Top Attractions in Ireland
The Rock of Cashel
The center of tribal and religious power for more than a thousand years, it became the seat of the Munster Kings in the 5th century. Handed over to the early Christian Church in 1101, the medieval abbey perched on a limestone mount in Tipperary contains rare Romanesque sculpture and carvings celebrating St. Patrick's visit there in 450.
The Giant's Causeway
Irish mythology claims that the warrior Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) laid the Antrim causeway himself to enable easy crossing to his lover on Staffa Island off the Scottish coast, where similar basalt columns are found. Formed by volcanic eruptions more than 60 million years ago, the area is a magical mix of looming cliffs and thundering surf—and an awesome reminder of nature's power.
Stonehenge and the pyramids at Giza are spring chickens compared to Newgrange, one of the most fascinating sites near Dublin. Built around 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a passage tomb—a huge mound of earth with a stone passageway leading to a burial chamber constructed entirely of dry stone (mortar wasn't invented yet). Steeped in Celtic myth and lore, these graves were built for the Kings of Tara. Untouched for centuries, the main chamber was excavated in the 1960s and revealed itself as the world's oldest solar observatory, where the sun's rays light up the interior on December 21 each year.
Book of Kells
If you visit only one attraction in Dublin, let it be this extraordinary creation housed in Trinity College. Often called "the most beautiful book in the world," the manuscript dates to the 8th or 9th century and remains a marvel of intricacy and creativity. Fashioned by monks probably based on the Hebridean island of Iona, and worked with reed pens and iron-gall ink on a folded section of vellum, the manuscript demonstrates a sense of sublime balance and beauty in elaborate interlaces, abstractions, and "carpet-pages."
The Blarney Stone
One of the country's most enduring myths, wherein kissing a stone high upon the battlements of a ruined Cork castle bestows a magical eloquence on the visitor, may also be one of its most ludicrous. Grasped by the ankles and hanging perilously upside down to pucker upon ancient rock, you'll certainly have a tall tale to tell the folks back home. Despite the difficulty, there's generally a long line waiting to scale the skeletal remains of Blarney Castle, a strangely derelict edifice in the otherwise neatly groomed estate; try to visit in the very early morning.
Ring of Kerry
Ireland's most popular scenic route, the Ring of Kerry is one of Europe's grandest drives, combining mountainous splendor with a spectacularly varied coastline. It's best to escape the tour buses that choke its main road by taking to the hills on foot, by horseback, or by bike.
Famed for their haunting beauty, these three islands set in Galway Bay have lured artists, writers, and multitudes of curious visitors for decades. On Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer you'll find a mode of life that reflects man's struggle against nature. Topped with the stone forts and crisscrossed by ancient "garden" walls, they epitomize solitude—one reason Irish bards like playwright J. M. Synge visited them many times.
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