Heritage Towns of Ireland


Killaloe – (Cil da Lua – Church of Do-Lua) is named after St. Lua, an abbot from the sixth century, whose place of prayer can still been seen at Friar’s Island. Located by the River Shannon and the Southern end of Lough Derg, Killaloe was one of the leading ecclesiastical centres in Munster. One of the main features of the town is St. Flannan’s Cathedral built by King Donal Mor O’Brien. An Ogham stone was found buried on the church grounds with Ogham and Runic (Celtic and Viking) inscriptions requesting a blessing for Thorgrim, who carved it.

Kilrush – (Cill Rois – Peninsula Church) is located near the mouth of the Shannon Estuary. The market town was self-sufficient prior to the Famine. The Vandeleur family who were the local landlords at the end of the 18th century, invested considerably to develop the infrastructure of the town. Today, there is a restored Walled Garden and 420-acre Woodlands. It has an interesting maritime history; Scattery Island is two miles off shore and was a monastic settlement at the time of the Viking raids along the West coast. The Round Tower that served as their refuge still stands today. Kilrush is one of the main locations for the bottlenose dolphins that reside in the Shannon Estuary.


Clonakilty – Is a place of tall spires, towers and historic buildings. The town has a trading and industrial history. It offers splendid scenery and many local attractions including: gardens, horse riding, water sports and nightlife with traditional music and dance.

Cobh – (An Cobh – haven) Pronounced “cove” was the principal port of emigration for over two million Irish departing these shores due to hunger and lack of work. At one point Cobh was known as Queenstown. The Interruptive Centre tells the history of Irish emigration from the “Great Hunger” to the end of the great ocean liner era. It also contains the military history of Cobh through eight centuries including British, American and Irish military involvement in many conflicts. Cobh has the dubious distinction of being the last port of call for the ill-fated voyages of both the RMS Titanic and the RMS Lusitania.

There are three islands in Cork Harbor joined by bridges. Cobh is on Great Island. The other two islands are Little Island and Fota. Fota Island is an impressive animal park with over 70 species of exotic wildlife in an open, natural environment.

Kinsale – (Cionn Tsaile -tide head) was founded by the Anglo-Normans in 1177. A major turning point in Irish history took place at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 when the Irish and their Spanish allies fought the English. Unfortunately, the English won. The Irish Earls O’Neill and O’Donnell fled to the continent a few years later. Their exodus is referred to as “The Flight of Earls”. The Flight of The Earls marked the end of the “Gaelic Order” in Ireland. After the Battle of Kinsale the English began the “Plantation of Ulster” with Loyal English and Scottish settlers.

The best way to enjoy Kinsale is to walk, visiting the many sites that are filled with history, such as, Charles Fort and Desmond Castle. There are many activities to enjoy in this area, from fishing, sailing and other water sports to horse riding, golfing and fine dining. Kinsale is considered the “Gourmet Capital” of Ireland with dazzling array of exceptional restaurants.

Youghal – (Eochaill -yew wood) has a rich past with the earliest civilization dating back approximately 8,000 years. The Celts arrived to the area about 500 BC. Christianity was introduced in the 5th Century at the Church of Coran and nearby hermitage. The Vikings used Youghal as a base for their costal raids. After the Battle of Clontarf in which Brian Boru defeated the Vikings, Youghal became a trading port. In the 12th Century, Henry II granted Youghal to Robert Fitzstephen and the Normans who rebuilt and extended the Viking fortifications of the town.

The Munster Plantation began in the 16th Century as a result of the fall of the Earl of Desmond. Elizabeth I parceled out his confiscated lands in Limerick, Kerry, Cork and Waterford, to her loyal supporters and military officers. The new landlords were instructed to establish English colonies with English citizens. In addition, they were ordered to cultivate the land in the English manner, build defenses and provide soldiers for defense.

The Youghal of today is a place where the past meets the present. Youghal is a walled, medieval town at the mouth of the River Blackwater. It is a great place to visit with neat medieval streets, quality restaurants and shops. Tynte’s Castle is the last remaining Tower House Castle. Other noteworthy attractions include: Greyhound racing, deep sea and shore fishing and beaches.


Dalkey – (Deilginis – Thorn Island) is located on the Coast Road South of Dublin overlooking Dublin Bay. The history of this medieval town dates back 3500 years to Stone Age settlers. It’s patron saint is St. Begnet, to whom a church was dedicated in the 11th Century. This church is now part of the Heritage Centre at Goat Castle. Dalkey became a main seaport of Dublin in the 15th Century.


Athenry – ( Baile Atha ‘n Ri – The Town of the River Ford) dates back in time to the Stone Age. It was during the 12th Century, with the invasion of the Anglo-Normans, that the town came into existence. Meiler de Bermingham founded it upon receipt of a charter granted by Richard de Burgo. Athenry was the scene of many attacks by both the Irish and the Anglo-Normans. Still standing today are the renovated Athenry Castle, the ancient parish church, Dominican Priory, town walls, and five wall towers. The town walls are unique because they covered a larger area than any other.

