Places to visit: Further Afield A to Z

Dunsany Castle

Dunsany Castle

COVID-19 advice: Please follow current government advice and check opening times before travel. 

Dunsany Castle is situated in the townland of Dunsany, between Trim and Dunshaughlin. The Castle was established as a towered fortification of the Norman Pale in the period 1180 – 1200; construction is believed to have begun in 1180/1181. The Castle was built for a key Norman warlord, Hugh de Lacy, whose chief seat was at Trim. Parts of the original building still stand – the huge foundations and the four main towers form a key part of the current structure. Much additional work has been performed over the years, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the current Castle is more than three times the size of the original.

The Plunkett connection began with the knight Sir Christopher Plunkett (Deputy Governor of Ireland in 1432), who had come into the lands in the area through marriage in the early 1400s. The Castle is the longest occupied home and one of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in Ireland.

The Castle is entered through a large lobby with a finely worked ceiling, which opens into the central hallway, featuring the principal stairway and a vaulted ceiling. On the ground floor are a fine dining room, featuring portraits of past family members from over the centuries, and a substantial, well-proportioned billiards room while up the stairs are the library and drawing-room. The bright and airy drawing-room has Stapleton plasterwork from 1780.

The unique library, which may have been worked on by James Shiel, is one of the star features of Dunsany. Displaying a form of the “Gothic Revival” style, it has a wonderful “beehive” ceiling from the early 19th century and grained Gothic decoration. There is a fine collection of books from across the centuries, including material by the writer Lord Dunsany and the writing table at which he (and others, such as the poet Francis Ledwidge) worked. Other features include a winding secondary stairway (where a “priest’s hole” formerly existed) and an old vaulted hall, built from the original 12th century kitchen and now displaying part of the Dunsany Home Collection.

As with many land holdings, much of the estate of Dunsany was transferred to tenants under Ireland’s unique Land Acts. The Demesne of the residual Dunsany Estate features farmland, park and woodland, surrounded by a Famine wall (a project to provide work for the destitute during Ireland’s terrible potato famine) with three major entrances.

The current main gateway has the appearance of a Gothic ruin but is a later “sham”, concealing a residential gatehouse; it faces the ancient Dunsany Cross, a pilgrim cross on one of the long-distance walks for the devout. The Castle is fronted by a lawn. At the back of the demesne runs the River Skane, a tributary of the Boyne. Also within the grounds are enclosed yards (farm and stables), a fine walled garden, an ice-house and wells.

The fine Church of St. Nicholas (of Myra), locally known as “the Abbey”, and built on the site of an earlier building, was commenced in the 1440s and holds tombs of family members and local residents. It is a substantial building and the walls still stand solidly, although the roof is long gone. Within are the remnants of lofts and living spaces. There are also some of the best medieval carvings surviving in Ireland, notably on the baptismal font, and a fine carved 15th century tomb (with effigies of a knight and his lady, either the first or second Lord Dunsany and his wife).

The family, headed by the 20th Lord, Edward Plunkett, and his wife, Maria Alice de Marsillac Plunkett, still live at Dunsany. They retain a fine collection of heirlooms, including an enamelled silver mug presented by Elizabeth I and the watch and cross of St. Oliver Plunkett, and some beautiful works of art, notably paintings and porcelain, though for security reasons some are no longer held at the Castle.

The Lonely Planet Guide comments – “A guided tour takes almost two hours and offers a fascinating insight into the family history as well as that of the castle. It remains a family home, and maintenance and restoration are ongoing, so opening hours vary and different rooms are open to visitors at different times – call for details”.

The Castle is the ancestral home of the Lords of Dunsany, heads of the Plunkett family, since the 1400’s. The family still live in the Castle, which holds a private collection of paintings, ceramics and furniture. Dunsany Castle also has a fine demesne, featuring the Abbey (1440). The family has opened the Dunsany Home Collection Boutique in the Castle, which stocks an important collection of unique tableware, linen and other special housewares & gifts, as well as books by Lord Dunsany (1878-1957)

Open for tours by appointment during the summer months from 24th June to 22nd August. 10:00 am to 2:00 pm daily.

