Looking for a fun family day out with a difference? Ireland has a rich and chequered history with places in every county to learn about and enjoy history. We have unearthed some incredible historic places in Ireland that Horrible Histories fans will love exploring!
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NMI Decorative Arts & History Museum, Collins Barracks, Dublin
The NMI Decorative Arts & History Museum is located at Collins Barracks in Dublin and is an interesting space for families to come and spend a FREE day out learning about the history of Ireland and other countries. Just some of the history you can unearth includes;
- Learn what soldier life was like in the olden days when you visit the Barracks Room.
- March in Clarke Square, named after Thomas Clarke, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916 who was also executed that year.
- See 250 years of Irish Clothing & Jewellery in gallery 12.
- Check out the Samuari armour that was worn in Japan during the 17th and 18th centuries by soldiers and body guards who lived by a strict code – The Way of the Warrior.
- Learn much about how Ireland changed from being a country with resources of foot soldiers for the British Army to an independent nation with its own armed forces.
- See the Asgard that served during the First World War and has an amazing story to tell about the part it played in the Howth gun-running incident of 1904 and much more!
The National Museum of Ireland hold events for kids and families to enjoy, many of which are free. Check out what’s happening at NMI Decorative Arts & History Museum this month.
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Fota House & Gardens, Cork
Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens in Cork is operated by Irish Heritage Trust, an independent charity. There is plenty for families with children of all ages to enjoy including; house tours, special events & workshops.
For those with an interest in history, you can take a tour of Fota house and go behind the scenes to see how the gentry lived in days gone by and get a tour of the back of house to see the working conditions of the servants who supported the lavish lifestyle of the gentry!
- Where is Mrs Kevin’s Cat? – Mrs Kevin, the housekeeper at Fota House has lost her cat! Can you help solve the mystery and find where the cat has gone?
- Digging for History – Take a history tour of the Victorian walled garden and learn more about the history behind it. At the end you’ll get to pot your own plant to take home and cherish.
Fota House tours are seasonal, so do check opening times before you travel.
Strokestown Park, House, Gardens & National Famine Museum, Roscommon
Strokestown Park is a unique historic site, home to Denis Mahon, the first landlord to be assassinated during the height of the Great Famine of Ireland in the 1840’s for forcing his tenants to emigrate on some of the worst coffin ships of the time.
A guided tour of Strokestown house gives an intimate insight into life in the Big House, upstairs and downstairs surrounded by the original furnishings. The House is unchanged from the time when the Mahons lived there
Using the documents and objects from Strokestown as a basis for the interpretation, the National Famine Museum tells the story of the Irish Great Hunger, eviction, migration, the assisted emigration scheme enacted by Major Denis Mahon of Strokestown Park and the story of his murder in November 1847. The gun that fired the fatal shot is also on display.
The National Famine Museum is a historical archive of this time in Ireland’s history and is a must visit on your horrible histories tour of Ireland.
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Clondalkin Round Tower, Dublin
The visitor centre provides the perfect FREE family day out, as it brings the story of The Round Tower Clondalkin and the surrounding area to life through an exciting interactive experience.
The fun and educational exhibition can be enjoyed through eight distinctive themed spaces in the refurbished 19th century Mill Cottages and brings the history of the area to life.
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National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, Kildare Street, Dublin
The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology located in Kildare Street (Dublin city centre) offers a fun free history learning experience for the whole family. The museum consists of 7 galleries and displays artefacts from 7000BC to the 20th Century, so many in fact, that you won’t know where to look! Just some of the historical exhibits you can enjoy include;
- Bog Bodies and sacrificial regalia from the Iron Age!
- Egyptian Mummies, you can learn more about the mummification process too.
- Rites of Passage at Tara
- Viking life in Ireland
- Clontarf 1014: Brian Boru and the battle for Dublin
- Neolithic & Bronze age tombs and weapons
The National Museum of Ireland hold events for kids and families to enjoy, many of which are free. Check out what’s happening at NMI Archaeology Museum this month.
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Johnstown Castle, Wexford
Johnstown Castle is a spectacular gothic Castle in Wexford and offers a historical day out for all ages. It was built in the 1170’s and was first occupied by the Esmondes, a Norman family. In 1692, John Grogan acquired the castle and his descendants owned it up until 1945 when it was presented as a gift to the nation.
