Ireland is one of the most popular destinations in the world. Memorialized in myth and song as the Emerald Isle, its beauty and charm is undeniable.
Even UNESCO has fallen under its spell, and has designated two World Heritage Sites in Ireland that are truly fascinating.
1. Bru na Boinne – Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne
Situated 30 miles (50 km) from Dublin are the three primary historic sites known as the Bru na Boinne Complex. Located on the north bank of the River Boyne, these are the most important, as well as the largest, concentration of European prehistoric megalithic art.
Covering 780 ha, here you’ll see funeral tombs, mounds, as well as henges and standing stones, and over 40 impressive “passage graves” stand in a ridge along the north bank of the river, which are famous for their examples of megalithic art.
Megalithic art is a term that describes art that has been carved into megaliths, or huge stones, in prehistoric Europe.
This site of sophisticated Neolithic monuments and enclosures dates back to the 35th century BC, pre-dating the Egyptian pyramids, and studies have shown it to have been built with a knowledge of science and astronomy.
The three main megalithic mounds – Newgrange, Dowth and Knowth – are astronomically aligned. Newgrange and Dowth are aligned to the Winter Solstice, and Knowth has an Equinox solar alignment.
The archeological finds of flint tools used by Mesolithic hunters indicate that the Bru na Boinne site contains stones that were used by earlier peoples. And archeological evidence shows that the site continued to be used by peoples of the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Medieval period, up to and including the Romans.
As the millennia past, the area began exerting increasing economic and political influence. Much of this was due to its geographic location with the River Boyne interacting with both the heartland of Ireland and the Celtic Sea.
Remains of a medieval castle and a church have been found in Newgrange. Knowth was the “Kings Capital” until the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century.
A modern Visitors Center at the site offers remarkable interpretive exhibits, such as a full-scale replica of both the Newgrange chamber and one of Knowth’s tombs. Tours of the monuments begin with a shuttle bus ride from the Visitors Center.
2. Sceilg Mhichil
This site is a monastic complex located 7.5 miles (12 km) off the coast of southwest Ireland, off the tip of the lveragh Peninsula of County Kerry. It is situated on a rocky island, and is a reminder of the extreme spartan lives led by the first Christians in Ireland.
Interestingly, the actual date of the building of this monastery on the island of Skellig Michael has yet to be determined. Oral legend has its construction in the 6th century, but written records do not exist until the 8th century. The dedication to St. Michael occurred sometime between 950 and 1050.
To tour this World Heritage Site you take a boat out to the island. Landing on the island depends on how rough the seas are. If you are able to explore the island and the site you will have what many call a “magical experience.”
Over geologic eons the island has been eroded so that it is shaped with a center depression, known as Christ’s Saddle, and two peaks. There are three landing spots where the monks built steps up the sides of the island. The hermitage was built on the south peak, the steeper of the two peaks.
A large enclosure, which is subdivided and terraced, is accessed by way of a series of steep steps. The main enclosure of the monastery contains a church and two oratories. Living and sleeping cells are also evident, including a unique toilet cell that is beehive-shaped.
The monastic enclosure also has a soulterrain, which is an archeological term for an underground dugout that would be similar to today’s basements. In Ireland the term “soulterrain” means a dugout cave.
Between the buildings in the enclosure is a paving of white quartz.
The monastery was occupied into the last part of the 12th century. At that time it was abandoned due to climatic changes that saw increased storms in the sea which created increased difficulty in supplying and maintaining the monks.
However, Ballinskelligs Abbey accepted responsibility for the buildings which it kept in repair until Ballilnskelligs was dissolved by Queen Elizabeth I in 1578.
When you tour the island you can join lectures by historians and archeologists. Also enjoy viewing wildlife – there are lots of puffins, and you might even spot a whale.
Alice Perkins is a travel blogger for RedWeek.com, the largest online market place for timeshare rentals, where vacationers can find luxury accommodations for less than the cost of a typical hotel room.