The Dominican Priory suffered greatly at the hands of the English. Oliver Cromwell and his soldiers heavily damaged it during their rampage through Ireland. Latter, it was closed by the Penal Laws and the English used it as a barracks. Today it is a National Monument.

After Cromwell the lands stayed in the hands of the Anglos. The Great Hunger of 1845 brought death, eviction and emigration to the land. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th Century that the Irish were finally able to get back their confiscated lands. The town has been made famous the world over by the song “The Fields of Athenry’” by Pete St. John.


Listowel – (Lios Tuathail – The Fort of Tuathail) was an earthen fort. Listowel’s history goes back to the 12th Century with the Listowel Castle and the Fitzmaurice family. Listowel is famous as a literary town. It is host to a Writer’s Week, a literary festival with art, drama, poetry, film, music and story telling. Every September is the Listowel Races. One of Listowel’s treasurers is The Garden of Europe, located in the Town Park. It contains over 2,500 trees and shrubs from all over Europe. It is the only public monument dedicated to the millions who died in the Holocaust.

Today, Listowel is a lively market town, offering high quality merchandise. The shops are filled with local fashions, crafts, candles, jewelry, lace and pottery. The town is renowned for its ornamental plasterwork that was developed in the 19th Century by Patrick McAuliffe, a local stonemason.

Kenmare – is a sleepy little seaside town that is worth a visit. The Kenmare Heritage Centre tells the history of the area.


Athy – (Baile Ath ‘I – The Ford of Ae) was a 12th Century Anglo-Norman settlement and is located where the River Barrow joins the Grand Canal. From here Richard de Clare (Strongbow) controlled most of Leinster. A French speaking settlement evolved around Woodstock Castle built by Robert de St. Michael. The Irish O’Moore Family of Laois frequently attacked the Anglo-Norman settlers who took their lands. The attacks prompted the Anglo- Normans to develop the town into a military stronghold.

The Fitzgeralds were one of the most powerful families of the time, and ruled as the “Earls of Kildare” and “Dukes of Leinster”. As the landlords of Athy they owned Woodstock and Whites Castle. Lord Edward Fitzgerald, was the fifth son of the Duke of Leinster and had twenty siblings. He was an active participant in the 1798 Rebellion of The United Irishmen.

Kildare – (Cill Dara -The Church of the Oak Tree) is where St. Bridgid established a monastery in the 6th Century. This was a community of both nuns and monks. St. Bridgid is the Patroness of Ireland. Many miracles are attributed to her. When she would explain the Christian gospels to a pagan she would a weave a unique cross. It is known today as St. Bridgid’s Cross.

Kildare is full of history, with standing stones, stone circles, hill forts, raths, and earthworks of the early settlers. There are a variety of Christian sites, Anglo-Norman mottes, castles, and the estates of the Fitzgeralds, the most powerful family in the 15th century.


Abbeyleix – is an estate town with tree-lined streets, period houses and heritage trails. It is near the 12th Century Cistercian Monastery that gives the town its name.


Adare – is often referred to as “the prettiest village in Ireland”. It is located along the River Maguire. Adare has a wonderful array of traditional thatched cottages. The legacy of Adare is told through enactments and audiovisual presentations.


Kells – (Ceannanas – White Head) is a market town located about 30 miles Northeast of Dublin. The earliest mention of Kells is in the Annals of the Four Masters, when a Dun settlement was built there in 1207 BC. Kells has had a turbulent history of fighting and wars with the native Irish and all the invaders. The Columban monastery was built in the 6th century where the Book of Kells was completed, which is now on display at Trinity College, Dublin. When the Anglo-Normans invaded in the 12th Century, the monastery was forced to cease. Over the centuries the town became walled around the castle. However, none of these structures exist today. Only the building from the earlier monastic city and numerous stone Celtic crosses still stand.

Trim – (Baile Atha Troim – The Ford of the Elder) is located on the banks of the River Boyne 25 miles from Dublin. Trim has a rich history. Many medieval monuments still survive today. The most spectacular, Trim Castle is the largest Norman Castle in Ireland. This was also a location for the filming of Bravehart. World famous archaeological sites include the ancient burial chamber at Newgrange and The Hill of Tara, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Now a market town, Tr


Westport – (Cathair na Mart – The Stone Fort of the Beeves) is located at the Southwest extremity of Clew Bay. It is the largest costal town in Mayo. Westport was designed in the 18th Century by the English Architect James Watt. Prior to the 18th Century the Irish name was chronicled as Cahernamart. It was the site of an O’Malley castle in the 16th Century. O’Malley being Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connaught. Croagh Patrick is located nearby.

