Irish Architectural Monuments
Much of the history, heritage, art and culture of Ireland can be traced from its ancient and medieval architectural structures, ranging from Stone Age megaliths (such as portal and passage tombs), to early Christian monastic settlements, Motte and Bailey Forts, Romanesque/Norman castles, Round Towers, Country Mansions and the like. Indeed, Ireland is home to more than 1,000 individual monuments from over 750 separate sites, that are deemed to be of national importance due to their historical, artistic or archeological character. Important contributors to the development of Irish culture since 6,000 BCE, include: European Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures, La Tene Celtic culture (itself strongly influenced by Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern traditions), Christian monastic culture, Norman and French traditions, as well as English cultural traditions of architecture, sculpture, and the decorative arts. Sadly, we know nothing of the architects who designed and built these structures. The following article features a selection of Irish architectural monuments located across the 32 counties, north and south of the border.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
IRISH CULTURE TODAY
ARTISTS OF IRELAND
A-Z of Monuments: County by County
Here is a list of important historical monuments, listed county-by-county across the 32 counties and 4 provinces of Ireland.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Carlow include:
Carlow Castle, Carlow Town
Formerly one of the finest Norman Romanesque style castles in Leinster, Carlow Castle was constructed by William the Marshall (or his son) between 1210 and 1230. After changing hands many times, much of the structure was demolished for safety reasons during the early 19th century following a botched attempt to create space on the castle-site for a lunatic asylum. Now only two towers and an adjoining wall remain.
St Mullin's Abbey, County Carlow
Founded by Saint Moling (d.696), the Bishop of Ferns as well as Glendalough, St Mullin's has a typical medieval nave-and-chancel church, along with the remains of a Round Tower, a small oratory, and a granite ringed High Cross. The monastery was sacked by Vikings (951) and burned in about 1140. The Abbey monks were reputedly the source of the 8th century illuminated gospel manuscript known as The Book of Mulling.
For more about local culture, see: County Carlow Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Cavan include:
Clogh Oughter Round Castle, County Cavan
Constructed on an island in Lough Oughter, this 13th century round castle was built by William Gorm de Lacy during the 1220s, and later served as the Cavan stronghold of the O'Reilly family before being taken by James I. Recaptured by Irish patriots during the 1641 Rebellion, it was one of the last castles to yield to Cromwellian forces in 1653.
For more about local culture, see: County Cavan Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Clare include:
This important 13th century Franciscan abbey was built by the O'Briens of Thomond, who once governed much of North Munster. It features a number of limestone sculptures dating from 15th/16th centuries, including: a carved image of St. Francis displaying the stigmata; thirteen carved figures of Christ and the Apostles, all dating from the mid 15th century; an elaborate tracery canopy of the late 15th century featuring stone carvings of a bishop and the Virgin & Child; and a figurative sculpture of "Ecce Homo".
Located about one mile off Kilrush, Scattery Island is the site of an early monastic settlement founded by St. Senan in the early 6th century. It comprises the ruins of six churches and, at 120 feet in height, one of the tallest Round Towers in Ireland. The main church on the island is Teampall Naomh Mhuire (Cathedral of Saint Mary), which stands next to the round tower. St. Senan himself, who died in about 544, is reputed to be buried next to Temple Senan a small 12th Century Romanesque church.
For more about local culture, see: County Clare Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Cork include:
Barryscourt castle, a fine example of an Irish tower house, was the 16th century home of the Barry family. The present structure features the largely intact bawn wall and corner towers, and a refurbished first floor Main Hall and Second Floor Great Hall.
Built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Irelands greatest clan chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy, Blarney Castle is one of Irelands most famous architectural monuments, whose fame derives from its legendary Stone of Eloquence ("the Blarney Stone"), found at the top of the Tower.
Charles Fort is an excellent example of a late 17th century star-shaped fort, designed by the architect William Robinson (the designer of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin). One of the largest military installations in the country, Charles Fort saw service throughout Irish history, notably during the Williamite War 1689-91 and the Civil War 1922-23.
Built by the Earl of Desmond in about 1500, this is an excellent example of an urban tower house, with a three storey keep. Used as a Customs house, a prison, an ordnance store and a workhouse, Desmond Castle now hosts the International Museum of Wine Exhibition.
Drombeg Stone Circle
An Iron Age mesolithic monument, The Drombeg Stone Circle was constructed sometime between 150 BCE and 120 CE, and is the best example of a stone circle in County Cork. Approximately 30 feet in diameter, there are currently 13 of the original 17 standing stones in the circle. During the winter solstice, by standing between the two tallest stones one can see the sun setting on the horizon exactly at the center of the axial stone.
For more about local culture, see: Cork Art.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Donegal include:
Donegal Castle (Donegal)
Constructed beside the River Eske by the O'Donnell chieftain in the 1400s, the Castle was extensively enlarged in the 17th century by Sir Basil Brooke. Furnishings include Persian rugs and French tapestries.
