From ancient kings to enduring strongholds, Ireland’s royal heritage may surprise you.
The High Kings of Ireland date back to the 5th century AD, the most famous of all being Brian Boru. He was known as a fearsome warrior and his descendants, the O’Briens, were powerful figures in Ireland for many centuries.
The Hill of Tara in County Meath is home to the Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny), and when the rightful king placed his foot on the stone, it is said to have called out his name, declaring him High King of Ireland. Here on this mystical site in Ireland’s Ancient East, 142 kings are said to have reigned and ruled the land, including the mighty Brian Boru. You can pay homage to this great king by visiting his grave at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh.
It’ll come as no surprise that the mystical Rock of Cashel has regal roots, too. It was the Seat of the High Kings of Munster. It’s on this spot that St. Patrick converted King Aengus to Christianity. Legend has it that during the baptism, St. Patrick inadvertently placed his sharp-pointed crosier on the king’s foot under the water, causing it to bleed. Thankfully, Aengus believed it to be all part of the ceremony!
In County Westmeath, visit the Hill of Uisneach – the ancient royal center of Ireland, where great rulers converged, festivals of fire ignite, and Celtic deities slumber. Stop by the Catstone — a great boulder that marks the resting place of Éiru, the goddess of Ireland. The stone symbolizes this spot as the heart of Ireland, where the four provinces came together to govern the land.
In Limerick, you’ll find the magnificent King John’s Castle. This imposing fortress dominates the medieval heart of Limerick city. Its location was first chosen by Vikings in 922, before King John of England, brother of Richard the Lionheart (and well-known villain from many a Robin Hood tale), had another castle built-in 1197. In the courtyard are reconstructions of a medieval campaign tent and a 17th-century siege.
Present day Hillsborough Castle in County Down is the official Northern Ireland residence of Queen Elizabeth II. When the royal family visits Northern Ireland, they reside at Hillsborough Castle. On a tour of this Royal Residence, you’ll hear expert household staff sharing personal stories of entertainment and diplomacy that vividly connect the past to the present. From the State Drawing Room to the Stair Hall, a wander through each beautiful room provides its own unique charms.
On the grounds, you can explore 100 acres of stunning ornamental gardens, peaceful woodland, and meandering waterways. Prince Charles helped plan the design and layout of the Walled Garden. Recent work has unveiled forgotten wonders such as the Lost Garden, and no walk through the grounds would be complete without a visit to Lady Alice’s Temple — the perfect lakeside place to enjoy the sounds of nature.
Now the only question is, where do you visit first?