Dunsany House, Dunsany, Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath

Tel: 046-9025169

Admission: Adults €25, concessions. Advance booking is essential. Please email: office @


Round tower at Glenalough


COVID-19 advice: Please follow current government advice and check opening times before travel. 

Glendalough is an early Christian ecclesiastical settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Set in a glaciated valley with two lakes, the monastic remains include a superb round tower, stone churches and decorated crosses.

In the latter part of the sixth century, St. Kevin crossed the mountains from Hollywood to Glendalough. Within 100 years, the area had developed from a remote hermitage into one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. The monastery continued to flourish after St. Kevin’s death in 617 A.D.

By the end of the eighth century, the monastery employed up to 1000 lay people to help grow crops and tend livestock. Monasteries were wealthy. In addition to stores of treasure, most monasteries maintained substantial stocks of food and were able to survive periodic famines. Such rich sites were often plundered. Glendalough’s remote location made it an easy target, and between 775 and 1095 it was plundered many times by both local tribes and Norse invaders. Usually the churches and houses were burned, but each time the monastery was rebuilt.

The eventual decline of Glendalough’s monastery was not due to invaders, but rather to a shift in political power. When Glendalough was annexed to the diocese of Dublin in 1152, its importance declined. Despite this, the place has retained a spiritual significance.

Today the ruins of the ancient monastic site are scattered throughout the valley. Many are almost 1000 years old. The main sites are located in the area known as the Monastic City, beside the Visitor Centre.  Further afield are the ruins of other churches, extending from St. Saviour’s Church in the far east of the valley, to Temple na Skellig beside the Upper Lake.

The Monastic City is the name given to the main monastic site at the eastern end of the valley, close to the Visitor Centre and the Glendalough Hotel. The following monuments can be seen in the Monastic City.

The Gateway stands at the entrance to the Monastic City, and is perhaps one of the most important monuments as it is now unique in Ireland. The building was originally two-storeyed, probably with a timber roof. Inside on the west wall, is a cross-inscribed stone. Visitors entering the Monastic City from the road still pass through this ancient entrance, walking on some of the original stone paving.

Perhaps the most noticeable monument, the Round Tower is about 30 metres high. The entrance is about 3.5 metres from the base. Originally there were six wooden floors with ladders. The roof had fallen in many years ago, but was rebuilt in 1876 using the original stone. Round towers were multi-functional. They served as landmarks for visitors, bell-towers, store-houses, and as places of refuge in times of attack.

The Cathedral is the largest of the churches, and was constructed in several phases. Of note, are an aumbry or wall cupboard under the southern window, and a piscina – a basin used for washing sacred vessels. Outside the Cathedral is St. Kevin’s Cross – a large early granite cross with an unpierced ring.

The Priest’s House is a small Romanesque building which was almost totally reconstructed using the original stones in 1779. The east end has a decorative arch. The original purpose of the building is unknown, but it may have been used to house the relics of St. Kevin. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was used as a place to inter priests.

St. Kevin’s Kitchen is a church notable for its steep roof formed of overlapping stone, supported internally by a semi-circular vault. The belfry has a stone cap and four windows facing north, south, east and west, and is reminiscent of a round tower.

Only the low walls of St. Kieran’s Church remain. It was uncovered in 1875, and probably commemorates the founder of Clonmacnoise, a monastic settlement that had associations with Glendalough during the 10th century.

St. Kevin’s Bed is a small cave in the cliff to the east of Temple ne Skellig. The entrance is about 8 metres above the lake. The site is not safely accessible, and has been the scene of many serious accidents. It may be viewed from the Miner’s Road, across the lake. The cave runs back two metres into the cliff and was reputedly a retreat for St. Kevin and later for St. Laurence O’Toole.

(Information supplied by

The Visitor Centre has an interesting exhibition and an audio-visual show. The Centre is open Mid-Oct to Mid-March daily 9.30 am-5.00 pm; Mid-March to Mid-Oct daily 9.30 am-6.00 pm. The Centre is closed Dec 23-29.

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow.

Tel: 0404 45352.

Adults €5; concessions. Guided tours available. Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.

Hill of Tara

Hill of Tara

COVID-19 advice: Please follow current government advice and check opening times before travel. 

