The Office of Public works maintains and presents Ireland’s most iconic heritage properties, including Ireland’s two World Heritage Sites, 780 National Monuments and over 2,000 acres of gardens and parklands. On the 14th of May this year, Minister Patrick O’Donovan announced that admission charges to all fee-paying open OPW heritage sites are being waived in line with the Government’s recovery and reopening plan outlined in The Path Ahead.
This is a great initiative to encourage people all across Ireland to explore the majestic heritage sites on offer. The Boyne Valley is home to so many beautiful historical heritage sites. This is the birthplace of Ireland’s Ancient East after all. We have put together a list of OPW sites that you must visit this summer. Perhaps the last chance to visit them without the international crowds.
1. Battle of the Boyne site (Old Bridge House and Gardens)
This is where 2 kings fought for Europe’s future. This site is steeped in history. Take the self-guided tour (must be pre-booked online), wander around the historic gardens, grab a coffee at the tearoom pavilion (outside dining will be available from the 7th of June) or explore the Battle of the Boyne and Oldbridge Estate Walks. Over 5 km of scenic walks on the historic battle site, linking with the adjacent Boyne Greenway and Boyne Canal Walk.
One of only three UNESCO World heritage sites on the island of Ireland, Newgrange (c 3,200 B.C.) is the best-known monument of the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne, predating the ancient pyramids by 400 years and Stonehenge by 1000.
Knowth is the passage tomb complex that lies to the west of Newgrange. The large mound covers two passage tombs placed back to back which is surrounded by 127 massive kerbstones. Outside this large passage tomb there are eighteen small tombs.
Dowth is the least well known of the other two although it compares in size. The mound is surrounded by a kerb of 115 stones and has two tombs facing westwards. On the 21st of December, the rays of the setting sun illuminate this passage and circular manner in manner similar to the winter solstice at Newgrange.
When visiting, tickets must be pre-booked in advance. Access to the inner chambers are not permitted at present. All social distancing guidelines must be followed.
The Hill of Tara is the jewel in the crown of the Boyne Valley landscape. A site that has been in use for more than 5000 years as a place of burial and assembly, it grew to fame as the legendary inauguration site of the ancient High Kings of Ireland. The visitor centre is still closed at the moment but tours may resume during the summer. At the moment you can still visit the site, take in some of the beautiful walks and take a walk around the Lia Fáil.
Loughcrew Cairns, also known as the Hills of the Witch, are a group of Neolithic passage tombs near Oldcastle in County Meath. Spread over four undulating peaks, the tombs are of great antiquity, dating to 3000 BC.
Cairn T is one of the largest tombs in the complex. It is also the County High point of Meath. Inside it lies a cruciform chamber, a corbelled roof and some of the most beautiful examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. The cairn is aligned to sunrise at the spring and autumn equinoxes and at these times people gather there to greet the first rays of the sun.
There is no access to the inner chambers of the Cairns at present and visitors are urged not to climb onto the Cairns to prevent internal damage.
This is the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland founded in 1142 by St Malachy of Armagh. Its most unusual feature is the octagonal Lavabo c. 1200. The Treaty of Mellifont, which ended the Nine Years War, was signed here in 1603, and William of Orange used the abbey as his headquarters during the momentous Battle of the Boyne. Access to the Abbey is now open to all. There is no access to the exhibition in the visitor centre and the toilets are still closed at the moment.
6. Trim Castle
Image @Noel Byrne
Trim Castle is the largest, best-preserved & most impressive Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. The central fortification is a monumental three-storey keep. This massive 20-sided tower, which is cruciform in shape, was all but impregnable in its day. It was protected by a ditch, curtain wall and water-filled moat.
Modern walkways now allow you to look down over the interior of the keep – a chance to appreciate the sheer size and thickness of the mighty castle walls. The grounds of the castle are now open to the public and there are guides on hand to answer questions.
When making your staycation plans this summer be sure to put The Boyne Valley heritage sites on your list. This government initiative to waive the cost of entry to all fee paying sites is to encourage domestic visitors to visit. Remember to spend locally where you can to support the communities you are visiting.
As with everywhere you visit please remember to leave no trace and take only memories. The list above is only a sample of the many heritage sites in the Boyne Valley. Visit our website here for more inspiration.
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