- On November 23, 2019
- In Blog
Ireland’s Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites
There are many places to visit to see ancient Ireland, with most of these gems of history free to access through scattered around the countryside. Here are the top 10 Ancient Stone sites as you drive around Ireland. Take a tour around Ireland to see these Stone Circles and other ancient stone sites. The guides assume you start and finish your trip around Ireland from Dublin.
If you’ve been to Stonehenge in the UK you know you can’t walk among the stones. In Ireland, it is easy to walk to and around many stone structures and other ancient sites. Some have Visitor Centres to help interpret what you see at Ireland’s Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites.
Types of Ancient Stones Sites in Ireland
In Ireland, stone structures have been part of the landscape since prehistoric times. These take the form mainly of stone circles, stone alignments, burial chambers, portal dolmens and stone forts. In West Cork, Co. Donegal and Co. Derry stone circles are widespread. In Co. Meath the Boyne Valley burial chambers such as Newgrange and Knowth are older than the pyramids. Co. Clare has one of Ireland’s most famous structures, Poulnabrone Dolmen. Co. Mayo has some stone circles and also the Ceide Fields stone age field system which should not be missed. Co. Kerry has a number of accessible stone forts and beehive huts. Some parts of Ireland have walls made of stone if only to allow the field to be used for animals.
Stone Circles in Ireland
The stone circles are various forms of circular enclosures built of stone and dedicated to ceremony or ritual practices. As many centuries have passed some of the stones may have fallen on their side or been buried or removed, so many circles are incomplete. There are stories told by our elders which say that if you damage or remove stones from stone circles the fairies will take revenge on you! Radiocarbon dating suggests the majority of Irish and UK stone circles were erected during the Bronze Age ( 2100 BC to 700 BC). Some have been partially excavated with pottery, stones and human bones found nearby. There is no charge to go and walk up to and around these ancient sites. Some of these directions are not exact, but in Ireland, people are usually happy to tell you how to find a place.
1. The National Museum -Archaeology, Kildare Street, Dublin.
In Dublin’s city centre beside Leinster House (National Parliament) and the National Library houses the richest display of ancient objects and for this reason, is the first stop of the Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites in Ireland. The classical style building itself dates to the 1880s with marble pillars and mosaic floors and is free to enter. The above map show’s the different Dublin Museums – Ancient, Natural History and At Collins Barracks is the Decorative, Art and History Museum.
There are many treasures in Kildares Street from Ancient Celtic jewellery and Gold, Viking Artefacts, and the Aglish Ogham stone is displayed with an explanation of this ancient form of writing on stone. The Museum has the largest collection of gold objects from the Bronze Age along with Christian Era artefacts such as the Cross of Cong, the Ardagh Chalice and Tara Brooch. There is an exhibition on the Hill of Tara, home of Ireland’s high kings, well worth seeing before visiting Tara in Co Meath.
2. Newgrange Co. Meath
Close to Dublin in Co Meath is Newgrange, an Ancient Stone Sites which older than the Pyramids of Egypt. In the Boyne Valley is Newgrange, the best known Neolithic passage-tomb. There is a large stone circle with a design on it at the entrance to the Passage Tomb. This visit needs to be booked well in advance of your trip as it is one of Ireland’s gems. Spend a day in Co. Meath with many ancient sites such as the Hill of Slane, the Hill of Tara where Ireland’s High Kings ruled and dramatic Trim Castle.
3. The Ogham Corridor in University College Cork
This is the best collection of ogham stones in the world and one of Ireland’s Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites. The stone dating from 300- 600 AD, are housed indoors in the central corridor of University College Cork’s Aula Maxima. In the corridor beside the visitors centre in the stone corridor are the ogham stones which were ancient gravestones, each one marking the burial place of a distinguished person in a Celtic tribe, a chieftain or a bard, and date from the second or third century of the Christian era – the period before Saint Patrick came to Ireland.
Ogham can be read using a translation code which was discovered in medieval religious text. The script is read from bottom to top of the corner edges of quarried stone where the marks comprise a set of 20 or so letters of the Latin alphabet. Entry is free.
