The Office of Public Works is responsible for the care, maintenance, and operation of Ireland’s most important heritage sites. The list includes historical houses, gardens, historic battle sites and islands of cultural importance. In total the OPW looks after 780 sites. All the sites are an integral part of Ireland’s cultural heritage. The OPW have a duty to conserve the heritage of buildings and monuments in State care while allowing and encouraging the public to visit them. I’ve been lucky to visit a few of these sites cared for by the OPW and I’m sharing with you what I think are 5 must see OPW sites.
Brú Na Bóinne Visitor Centre
Brú na Bóinne is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Co. Meath. It’s the largest and one of the most important Megalithic sites in Europe, dating to the Neolithic period. The site consists of three large monuments: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth and 35 smaller mounds. Newgrange is the best known of the monuments and is thought to be older than the pyramids of Giza, and Stonehenge. Newgrange is significant for the winter solstice, where the winter sun enters a roof box and illuminates the passage and chamber.
Castletown is the largest and most significant Palladian style country house in Ireland. The house is set amongst beautiful 18th century parklands in Celbridge, Co.Kildare. The house was built c.1722 for the speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Connolly (1662- 1729). The designs of a number of important architects were used, notably Alessandro Gailiei, Sir Edward Lovett Pearce and later Sir William Chambers. The entire estate was sold by the Connolly-Carew family in 1965 to a property developer and in 1967 the house and some parkland were purchased by the Hon. Desmond Guinness. Both Mr Guinness and subsequently the Castletown Foundation, who acquired the house in 1979, devoted considerable effort and resources to maintaining the house and restoring the principal rooms to a high standard. Castletown was transferred to state care on 1 January 1994.
Clonmacnoise is an Early Christian site founded by St. Ciarán in the mid-6th century on the eastern bank of the River Shannon. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th -13th century), two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe. The original high crosses and a selection of graveslabs are on display in the visitor centre. The long and varied history of Clonmacnoise is recounted in an audiovisual presentation shown in the visitor centre. There are also exhibitions that deal with the flora, fauna and landscape of the region.
The Loughcrew Cairns, also known as the Hills of the Witch, are a group of Neolithic passage tombs dating to 3000 BC. The tombs are located on three different hills and Cairn T, one of the largest tombs in the complex, is situated on Cairnbane East. Inside this tomb lies a cruciform chamber, a corbelled roof and some of the most beautiful examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. During the Vernal and Autumn Equinox people gather at dawn in Cairn T to watch sunlight enter the chamber and illuminate the inside of the tomb.
The Casino was designed by Sir William Chambers as a pleasure house for James Caulfeild, the 1st Earl of Charlemont. It is one of the finest 18th century neo-classical buildings in Europe. The Casino, meaning “small house”, surprisingly contains 16 finely decorated rooms, endlessly rich in subtlety and design. It is a remarkable building – both in terms of structure and history.
Please check the Heritage Ireland website for dates and times when these sites are open as some of these sites are only open during the summer season. Have you visited any of these sites? What ones would you add to the list?