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OPW Heritage Site Bingo

After Emily and I returned from our first ever trip to Ireland back in the summer of 2014, I shared with my readers the most valuable card we used on that particular trip. That card was the Office of Public Works Heritage Ireland pass, and you can read about the historic sites we visited back then by clicking here. During that two week adventure, we felt we got the most out of the €21 per card because we were able to visit fifteen sites and see things we had never even heard of before.

The card’s fee has gone up in the four years we had been away, and the price for us this time was €40 per card. The rise in cost might seem dramatic, but in reality, I still think it is significantly undervalued. If we lived in Ireland, this card would be an essential part of my wallet, much like the Hawai’i Tri-Park National Park pass is when I am at home.

This list of Heritage Ireland sites we made time to visit on this adventure included:

  • Glebe House and Gallery
  • Glenveagh National Park and Castle
  • Derrynane House, National Historic Park
  • Killarney National Park
  • Muckross House and Gardens
  • Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir (The Blasket Centre)
  • Ross Castle
  • Kells Priory
  • Kilkenny Castle
  • Adare Castle
  • Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre (Newgrange and Knowth)
  • Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
  • Sligo Abbey
  • Glendalough Visitor Centre
  • Kilmainham Gaol
  • National Botanical Gardens
  • St. Stephen’s Green

Glebe House and Gallery, Churchill, Letterkenny, County Donegal.

Glebe House.

Glebe House and Gallery, Churchill, Letterkenny, County Donegal.

Glebe house was a nice surprise to our day of sightseeing. We had just spent the morning exploring Glenveagh National Park and Castle, and as we were driving back to our lighthouse/accommodations (that will be another blog) we saw a sign for Glebe House. The former home of the artist Derek Hill, Glebe House is now a gallery with works from many 20th century artists, including Picasso, and has William Morris textiles upon the walls. If you know what William Morris textiles are, then this is the perfect place for you to visit. I had no idea who or what they were (as a fan of Morris’s designs, Emily was in heaven), but I was very happy to find out on the guided tour through the home.

Glenveagh Castle.

Glenveagh National Park and Castle, Churchill, Letterkenny, County Donegal.

Having known nothing about Glenveagh before we visited, I really enjoyed the castle, the gardens, and the peaceful lake along which you are able to walk to get from the visitors center to the castle. The walk is just over 2 miles (3.5km) and fortunately for us the weather was perfect as we ambled along. The setting was exactly how I imagine the Scottish Highlands to be like, although I have never been, but my feelings were justified when I learned that the castle was built to surpass the Queen Victoria’s Scottish retreat Balmoral. The castle, built in the mid-1800s, had a turbulent start with the owner, John George Adair, when he cruelly evicted 44 families off the 28,000 acres due to arguments over hunting and grazing rights. After Adair’s passing, his wife Cornelia, an American, did her best to help the community and continued to improve the estate and its gardens. The estate was eventually given to the Irish nation in the later part of the 20th century.

Derrynane House, National Historic Park, Caherdaniel, County Kerry.

After our anniversary trip to Skellig Michael was cancelled due to high winds, we decided to head over to Derrynane House, the historic home of the Irish Politician, Daniel O’Connell. Known as “The Liberator,” O’Connell fought for Catholic emancipation and the right for Catholics to sit in Parliament in London. For the Americans reading this, I would loosely liken this visiting someone like Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello (and that is a stretch to compare the two men, but I am trying my best to convey the political importance of the man and his home).

Ladies View, Killarney National Park.

Killarney National Park, Muckross, Killarney, County Kerry.

The same day we missed out on Skellig Michael, we revisited Killarney National Park, Muckross House, and Ross Castle. Conveniently located next to each other, we were happy to revisit these beautiful locations in Killarney.

Muckross House.

Muckross House and Gardens, Muckross, Killarney, County Kerry.

We timed it perfectly when we revisited Killarney. The following day Prince Charles and Camilla were supposed to visit Derrynane, Killarney National Park, and Muckross House. It’s a good thing we were able to make sure it was up to snuff for their historic visit.

The Blasket Center, Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir, Dún Chaoin, Dingle, County Kerry.

We visited The Blasket Center back in 2014, but this trip we stopped in after we had just spent two days and one night over on the Great Blasket itself. Going through the center again, having walked the same footpaths as the Islanders, was a great way put their words to the history we had just lived for the two previous days. Our stay on the Great Blasket will definitely become a blog at some point.

Ross Castle, Killarney, County Kerry.

