While traveling through Ireland for two weeks in June of 2014, we found one card to be of the most value to us. It was not our imaginary AMEX black card or our Hawai’i Public Library card, it was The Office of Public Work’s World Heritage Card. It was brought to our attention at one of the sites we stopped at, and was a simple matter of math that was easy to justify. For just €21.00, we gained unlimited admission for one year to more parks, monuments, and gardens in Ireland than I could shake a shillelagh at.
The current prices for the card can be found on the Heritage Ireland website.
Having the Heritage Card in our pocket encouraged us to seek out more sites along our intended route in order for us to get our money’s worth. In our two-week holiday, we were able to visit fifteen different sites throughout Ireland including the Dublin area.
The Heritage Ireland sites we made time to visit included:
- Listowel Castle
- Gallarus Oratory
- Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir (The Blasket Centre)
- Skellig Michael
- Rock of Cashel
- Kilmainham Gaol
- Royal Hospital Kilmainham
- Dublin Castle
- The Phoenix Park
- Kilkenny Castle
- Charles Fort
- Killarney National Park
- Muckross House and Gardens
- Ross Castle
Listowel Castle, The Square, Listowel, County Kerry.
We came upon the town of Listowel, looking for a quick lunch. The castle caught our attention, so we signed up for a guided tour and received a brief history lesson on what remains of this 13th-15th (depends on who you ask) century castle. Only two of the castle’s original four towers are still standing, and they have been beautifully restored. The castle sits overlooking the River Feele, and when you get up high enough, the view you have would definitely give you ample time to prepare for a defense if your enemies were heading towards the castle.
Gallarus Oratory, County Kerry.
Gallarus Oratory was out in the middle of nowhere. The narrow road leading to the entrance of the site, as well as a very small parking area seemed like a deterrent for tourist buses, so we had the place to ourselves. The dry stone construction of this early Christian church dates back to the 6th, 9th or 12th century (again, depends on who you ask).
The Blasket Center, Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir, Dún Chaoin, Dingle, Co. Kerry.
The Blasket Center was a very popular stop for the tour buses, but that did not detract from the center’s beauty, nor the abundance of information we were given on the Blasket Islands, the people who lived there, and their way of life. The center looks out towards the Great Blasket Island and makes you wonder how people lived their lives so close yet so far from the rest of the world.
Skellig Michael, County Kerry.
Skellig Michael was simply fantastic. You can read all about our experience from a blog I wrote here.
Rock of Cashel, Cashel, County Tipperary.
The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of the province of Munster. Sitting high atop the hill above the town of Cashel, the Rock of Cashel is quite the sight. Guided tours walk you through the many different structures and restoration efforts are proudly displayed as you tour the facility. Crowded, but worth the history lesson if you have time to visit.
Kilmainham Gaol, Inchiore Road, Dublin, County Dublin.
Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) was one of the more depressing and supremely interesting places we visited. Although, if you expect a jail tour to be full of fun and frivolity, you may belong inside one. The amount of background of the jail and the individual stories of the people incarcerated in this horrible place was almost too much, but the tour guides did a great job emphasizing the role this jail played in Irish history. What better place to learn from our mistakes, then a place hundreds of people were sent to pay for their crimes? The Kilmainham jail was an emotional tour, but it shared some amazing stories.
Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Military Road, Dublin, County Dublin.
Originally built in 1684, the hospital was used for retired soldiers for more than 250 years. Currently the hospital is being used for the Irish Museum of Modern Art, as well as a venue for concerts and performances.
Dublin Castle, Dame Street, Dublin, County Dublin.
Originally built in the 13th century, Dublin Castle now encompasses a large compound of buildings that all house important State business, including Presidential inaugurations. We were able to take a self-guided tour the inside of the palatial building, but the signs said no photography inside. We saw some tourists snapping away with their flash, and when I spoke to a docent as we left the building, he said photographs were allowed. Guess I’ll have to go back to share some pictures with my readers.
Glendalough, County Wicklow.
This was another site we had completely to ourselves. The visitor center did not open until 9:30, but the site remains open all hours of the day and night. I plan on sharing a blog soon, but Glendalough is a monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by Saint Kevin, a hermit priest. The site is set in a beautiful valley with two lakes, a stream and several walking trails to allow visitors to enjoy the natural surroundings.
Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny.
Kilkenny Castle and the town of Kilkenny can be found in a blog I shared Kilkenny.
Charles Fort, Summer Cove, Kinsale, County Cork.
Charles Fort, strategically located at the mouth of Kinsale harbor, is a star-shaped stronghold built in the 1670s. It sits directly across the harbour’s entrance from James Fort. The two structures must have been quite a deterrent for anyone thinking of attacking Kinsale from the sea.
Killarney National Park, Killarney, County Kerry.
Killarney National Park, as well as the town of Killarney was a bustling tourist center. It was difficult to find a quiet moment anywhere around the town, but fortunately we drove into the park and found a few areas where nature prevailed over man. Donated to the Irish state in 1932, Killarney became the first national park in the Republic of Ireland. The park is expansive and definitely needs to have more of our attention given towards it on our next visit.
Muckross House and Gardens, Muckross, Killarney, County Kerry.
If you are a Downton Abbey fan, you should feel right at home at Muckross House. Built in 1843, the sixty-five room mansion has been restored and preserved in exquisite shape. In the 1850s, extensive improvements began in order to prepare for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861. The ten years of upgrades became so costly, as well as other contributing factors, that eventually the owners had to sell the Muckross House in 1899. Walking the grounds was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Ross Castle, Killarney, County Kerry.
Ross Castle, built in the 15th century as a tower house, is located on the edge of Lough Leane. The five-story structure was supposed to be unbeatable until a warship could swim on the lake. Unfortunately, this is exactly how the castle was eventually taken in 1652 by the English.
If you are like me, you might think to yourself, if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all. Every time we came upon a castle, I figured it would be just like the previous one we visited. My attitude was completely changed by the end of our vacation. Each and every castle we visited was distinctive and extremely interesting. The tour guides were keen to point out similarities between other castles we had visited, but they made sure you understood why their particular castle was unique and important. It was all so educational and stimulating that after we left a site, we would consult our heritage Ireland brochure to see if there was another castle on the way towards our destination that we could visit.
The Heritage Ireland card was an invaluable source of motivation and explorations for us during our vacation. I cannot wait until our next trip to Ireland, so we can mark off a few more. Fifteen sites down, eighty-two sites to go.