Although evidence exists of earlier influences from afar (such as megalithic passage-graves that may have originated in Brittany, Portugal or Spain), until invasion and settlement by seafaring Vikings in the 9th century Ireland’s relative remoteness had largely sheltered its societies from the ceaseless turmoil previously afflicting the rest of Europe.
A major surviving legacy imprint from the long pre-Viking era is that of the Iron Age Celts, whose tradition began a thousand years earlier in central Europe and whose ancient language is still preserved here. Ireland’s other dominant cultural legacy is owed to the arrival of St Patrick and other Christian missionaries in the early 5th century – when the old indigenous pagan practices were suffused into the new religion and the rich culture of Celtic monasticism and scholarship began to blossom.
- Follow the trail of Ireland’s past civilizations – Iron Age Celtic, Viking and early-Christian – on this all-encompassing exploration of the Emerald Isle
- Visit Dublin’s famous Trinity College library to admire the lavishly illuminated Book of Kells, created by Celtic monks and one of the great treasures of medieval Europe
- See the beehive huts, grave slabs, crosses and early churches set amid the striking glacial valley of Glendalough
- Enjoy a foot-tapping evening of rousing traditional Irish music and dance in the historic port town of Kinsale
WHAT TO EXPECT
Jul 18 – Aug 1 with Prof Charles Doherty
Thursday, July 18: ARRIVE IN DUBLIN
We arrive into Dublin and transfer to our first hotel where we will meet for dinner.
Friday, July 19: DUBLIN
Our first morning will be dedicated to the spectacular finds exhibited in the National Museum. The museum houses artifacts from 7000 BCE to the 20th century, including the largest collection of Bronze Age gold in the world. The centerpiece of the collection is the Ardagh Chalice, which dates back to 800 CE. After lunch, touring continues to some of the major monuments of the city, including Merrion Square, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the national cathedral of Ireland, and Trinity College to see the Book of Kells.
Saturday, July 20: DUBLIN
We visit the magnificent prehistoric sites of Newgrange and Knowth. It is believed that the megalithic passage tomb of Newgrange, which boasts a white quartz facade, would have taken a workforce of about three hundred and twenty years to complete. Knowth is the largest passage grave of the Brú na Bóinne complex and consists of a large mound and 17 smaller satellite tombs. We also visit the Hill of Tara, one of the most important royal sites of early Ireland.
Sunday, July 21: DUBLIN/KILKENNY
Driving south, our touring begins at Glendalough, a 6th- century monastic settlement set in a lovely glaciated valley. The monastic remains include beehive huts, grave slabs, crosses and early churches. Continuing south we stop at Old Kilkullen to view the remains of an Iron Age hill-fort, a round tower, and 9th-century crosses. At Browne’s Hill, we find a dolmen with a capstone that is said to weigh 100 tons. If time allows, we will also see a finely sculptured 9th-century high cross and a Franciscan abbey at Castledermot.
Monday, July 22: KILKENNY/KINSALE
Touring begins at the imposing Jerpoint Abbey. Built in 1160 by the King of Ossory, the ruins are renowned for the 15th-century cloister and the unique carvings in the sculptured cloister arcade. Our next stop is the famous Cathedral known as the Rock of Cashel, stunningly situated on a 200-foot high outcrop of limestone. Once the seat of the Kings of Munster, St. Patrick visited the rock in 450 and Brian Boru was crowned the 1st High King of Ireland here in the 10th century. Our day ends in the harbor town of Kinsale.
Tuesday, July 23: KINSALE/KILLARNEY
After a morning at leisure to enjoy this medieval town, we depart for Charles Fort, a massive star-shaped structure built by Sir William Robinson in 1677 and in continuous use until 1921. We then continue to the Bonane Heritage Park. Within this wonderful complex we will find archaeological remains from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages including stone circles, a ringfort, standing stones and a fulacht fiadh. We then continue on to Killarney for two nights.
Wednesday, July 24: KILLARNEY
Some of the finest coastal scenery in Ireland can be found in West Kerry, on the Dingle Peninsula. It is also a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area, where the traditional ways of life are preserved. Our first stop will be the Iron Age Dunbeg Fort, an impressive and elaborate example of a promontory fort. We then examine some of the beehive hut settlements, characteristic of this part of the country, as well as the 9th- century corbel-built Oratory of Gallarus. Built in the shape of an inverted boat, it formed part of a larger monastic site and was used as a place of prayer. We will also visit the Blasket Heritage Center, which tells the fascinating story of this remote island. This evening we will attend a program of Irish music and dance.
Thursday, July 25: GALWAY
Today begins at Clonmacnoise Monastery, the burial place of the Kings of Connaught and Tara. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven 10th-13th century churches, two round towers and Western Europe’s largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs.
Friday, July 26: GALWAY
This morning we sail to the Aran Island of Inishmor, where we will visit some of the island’s spectacular sites beginning at Dun Aenghus, a dramatic dry-stone fort set on the very edge of a cliff 200 feet above the sea. Our next visit is na Seacht dTeampaill, Seven Churches complex. We will have some free time in Kilronan, capital of Inishmor, before boarding the return ferry back to the mainland.
Saturday, July 27: SLIGO
Our day will be spent at Ceide Fields, Europe’s largest Neolithic land enclosure. Bog growth has covered most of the settlement over the last 5000 years, which has helped to preserve it. Recent excavations have revealed Stone Age pottery and a well- used primitive plough. Our touring of this important site will be led by Professor Seamus Caufield, the archaeologist responsible for the site, and his son.
Sunday, July 28: SLIGO
We begin our day at the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, the largest megalithic cemetery in Ireland, with over 60 passage-graves, dolmen, a large cairn and stone circles. We then continue to Drumcliff where, in addition to viewing a high cross (ca. 1000) showing fine sculptures of biblical scenes, we will take a literary break to visit W.B. Yeats’s grave. Then at Creevykeel, where artifacts dated to 2500 BC have been excavated, we will see one of the finest Court Cairns in Ireland. The oldest grave dates from 3200 BCE. We return to Sligo for independent touring in the afternoon.
Monday, July 29: BELFAST
This morning we drive to Derry, one of the finest intact examples of a walled town in Europe. We examine these seventeenth century fortifications before continuing to the reconstructed circular stone fort Grianan of Aileach. Built on the site of an older hill fort (ca. 3000 BCE), in pre-history it was thought to be a place of sun worship or the place of hibernation of Gráine, a Celtic sun-goddess. We continue to Belfast at the end of the day.
Tuesday, July 30: BELFAST
Our tour of Belfast will include the leaning Albert Memorial Clock Tower and the Opera House, which is one of Belfast’s great landmarks; St. Anne’s Cathedral; the political murals of West Belfast; and the narrow alleys known as The Entries. After lunch we will venture a few miles out of Belfast to see, Giant’s Ring, an impressive earthwork, 600 feet in diameter, with a megalithic chamber in the center thought to date to 3000 BC.
Wednesday, July 31: DUBLIN
Our last day brings us back to Dublin, with time for an afternoon at leisure. You may like to explore its great galleries, green parks or even the old Guinness factory! We enjoy our farewell dinner at one of the city’s fine restaurants.
Thursday, August 1: DEPART FROM DUBLIN
We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.