Glebe House and Gallery (The Derek Hill
Built in the Regency style of architecture around 1828 and set in wooded grounds, furnishings include textiles by arts and crafts movement chief William Morris, plus examples of Islamic and Japanese art. The Glebe collection includes 300 works by leading 20th century artists; Picasso, Oskar Kokoschka as well as Irish and Italian artists. See also: 19th Century Architecture.
Glenveagh Castle (and National Park)
Built between 1870 and 1873, the castle features a four storey rectangular keep set amidst the Glenveagh National Park - 40,000 acres of mountains, lakes, and woods.
Newmills Corn and Flax Mills
This 17th century industrial complex dates from around 1600 and features one of the largest waterwheels in Ireland.
For more about local culture, see: County Donegal Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in Dublin include:
Aras an Uachtarain
The current residence of the President of Ireland, Áras an Uachtaráin, began life in 1752 as a modest brick house for the Phoenix Park Chief Ranger. Later it served as an "occasional residence" for the Lords Lieutenants of Ireland and in the process was expanded into a large mansion, using architectural designs provided by architects such as Francis Johnston, Jacob Owen and Decimus Burton, and plasterwork designs from stuccodores like Michael Stapleton and Bartholomew Cramillion. After Independence, it was occupied by three Governor-Generals (1922-1937) after which it became the official home of the first Irish president Dr Douglas Hyde.
Designed by the architect Sir William Chambers as a pleasure house for the 1st Earl of Charlemont, the Casino is one of the finest 18th century neo-classical buildings in Europe.
Built during the 13th century on a site previously occupied by a Viking settlement, Dublin Castle served as a military fortress, a prison, treasury, courts of law and the headquarters of the English Administration in Ireland for 700 years. Remodelled and extended during the last four centuries, it now functions as a centre for important State receptions and Presidential Inaugurations.
Purchased by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the Government in June 1999, this 78-acre estate now provides accommodation for state visitors, as well as high level Government meetings. Built in the 1880s by Edward Cecil Guinness first Earl of Iveagh and the great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, Farmleigh exhibits many of Cecil's original artworks and decorative furnishings, currently on loan from the Guinness family to the State. In addition, the Benjamin Iveagh collection of rare books, bindings and manuscripts is housed in the Farmleigh Library.
Lusk Heritage Centre
Lusk Heritage Centre consists of a 9th century round tower, a medieval bell tower and a 19th century church. The belfry houses the beautiful 16th century effigy tomb of Sir Christopher Barnewall.
Built in the 1580s by Adam Loftus, a clergyman who came to Ireland as chaplain to the Lord Deputy and quickly rose to become Archbishop of Dublin, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and a key influence behind the foundation of Trinity College, the castle contains some beautiful 18th century interiors designed by Sir William Chambers and James 'Athenian' Stuart.
Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin 8.
The home of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the 17th century Royal Hospital Kilmainham complex also features the spectacular Baroque Chapel, Master's Quarters and the Great Hall, which contains an important public collection of early portraits.
St Audoen's Church
Dedicated to St Ouen the 7th century bishop of Rouen and patron saint of Normandy, and situated in the heart of the walled medieval city, St Audoen's Church is the only surviving medieval parish church in the capital. It contains 17th century memorials to the Sparke and Duff families as well as the 15th century effigy tomb of Baron Portlester.
St Mary's Abbey Dublin
Founded in 1139 and once the wealthiest Cistercian Abbey in Ireland, today only the Chapter House and the Slype remain. The Abbey played a significant role in the affairs of the state until 1539 when it was dissolved by King Henry VIII. For instance, its Chapter House was where "Silken" Thomas Fitzgerald launched his unsuccessful rebellion in 1534. These and other details are covered in its compelling exhibition, staged by the Office of Public Works along with the Dublin Archaeological Society and the History of Art Department of Trinity College, Dublin.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Galway include:
One of the most famous medieval walled towns remaining in Ireland, Athenry was founded (principally) by Meiler de Bermingham who built the castle in about 1250 CE. The Castle features carvings in the transitional Romanesque-Gothic style.
Aughnanure Castle (Tower House)
Constructed by the O'Flaherty family in about 1500, Aughnanure Castle stands on what is virtually a rocky island, close by the shores of Lough Corrib.
Now a nature reserve, this estate was once the home of Lady Gregory - dramatist, writer and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin along with William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn - where she entertained such literary artists as WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, JM Synge, and O'Casey among many others.
Perched on a rocky hilltop overlooking the Atlantic ocean, this is the largest of the prehistoric stone forts located on the Aran Islands. Bound by three huge dry-stone walls and a "chevaux-de-frise" of limestone, the fort is about 2/3 of a mile from the Visitor Centre.
