Best of Ancient Ireland

After General Leia, Finn’s face, and those cute little floofy owl creatures, the star of The Last Jedi was surely Skellig Michael. Throughout the film, magnificent shots of the Irish island punctuated the intergalactic action.

While this little island is now famous worldwide as the hideout of Luke Skywalker, it has always been an important part of Irish history. The site of an ancient monastery, it is also well known as a conservation area for an array of seabirds such as puffins. Skellig Michael can only be visited from May to October because of the rough ferry route, and unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to explore it yet, but while I was in Ireland this fall Steve took me around the Ring of Kerry and we were able to see the Skelligs (Skellig Michael and its smaller companion) in the distance.

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I’m sure I’ll get the chance to explore Skellig Michael and its craggy, epic cliffs at some point in the next few years, but there’s no shortage of impressive historic sites in Ireland, and I have been lucky enough to visit a number of them. Here are a few of my favourites.

Brú na Bóinne / Newgrange

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Stonehenge may be the most famous example of a neolithic site in the British and Irish isles, but it’s also one of the most overrated. You have to drive nearly two hours from London to walk around a largely unimpressive circle of rocks—at a distance and on the other side of a cordon, mind. Newgrange, on the other hand, is a chance to get up close and personal with a way cooler instance of neolithic architecture and design. This site is located a mere 45 minutes from Dublin and consists of a circular mound with an underground passageway made of stone that you can actually enter.

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The most notable feature of this site is that the upper entrance of the mound aligns with the sun on the winter solstice so that a ray of light shines through into the inner chamber. To be inside the mound on this special day, you have to enter a lottery on your visit, and one of the reasons this site holds such a place in my heart is that I was actually lucky enough to win the lottery while I was living in Ireland. Unfortunately, the weather was too cloudy (in Ireland in December? You don’t say!) for any sun to make its way into the chamber, but it was still an incredible experience to know that we were standing in the same place, doing the same thing, as those who lived five thousand years before us.

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The Museum of the American Revolution and other essential Philadelphia-area Revolutionary War historic sites

As a kid, it took me some time to realise that everyone in America didn’t grow up within minutes of important historical locations. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, so I would always say I was from “outside Philly” but whenever I need to give more specificity to people familiar with the area but who didn’t know my small town, I described it as “near Washington Crossing… as in Washington crossing the Delaware.” In addition to being just a few minutes’ drive from this historic location, the towns around mine are full of houses and buildings that date back to the colonial era, I used to work at a school that was owned by a doctor during the Revolutionary War (and is allegedly haunted by a Hessian soldier he operated on there), and, of course, the city of Philadelphia is only 40 minutes away.

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The Artillery park at Valley Forge National Historic Parka

Yesterday I visited Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution. A few blocks away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the museum is the perfect addition to the area. Tracing the events leading up to, during, and through the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, this well-curated exhibit features artifacts from the time period and thorough explanations of significant happenings and people. Highlights include the excellent orientation video, the original tent Washington used as his personal office during the war, and one of the oldest preserved Revolutionary-era flags of the soon-to-be United States. Most of us are already familiar with the basic history due to years of primary education (is it just me, or did we learn about the Revolutionary War pretty much every year?) but the museum does a great job of providing a comprehensive overview while also delving deeper into lesser-known moments, people, and things.

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