4. Stone Circles of West Cork
West Cork is the area with the most stone circles with many to be found along the South West Coast, now referred to as the Wild Atlantic Way. It is difficult to choose one site so we have listed a few in this section as part of Ireland’s Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites, as they are all easy to visit in one day. The Drombeg Stone Circle is about 1.5 hours from Cork city via the N71 through Clonakilty. Just after the village of Rosscarbery turn left (after Celtic Ross Hotel) towards the village of Glandore. The stone circle is signposted and has a small carpark beside it. Drombeg is composed of 17 standing stones overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The field also has a Fulacht Fiadh (Cooking Pit), made up of a hearth, trough and well. Small stones were heated on the hearth and rolled into the trough, this heated the water and meat was then added to be slowly cooked. The sunsets beautifully to the west of this circle. The nearby village of Glandore is a great place for lunch overlooking the sea. Cross a narrow metal bridge shortly after Glandore to the village of Union Hall. This bridge was used in the film ‘The War of the Buttons’. Further west on the Mizen Peninsula, after Schull village, is Altar Dolmen Stone in a field overlooking the sea.
There are many other stone circles in West Cork, but my favourite ones are at Kealkil or at Uragh in Co. Kerry on the Beara Peninsula. Drive from Glandore to Skibbereen, Bantry and towards Glengarriff, turning right for Kealkil. In the village of Kealkil, turn right up the hill at Cronin’s pub and follow the signs to the Stone Circle. Park on the side of the lane and cross a stile to reach the site. This stone circle from the Bronze Age has 5 stones, which is typical of many in this area, but is complemented by 2 taller outlying stones and has a cairn or stone mound nearby. The views of Bantry Bay and the Beara Peninsula from here are spectacular.
To find the Uragh Stone Circle drive from Bantry to Glengariff and over the Caha Pass to Kenmare. Before Kenmare take the left turn for the Beara Peninsula. After about 15 km there is a turn left for Gleninchiquinn. Drive along a narrow lane into a valley and there will be a sign for the stone circle to the right after 7-8 km. Drive along the lane, open the gate, making sure to close afterwards and Uragh Stone circle is on your left in the middle of this unspoilt valley.
5. Lough Gur, Co Limerick
Lough Gur, 30 minutes drive south of Limerick city, has a stone circle dating from Neolithic times with a double circle of stones in a field. The majority of the stones in this Lios (circular fortified centre) are up to 1.4m high, enclosing an area of 16 meters and is one of Ireland’s Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites. The site is a well sign-posted and you can park on the side of the road, walk into the Lios, walk around the outer ring or into the middle of the stone circle. We had a lovely picnic under a tree overlooking this stone circle on a lovely sunny day.
This area is famous with a Heritage Centre at Lough Gur telling the story of 6,000 years of habitation in the area. When in the National Museum see the Lough Gur Bronze Shield. The shield was discovered by a Charles Hays for £2 which he used for a passage to the USA!
6. Co Clare – Cliffs of Moher and Craggaunowen
This site in Kilmurry, Co. Clare is a recreated a Bronze Age village beside Craggaunowen Castle. The castle is decorated with furnishings of its period and in summer people in costume act as guides and act out trades such as spinning. There are a Ring Fort, Crannog and the original leather boat in which Tim Severin crossed the Atlantic in the 1970s. The Crannog is a house built on a man-made island on a lake. The wood and leather boat was built by the adventurer Tim Severn in the 1970s and used to re-create the 6th century Brendan Voyage- proving that St Brendan the Navigator could have reached America before Christopher Columbus. This site and Lough Gur can be visited on the same day, complementing one another as you drive the quiet country lanes.
The dramatic, famous and busy Cliffs of Moher on the Wild Atlantic way in Co Clare are a natural Ancient Stone Site and are best visited before 10 am or after 4 pm daily to avoid the crowds. Tickets can be pre-purchased for the view from these 214 m ( (690ft) cliffs rising from the Atlantic. Take an hour to walk the cliffs or a guided walk from Doolin. The best time to visit is before sunset, as the sun sets to the west over the sea, and hopefully, a red sky at night will indicate that the next day will be fine. Take a boat trip from Doolin under the cliffs in the afternoon, to get the best view of these dramatic cliffs.
The Burren in North Co Clare is one of Europe’s most impressive Karst Limestone areas. Take a guided walk on this almost lunar landscape to see how people live and farm here. Poulnabrone Dolmen in the centre of the Burren is a portal Tomb, like Altar Dolmen in West Cork, and dates from 2500- 2000 BC. The Dolmen is managed by the OPW Guides who show you around the centre, free entry from 9.30 am to 5 pm in summer.