Portumna Castle and Gardens
This semi-fortified house was built before 1618 by Richard Burke or de Burgo, 4th Earl of Clanricarde, and endured as the main seat of the de Burgo family for more than two centuries. Now restored, the ground floor of the house is open to the public, as are the formal gardens and the 17th century walled kitchen garden.
Teach An Phiarsaigh
A small cottage once the summer residence of Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) leader of the 1916 Rising. Its interior, although damaged during the War of Independence, has been reconstructed and contains a number of memorabilia and other exhibits.
For more about local culture, see: County Galway Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Kerry include:
Dating from the 12th century onwards, the cathedral features a fine Romanesque doorway, a spectacular 13th century window, several column statues and other architectural sculptures from the late 13th and early 14th century. Archeologists have also discovered traces of an earlier 6th century monastery, founded by St. Brendan 'The Navigator'. Other monuments include the remains of three medieval churches, an ogham stone and a number of early Christian and medieval grave slabs.
Blascaod Centre - Ionad an Bhlascaoid
The Blascaod Centre in Dún Chaoin, situated on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula, celebrates the native language, culture, history and traditions of the Blasket Islanders. Sadly Blascaod Mór (Island) was abandoned in 1953 due to the decline of its population.
Located amidst 120 hectares of parkland on the scenic Kerry coast, this was the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connell, lawyer, politician and statesman.
Gallarus Castle and Oratory
A four-storey tower constructed by the FitzGeralds during the 15th century, Gallarus Castle and Oratory is one of the few remaining castles on the Dingle peninsula.
Originally dating from the 13th century, although most of the surviving structure is no older than the 15th century, Listowel Castle was built by the FitzMaurice family on a steep bank, overlooking an important ford on the river Feale. The castle remains comprise two 4-storey square towers, of some 50 feet in height, connected by a wall.
Muckross House and Gardens
Located in the Killarney National Park, Muckross House - one of Ireland s leading stately homes - is a magnificent 19th century Victorian mansion, whose elegant rooms showcase the lifestyles of the landed gentry, while its basement area showcases the working conditions of the servants of the time. In addition to its world famous gardens, Muckross House is also home to a number of skilled craft workers occupied in the crafts of weaving, bookbinding and pottery. See also: Victorian architecture (c.1840-1900).
Also located on the estate is the well-preserved Muckross Franciscan Friary, founded in the 15th century. Its monks were dispersed by the Cromwellian army in 1652.
A classic example of the stronghold of a Medieval Irish Chieftain (c.14th century), the castle is surrounded by a fortified bawn, and circular flanking towers.
The Skellig Islands lie 8 miles off the Atlantic coast of South West Kerry. Skellig Michael (from the Irish words Sceilig Mhichíl, meaning Michael's rock) rises 714 feet (218 metres) above sea level. On its summit perches this unique 6th century monastic settlement, founded by St. Fionan, was inhabited by monks who lived in stone, beehive shaped huts. The monks abandoned the island during the 13th century, after which it became a place of pilgrimage. Skellig Michael became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe's least accessible monasteries. Visitors arrive via a 7 mile (11.5km) boat trip from Portmagee, Valentia or Ballinskelligs.
For more about local culture, see: County Kerry Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Kildare include:
Castletown House and Parklands
The largest and most typical Palladian style country house in Ireland, Castletown House stands amidst beautiful 18th century parklands of Celbridge, County Kildare. Built in about 1722 for William Conolly (1622- 1729), the speaker of the Irish House of Commons, it was designed by several architects, including Alessandro Gailiei, Sir Edward Lovett Pearce and later Sir William Chambers.
This early 13th century stone castle served as the stronghold of the Kildare branch of the Geraldines. The Kildare FitzGeralds expanded their land holdings and influence, becoming in the process one of the most powerful families in Ireland with Maynooth Castle being one of the largest and richest Earl's houses. Garret Mór, the Great Earl of Kildare, ruled Ireland as the representative of the King of England from 1487 to 1513. Later, under his son, Garret Og the 9th Earl, Maynooth Castle became the centre of political power and culture.
For more about local culture, see: County Kildare Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Kilkenny include:
The cave consists of a series of caverns formed over millions of years. First mentioned in the 9th century Irish Triads, it is is also referred to in the Annals in connection with a Viking massacre at the cave in the year 928 CE.
A beautiful Romanesque-architecture Cistercian abbey built in the second half of the 12th century, its chapels feature numerous examples of tomb sculpture dating from the 13th-16th century. The main attraction of the priory is the sculptured cloister arcade with its unique carvings.
A 12th century castle redesigned in the 19th century and set in large parklands. It served as the principal seat of the Butler family, Marquesses and Dukes of Ormonde. Now includes a library, drawing room, and bedrooms decorated in 1830s ornate style, plus the fine Long Gallery. Located in a series of former servant's rooms is the Butler Art Gallery.
