Driving around Ireland’s history

If you think that a trip to Dublin Castle is where history begins and ends on a holiday to Ireland then think again. Those who decide to hire a car and explore a little further outside the city will find that there are a lot of historic sites of interest.

things to see in Ireland

Kilmainham Gaol

Take Kilmainham Gaol for example. It is just a short three-and-a-half kilometre drive from Dublin and has plenty of secrets waiting to be unearthed. It was used as a prison up until the 1920s, but today is one of the biggest unoccupied jails anywhere in Europe.

This notorious site has seen some heroic and tragic events in its history and tells the story of a side of Ireland and how it became the nation it is today. Visitors can learn about the political prisoners who were once housed there and how the immense building has now been restored.

Farmleigh House and Estate

Located eight kilometres from the city centre in Phoenix Park is a grand mansion built by Arthur Guinness’ great grandson Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh. This eclectic mix of architectural styles is Farmleigh House, accompanied by its charming estate.

It was purchased by the Office of Public Works in 1999 and has since been used to accommodate dignitaries visiting from overseas. Artwork, furnishings and books collected by Guinness for Farmleigh are still present in the house, on loan from the family.

The Victorians and Edwardians, who both had an influence on the estate, had a penchant for ornamental features and the gardens surrounding the house reflect this. Lakeside walks, walled and sunken gardens, as well as an immense variety of plants will greet the visitor.

It is not simply a case of driving up to the house and having a look around, as it is still in use, but guided tours can be arranged in advance or upon arrival.

Rathfarnham Castle

More like a fortified country house than a castle, but still complete with impressive flanker towers, Rathfarnham Castle is an interesting place to visit. It is an easy drive away from Dublin, not far from the village of Rathfarnham.

Originally built in the Elizabethan period for Archbishop Adam Loftus, who was involved in the establishment of Trinity College, it was extensively remodelled towards the end of the 18th century. This process was undertaken with input from world-renowned architects of the day including Sir William Chambers and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart.

Enjoy finding out more about social history with a visit to the castle, which is home to the Berkley Costume and Toy Collection. The toys, dolls and clothes date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and were originally amassed by Countess Ann Griffin Bernstorff, an artist and collector.

The War Memorial Gardens

For those more interested in modern history a visit to the War Memorial Gardens on South Circular Road is a must. The formal planting reflects the sombre duty to remember the 49,400 Irish soldiers who were killed between 1914 and 1918 in the First World War.

Designed by Sir Edward Lutyens there is a sunken rose garden, herbaceous borders and avenues of trees, making it a beautiful as well as interesting place to visit. Granite book rooms have also been built on the site to house manuscripts containing the names of all those Irishmen who died.

These have been intricately illustrated by Harry Clarke and provide a poignant focal point to any visit.

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