It is now run by The Irish Heritage Trust, Teagasc and the Irish Agricultural Museum who have worked together to open a new visitor experience which showcased eight restored rooms in the castle along with the servants tunnel.
The Castle is surrounded by beautiful ornamental gardens designed by Daniel Robertson. Within the grounds you will see gothic statues, a Victorian Walled Garden, an 86 metre long servants’ tunnel, turrets and much more.
Discover the chequered past of Johnstown Castle at the Irish Agricultural Museum housed within the grounds of Johnstown Castle. With one of the most comprehensive collections showcasing farming and rural life in Ireland with everything from tractors to kitchens! You will also learn more about how the Great Famine of Ireland affected those living in the area.
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Lough Key Forest & Activity Park, Roscommon
Lough Key Forest & Activity Park stands on grounds of the Rockingham Estate. The site of Rockingham House, which burned down in 1957, along with the parklands, islands and the lake is a place filled with mystery and history, not all of it good!
It is said that you can hear the song of The Little Lady, the Lord Lieutenant’s daughter who was in the house the night of the fire. As the fire raged, it is believed that the Little Lady managed to find a safe spot away from the flames at the Ice House. She clambered in but then kept climbing further and further down, until she could see no more light…. It was believed she disappeared with the fire…
The old servant tunnels, which appear as you stand at the foot of the soutterains were used during the time of the great Rockingham Estate to store food, as a place to run guns and as an escape route.
The real history of the old house became trapped here when the house burnt down in 1957. The fire pushed the beings, orbs and entities of the estate down below ground to hide out for eternity!
Every so often experts will come along to try to explain away the strange noises and sensations which you experience down in the old servant tunnels. But no one can deny when you step inside here, you’re not alone!
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Belvedere House & The Jealous Wall, Westmeath
The Jealous Wall at Belvedere was built c. 1760 as a result of a quarrel between Robert Rochfort and another brother George, the owner of nearby Rochfort House (subsequently re-named Tudenham House), now, alas a melancholy ruin. The Wall was built between the two houses as an artificial ruin of an abbey so as to exclude from Robert’s view the sight of his brother’s residence of which he was jealous.
It is believed that the Earl went to enormous expense in constructing the ruin, to the extent of hiring the services of a celebrated Italian Architect Barrodotte to supervise its erection.
Enjoy a visit to Belvedere House and Gardens too. The house was designed by architect Richard Castles and build in 1740 for the Rochfort family. It has been beautifully restored and gives an insight into life in years gone by.
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Birr Castle and Science Centre, Offaly
Birr Castle Gardens & Science Centre offers a fascinating insight into Irish history. The Science Centre has many interactive displays including early photography, engineering and astronomy.
Here you will also find The Great Telescope, the project of the Third Earl of Rosse. It was built during the early 1840’s and was the largest reflecting telescope in the world for more than 70 years. People travelled from all over the world to view what lay beyond the earth and it is considered one of Ireland’s greatest scientific wonders.
The Castle is still lived in today by the Parsons family and it too offers a wonderful chance to go back in time with castle tours taking place from May to August.
Children of all ages will enjoy the grounds of Birr Castle which includes Ireland’s largest treehouse.
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King Johns Castle, Limerick
In the heart of Limerick city, on King’s Island, along the banks for the river Shannon you will find King John’s Castle. The walls, towers and fortifications remain today, and are a visitor attraction run by Shannon Heritage. King John, the brother of Richard I of England (aka “Richard the Lionheart” famous from Robin Hood and the crusades), ordered the castle to be built but never in fact visited it.
Today King John’s Castle delivers a modern visitor experience with a dramatic history of over 800 years of stories, all brought to life with touch-screen technology connecting you to tales of siege and warfare. A dazzling array of computer generated imagery, animations and ghostly projections are all part of the experience.
Try on historic costumes including 18th century dresses or chainmail tunics. 3D models, discovery drawers and audio visuals help you to delve into the Castle’s history. Well worth a visit any time of year!
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Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
Now home to a museum, Kilmainham Gaol was first opened in 1796 and is where the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 were imprisoned and later executed by a firing squad.