Mary's Church, Gowran
This 13th century collegiate church was an elaborate structure, with an aisled nave and a long chancel and still boasts numerous high quality architectural sculptures. It was considerably remodelled during later centuries.
For more about local culture, see: County Kilkenny Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Laois include:
Designed by the architect James Gandon in 1790 for the Earl of Portarlington, Emo Court is a magnificent example of this neo-classical style. The house is set in extensive gardens and parkland.
For more about local culture, see: County Laois Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Leitrim include:
This refurbished 17th century plantation castle stands on the shores of Lough Gill, the former home of Robert Parke. It features architectural remains of a 16th century Tower House once owned by Sir Brian O'Rourke, who was famously hanged at Tyburn, London in 1591.
For more about local culture, see: County Leitrim Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Limerick include:
This medieval fortified castle is one of several outstanding castles located in County Limerick. Standing on the north bank of the River Maigue it was an important stronghold of the Earls of Desmond. Based around a strong, square keep, the castle includes a walled ward surrounded by a moat.
A spectacular stone structure which dominates the surrounding plain, Bunratty Castle was built by the Norman Baron Thomas de Clare on land he received from King Edward I in about 1275. Eventually driven out by the O'Brian and MacNamara clans in the mid-15th century, the castle was rebuilt by the MacNamara clan and it is this structure which survives today.
This spacious medieval hall is an imposing two-storey structure once used by the Earls of Desmond for banqueting and entertainment. Dating from the 15th century, the Hall and the vaulted lower chamber were built on the remains of an earlier structure of similar size, dating from the 13th century.
For more about local culture, see: County Limerick Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Longford include:
Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre
The centre interprets an Iron Age bog track that was laid around 148 CE, close to the River Shannon. The oak road is the longest one of its kind in Europe and was excavated by Professor Barry Raftery of University College Dublin.
For more about local culture, see: County Longford Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Louth include:
Founded in the 6th-century by the little-known Saint Buite, the monastery's fame derives mainly from its exquisitely sculptured ringed High Crosses, notably the South Cross, now generally known as Muiredach's Cross after the Abbot whose name is inscribed on the base.
Old Mellifont Abbey
Old Mellifont Abbey, established in 1142 by St Malachy of Armagh, was the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland. Its most arresting feature is the octagonal Lavabo (dating from 1200).
For more about local culture, see: County Louth Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Mayo include:
Established in 1216 by Cathal Crobhdearg O'Connor, King of Connacht, close to the site of achurch founded by Saint Patrick in 441, this Augustinian Abbey was dissolved in 1542, reoccupied by Augustinian monks, and partially burned by Cromwellian forces in 1653, before being renovated during the 1840s, 1890s and 1960s. Ballintubber Abbey claims that Mass has been celebrated continuously throughout its almost 800 years existence.
Underneath the boglands of North Mayo sits the Céide Fields, the most extensive Stone Age archeological site in the world, comprising field systems, areas of settlement/dwellings and megalithic tomb structures. Dating from the Neolithic period, the stone walled fields are covered by a natural blanket bog with it's own unique flora and fauna. The Visitor Centre stands next to spectacular cliffs and has been awarded the Gold Medal for architecture.
Constructed upon the site of an earlier monastery established in the 7th century, this Augustinian Abbey probably was founded in the 12th century. It now stands in the grounds of Ashford Castle. The present Abbey is supposed to have been built by Turlough O'Connor, King of Connacht. Of the Abbey's church little remains, except for the beautiful Romanesque-style doorway which was added to the north wall in modern times. See also Cross of Cong.
Moyne Franciscan Friary
Moyne Abbey, one of the largest ecclesiastical monuments in Mayo, was founded by the Burke Family as an Observantine Franciscan monastery, by permission of Pope Nicholas. Constructed in the late English Gothic Style, and consecrated in 1462, the Friary church consisted of a rectangular nave and chancel, with cloisters added before 1500. Other additions include a sacristy, chapter house, kitchen and refectory. The Abbey was put to the torch in 1590 by Queen Elizabeth's governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, although friars remained in residence until the end of the 18th century.
For more about local culture, see: County Mayo Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Meath include:
Brú na Bóinne Visitor
Centre Newgrange and Knowth
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre interprets UN World Heritage site of Newgrange Megalithic Tomb and other surrounding Neolithic monuments of Knowth and Dowth. A principal feature is the full scale replica of the main chamber at Newgrange along with a complete model of one of the smaller tombs at Knowth. As it happens, the stone carvings at Newgrange constitute the first major achievement in the history of Irish Art.
Kells Monastery, County Meath
The Abbey of Kells - famous for its association with the Irish illuminated gospel manuscript the Book of Kells - was founded around 805 CE by monks from St Colmcille's foundation in Iona, who were searching for a safe place to store their ecclesiastical treasures. The Book of Kells may have been written at the Abbey, but was definitely stored there until the 1650s. (It is now in Trinity College Dublin Library). Despite its location, Kells Abbey was raided several times by Vikings (and by the Irish) during the 10th and 11th centuries. Medieval remains of Kells Monastery include a 100-feet tall Round Tower, numerous carved Celtic High Crosses,and the ancient oratory known as St Columb's House.
