Things to Do in Athlone
Loughcrew Cairns—a series of Neolithic passage tombs scattered among the green hills of Ireland’s Boyne Valley—date back to about 3,000 BC. The Stone Age monuments are thought to have been used as burial sites and for ritual and ceremonial purposes. Though many are on private land, Cairn T is open to the public.
Established in 1757, Kilbeggan Distillery had a 50-year production pause before reopening in 2007. Set in a whitewashed, slate-roofed heritage building, the historic Irish whiskey distillery houses vintage equipment including an antique pot still and a waterwheel that once powered the distillery.
Set in the Irish countryside just over an hour outside of Dublin, the Castle Barna Golf Club is one of the most popular clubs in the country. An 18-hole course laid out over rolling parklandalong the Grand Canal and surrounded by centuries-old trees, it is considered both challenging and entertaining. The course’s signature hole is the ninth. Known as the Barge, it is a par three, only 357 feet (109 m) long, flanked by the Grand Canal on one side and large trees on the right, with one of the course’s several streams flowing behind the green. The course is kept in excellent condition, and the clubhouse is almost as beautiful as the course, with exquisite stonework and the aptly named Old Stone House Bar and Restaurant.
While Ireland’s weather is famously cool, it isn’t the temperature that will give you chills when visiting Clonmacnoise. Rather, it’s the 1,500 years of monastic history that’s powerfully felt in these ruins—where temples, cathedrals, home sites, and graveyards have withstood the elements for centuries. Originally founded in the 6th century, this stone village along the River Shannon prospered for a time as Christian monastery in Ireland’s central plains. Years of outside siege, however, would leave the settlement in ruins, and even though it now sits empty and is a shell of its former self, the stone towers and towering crosses can still move people today. When visiting the ruins at Clonmacnoise, silently stroll past one of the largest collection of Christian gravestones in Europe. Gaze upwards at the brown sandstone that forms the Cathedral’s north wall—a piece of architecture that astoundingly dates to the early part of the 8th century. Once finished wandering the grounds and admiring the 12th-century churches, head inside the Clonmacnoise Museum for its collection of preserved Celtic crosses. Standing over 12 feet in height, the Cross of the Scriptures and the South Cross are both intricately carved, and are some of Ireland’s most famous examples of traditional high Irish crosses.
Historic stone castles surrounded by greenery are not in short supply in Ireland, but Birr Castle in County Offaly has become known as a “hidden gem” of the country. The Birr Castle grounds is known not just for its castle, but also its award-winning gardens and national science center. Its gardens contain hundreds of rare plants, mostly collected in the travels of the Earls of Rosse over a span of 150 years. Over 2,000 species of plants — including champion trees and the world’s tallest garden hedges — are scattered amongst the castle grounds’s waterfalls, lake, and creeks.
The formal gardens are home to a romantic cloister walk, which has been the site of historic weddings. A peaceful walk through the castle’s gardens over its small bridges and through its bountiful nature is a highlight for most visitors. Those interested in Ireland’s science history will especially appreciate the Historic Science Center, featuring an impressive “Leviathan” or Great Telescope from the 19th century. There’s also a children’s tree house that welcomes families to come and play.
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