The Best Early Christian Ruins

  • Glendalough (County Wicklow): Nestled in “the glen of the two lakes,” this remote monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Today its atmospheric ruins preside over an endlessly scenic setting with lakes and forests surrounding it. It’s quite simply one of the loveliest spots in Ireland.
  • The Rock of Cashel (County Tipperary): In name and appearance, “the Rock” suggests a citadel, a place designed more for power than prayer. In fact, Cashel (or Caiseal) means “fortress.” The rock is a huge outcropping—or an upcropping—of limestone topped with beautiful ruins, including what was once Ireland's finest Romanesque chapel. The seat of clerics and kings, it was a power center to rival the Hill of Tara; now the two sites vie for the attention of tourists. 
  • Jerpoint Abbey (County Kilkenny): Jerpoint is the finest of many Cistercian abbeys whose ruins dot the Irish landscape. Somehow, hundreds of years of rain and wind have failed to completely wipe away its medieval carvings, leaving us a rare chance to glimpse how magnificent these abbeys once were. Don’t miss the splendid, richly carved cloister. 
  • Skellig Michael (County Kerry): Thirteen kilometers (8 miles) offshore of the Iveragh Peninsula, early Irish monks built this hermitage dedicated to the archangel Michael on a remote, rocky crag rising sharply 214m (702 ft.) out of the Atlantic. The journey to Skellig across choppy seas and the arduous climb to its summit are both challenging—and equally unforgettable. 
  • Clonmacnoise (County Offaly): The old Irish high kings came to this place to find spiritual solace, and it’s still a profound and thought-provoking place to visit. Don’t leave without checking out the ancient monumental slabs, inscribed with personal messages in ancient Celtic script. 
  • Inishmurray (County Sligo): This uninhabited island off the Sligo coast holds another striking monastic ruin, this one surrounded by what appears to be the walls of an even more ancient stone fort. Vikings sought out this remote outpost of peace-seeking monks and destroyed it in A.D. 807. Today its circular walls and the surrounding sea create a stunning view, well worth the effort required to reach it.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.