NEXT STOP WAS IRELAND, WHICH HAS ancient hstory galore, along with some compelling, more modern historic sites worth visiting. For ancient history, we chose a tour to the village of Glendalough, about an hour outside of Dublin, for its extraordinary stone ruins. Founded in the 6th century, Glendalough thrived as a monastic settlement for many centuries, during the time when Ireland was known as the island of saints and scholars. Today, the site includes a 100-foot-tall round tower and several churches, most dating to between the 10th and 12th centuries. It’s easy to see why this was chosen as a spot for spiritual endeavors. Even today, the place is large enough that tourists don’t overwhelm, and a visit can be peaceful. The stunning natural setting — with lakes and forests, mountain paths, and wildflower-dotted pastures — makes it a walker’s paradise.
Back in Dublin, we spent time exploring more modern history. Ireland’s long battle for independence from Great Britain was renewed in 1916 with the Easter Rising, which still echoes today in a divided Ireland. You can see key battlegrounds with a walk through Dublin.
We knew stately Trinity College as Ireland’s premier university and the keeper of the famed medieval manuscript the Book of Kells. But during the 1916 rebellion, the college’s sturdy ring of grey stone buildings also served as a field hospital and staging area for the final British assault on the rebels.
It was at Dublin’s General Post Office on Easter Monday 1916 that rebel leader Patrick Pearse read the proclamation of Irish independence, and then held out for a week against overwhelming British firepower that left the building a blackened shell, so damaged that it took 13 years to restore and reopen. Today, it’s a bustling, ornate post office with a small museum adjacent.
Many of the rebel leaders met their end a couple of miles to the west in another bricks-andmortar textbook of Irish history, Kilmainham Gaol, where 14 rebel leaders were executed by firing squad in the austere, high-walled Stonebreakers Yard. The jail was closed in 1924 but was reopened as a historic site in 1966 by Éamonde Valera, the Irish president who, as a rebel leader, had been imprisoned there.
Further north, in Belfast, recent tragedy-filled history is on display where barricades were first erected during sectarian violence in the 1960s. Now, visitors flock to the brightly graffitied place known as the peace wall that separates Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, symbolizing centuries of conflict.
But Belfast’s most spectacular tourist draw of recent years is the Titanic Belfast museum, opened in 2012 in the centennial year of the ill-fated ocean liner’s first and last voyage. The museum is a tour de force of historical storytelling, starting with its exterior design — built to resemble the prow of the ship, at a height exactly the same as Titanic’s prow. Inside, exhibits tell the story of the ship’s construction — which took place only a few steps from the museum site — as well as its sinking and the heartbreaking aftermath. One highlight is a funhouse-style ride that carries visitors through a re-creation of the harsh, cacophonous world of a shipyard in the early 20th century.
Clockwise from top: The monastic village of Glendalough, General Post Office, Kilmainham Gaol, the Trinity College library; Center: Titanic Belfast museum