Built in the 18th century on the north bank of the River Liffey, Custom House is one of the grandest neoclassical buildings in Dublin. Designed as part of a city-wide plan to enhance the streets and public buildings of the Irish capital, it took over a decade to build: all the city's masons got roped in, and altogether Custom House cost £200,000 to construct; a princely sum for the time.
Originally the headquarters of the Commissioners of Custom and Excise; by the beginning of the 20th century, the role of Custom House was to house the offices of local government, and today it's home to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
Designed by the English architect Thomas Cooley, during the Irish Revolution, Custom House was seen as a symbol of British power in Ireland, and so on May 25, 1921, the Dublin Brigade of the IRA set fire to the building, destroying the grand dome and entire interior.
At Custom House Quay in the Dublin Docklands, the Famine Sculpture was commissioned by the City of Dublin in 1997 as a way of remembering the victims of the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1849, when over a million Irish men, women, and children died as a result of the problems exacerbated by the potato blight.
The bronze sculptures were designed by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie. Portraying a group of starving figures trying to reach Dublin port and a chance of escape to the New World, a visit to the docklands is a time for reflection and remembrance for those who died just 150 years ago.
Some of the text accompanying the Famine Sculpture reads, “A procession fraught with most striking and most melancholy interest, wending its painful and mournful way along the whole line of the river to where the beautiful pile of the Custom house is distinguishable in the far distance...”
Muckross House is one of Ireland's most famous stately homes. A 65-room, lakeshore, Victorian mansion, it was built for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, a watercolour painter, Mary Balfour Herbert in 1843. The house is richly furnished in period-style giving an excellent insight into the lives of the landed gentry. The basement areas give a good understanding of the lives of those who worked keeping the rich happy and well-fed day to day. On site are also a number of local craftspeople giving demonstrations of weaving, bookbinding and pottery.
Beautiful Muckross Gardens are known worldwide, especially the rock garden and large water garden. In 1861, the gardens were extensively developed in preparation for Queen Victoria's visit. There are also several working farms which use methods from the 1930s and 1940s and can be toured. And being situated in the middle of the National Park, the house is a perfect place to explore the whole area from.
The name might not sound inspiring, but one glimpse of the General Post Office’s (GPO) imposing facade is sure to capture your attention with its ornate stone-carved portico and iconic statues punctuating the skyline.
The monumental building was constructed on O'Connell Street between 1815 and 1818 as the headquarters of the Irish postal service. Designed by Francis Johnston, the building’s architectural prowess features a Greek-revival theme, with 55-foot (17-meter) high Greco-Roman pillars and a series of dramatic Ionic columns flanking the entrance. Statues of Hibernia (goddess of Ireland), Fidelity and Mercury (messenger of the gods) stand proud atop the roof – the handiwork of sculptor John Smyth.
The GPO isn’t simply a landmark though; its walls hide an illustrious history. The building was famously used as the main stronghold of Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Easter Rising and the front steps were where Patrick Pearse made his famous pre-siege speech.
The Georgian Period was a regal time, when many of Dublin’s most well to do residents resided in lavish homes. One of those stunning historical abodes is Number Twenty Nine, a Georgian townhome from the late 18th century that’s now a public museum. Tour every corner of this extravagant home, from a basement that holds an authentic collection of Georgian era furniture, to an attic that has carpets, curtains, and artifacts that have been preserved for hundreds of years. In addition to the intriguing period pieces, informative storyboards help to educate visitors on the life of a wealthy homeowner. Similarly, there’s also info on the daily lives of residents who weren’t so well off—particularly the servants who kept the home in such a reputable and high-class state. Wandering through Number Twenty Nine takes the better part of an hour, and seeing as it’s only a short walk from Grafton Street and the city center, it’s an educational and insightful stop on a walking tour of Dublin.
In 1775, the Dutch author Richard Twiss remarked that Castletown House “is the only house in Ireland to which the term palace can be applied.” Though not to detract from the country’s other standouts, it’s indeed true that the Castletown House is a piece of architectural wonder. Situated in County Kildare about 30 minutes west of Dublin, this palatial, Palladian-style mansion was constructed during the 1720s for William Connolly—who, in addition to being the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, was also the wealthiest Irish commoner of the time. It was Ireland’s first and largest Palladian-style home—an architectural style inherited from the grandeur of Renaissance-era Italy. On a guided tour of the historic home, stroll beneath towering Ionic columns that connect the adjacent wings, and peruse the artifacts of one of Ireland’s most political and military families.