7. Co Galway
In western Co. Galway the roads and lanes have dry stone walls made from limestone but without any mortar. Take a boat trip from Doolin in Co. Clare or Spiddal in Co. Galway to the Aran Islands. Here time has stood still and the narrow lanes of Inis Mór where the dramatic Dun Aengus is one of Ireland’s Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites.
Inis mór ( large island) is one 3 islands in Galway Bay where Irish is still the main language, are best travelled by bike or horse-drawn jaunting car. Travel to the western side of Inis Mór to see Dún Aongus. This dramatic Bronze Age stone fort stands on a cliff overlooking the wild Atlantic, made up of 4 concentric stone walls, with the western side of the fort already fallen into the sea. Also not to be missed is Na Seacht Teampail ( 7 Churches) which was a monastic settlement from the 9th to the 15th centuries.
Back on the mainland travel the roads of Galway, past Kylemore Abbey to Achill Island along the Wild Atlantic Way driving route. Achill Island is linked by a bridge from the mainland, with a circular driving route around the island. On the southern side of the island, Keel bay has dramatic rocks and as you drive the northern side visit the deserted village of Slievemore.
8. Céide Fields, Co Mayo
There are 2 stone circles on the north coast of Co. Mayo but the site in Ireland’s Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites is the Ceide Fields. The Céide Fields is Europe’s largest Stone Age monument and the world’s oldest known field system, on a heather-clad hill overlooking the Atlantic. When the ancient farmers abandoned the area 5,000 years ago peat gradually accumulated and over millennia the peaty bog covered the hillside. Some years ago excavations uncovered the walls of ancient fields and farm buildings as well as a 5000-year-old roadway. An award-winning interpretative centre has a viewing platform to view the site and informative presentations to explain the geology, botany and life in ancient Ireland. There is a remote and dramatic drive along the coast, with present-day residents drying turf on the roadside and lots of sheep grazing happily. Downpatrick Head, a sea Stack cut off from the mainland by the Atlantic waves is 10 minutes drive from the Céide Fields.
On the Sliabh Liag cliffs in south-west Donegal are the highest marine cliffs in Europe at 1976 ft above sea level. These cliffs are 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher, much less visited and are the best natural Ancient Stone Site. Take a boat trip on the bay to see the magnificence of the cliffs as well as the Sligo, Donegal and Mayo coastline. During World War 2 a marker in large stones painted white saying Eire, was used as a navigational aid by the Allies planes is still to be seen at Sliabh Liag.
The Sliabh Liag cliffs can be found just outside Teelin, which is in Donegal bay 12 miles from Killybegs and a 1.5-hour drive from Donegal Town. Take the N56 from Donegal town to Killybegs, and then the R263 to Carrick. On arrival in Carrick turn left in the middle of the village at the Sliabh Liag Lodge. Take a look at this video:
The quaint living folk village of Glencolmcille is a few km to the north of Sliabh Liag. This replica of a rural thatch-roofed village shows how life was lived in centuries past in this area. This Irish speaking area has small cottages perched on a hill overlooking a sand beach called Glen Bay Beach. Travel the coastal route north past stunning beaches along to the Inishowen Peninsula and Malin Head at the Wild Atlantic Way’s most northerly point. The Grinan of Aileach ( Stone Fort of the Sun) on the Inishowen Peninsula is one of the most famous stone forts. This royal site of Gaelic Ireland was where the De Danann’s built the fort in 1700 BC
10. Northern Ireland Giant Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. It is located in County Antrim on the north coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles northeast of the town of Bushmills.
In Raphoe is Baltany Stone Circle on a hilltop with panoramic views. The circle originally was 80 upright stones, of which 60 are still sanding in a circle 145 ft in diameter. The name comes from the spring festival Bealtaine, which used to be celebrated here. structures have
Near Ardara is a Kilclooney Dolmen- a portal tomb from about 3500BC. The capstone is 13ft wide and 20ft long and stands over 6ft high and is the largest of the Portal tombs
There are a lot of old stones in Ireland and it has been difficult to choose the Top 10 Ancient Stone Sites, so we have added a few close to one another. Around every bend in the road is another ancient stone site. To plan a holiday in Ireland contact CurtisandHooper.ie