The Loughcrew Cairns (also called the Hills of the Witch) consist of numerous Neolithic passage tombs dating from 3000 BCE. Situated on three hills, one of the largest tombs - Cairn T - contains a cruciform chamber, a corbelled roof and examples of the most beautiful Neolithic art in Ireland. As at Newgrange, during the Vernal and Autumn Equinox sunlight enters the chamber and illuminates the inside of the tomb.
Tara - Hill of Tara
Better known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, the Hill of Tara has served as an important ceremonial and ritualistic site since the Neolithic era of the late Stone Age when a passage-tomb was built there. The complex achieved its greatest importance as a political and religious centre in the early centuries after Christ. See also Tara Brooch.
The largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland, Trim Castle was built over a 30-year period by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter. Hugh de Lacy was granted extra powers by the English King Henry II in 1172 in order to restrain the expansionist policies of Richard de Clare, (Strongbow). The massive three storied Keep, the main strong point of the castle, was a cruciform-shaped 20-sided tower, which was protected by a curtain wall and moat.
For more about local culture, see: County Meath Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Monaghan include:
Clones Round Tower, High Cross and Church
Like many religious architectural sites in Ireland, Clones has roots going back into the early Christian era, if not before. A monastery is known to have been established here by St Tighernach, during the 6th century; the High Cross (comprising two originally non-matching parts) probably dates to the 9th century; while the church - of which only the nave is original - dates from the 12th century. But the dominant architectural feature is the 75-feet high Round Tower, complete with square-headed door and windows. A carved stone shrine to St Tighernach stands nearby.
For more about local culture, see: County Monaghan Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Offaly include:
The monastery of Clonmacnoise (from the Irish "Cluain Mhic Nóis" meaning "Meadow of the Sons of Nós") is an important early Christian monastic site founded by St. Ciarán around 550 CE by the River Shannon. It consists of the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (dating from 10th-13th century), two round towers, three Celtic High Crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe.
Durrow monastery was established in about 553 by St Columba, and it was in the Abbey's scriptorium that the famous illuminated manuscript known as The Book of Durrow was written and illustrated. Surviving monuments at Durrow include a large ecclesiastical enclosure, five Early Christian grave slabs, an outstanding 9th-century ringed High Cross and numerous other archeological features.
For more about local culture, see: County Offaly Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Roscommon include:
A beautiful Cistercian Monastery founded in the 12th century and financed by the MacDermott family.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Sligo include:
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
The largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland, Carrowmore is also among the country's oldest, dating to 4,500 BCE.
Drumcliff Monastery and Church
Reportedly founded by St Colmcille in 575, the monatery was regularly plundered and now only the ornate sculptured High Cross and the base of a Round Tower remain. The Church of Ireland church was built on the remains of an earlier ecclesiastical building of which nothing is now known, and its graveyard is home to the grave of the Irish Nobel Laureate WB Yeats.
Inishmurray Early Christian Monastery
On this windswept island, abandoned by its isolated inhabitants in the 1950s, are numerous architectural remains of the early Christian period. The monastery was established in the 6th century by St. Molaise and, despite being plundered by Vikings, remains in a good state of preservation and thus provides an interesting snapshot of the religious architecture used by the main monastic orders of the time. The four central enclosures include: The Men's Church (Teampull-na-bFhear), The Women's Church (Teampull-na-mBan), The Church of the Fire (Teampull-na-Teine) and the small church known as Teach Molaise.
A Dominican Friary founded around 1250 by Maurice Fitzgerald. The complex includes numerous carvings of Gothic and Renaissance sculpture, and the only remaining sculptured 15th century high altar in any Irish monastery.
For more about local culture, see: County Sligo Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Tipperary include:
One of Ireland's largest and best preserved castles, situated on a rocky island on the River Suir, it was originally the seat of the powerful Butler family. It retains an impressive keep, tower and a good deal of its original defensive structure.
The scene of the 1848 Rebellion (led by the Protestant MP, William Smith O'Brien) during the Great Famine, the warhouse displays the history of the Famine and mass emigration, the rebellion itself, the ensuing trials and penal transportation of the Young Ireland ringleaders to Australia and their subsequent flight to America.
Holy Cross Abbey
The Abbey at Holy Cross was originally founded as a Benedictine Abbey (c.1170) before Donal Mor O'Brien invited Cistercian monks to re-establish the monastery in 1186. Its principal early attraction, no doubt retrieved during the Crusades, was a relic of the True Cross. Most of the original 12th century Abbey has disappeared, the finest elements of the present structure being added during the 15th-century. The Abbey's design follows the Romanesque style, although Gothic features are also present. Experts consider its chancel to be the greatest example of 15th century architecture in Ireland.