Since James Joyce was one of Ireland’s most beloved novelists and poets, it only makes sense that an entire center is dedicated to his life and work. Though Joyce never lived in this Georgian-era house not far from Parnell Square, it’s very similar to the one where he was raised, and was actually the home of Denis Maginni—the dance instructor who is prominently mentioned in Joyce’s famous Ulysses. The center contains pieces of Joyce’s furniture that were moved from his studio in Paris, and also has the door of 7 Eccles Street—the home of Leopold and Molly Bloom that also appears in Ulysses. Though the number of period artifacts is thin, Joyce fans will enjoy the interactive displays that include documentaries and computer programs explaining his life and works. In addition to touring the center itself, the James Joyce Centre also hosts walking tours around the streets of Dublin.
Dublin residents are passionate about sport, and the Aviva stadium is the pulsing epicenter of Rugby Union and football (soccer). This 51,700-person stadium holds Ireland’s largest sporting events and concerts, and tours are available on days that don’t have a concert or large-scale event. Aside from being a popular venue, Aviva Stadium also holds a bit of Dublin history, as back in 1873, this was the site of one of the world’s first international sporting contests. Rugby matches were held on the grounds between regional teams in Ireland, and the Lansdowne grounds held international contests in 1878. Originally built as a multi-purpose venue for cricket, rugby, and athletics, Aviva Stadium is best known today as the site of Irish football. It’s also the site of superstar concerts, with big name acts such as Rihanna, Neil Diamond, and Michael Jackson having performed at Aviva’s grounds.
A spectacular feat of Hiberno-Romanesque architecture, Galway Cathedral, or the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas, has a regal presence, perched on the banks of the River Corrib. The masterful building - the largest in the city and the last stone church to be built in Ireland - was constructed in 1965, revivifying the plot where one of the county’s most notorious jails once stood. Designed by J.J. Robinson and overseen by Bishop Michael Browne, the cathedral was built with locally sourced materials and workers, as well as featuring native Irish decorations and carving designs, bringing a uniquely all-Irish quality to the finished product.
The cathedral’s copper domed roof, visible for miles around, has become one of Galway’s most beloved landmarks, but it’s the resplendent interiors that visitors find most impressive.
Founded in 1440 as a Franciscan Friary, Muckross Abbey has an exciting and violent history typical of Ireland. In 1589 the monks were expelled by Elizabeth I, and in 1653 Oliver Cromwell's troops burnt it down when he reclaimed Ireland for the English bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars. Despite this setback, the friars continued to live here until 1698 when the new Penal Laws against Roman Catholics introduced by the English occupiers forced most in exile in France or Spain. These days it is a ruin but one of the most complete examples of Irish medieval church building you'll see.
Today, the Abbey still has its bell tower and church, and massive gothic arcades and arches. Four of Ireland's leading poets of the period were buried there, three in the church, one in the nearby cemetery. In the centre of the inner court is an old Yew tree. This grew from a sapling taken from the abbey on Innisfallen Island and planted in the new abbey at Muckross.
The Bishop’s Palace is one of the three museums known as the Waterford Treasures located in the Viking Triangle in Waterford, Ireland. It was designed in 1741 by architect Richard Castles, one of Ireland’s greatest architects. The front of the palace overlooks the town wall, which forms part of the palace’s terraced garden. The ground floor and first floors of the palace are furnished as an elegant 18th century townhouse and feature period furniture, beautiful fireplaces and rare paintings.
The museum tells the history of Waterford from 1700 to the mid-20th century, with an entire floor dedicated to stories about Waterford’s Home Rule story, World War I in Waterford and the War of Independence in Waterford. It also displays unique pieces such as the Penrose Decanter, the oldest surviving piece of Waterford Crystal, dating to 1789, and the only surviving Bonaparte “mourning cross,” one of just 12 crosses produced upon Napoleon’s death in 1821.
Here on Aghadoe Hill stand the ruins of the 12th century Aghadoe Church and Round Tower. There was a monastery on the site since the 7th century, however, founded by St Finian Lobhar, and no wonder as the views are sublime and perfect for a life of contemplation. There are lakes and at night the town lights of Killarney twinkle, alongside the flood lights of Ross Castle in the distance, although that is a bit more recent dating from the 15th century! To appreciate the landscape, you'll find a few benches nearby so bring a picnic.
Although ruined, there is still plenty to see of interest at Aghadoe Church. The Romanesque door is well-preserved, there is a carved crucifixion scene on another sandstone block, two ca rved faces on the eastern window, and an Ogham Stone - carved writings in the ancient Celtic language. Not much is left of the Round Tower. It is really just a small stump of the sandstone building standing in an old cemetery.