Filled with history, beauty and warm friendly people, what Ireland lacks in size it more than makes up for in heart! Easily traversed in one day, the Republic of Ireland isn’t a big country, but there is no shortage of worthwhile things to see and do which makes deciding where to stop along the way no easy task. The fact that it was our last day in this amazing place didn’t help matters.
While our ultimate destination that final day was Belfast, Northern Ireland, my list of sights in the Republic of Ireland was only partially checked off and with only hours left difficult choices had to be made. One such place was Newgrange, a 5000 year old monolithic passage tomb, which conveniently happened to be on our way to Belfast, this meant the castles in Athlone and Trim got only passing glances during true pitstops. Normally I would never pass up a chance to visit a castle let alone two, but the idea of seeing and stepping inside a place older than the pyramids was just too tempting to pass up!
Along the way from Galway to Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Athlone Castle – Athlone, Ireland
86 km from Galway
Athlone’s moto is “At the heart of it!” a fitting moto since it’s right in the middle of the country! Both Athlone and Trim looked were lovely places and we would have liked to spend more time in each, however neither time nor weather were on our side, so after a quick walk to stretch our legs we grabbed snacks and off we went…
Trim Castle – Trim, Ireland
92 km from Athlone
Newgrange Visitor Center – County Meath, Ireland
126 km from Trim
Newgrange is a prehistoric monument which is located in the Boyne River Valley about an hour or so outside of Dublin. I won’t go into too much history as I think the official website will do a much better and more thorough job, but I will say that built in the Neolithic period around 3200 BC Newgrange is older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. The exact origin and reason the passage tomb was built is unknown, but it’s believed to have religious significance. There are other passage tombs in the river valley as well, Newgrange is the most famous.
If you plan to visit Newgrange here are few things to keep in mind:
- This is a very popular tourist destination especially during the winter solstice as this is the only time that light fills the tomb.
- You can’t get to the tomb without joining a tour
- The tours are only offered through the official visitor center
- Reservations cannot be made in advance and the tours do fill up
All that aside, Newgrange was fantastic! The visitor center had a really nice exhibition as well as a movie, a cafe and a very decent gift shop. That was a good thing too because the first available tour was at 4:45 pm and we arrived at 2:30 pm. Access to the monument is via a bus which leaves directly from the visitor center.
Upon arriving at the monument the guide will briefly explain the history and then split the group into two. While one group goes inside the passage tomb, the other explores the outside and then about 15 minutes later you switch. It’s tight inside, so you’ll be glad they split the group up!
While inside you’ll see a demonstration of what it would be like on the winter solstice when the sun shines into the tomb! No photography is allowed inside the passage tomb. I was amazed at how moved I was by the experience. The idea of standing in a place that had been in existence for thousands and thousands of years was very powerful. Afterwards while it was our turn to explore the outside I spent my time taking photos! The entire experience is about an hour long.
It was a long but incredibly fascinating day and a lovely way to end our visit to the Republic of Ireland!
Belfast, Northern Ireland
124 km from the Newgrange Visitor Center