The gaol is said to be haunted by former inmates and gaolers with many stories of strange sightings, sounds and happenings being reported. Not for the faint hearted!
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GPO, Witness History Visitor Centre, Dublin
Made famous during the Easter Rising in 1916, the GPO is now home to the Witness History Visitor Centre which offers an immersive and interactive look at Irish history from the late 19th century to modern times with exhibits on the Easter Rising of 1916, the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Civil War and the peace process in Northern Ireland.
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Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre, Dublin
Journey to the middle ages when you visit Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre. Learn what it was like to live with no mobile phones, no iPads and no television! Enjoy Living History Tours during the summer months when actors, who are dressed in full costume from the era, tell stories and interact with visitors, making it seem like they have travelled back through time!
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Blarney Castle, Cork
Blarney Castle is one of Ireland’s most popular visitor attractions probably due to the fact that it is the home of the Blarney Stone, legend has it if you kiss the stone you will never again be lost for words.
Built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, who is said to have supplied four thousand men from Munster to supplement the forces of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The story goes that the latter king gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude, what is now the Blarney Stone.
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The Mummies at St Michan’s Church in Dublin
St Michan’s, which was founded in 1095, was the only church located on the northside of Dublin until 1686. The interior, which has changed little since Victorian times, still has its original organ. Another notable artefact is the Penitant’s Desk, commissioned in 1724 and used for public confession.
Below the church are five long burial vaults containing the mummified remains of many of Dublin’s most influential families from 1600 to 1800. In the vaults, guests can view the death mask of Wolfe Tone and the coffins of the 1798 rebels John and Henry Sheares. There are fully guided tours of the vaults with a tour guide and a gift shop.
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Jackie Clarke Collection, Mayo
Located in Ballina, the Jackie Clarke Collection showcases one of the world’s leading collections of historical Irish material. Discover 400 years of Irish history through the self-guiding family friendly interactive touch screens.
Discover something new about your family history by searching the in-house census and eviction records. Learn about Irish Native trees, organic vegetable gardening and the importance of our hedgerows in the Urban Walled Garden. Admission is FREE and you can enjoy lunch in cafe after your visit.
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Dunluce Castle, Antrim
The ruins of Dunluce Castle lie on the cliffs of north County Antrim and are only accessible by bridge. The castle was built in the early 1500’s by the MacQuillan family but was seized by the MacDonnell clan in the 1550’s, and was later the seat of the Earls of Antrim.
The castle has had a dramatic history and the story goes that the castle was once haunted by banshees! In 1639 the castle kitchens, along with the kitchen staff fell into the sea during a storm.
Dunluce Castle was the family home of the McDonnell clan and it still belongs to them today. The castle is open daily for visitors and there is a free Dunluce Castle app available to download from the App Store and Google Play to bring the history of the castle to life.
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Knights & Conquests Heritage Centre, Longford
In the town of Granard in Longford you will find Ireland’s tallest Motte, the remains of a motte and bailey castle built in Norman times during the 12th century. The Knights & Conquests Centre is situated beside the Motte. Visitors to the centre will get an immersive look at Norman and Anglo-Norman history in Ireland through movies, interactive displays, a Norman CSI room and more!
As your journey comes to an end, you will leap forward 500 years to Kitty Kiernan’s drawing room, one of Granard’s most famous residents, and fiancé to Michael Collins. You will get an insight into Kitty’s place in the War of Independence.
Children can enjoy dressing up the costumes from the different eras, getting their Norman name and some duties for their visit! And there is a quiz sheet to take along their journey through the centre and into the past.
Dublin Castle in the heart of Dublin city centre was the seat of English and British rule in Ireland from 1204 until 1922. It was constructed on the site of a Viking settlement. On January 16th 1922 Dublin Castle was handed over to Michael Collins as head of the newly formed government of the free Irish Republic.
Today Dublin Castle has a visitor centre were you can learn more about the historic events that shaped the Ireland of today.
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Nenagh Heritage Centre, Tipperary
Housed in an interesting mid-19th century building which was a County Gaol Governor’s House for North Tipperary and the prison. Here you can learn about the history of these unique buildings, step back in time to experience old rural Ireland and follow in the footsteps of the condemned prisoners.