The Hill of Tara was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Tara was the ancient spiritual and political capital of Ireland for over 2,000 years. The five Ancient Roads of Ireland converged here. A famous Feis (festival) was held here every third year at which the laws of the land were discussed.  There is a great view from the hill.

Located 15 minutes from Navan off the N3.

Guided tours available on site from May 19th to September 7th (10.00 am to 5.00 pm).  There is also a 25-minute audio-visual film in the Visitor Centre.

There is all year round access to the Hill of Tara itself.

Tara, Navan, Co. Meath.

Tel: 046 902 5903 (off season phone 041 988 0300).

Free admission.

Houses, Castles and Gardens of Ireland

Houses, Castles and Gardens of Ireland (HCGI)

HCGI is a subscription organisation dedicated to the promotion of visiting its members’ properties. Ranging from tower houses to castles, country mansions, cottages ornés, formal gardens, farms and demesnes, the properties exemplify the diverse range of Ireland’s historic residential architecture, landscape design and colourful social history from ancient times to the present day.

Members are provided with a marketing service that connects them to group tour organisers, film location/event managers, wedding planners, media representatives, and heritage/culture seekers. HCGI also helps the public plan memorable journeys and great occasions.

When planning a visit, be sure to contact the property to make certain of the opening hours.

All but two of the below properties have an individual listing on the Dublin Places To Visit website. The two unlisted properties are Primrose Hill Garden and Hunters Hotel.




Hunting Brook Gardens

Hunting Brook Gardens

COVID-19 advice: Please follow current government advice and check opening times before travel. 

Hunting Brook Gardens consists of 5 acres of botanical herbaceous gardens and 15 acres of woodland gardens and valley. Jimi Blake, its creator, collects plants from foreign expeditions and sources rare seeds globally. This is a dynamic, innovative garden, a fusion of tropical, prairie and woodland styles. There are expansive views over the Wicklow Mountains.

The famous BBC gardening expert, Monty Don, has this to say about Hunting Brook – “Hunting Brook is a garden that is endlessly beguiling and however many times you visit it, you always find something new.”

The gardens are located between Brittas and Blessington on the N81.

From April to September inclusive, the gardens are open to the public for informal visits from Wed-Sun each week (11.00 am-4.00 pm); phone in advance to double check. Outside the seasonal visiting hours, you can phone to book an appointment. There are also a number of organised “open days” (special event Sundays) during the year; for full details, see the website link below.

Hunting Brook, Lamb Hill, Blessington, Co. Wicklow.

Tel: 087 285 6601.

Adults €8.

Irish Historic Houses Association

The Irish Historic Houses Association is the umbrella organisation representing Ireland’s historic houses. These houses and their contents are part of the physical evidence that helps to define the cultural and historical relationship between Ireland and the rest of Europe.

The preservation of this part of Ireland’s cultural heritage is of national importance, something recognised by successive governments, which have enacted legislation to safeguard historic houses, their parks and contents, for current and future generations.

Heritage properties that remain in private hands have a unique value, especially those that have been owned by the same family for several generations. Typically, they contain artefacts and archives that greatly enhance the cultural and historical significance of each country house in its locality; indeed, many historic houses encapsulate the history of their surrounding regions. Below are listed historic houses which are members of theIrish Historic Houses Association within the counties of Dublin, Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow.


Lissen Hall

Lambay Castle


Burtown House



Leixlip Castle

Lodge Park

Moone Abbey


Barmeath Castle


Collon House

Killineer House

Rokeby Hall




Altidore Castle

Killruddery House

Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens

Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens

COVID-19 advice: Please follow current government advice and check opening times before travel. 

The Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens are adjoining attractions which pull in 150,000 visitors every year.

Racehorses are conceived, born and raised on Tully’s famous Stud Farm, long the source of thoroughbred champions. See six stallions, famed for race track feats.

The Japanese Gardens are the finest of their kind in Europe. Created 1906-1910 by Col. William H. Walker, the gardens symbolise the “Life of Man”, tracing the journey of a soul from oblivion to eternity.

Also visit St. Fiachra’s Garden, designed in 1999 by Martin Hallinan, and the Horse Museum (including a tribute to Arkle, the greatest steeplechaser ever).