The Main Guard
James Butler, Duke of Ormond, founded the Main Guard in about 1675 to serve as the courthouse for County Tipperary. It has been recently restored to its original form.
The finest exemplar of an Elizabethan manor house in Ireland, Ormond Castle was built by Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormond during the mid-16th century. Its state rooms feature some of the finest decorative art (plasterwork) in the country.
Rock of Cashel
A spectacular cluster of Medieval buildings standing on an outcrop of limestone in the Golden Vale, it includes a 12th century round tower, High Cross and Romanesque-style chapel, 13th century Gothic-style cathedral, 15th century castle and the refurbished Hall of the Vicars Choral.
Roscrea Heritage Centre
Roscrea castle consists of a gate tower, curtain walls and two corner towers which were built during the 1280s. Damer House was built in the early 18th century in the Queen Anne style, and exemplifies the pre-Palladian style of architecture. In the grounds is a restored mill, an original St. Cronan's High Cross and pillar stone.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Waterford include:
Ardmore Church and Round Tower
Ardmore is the oldest known Christian settlement in Ireland. Its monastery was founded by St. Declan who lived during the period 350-440 CE and was reputedly a bishop in Munster before the arrival of St Patrick. By the late 12th century, Ardmore Church was recognized as a Cathedral and had its own bishop, but the present building dates from around 1200, being begun by Moelettrim O'Duibh-ratha. Its features include a recessed Romanesque window, a pointed chancel arch in the Gothic manner, plus a remarkable series of Romanesque figurative sculpture on the outside of the west wall.
The castle comprises the outer remains of a 12th century keep together with an enclosing curtain wall, a corner tower and a gate tower. Inside the curtain wall there is a two storey barracks, dating from the early 18th century, which houses an exhibition on the castle's history.
A circular 13th century tower, it also served as a mint, a prison and a military store.
For more about local culture, see: County Waterford Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Westmeath include:
The original monastery was established by St Feichin around 630 CE, and grew to accomodate over 300 monks. Burned and rebuilt on several occasions during medieval times, only a single church (St Feichin's) now remains of the early Abbey. On slightly lower ground nearby, a Benedictine monastery was founded around 1200, and this structure - now including two towers, cloister and several other architectural additions - has been significantly enhanced over the years.
For more about local culture, see: County Westmeath Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Wexford include:
Ballyhack Castle sits on a steep slope overlooking Waterford estuary. The castle, in effect a large tower house, was built about 1450 by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, one of the military orders established at the beginning of the 12th century during the Crusades.
Of the original 13th century castle built by William, Earl Marshall, only half remains. The best preserved tower contains a fine circular chapel, with carved ornaments and sculpture, as well as several original fireplaces and a vaulted basement. Other historic sites in Ferns include St. Mary's, a 12th century Augustinian Abbey; the remains of a 13th century cathedral, some of which is now part of a Church of Ireland Church; St. Peter's Church, a small nave and chancel church; plus a number of Celtic High Crosses and parts of crosses, which are situated within the cathedral grounds.
An early 13th century Cistercian abbey, founded by William, the Earl Marshall, and named after Tintern in Wales. Its remains feature a nave, chancel, tower, chapel and cloister.
For more about local culture, see: County Wexford Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Wicklow include:
Glendalough Monastery, Churches, Round
Glendalough Monastery, founded by Saint Kevin, in the 6th century, was one of the most important ecclesiastical centres in early Christian Ireland. Also closely associated with St Laurence O'Toole - promoted from Abbot of Glendalough monastery to Archbishop of Dublin in 1163. Combined with the See of Dublin by the Normans in the early 13th century, the monastery fell into decline until renovated in the 19th and early 20th century. It features a spectacular round tower, several stone churches and decorated crosses.
For more about local culture, see: County Wicklow Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Antrim include:
Antrim Round Tower
One of the best-preserved round towers in Ireland, the 92 feet high Antrim Round Tower was constructed in the 10th or 11th century. Now standing in the grounds of the Antrim Borough Council offices, it is the only surviving architectural monument of an early Christian Monastic Settlement founded on the site by St Comgall of Bangor in the 6th century.
Belfast Castle stands on a prominent site
on the slopes of Cave Hill with breathtaking views of Belfast Lough. Its
history is traced in a series of exhibitions of architectural and historical
interest, at the Visitor Centre.
Standing on the northern shore of Belfast Lough, Carrickfergus Castle is one of Ireland's finest Medieval forts and an outstanding example of Norman architecture. Built in the 1180s by John De Courcy, ruler of East Ulster.