The Heritage Centre contains a model of the North Tipperary Gaol, a recreated schoolroom from 1913 Ireland, a recreation of the original kitchen from the North Tipperary Gaol, dating from the mid 1800’s and an Irish Dairy, which shows the stages of butter-making and the various utensils used in Irish farming life.
There is free admission and free guided tours each day.
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Athlone Castle was first built during the 13th Century to defend the crossing point on the River Shannon and evolved into a bold defensive structure over the centuries. Elements of the original castle can still be seen today. The Athlone Castle Visitor Experience tells the story of settlement in this part of Ireland’s Ancient East, from the Neolithic period through Viking, and Medieval ages to modern life in Athlone.
During your visit you will discover tales of bitter battles fought, territories won and lost and hear stories of bravery. Prepare to walk in the steps of monks, kings, soldiers and generals. You hear these stories and the story of Athlone Castle through a series of modern exhibitions, authentic museum artefacts, interactive games and an intense 360º cinematic experience of the Great Siege of Athlone.
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Bunratty Castle, Clare
Residents of Bunratty Castle have seen their fair share of bloodshed over the centuries! Most of the bloodiest battles came about as a result of a long running feud between the Fitzgearld and the DuBurgh families during the late 13th century and into the early 14th century, with Bunratty Castle unfortunately located between the lands of both families it bore the brunt of the hostilities!
The fully restored castle is open to visitors, along with the folk park and village with many homes & businesses from a bygone era recreated for visitors to get a taste of the history of old Ireland.
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The Jumping Church, Louth
According to legend, the west gable of the Jumping Church, which dates back to the 14th Century, jumped two feet inside the wall of the original foundations when an individual of inappropriate reputation was buried within the grounds causing the structure to move in disgust.
The Jumping Church can be found in Milockstown, Ardee and parking is limited, but it is a great afternoon or day out for the family to see who can solve the puzzle.
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The Crypt at Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin
You can explore the medieval crypt at Christchurch Cathedral which is one of the largest in Britain & Ireland, and the earliest surviving structure in the city. Be sure to visit the ‘Cat & the Rat’, a mummified cat & rat amongst the most unusual inhabitants of the crypt, but also the most popular. Mentioned by James Joyce in Finnegans wake, they are known locally as ‘Tom & Jerry.’
The crypt also houses fascinating memorials, The Treasury, an audio visual presentation, the cathedral shop and the Cathedral Café.
It is free to visit Christchurch Cathedral if you are attending a service. At other times there is an entry fee.
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Waterford Treasures – Three Museums in the Viking Triangle, Waterford
Waterford is reputed to be Ireland’s oldest city. Right in the heart of it you will find Waterford Treasures, 3 museums that will bring the history of Waterford to life, from its foundation in 914 right up to the 20th century.
Reginald’s Tower is home to Waterford’s Viking Treasures. The Medieval Museum is home to treasures from the Middle Ages. And the Bishop’s Palace is home to treasures from the 18th, 19th & 20th centuries.
History is brought to life through interactive displays, handcrafted replicas and treasures from a bygone era. Most impressive of all is the fully immersive virtual reality Viking experience, King of the Vikings, where you are transported back to Viking times to experience life as it was then.
Battle of Aughrim Visitor Centre, Galway
The award winning Battle of Aughrim Visitor Centre and Battlefield Trail can be found just off the M6 Dublin-Galway motorway. This was one of Europe’s most historic battles that changed the course of Irish history.
At the Centre you can discover how three rival European Kings (William of Orange, James II and Louis III) took hold of Ireland in their struggle for power with over 45,000 soldiers gathering at Aughrim on July 12th 1691, in what proved to be the defining battle of the Williamite War in Ireland.
The day we visited, the staff member was really engaging, told great stories and the kids loved dressing up in old costumes.
There’s also a kids playground and park right next to the Centre. And if you feel like a walk, then follow the self guided Battlefield Trail. The total Trail route is 10k so you can drive, cycle or walk part of the trail on the battlefield itself. Amazing to think such a dramatic story and one of Europe’s bloodiest Battles took place in today’s peaceful landscape.
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A visit to Craggaunowen will satisfy all ages. As well as a restored medieval castle, you can visit a crannóg and ring fort, and find out how people lived in the past and their traditions.