Open Mon-Sun 10.00 am-6.00 pm (including Bank Holidays). Last admission 5.00 pm [In November/December, closing time is 4.00 pm].

Guided tours of the stud are at 10.30 am, 12.00 pm, 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm daily, lasting 45 minutes. There are extra tours during the peak tourist season.

The tour of the Japanese Gardens, Saint Fiachra’s Garden and Horse Museum is self-guided (a special leaflet guide is available).

Irish National Stud, Tully, Kildare.

Tel: 045 521617.

Adults €14; concessions.

Killruddery House

Killruddery House and Gardens

Killruddery House and Gardens has been home since 1650 to 16 generations of the Brabazon family. The house was extensively reconstructed in the Tudor Revival style in the 1820s. It contains one of the few remaining 17th Century  gardens in these islands, as well as elaborate interiors and a striking Orangery. It is a popular location for television series (e.g. “The Tudors”).

House and Gardens open Tues to Sun, April to October: 9.30 am – 5.00 pm
House and Gardens open Tues to Sun, May to September: 9.30 am – 6.00 pm
Farm market Saturdays 10.00 am – 4.00 pm

Southern Cross, Bray, Co. Wicklow

Tel: 01 2863405

Adults €15.50; concessions (house tour and gardens). House tours usually take place at 12 noon, 1.30 pm and 3.00 pm.

Adults €8.50 (gardens only); concessions.

The Brabazons were not the first to live in Killruddery. Following the Norman Conquest, Nicholas De La Felde came to Ireland and secured the lands of Kilrotheric (Killruddery) in the 13th century and subsequently leased them to the Abbey of St Thomas. This included the little Sugar Loaf, Bray Head and the valley running between them. The valley included a chapel, a burial ground and a large rural retreat built by the monks.

In 1534, Henry VII dispatched William Brabazon of Leicester to Ireland to serve as Vice-Treasurer, part of a team to implement the new Tudor policies in Ireland. In 1539, Sir William benefited from the dissolution of the monasteries and secured ownership of the Abbey of St. Thomas – which stood between present day Thomas Street and the RIver Liffey and attached monastic lands outside of Dublin.

Records of the original house at Killruddery do not exist, but it is known that it was destroyed in 1645. It was the 2nd Earl of Meath who rebuilt the house in 1651 – facing East with five bays and a hipped roof.

The 10th Earl of Meath carried out an extensive reconstruction of the 17th Century house in the 1820s, using the architects Richard and his son William Vitruvius Morrison. They designed an elaborate Tudor-Revival style mansion with an impressive central hall that incorporated the original low-level 17th Century structure. The new house took on the shape of an irregular quadrangle, enclosing a central courtyard. The approach was redirected to a North-facing drive and the road from Dublin to Wicklow was diverted to the other side of the great rock.

The French formal Gardens were designed by a disciple of landscape designer André le Nôtre, the principal gardener to both Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles at the height of the Ancien Régime. Killruddery’s Gardens are deemed one of the finest examples of 17th-century gardens on this island.

Kilmacurragh Arboretum

Kilmacurragh Arboretum

COVID-19 advice: Please follow current government advice and check opening times before travel. 

Kilmacurragh Arboretum is managed by the National Botanic Gardens. It is the remnants of a large estate planted during the 19th century by Thomas Acton in conjunction with David Moore and his son Sir Frederick Moore, curators of the National Botanic Gardens at that time.

It was a period of great botanical and geographical explorations with numerous plant species from around the world being introduced to Ireland for the first time. The different soil and climatic conditions at Kilmacurragh resulted in many of these specimens succeeding there while struggling or failing at Glasnevin. Kilmacurragh is particularly famous for its conifers and rhododendron collections.

Guided Tours: Twice daily from mid-March to mid-October at 12.00 noon and at 3.00 pm (free of charge).

Open Winter (November 1 to mid-Feb) Mon-Sun 9.00 am – 4.30 pm
Open Summer (mid-Feb to October) Mon-Sun 9.00 am – 5.00 pm
The Cafe hours are 10.00 am – 5.00 pm (summer), otherwise 10.00 am – 4.00 pm
Closed Christmas Day

Kilbride, Co. Wicklow (leave the motorway at Junction 18 and follow the signs for 5km).

Tel: 0404 48844

Admission Free