History & Prehistory Hidden Among Central Ireland's Hills
© HOME AT FIRST
updated article first
appeared in NOVEMBER, 2004.
MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014
Craggaunowen's enchanted forest path
visitors through 1,500 years
of Irish (pre-)history.
Walk through 1,500 years in the forest of County
We love the mistiness of Irish history. Its uncertainty, its subjectivity, its influence
by myth and fabrication equate it perfectly with the Irish character and invite you to
make your own interpretation.
In Ireland, only scant remains of early history
and prehistory may be found. Layers of invasions by marauding Vikings, Normans, and
English armies have largely eradicated the historic landscape. Warring Celtic tribes,
famine, and the slow eroding forces of wind and water have played no
small part in decimating the past.
But what exists is tantalizing, inviting the
speculation of the viewer. One site in Central Ireland offers glimpses of several eras of
Irish prehistory and history. At Craggaunowen in County Clare, visitors return briefly to
the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Dark Ages, and the Middle Ages, all, as it
were, on a walk in the park. And the people you meet along the way will
help you come to know why life in the past wasnt always "solitary,
poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Come along on a day trip to the past amid the
soft scenery of
OUT OF THE DARK AGES
Craggaunowen is the idea of John Hunt, scholar
of medieval history, collector of artifacts, and advisor to the noted auction house,
Sothebys, on medieval art. In the 1960s Hunt purchased an obscure parcel of
land in remote eastern County Clare, Ireland, upon which sat a partially restored 16th
century fortified castle tower. Hunts ambition went beyond finishing the small
castles restoration. He hoped to develop the adjoining land into a series of
(pre-)historic steps showing how people lived in Ireland (and throughout much of Europe)
from pre-Roman tribal times through the feudal Middle Ages. The resulting living museum
permits visitors to wander along pleasantly wooded pathways, past ponds, marshes, and
small streams, through thickets and a dense, stony-floored forest, with surprises from the
CRANNOG HUT AT
awaiting round every bend
in the trail.
CASTLE & CRANNOG
Once you pass through the small visitor center,
the trail leads to the impressive stone tower house, looking perfectly impregnable perched
on a rocky hillock. You may explore the little castle its height permits the only
overview of the Craggaunowen property in less than 10 minutes. The trail leads from
the castle down to a hidden pond. On a man-made island in the pond is a reconstructed
Bronze Age "crannog" settlement connected by a causeway bridge. Its low thatched
roof huts, rude earth floors and open fire pits make this Irish crannog look like it
belongs on the African savanna. The prehistoric Bronze Age dwelling offered shelter with a
fair measure of protection from marauders on two legs and four.
A LIVING MUSEUM
Back on shore, turn left and follow the trail
into the forest. Pass an Iron Age farmers field planted as thought typical of the
millennium from 600BC-400AD. A few steps further and you arrive at an Iron Age ring fort,
exemplar of an Irish farmstead from 400AD until the Anglo-Norman invasions of the 12th
So commonplace were these fenced-in circular farms in the British Isles that some 40,000
such sites are known in Ireland alone. Seeing one as it may well have been with
thatched huts for humans and animals, fire pits and grinding stones only raises
questions. How did these people survive harsh times: too much or too little rain, clan
warfare, Viking invasion, disease, injury, even childbirth? Fortunately, Craggaunowen is a
"living museum" with
Thatched Iron Age ring fort
dwelling with outdoor 'kitchen'.
staff dressed appropriately for the times featured
along the walk and demonstrating skills
and crafts representative of the periods.
A WALK IN THE PARK
You can walk the Craggaunowen walkway,
experiencing at least 1,500 years of murky history and mysterious pre-history all in about
1 hour. Theres a pleasant souvenir shop and garden café at the entrance/exit. Best
of all, a visit to Craggaunowen requires that you leave Irelands well-beaten tourist
track and for a few hours drive the winding back roads of scenic eastern County Clare.
The forest path leads to Bronze Age crannog
dwellings set on pilings in a small lake.
Every corner along the way hides some new
surprisea Celtic standing stone, a dugout canoe, a high cross. But no surprise is
greater than finding an ocean-going boat in a glass house on a wooded hillside. The boat
is none-other than "The Brendan", the Kon-Tiki of Ireland. This leather-bound,
super-sized Irish currach boat was built in 1976 by Tim Severin, who sailed it from nearby
County Kerry across the North Atlantic to Newfoundland. Severin proved that such
a boat could indeed have carried
St. Brendan to America in the early 6th
Leif Ericson, and almost 1,000 years before Columbus. The boat is now as
high and dry as Noahs Arc on a hillside in County Clare.
Getting to Craggaunowen is part of the fun. You
will need a good map, a sense of adventure and a keen eye for the few signs pointing the
way. Please note that the map below shows numbered routes, but that in Ireland the custom
is not to refer to roads by route number but by destination ("the road to Quin",
"the road to Tulla", "the road to Sixmilebridge", etc.), so when you
ask locally for directions be sure to have your destination ready.
6.75mi E of Quin, Co. Clare, and 6mi N of Sixmilebridge off the R462 from Cratloe and the R469
from Ennis. See map below.
through August 10AM-5PM (last admission at 4PM). Times
subject to change.
Admission: Adults 8;
Seniors 6.85; Children 6-16 4.50; Family (2 adults &
up to 6 children) 24.50. (Entrance fees subject to change.)
Website: for current information, visit:
Other Points of Interest in the Region:
Knappogue Castle, Dromoland
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Ennis old town, Quin Friary, Clare Abbey.
as part of your next visit to Ireland.
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