehenge in the UK by some 1,000 years!
It consists of a megalithic passage tomb, and the mound covers an area of over an acre and is circled by almost 100 kerbstones, which are tastefully adorned with megalithic art. A designated World Heritage site by UNESCO, the site was excavated in 1962. You cannot gain direct access to the tomb, but there is a guided tour from the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre that is near the village of Donore, County Meath.
The Centre will afford you a fine summary of the historical and astronomical background to the site, and the tour will take you to the inner chamber for a winter solstice simulation. The significance of Newgrange can be seen on December 21st each year; when the sun rises, the whole passage and chamber are lit up. This solar masterpiece is a testament to the wisdom of megalithic man in Ireland and its importance in telling the seasons and the calendar.
The great mound at Knowth was constructed possibly 5,000 years ago, after the construction of Newgrange. The most impressive thing of these prehistoric chambers is the work that went into creating them, with granite coming from Dundalk Bay, and white quartz from Wicklow Bay forming the basis of the creation of the chambers.
The tomb has two passages on opposite sites and both have solar significance at the time of the winter solstice. The megalithic artwork on the stones shows the importance of Knowth as an astronomical centre of its time, and the Calendar and Lunar stones are magnificent works. You can take a tour from Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre.
Known as the ” Fairy Mound of Darkness”, it’s similar in size to Newgrange and Knowth and was built in the same period. Visitors to Dowth can drive directly to the site on the north bank of the river, a couple of miles from the Slane to Drogheda road, and you can discover the beauty of the peaceful mound for yourself as it is not covered by the tour of Newgrange and Knowth. The rays of the setting sun illuminate the passage and chamber around the time of the winter solstice.
Located in the Karst landscape Burren area of County Clare, this is the archetypal dolmen, which was excavated in 1986 and it was found to be a prehistoric burial area for around 20 adults and six children. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in the strange and alluring limestone area of the Burren. Basically the dolmen consists of standing stones with a large stone at the top at an angle. The dolmen is a short walking distance from the road and is located 1km north of the village of Caherconnell.
The area is littered with other stone forts at Cahermore and Poulawick Cairn, which are other prehistoric burial chambers. The Burren is an area of startling beauty, with unique flora and majestic sights. An area filled with charm and a fitting testimony to Ireland’s prehistoric past!
Also containing the “Mount of the Hostages”, the Hill of Tara has a deep historical significance that is generally regarded as being the site where the High Kings of Ireland held court, and this was long after the passage tombs were created on the Hill of Tara. The most famous King who sat at Tara was Cormac Mac Airt who ruled in the 3rd century AD. The artwork on the stones, and their meaning on the hill of Tara like the Newgrange sites are open to interpretation, but it is fair to say that they may well have depicted an ancient calendar.
It’s widely regarded as Ireland’s second largest megalithic cemetery. The Loughcrew site contains some passage tombs that offer solar illuminations (in contrast to Newgrange Loughcrew experiences them at the time of the Spring and Autumn equinoxes) and also contains some stunning rock art. The passage tombs are well worth viewing and the views are spectacular. Loughcrew is located to the south of Oldcastle in County Meath.
Located on the picturesque Inismore, the largest of the three Aran Islands, situated off the coast of County Galway. The site is a promontory fort which is bordered by walls on three sides, and with a huge drop to the ocean!
Dun Aengus is located at the edge of an approximately 100 metre high cliff, in an awesome setting with wonderful views. Rumoured to have been built in the 2nd century BC, its use was probably for religious ceremonies for the druids rather than military. Archaeologists remain convinced that Dun Aengus was once located further inland on the island but coastal erosion has led to its cliff edge position.
Widely regarded as the largest Megalithic burial ground in Ireland, Carrowmore, located in County Sligo outside Sligo town, once had over 200 megalithic monuments but these have been destroyed over time and only around 40 remain visible today. Like Newgrange, some of these burial chambers date back to 3000 BC, which makes them maybe 500 years older than the Pyramids of Egypt. Tombs of all shapes and sizes are located here, and each with a solar alignment. There’s a small visitor centre, which gives historical information in relation to the area.
Queen Maeve’s Grave
Located in the same area as Carrowmore in Sligo, the Grave that is reputed to be the final resting place of Queen Maeve, the legendary Queen of the Celtic people. It is comprised of several “sacred” stones perched at the top of Knocknarea, and affords wonderful views of Sligo Bay, and is a must visit for the spectacular views alone!
Lying to the West of Armagh lies Navan Fort, also known as Emain Macha. It’s widely regarded as one of the earliest capitals of the Ulster state. There have been amazing discoveries made at Navan Fort, and there are the remains of a large Celtic temple that functioned there. It’s reckoned to have been built around 95BC. The remains are mainly in earthwork form and there’s a visitor centre there so you can learn all about the history of the Fort.
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Have you visited some of the prehistoric sites in Ireland? Let us know what you thought!