Dunluce Castle, Medieval Irish Castle
One of Ireland's most spectacularly perched castles, whose souterrain under the north-eastern tower dates from the 6th century CE. The castle flourished around the 14th/15th century when it was home to the MacQuillan clan and later the MacDonnells. In 1588, the Girona, a Spanish Armada ship broke up on nearby rocks during a storm. The ship's cannon were installed in the castle, while the remainder of the salvaged cargo was sold and the proceeds used to restore the castle. Dunluce Castle was the seat of the Earl of Antrim until the bankruptcy of the MacDonnells in 1690.
Located on the coast near the small village of Dunseverick and the Giant's Causeway, Dunseverick Castle and earthworks are recorded as being visited by Saint Patrick in the 5th century AD. The fort was later stormed by Viking raiders in about 870 CE. It was then occupied by numerous Gaelic chieftains and Anglo-Irish Lords until its destruction by Cromwellian troops in the 1650s. The last significant trace of the castle, a small residential tower, lasted until 1978 before it finally disappeared into the sea below. For reasons that remain unclear, Dunseverick appears to have been a highly significant ancient site. For instance, one of the main roads from Tara, seat of the Kings of Ireland, ended at Dunseverick Castle.
Giant's Ring - Earthwork with Megalithic Tomb - Belfast
A most impressive prehistoric earthwork of the Neolithic era, some 600 feet in diameter, surrounded by an earthen, gravel and stone bank 20 feet wide and 12 feet high. Towards the middle is a megalithic burial chamber, dating from approximately 3000 BCE, with a solitary capstone.
For more about local culture, see: County Antrim Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Armagh include:
Although earlier constructions on its site may date back into prehistory, Armagh earliest recorded fame derives from the establishment of St Patrick's first bishopric in 444-5. Little remains of the 13th century cathedral, the present structure having been extensively remodelled during the 1830s by the English architect LN Cottingham. As well as the beautiful 18th century memorials created by the sculptors Roubiliac and Nollekens, the cathedral features the remains of several ringed High Crosses, while a plaque in the west wall of the north transept records the burial of High King Brian Boru somewhere within the vicinity, following his death in 1014.
Arguably the most venerable architectural monument in Northern Ireland, Navan Fort was the royal seat ("Emain Macha") of the ancient Kings of Ulster and the province's old capital. Built upon many times since the Late Bronze Age, the site is associated with King Conchobor mac Nessa and the Red Branch Knights, as well as the Irish mythical hero Cu Chulainn who spent much of his youth here.
For more about local culture, see: County Armagh Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Derry include:
Ballygroll Prehistoric Monument Complex
Excavations on Slievegore Hill during the 1970s revealed a remarkable concentration of prehistoric architectural monuments, the earliest dating from around 4000 BCE. They include a Neolithic court tomb, two wedge tombs, two stone circles, a round cairn and a barrow.
Mount Sandel Fort and Mesolithic Site
Mount Sandel Fort or earthwork, consisting of a tall mound hollowed out in the centre, overlooks the River Bann at the Cutts. On high ground to the east, is a site where traces of Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) habitation were unearthed in the 1970s. Among these remains were a number of charred hazelnut shells which were radiocarbon dated to between 7,010 and 6,490 BCE, making Mount Sandel the oldest known human settlement on the island of Ireland.
For more about local culture, see: County Derry Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Down include:
The Church of Ireland Cathedral at Downpatrick is built on the Hill of Down, where St Patrick is said to have founded one of his first churches. In time, this is believed to have been replaced by a monastic settlement, which itself was cleared away by Augustinian monks around 1140 at the instigation of St Malachy Bishop of Down and Dromore. This building was later redeveloped in the 13th century at John de Courcy's invitation by Benedictine monks from Chester. It was this the designwork and construction of these two monastic orders that marked the beginning of the present cathedral building. Much later, during the period 1789-1812, an extensive restoration did more to erase the building's medieval character than any previous calamity. In 1900 a special stone was commissioned to mark the supposed site of St Patrick's grave. The area is also supposed to contain the relics of Saint Brigid and Saint Colmcille.
One of the mightiest of Norman architecture strongholds on the coast of Northern Ireland, Dundrum Castle was built by John de Courcy around 1177 (as his second great fortress after Carrickfergus), and later occupied by the Earl of Ulster and later the Magennis family. Its tall, round keep or donjon offers spectacular views of the sea and the Mountains of Mourne.
Greencastle Royal Castle
This 13th century Norman castle, which commanded the entrance to Carlingford Lough, was stormed by the Irish in 1260 and 1375 and by Edward Bruce in 1316. In 1505 it was given by the English Crown to Gerald the Earl of Kildare and later to Nicholas Bagenall before being abandoned in the late 17th century.
Hillsborough Castle and Gardens
Originally the site of a 5th or 6th century rath, it later provided the site for a mid-17th century artillery fort - guarding the road from Dublin to Belfast and Carrickfergus - before being developed into an imposing 18th-century mansion, with some gothic-style ornamentation, built by Wills Hill, first Marquis of Downshire. In recent times Hillsborough Castle has served as the home of the Governor of Northern Ireland, and the official residence of the Secretary of State.
