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Cliffs of Moher Ireland

Find 7 of Ireland’s hidden treasures, from the wild waters of the Atlantic to fascinating history and world-class attractions, giving you an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

This small yet intriguing island offers breath-taking landscapes, a friendly welcome and little change over the generations.

With the dramatic wilderness of County Donegal, that edge of the world feeling from the Cliffs of Moher and fantastic walks along Loop Head, the Emerald Isle beckons at every twist and turn.

Explore each nook and cranny, listen to the sounds of traditional folk music, try fresh oysters and tread over spectacular countryside.

Discover 7 hidden gems that make Ireland so special…

1. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin

Kilmainham Gaol Ireland

Constructed in 1787, directly on the gloomy gallows that wickedly stole away the lives of many by public hanging, Kilmainham Gaol was notorious for its rebel prisoners right up until 1924.

During those years, it housed men, women and children, the youngest believed to have been just seven years old.

Interestingly, in 1916, Irish rebels took over various locations in the centre of Dublin, which led to their surrender and imprisonment at Kilmainham Gaol. This event, known as the Easter Rising, was in protest to being ruled by the British.

Once locked away, they were tried, found guilty and executed by firing squad in the courtyard. Yet, instead of suppressing the nationalist uprising, these executions had quite the opposite effect and word began to spread of these martyr-like rebels.

This independent country would not be the Ireland we know and love today without this crucial event taking place.

The Gaol now offers guided tours to the public, telling tales of its solemn past left behind. You can glimpse haunting graffiti created at the hands of Nationalists and martyrs to the rebellion, and envision just what it might have been like for the poor souls that found themselves locked within these eerie walls.

Set over three floors, it hosts a tea shop, museum and many compelling exhibitions worth a look. So what are you waiting for?

2. Irish Sky Garden, Skibbereen

James Turrel

Resembling something of a fairytale, this whimsical garden offers more than what meets the eye.

Positioned within a vibrant, woodland setting, designed by American artist James Turrel, it presents the perfect representation for a beguiling country. His work, as shown above, challenges the observer to engage with boundaries and perception.

The garden is set against the Celtic Liss Ard, an ancient composition where nature, art and elegance come together in harmony, a contemporary piece shaped like a bowl lending a beautiful addition to the estate.

The alter featured in the centre is raised at an angle, allowing you to see only green grasses and clear blue skies, the ideal spot to empty your mind and escape everyday life for a moment.

3. Conolly’s Folly, Celbridge

Conolly's Folly

This 18th century stone monument, lending no association to religion whatsoever, with interlocking arches and tall rectangular pillars, is set among peaceful Irish countryside.

Standing in the grounds of Castletown House, once home to William Conolly who was a prominent member of the Irish House of Commons, this historical landmark boasts a height of over 42 metres.

Its uniqueness stems from not only its physical characteristics, which captivate the attention of many that wander through, but a charming history relating to the height of the potato famine.

In 1740, Conolly’s Folly was constructed so that local farmers could earn a crust and feed their families at a time of desperation. Katherine Conolly, widow of William, carefully commissioned the structure, giving these workers a sense of purpose.

Desmond Guinness saved Castleton House from demolition in the 1960s so parts of it could be opened to the public and its story could live on. Explore its wondrous grounds and stumble upon this imposing structure decorated with stone eagles and rounded pineapples.

4. Skellig Michael, Kerry

Skellig Michael

Eight miles from the coast of County Kerry, this ancient monastery boasts an enviable location on a jagged isle in the Atlantic. It is one of two islands, whose craggy structure overhangs the billowing waves of the ocean, thrusting 230 metres upwards.

The history of Skellig Michael dates back to Pagan times, yet only comes to life during the middle of the 7th century, when a monastery was founded near it peak.

Perched at its summit, an eerie oratory plays centre to a cluster of beehive-shaped huts, which once offered monks a haven of solitude, accessed by 600 stone steps. On the southern peak stands another singular oratory, intended for total isolation for the world.

Once raided by Vikings during the 9th century and later abandoned in the 12th century when the monks moved to the mainland, Skellig Michael’s latest experience is, to some, its most appealing yet.

It may already be known to Star Wars fans, but for those who remain unaware, this island flourished into fame when its unusual beehive structures, perilous staircases and dramatic cliffs were used at the end of The Force Awakens and again in The Last Jedi, as the setting for Luke Skywalker’s secluded hideaway.

5. The Hungry Tree, Dublin

Hungry Tree Dublin

On a glorious, sun-filled day at Ireland’s oldest law school, this 80-year-old London Plane tree is currently in the process of consuming a cast iron bench that rests unwillingly at its disposal.

This hungry tree has grown ferociously over time, not letting any obstacles stand in its way. The back of the bench has now become lost, devoured by the distorted bark of the tree’s knobbly trunk.

London planes are planted for their ability to adapt to urban environments, and this one has certainly made itself at home, preceding to consume the entire bench as time will allow. These are hybrid trees that came into existence during the 17th century and were widely planted in the city of Dublin over the 19th century.

Pay a visit to this delightful park and see nature’s takeover with your own eyes, sit with your flask of coffee and watch the world drift by on Constitution Hill.

6. The Round Tower of Glendalough, Wicklow

Round Tower of Glendalough

Nestled in the inspiring Wicklow Mountains, surrounded by the ancient ruins of a 6th century monastery, this enchanting structure could easily be mistaken for Rapunzel’s tower.

This national park is littered with rolling hills, wide open vistas and narrow winding roads leading you to the scenic Glendalough Valley, where this settlement of St. Kevin is located.

What draws visitors to the area is the spectacular scenery framing two glimmering lakes and lush woodland, amidst a cluster of chapels, a stone cross and cathedral. Yet, the most iconic has to be this captivating tower standing 30 metres high above the rest. The commanding pillar had many uses over time, serving as a barrier for protection in difficult situations, but mostly as a cheerful bell tower.

These ancient structures showcase fine masonry work in an area of peace and tranquility, it’s no wonder the monks chose such a location! But discover for yourself, just what makes Glendalough stand out against the rest of Ireland’s breath-taking landscapes.

7. Sean’s Bar, Athlone

Sean's Bar Athlone

Positioned in the heart of Ireland within a traditional Irish neighbourhood, hosting visitors from across the world, is possibly  the oldest existing bar in the world.

With a detailed history taking you back to 900AD, Sean’s Bar offers a friendly, heart-warming atmosphere, with an open fireplace and walls covered in ancient artifacts

During renovations in 1970, evidence was obtained dating the bar back to the 9th century. Among these findings were old coins minted by various landlords for trade with their customers, most of which are now displayed in the National Museum. It was also discovered that one of the walls was made from ‘wattle and daub’, which is an ancient building compound where wooden strips are daubed with a sticky substance, usually a combination of clay, sand and wet soil.

It seems this bar had likely existed for over thousands of years before it was established as a coaching inn. On a trip through Athlone, stop by for a sample of its ale and a taste of its culture. With live music and daily historical talks explaining its fascinating story, you won’t want to miss an opportunity for a pint in Ireland’s oldest pub!

If you want to uncover even more hidden gems sitting among Irish territory, have a read of our Ireland Travel Guide and browse some of our specially selected Ireland holiday cottages for where to stay in this awe-inspiring country!

Image Credits: David Shankbone (CC BY 3.0); Sudo77(CC BY-SA 4.0); highlander411(CC BY 2.0); William Murphy(CC BY-SA 2.0); Nico Galasso(CC BY 2.0); Sharonlflynn(CC BY-SA 4.0)

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