Wander the woods then pay a visit to the ‘Brendan Boat’ – a leather hulled boat built by Tim Severin who sailed across the Atlantic re-enacting the voyage of St. Brendan.
Those into animals will enjoy seeing goats, soy sheep and wild boar. There are also seasonal events throughout the year so check what’s on before you go.
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Standing guard in Tipperary over the River Suir, Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s most impressive medieval castles. It has featured in a few films and TV series – parts of The Tudors were filmed here, as well as Excalibur and Moonfleet.
Explore this historic castle and all it has to offer with a guided tour around Cahir Castle, where you’ll discover everything about the powerful Butler family who owned it and learn more about the magnificent building itself.
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Built by the O’Donnell chieftain in the 15th century, beside the River Eske, Donegal Castle has extensive 17th century additions. The fortified castle keep was widely regarded as one of the finest Gaelic castles in Ireland. Before he fled, during the Flight of the Earls, Hugh Roe O’Donnell was forced to set fire to his tower before it fell into English hands.
The Castle has been restored and is furnished throughout with Persian rugs and French tapestries. Information panels chronicle the history of the Castle owners from the O’Donnell chieftains to the Brooke family. There are guided tours taking 30 minutes. Look out for the ghosts reputed to roam the castle!
NB Limited access for people with disabilities to the ground floor.
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Charles Fort, Cork
Charles Fort is said to be home to ‘The White Lady’, a tragic bride who took her own life, by throwing herself into the sea, when her husband to be was killed in a case of mistaken identity by her father on the day they were to be wed. On realising his mistake, he also took his own life.
She is said to be a friendly ghost and can be seen wandering the ruins of Charles Fort in her white wedding dress!
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Enniskillen Castle, County Fermanagh
Enniskillen Castle, built almost 600 years ago, beside the River Erne, stands guard over one of the few passes into Ulster, and so has had a strategic role to play in history.
It has a 17th century Watergate with twin turrets and a museum in the Castle Keep. The Visitor Centre at the Castle boasts interactive quizzes, exhibits, movies, stories, and is free to visit.
You can also visit the Enniskillen Castle Museums, there are 2 museums at the Castle:
- Fermanagh County Museum, where you can find out about the history of Fermanagh, the county’s traditional rural life, local crafts and the celebrated pottery at Belleek
- The Inniskillings Museum, which tells the story of the town of Enniskillen’s two regiments, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.
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Leap Castle, Offaly
Leap Castle in Offaly is reputed to one of the most haunted in Ireland. The castle was the source of a bloody family feud, when after the death of Chieftain Mulrooney O’Carroll his sons could not agree on who should lead the clan. One day while one sone was saying mass in the room above the great hall, his brother stabbed him in the back as the rest of the family looked on horrified. The room is now known as the bloody chapel. Over the years people have reported seeing lights come on and people moving around inside at night when the castle occupants are all asleep!
As if that wasn’t enough, the Darby family owned Leap Castle during the 1600’s and one member of the family practiced occult and is said to have brought more dark and evil spirits to the castle.
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A prison has stood on the site of Wicklow Gaol since the 18th century. It housed many notorious prisoners during the 1798 Rebellion and the Potato Famine of Ireland. In later years, it housed prisoners from the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. As with many gaols, there was much suffering and the gaol is said to be haunted by past inmates.
Wicklow Gaol is now open as a museum and visitors can immerse themselves in the grim past and look out for ghosts along the way.
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Epic CHQ, Dublin
EPIC Ireland opened in May 2016 and tells the story of the Irish diaspora. Using the latest interactive technology, you can follow the story of 78 million people and 10 million journeys, through the themes of migration, influence, motivation and connection.
Children and adults alike, will be wowed by the interactive nature of the displays. This is an epic way to learn about great Irish influencers, from authors to scientists, and business people to sports men and women.
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A full programme of events takes place at weekends during the summer, including Family First Saturdays with workshops, puppet shows and much more. There’s also Viking Dublin Tours, Medieval Dublin tours and heaps for families to do at Dublinia.
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Over to you now. Do you have any other historic gems for horrible histories in Ireland to visit? Please share them with us in the comments box below.