This is where St. Patrick is said to have fasted for forty days and forty nights. It is one of the most famous places of religious pilgrimage in the world.

Many excellent beaches and watersports are located in Westport with sailing, yachting, and fishing available. Westport offers locally made knitwear and pottery, and sponsors an Arts Festival each September.


Birr – (Biorra – Spring Wells) is the main town in South Offaly. It is home to the Great Telescope and the Science Centre at Birr Castle. The telescope was the worlds largest for nearly 70 years. Birr Castle Demesne is a Norman fortress and was the seat of the Earls of Rosse for several generations. In addition to the telescope and Science Centre it has magnificent gardens and grounds. A castle has existed on the site since the 12th Century. This region was ruled by the O’Carroll family for three centuries and was once part of ancient Munster.

Tullamore – (Tulach Mhoir – The Big Hill) is in the centre of the Irish Midlands. Tullamore is known world wide for its fine whiskey Tullamore Dew. First distilled in Tullamore in 1829 by Daniel E. Williams. The name of the whiskey comes from the Tullamore town name and Williams’ initials DEW. The whiskey is no longer distilled in Tullamore. However, the Heritage Centre tells the Tullmore Dew story.


Strokestown – (Beal No mBuilli – The Ford of the Blows) is home to Strokestown, an 18th Century mansion. It is most noted for the Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House, which depicts the story of the Great Hunger from1845-1850. The Museum is located in the original stable yards.

Thomas Mahon MP built Strokestown Park House on lands granted to his grandfather for support in the British colonial campaign. The Mahon Family lived on the estate until 1979 when it was purchased by a local business for expansion. When the new owner realized the historical value of the house and records, he successfully negotiated with the Mahon family to leave them in tact. Thus, preserving the history of Rosscommon.

The gardens have been restored to their original beauty. The Herbaceous Border is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest in Britain and Ireland.


Ballina – (Beal an Atha – The Town of the Ford) is located on the River Shannon and is bridged with Killaloe, County Clare. The bridge has an impressive arched design. Within the town are ruins of an ancient castle.

Cashel – (Caiseal Mumhan – The Stone Fort of Munster) was once the seat of Kings and an Ecclesiastical centre before St. Patrick. You can tour the Cashel Folk Village with reconstructed thatched village shops, Abbeys and Bru Borus. The Heritage Centre at the foot of the Rock of Cashel consists of a group of medieval buildings including the original chapel and cathedral. The village is designed around a village green. It is home to the study and celebration of native Irish music, song, dance, theatre, and Celtic studies. It has a restaurant, craft centre, recreation chamber, information center, and genealogy suite.

Cahir – (Cathair – Stone Fort) is where Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond, originally built Cahir Castle in the 12th Century. It was then taken over by the Anglo-Norman Butlers in the 14th Century. Then, in the 16th Century Cromwell took it for the crown. The castle is located in the middle of town on an island in the River Suir. It has been fully restored and has several exhibitions and guided tours. Nearby is Cahir Abbey. There is also a well sign posted walking tour to a variety of historical sites.

Tipperary Town – (Tiobraid Aran – TheWell of Ara) is a 12th Century town colonized by the Anglo-Normans. It is located on the banks of the River Ara. This region is commonly known as the “Golden Vale”. The Golden Vale is an area of very rich fertile soil and deep green pastures. The Bridewell goal has been restored and now houses the Heritage Centre. Located just South of town are the Galtee Mountains.


Lismore – (Lois Mor – Mochuda’s Great Enclosure) is an ancient seat of learning, dating back to 636, when St. Carthage founded a monastery. Today Lismore Castle is privately owned and occupied. However, the castle gardens are open to the public. The history Centre is located in the old Courthouse.


Wexford Town – (Loch Garman – Lough of Garman) is the site of a prehistoric Celtic settlement. Legend says that Garman Garbh was drowned on the mudflats by waters released by an Enchantress. The harbor that was created was named Loch Garman. . The Irish National Heritage Park at Ferrycarrig has exhibits on the arrival of man in Ireland dating back to 7000 BC.

Wexford lies along the banks of the River Slaney. It was one of the major cites which was invaded and settled by the Vikings. The Viking name for Wexford is Weissfiord, meaning inlet of the mudflats. Many of the narrow streets date back to the time of the Vikings.

Wexford Town is where Henry II did penance for his role in the murder of Thomas Beckett. In 1649 Oliver Cromwell arrived and massacred the people. Wexford played a major role in the pursuit of Irish freedom in the 1798 Rising.


Baltinglass – (Bealach Cughlas – The Way of Cuglas) is a market town on the banks of the River Slaney in West Wicklow. Hill forts and remains of Bronze Age burial chambers are located here. Steeped in history, the 12th Century Cistercian Abbey is surrounded by Stone Age monuments and sites. The Great Hunger of 1845 left its mark here with thousands that died. If you look closely you can see the outline of the potato ridges in the fields.

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