Revisiting Muckross House and Killarney National Park, we had to make the stop by Ross Castle as well. It is such a beautiful location and the tour of the castle is fascinating and well worth the time.

Thatched cottage near Kells.

Kells Priory, Kells, County Kilkenny.

Kells Priory was an interesting stop on our way from Youghal to Kilkenny City. The Priory is a huge site with multiple entrances, but no visitors center and minimal OPW staff. As we were exploring the grounds an OPW staff member clambered out of tool shed (which we later found out was their office) and offered to give us a brief, but fascinating tour. The site does not offer any amenities, so on our way walking to town to use a restroom, we happened upon the beautiful thatched cottage above, which was for sale at the time.

Kilkenny Castle.

Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny City, County Kilkenny.

We revisited Kilkenny Castle, but alas, although it is very impressive and well maintained, it is our second favorite castle in Kilkenny. If you would like to see our favorite one, click here.

Emily holding the key to the castle.

Adare Castle, Adare, County Limerick.

Emily was literally given the keys to the castle at Adare Castle. Even though it was just another castle in Ireland, the tour was insightful and, as always, I walked away with just a bit more knowledge about medieval fortified castles than before I arrived.

Newgrange burial tomb.

Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre (Newgrange and Knowth), Donore, County Meath.

Newgrange is a passage tomb that is believed to have been built around 3200 BC, making it 700 years older than The Great Pyramid of Giza. The guided tour of Newgrange was very special, as you are allowed to enter the narrow hall, which leads to the tomb in the center of the large earthen mound. Once inside, lights are turned off and once your eyes adjust to the pitch parkness, a single bean shines through from the entrance to simulate the conditions of a perfect Winter Solstice sunrise.


Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, Carrowmore, County Sligo.

The main attraction at Carrowmore is Listoghil, a tomb thought to have been built in 3500 BC. As we walked around the thirty monuments scattered throughout the landscape, our eyes could not help to be drawn towards the hill of Knocknarea in the distance, where Maeve’s Tomb, an unexcavated cairn or mound of loose stones, was standing proudly for all to see.

Sligo Abbey.

Sligo Abbey, Abbey Street, Sligo, County Sligo.

Built in 1253, destroyed in by fire 1414, rebuilt, destroyed by conflict in 1595 and again in 1641, restored in the 1850s Sligo Abbey’s story is indicative of many of Ireland’s places of worship, of wealth, or of power. Histories that go so far back and have seen so much turmoil, only to survive to the present day in order to share their story with the world.

Saint Kevin’s church, among the Celtic crosses.

Glendalough Visitor Centre, Glendalough, County Wicklow.

We timed our visit to Glendalough perfectly again. Once again, we had the entire monastic settlement to ourselves, long before the coach tours began arriving. They are now charging for parking at the entrance, and the overflow parking has affected the landscape a bit. Both were unwelcomed but necessary new additions to the Glendalough experience.

Kilmainham Gaol.

Kilmainham Gaol, Inchicore Road, Dublin, County Dublin.

Kilmainham Gaol was tops on our list of historic sites to revisit in Dublin. They have made some fantastic improvements to the facilities, but thank goodness the tours are still guided, informative, emotional, and really give you a sense of how historically important events that took place within the jail’s walls were to the eventual formation of the Republic of Ireland.

National Botanical Gardens.

National Botanical Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, County Dublin.

We walked to the National Botanical Gardens of Ireland from Glasnevin Cemetery, which shares a border wall. The multiple greenhouses are stunning feats of 19th century architecture (although they have been rebuilt and restored since then). As soon as we stepped in to the Great Palm House, it was like we were back home in Hawai’i. I will say that their description of taro was sadly lacking any connection to Hawai’i or the Hawaiian culture.

Georgian doors fronting St. Stephen’s Green.

St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, County Dublin.

St. Stephen’s Green is a lovely Georgian garden park right near Grafton Street, one of the busiest pedestrian streets in all of Dublin city. The park is an oasis of green, and the Georgian doors facing the park an explosion of color in an otherwise monotone cityscape.

Although we revisited a few of our favorite sites from last time, the grand total for our Heritage Ireland bingo card this trip stands at seventeen.

With our two visits to Ireland, our grand total of individual Heritage Ireland sites visited is at 24 (out of 97 as of June 2018). If the OPW would like to fly us back to Ireland and allow us to stay for one year on an extended visa, we would gladly visit all the sites that remain on our “to see” list.