Things to See and Do
Ireland's purest countryside is right outside Dublin's door. Rolling fields of the greenest grass and bogs give way to castles and cathedrals. The villages and friendly people enhance the area's old-world charm.
Castletown House, County Kildare
One of the splendid highlights of County Kildare, the Castletown House (01 628 8252,
Moon High Cross, Co. Kildare
Another highlight in County Kildare often skipped by travelers is a visit to the Moon High Cross, the remains of a cross that is 5 meters (17 feet) high, displaying Celtic art alongside biblical carvings. Founded by Saint Columba and located just outside the town of Moone off the N9, the eighth-century monument was an early Christian monastery. The high cross depicts the stories of Daniel, Adam and Eve, and the Crucifixion, among others.
Off the same road, you will also find the Irish Pewtermill (059 862 4164), which is worth a stop. The place has a nice showroom display, reprints, and elucidations of the Moon High Cross depictions, and handsome pewter ware for sale. You can watch the artisans at work if you arrive early enough. Open Monday–Friday, 10
Larchill Arcadian Gardens, County Kildare
A real treat for families, the Larchill Arcadian Gardens (01 628 7354,
Dunmore Cave, County Kilkenny
Located outside Kilkenny City, the signage leading to Dun-more Cave (056 776 7726,
Dunmore Cave is a wonderful adventure, but bring warm clothes even in the summer. The cave can get chilly as it hovers around the same cool temperature of 15°C (60°F). Children should also be closely monitored both inside and outside of the grounds.
Monastic Sights, County Kilkenny
One can only imagine a historical area such as Kilkenny having some of the most impressive medieval, cloistral sights awaiting discovery. Both the Duiske and Jerpoint Abbeys, which housed Cistercian practitioners, have been carefully restored in an attempt to match their former glory.
Duiske Abbey, County Kilkenny
Located in the hard-to-pronounce town of Graiguenamanagh, the fine Duiske Abbey (059 972 4238) was established by William Marshall for the Cistercians as early as 1207. Fully restored in the 1970s, the priory has undergone various facelifts over the years and remains today Ireland's best-kept abbey of this more-strict Benedictine branch. The figure of the thirteenth-century Knight of Duiske is preserved in the entranceway of the parish. Within are two granite high crosses that have been brought in from the outdoors to protect them from the weather. The visitor center is worth investigation. Open daily at 8
Jerpoint Abbey, County Kilkenny
Just outside of Thomastown, Jerpoint Abbey (056 772 4623) was founded as early as 1158 for the Benedictines but later used by the Cistercians in 1180. Jerpoint passed to the Earl of Ormand following the Dissolution of the Monasteries during King Henry VIII's rule. The cloister sits atop effigies of highly regarded saints and knights. Moreover, tombs of the most worthy have been enshrined throughout the church. Open March–October, daily, 10
Kells Priory, County Kilkenny
Located on the outskirts of the charming town of Kells, the Kells Priory (056 772 4558) was founded in 1193 by Augustinian priests. Sitting off on its own, the grounds are open for exploration, although group tours are available by appointment. The church is composed of an altar area and nave; the structure itself is topped with a square tower. In addition, the 2 hectares (5 acres) were at one time heavily fortified. You can walk around the grounds and spot the remains of old living quarters and a kitchen. Located outside of Kilkenny on the R699 with signage to Kells. From town, follow the Stonyford Road. Open daily. Admission free.
The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary
With the sobriquet of “St. Patrick's Rock,” the Rock of Cashel (062 61 437,
With the baptism nearly over that would convert King Aenghus of Cashel to a Christian, Saint Patrick accidentally stabbed the king through the foot with his bishop's staff. Believing it to be a part of the ceremonious ritual, the king phlegmatically maintained his stature as the liturgy continued uninterrupted.
Before heading up to the Rock, gander around the engaging BrúBorúHeritage Centre (062 61 122) and Sounds of History Museum located near the car park. Authentic Irish music is presented here daily; the summer brings evening alfresco performances that cannot be beat. There is also a restaurant and gift shop on site. Open daily, 9
A tour of the Rock of Cashel will include these highlights:
St. Patrick's Cross and Cormac's Chapel: The once-formidable St. Patrick's Cross bears a carving of the saint. While this replica must withstand the winds, the real cross is now housed in the museum. Just nearby, Cormac's Chapel, constructed from 1127 to 1134, is adorned with Romanesque features (the first of its kind in Ireland) and displays a centaur donning a helmet and preparing his bow for battle. The church is highly decorated both inside and out, with several motifs interacting simultaneously displaying the church's influences from abroad.
Gothic Cathedral: Missing a roof, yet still impressively intact, the cathedral is unique in that the choir section is larger than the nave. This was most likely due to the cathedral's positioning when built. The north wing of the cross-shaped, transept interior is aligned with sixteenth-century tombs with anomalous animal engravings.
Round Tower: Constructed about the same time as Cormac's Chapel, the Round Tower, used primarily as a lookout point and for the storage of religious treasures, was once ruined after being struck by lightning.
The Gothic cathedral contains many secrets. These include secret passages and deep walls, not to mention a “leper's squint,” where those socially denied conventional service rites could still partake in Mass. Additionally, the grave of Miler Magrath, known as the “Scoundrel of Cashel,” is here, since he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.