An Anglo-Norman Cistercian monastery founded during the 1180s by John de Courcy - the Anglo-Norman adventurer who seized much of eastern Ulster in 1177 - on the bank of the river Quoil within sight of Downpatrick Cathedral, its remains consist of a cruciform Gothic church with only minimal traces of the cloisters, the innovative architectural hallmark of the Cistercian designers. Constructed by Cistercian monks brought over from Lancashire, it later became a centre of English influence. It was partially burned down in about 1400 and later suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
This Bronze Age man-made island, associated with the Celts and dating from 2000-500 BCE, is located in the middle of a lough, about a mile from the village of Loughbrickland. During the 17th century, it was occupied by the Magennis family.
Nendrum Monastic Site
Situated on Mahee Island in Strangford Lough, the Nendrum Monastic site is believed to have been founded by St Mochaoi before 500 CE, although it did not become a monastery until the 7th century. Later a Benedictine settlement, Nendrum's architecture features romanesque designs, and the complex was extensively explored by the architect Lawlor in the 1920s.
Scrabo Tower (named after the soft local scrabo sandstone) on the site of Newtownards famous 13th century Dominican Priory, is one of Northern Ireland's best known landmarks, and offers visitors stunning views of Strangford Lough and the rest of north County Down.
For more about local culture, see: County Down Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Fermanagh include:
Boa Island, Carved Stone Figures
Boa ("Badhbha's Island") is an island situated close to the northern shore of Lower Lough Erne. Caldragh Cemetary, the island's graveyard is a Scheduled Historic Monument due to its remarkable Irish sculpture: namely two figurative stone sculptures, believed to be Celtic idols.
Devenish Island Monastic Site
Devenish, an island in lower Lough Erne, is one of the most significant early Christian architectural monuments in Ulster. Easily recognized from a distance by virtue of its 12th century Round Tower - one of the best preserved specimens of this type of building. Devenish (from the Irish "Daimhinis" meaning Ox Island) originally belonged to the 6th century St Molaise monastery, and still has the ruins of the 12th century Augustinian St Mary's Abbey on its western hill. The Abbey has an intricately carved 15th-century high cross in its upper graveyard.
Enniskillen Castle Museums
Overlooking Lough Erne, Enniskillen Castle was originally the stronghold of the Maguire family whose 15th century Gaelic chieftains ruled the region. Now the home of the Fermanagh County Museum.
White Island Lough Erne
This medieval ruined church, dating from around 1200, boasts the only complete round-headed romanesque-style doorway in Northern Ireland. A curious series of highly individualistic archaic stone figures were found built into the north wall. These sculptures were carved out of quartzite and probably sculpted between 800 and 1000 CE, after which they were used as building stones for the church.
For more about local culture, see: County Fermanagh Visual Arts.
Sites with historical architecture, cultural or artistic interest, in County Tyrone include:
Beaghmore Stone Circles
The mountain peat bog of Beaghmore is home to the densest concentration of megalithic stone circles, cairns, dolmens and alignments in Northern Ireland. This complex assemblage of Bronze Age stone circles and alignments has not been precisely dated, though archeologists believe it was first used around 3,000 BCE.
Creggandevesky Court Tomb
One of the best exemplars of Neolithic court tomb architecture, the Creggandevesky tomb (dating from about 3,500 BCE) is located on a small hill overlooking Lough Mallon. The complex consists of a 50-feet long trapezoidal stone cairn with a semi-circular forecourt at one end. In the middle of the court is a portal (covered by a huge capstone) which gives access to a three-room burial chamber. More than 10 other Stone Age court tombs have been discovered within a ten mile radius of Creggandevesky.
Harry Avery's Castle
This stone castle commanding the valley of the River Derg near Newtownstewart was built around 1320 by members of the ONeill clan, and named after Harry Avery (Henry Aimbreidh) ONeill, a local chief who died in 1392.
For more about local culture, see: County Tyrone Visual Arts.
A Note About Motte and Bailey Forts in Northern Ireland
After the Norman seizure of eastern Ulster in the late 1170s, they erected a large number of fortified mounds, or "mottes" across the province vastly outnumbering the more permanent but expensive stone-based architectural fortifications, such as Carrickfergus Castle. A "motte", sometimes paired with an enclosed and fortified area called a bailey, was an impermanent type of frontier fortification made up of a flat topped mound (sometimes with a lookout tower) encircled by a wooden fence. By the 1190s the construction of mottes was largely confined to eastern areas of Ulster, Scotland and the Welsh borders. Elsewhere, Norman rule was supported by more permanent fortifications. The more than 100 mottes which survive in County Down and County Antrim, are exemplified by those at Clough Castle, at Holywood, Dundonald, and Harryville, Ballymena.
For more about culture in Northern Ireland, see: Visual Arts in Ulster.
For more architectural monuments, see: Homepage.