Ireland’s National Museum of Archaeology is fabulous – and free. You’ll be amazed at the treasures kept safe in Irish bogs for thousands of years. Bronze jewelry, entire suits of clothing and even delicate parchments have been unearthed across Ireland.

While an afternoon at the National Museum of Archeology is a wonderful gateway to Ireland’s vast history, visiting where some of the most incredible relics came from gives you an even deeper understanding of the unique country that is Ireland.

Spectacular Irish Relics and their Associated Sites

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The Tara Brooch
Quite possibly the most well known relic at the museum, the Tara Brooch was actually found 29k east of the Hill of Tara, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland. As such a fine brooch could only have belonged to a person of great importance, this 8th century brooch was believed to have belonged to one of the Kings of Ireland.

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Creative commons photo by Holly Hayes
Visiting the Hill of Tara: Overlooking the Boyne Valley in County Meath, the Hill of Tara is not one site, but many, scattered over a large area. Standing atop the hill, the Stone of Destiny is filled with myth and magic, said to scream when the rightful King of Ireland touches it. You’ll also see a stone age passage tomb and great burial site, Mound of the Hostages. While tours are available at the site, I recommend purchasing the Hill of Tara smartphone app by Ingenious Ireland.

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The Sun Shield of Lough Gur
Found in 1872 after Lough Gur had been partially drained, the 7th century bronze shield was beaten from a flat sheet of bronze. It is believed to have been a purely ceremonial shield as leather shields of the period would have offered more protection against a sword.

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Visiting Lough Gur: A new Visitors Centre near Bruff, County Limerick, details over 8000 years of Lough Gur history with audio guides, listening points and AV presentations. Wear sturdy hiking shoes as the Lough Gur area includes many outdoor sites including Ireland’s largest stone circle, Neolithic houses atop Knockadoon and a Megalithic tomb. The Lough Gur area is quite large, so be sure to download the free i-Trails guide before you visit (or you can pick up a paper copy at the visitors centre).

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The Clonmacnoise Crozier
Thought to be associated with the shrine of the St. Ciarán, the founder of the monastery at Clonmacnoise, this crozier heavily features Viking styling, which dates it to the 11th century. The hollow, curved crook is inlaid with intricate designs in silver and niello while the bronze below is fashioned with Celtic knotwork and animals.

High Cross Clonmacnoise
Visiting Clonmacnoise: at the furthest edge of County Offaly, Clonmacnoise lies at a major historic crossroads where the north/south River Shannon crossed the east/west route through Ireland’s bogs. Once a major center of learning and commerce, today you’ll find three High Crosses, two round towers, extensive remains of churches and temples and a very informative visitors centre. The grounds are extensive, so wear good walking shoes.

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Creative commons photo by Mark Healey
The Armlet of Old-Croghan Man
Found in 2003, Old-Croghan Man appears to have been a healthy, young male before the ritual killing that ended his life over 2000 years ago. Bound, stabbed, struck, mutilated and cut in half, researchers believe this may have been a failed king as his nipples had also been cut off as sucking a king’s nipples was a sign of submission in Ancient Ireland; cutting them off would have made the man incapable of kingship. The leather and tinted bronze armlet with stamped metal clips representing the sun further indicate that this was a man of aristocratic status.

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photo courtesy of MountainViews.ie
Visiting Croghan Hill: An extinct volcano, Croghan Hill rises from the midlands of County Offaly, offering sweeping views of the midland counties. A mound at the summit is thought to be an ancient burial place, and Saint Bridget is said to have been born near here. Before Christianity Brigid was associated with the hill and inside was said to house an magical underworld known as Bre Eli. The O’Connors of Offaly had one of their main residences here and a Holy Well dedicated to St. Patrick is just north of the hill.

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Flint Macehead
Such a small piece at under 8cm, this stunning, carved macehead was found deep in the great passage tomb at Knowth. Dating between 3300-2800 BC, the carvings are so precise as to have only been created with a rotary drill – predating the technology found in the classical world by 2000 years.

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Creative commons photo by Przsak
Visiting Knowth: Located in the Boyne Valley of County Meath, the Knowth passage tomb is near the better known passage tomb of Newgrange and the famed Hill of Tara. The site at Knowth is open to the public, via the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. Though you cannot enter interior passages and chambers, the site is worth visiting for the carved kerb stones, satellite mounds and reconstructed wooden henge.

While Dublin may be where the action is, getting ‘outside the Pale’ is where you’ll find Ireland’s magic and mystery. Using the National Museum as your guide, you’ll discover an Ireland you never imagined.

Author Bio: When she first visited Ireland more than a decade ago, Jody Halsted immediately felt at home. Passing her love of Ireland and all things Irish on to her family, Jody set out to prove that Ireland isn’t just a vacation for young pub-hoppers on gap year and seasoned travelers on a tour bus, but a perfect destination for family vacations. You can follow Jody’s Ireland travels at Ireland Family Travel, as well as the Ireland Family Vacations Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest sites.

photos by Jody Halsted unless otherwise noted