Oldest Buildings in Ireland: 20 Structures You NEED To See

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With sites earlier than the Neolithic Stonehenge, the oldest bar in the world and over 30,000 castles, the home of the Celts and Vikings will take you on an exclusive journey fully shaped by its heritage.

War, fire and time consumed numerous sites in the country; thanks to the work of volunteers and passionate (alongside the state and generous donators) many remained in excellent conditions.  

From castles to manors, churches to barracks, head to a trip of a lifetime where past is still present and discover what made the Republic of Ireland, the country it is today.

Sometimes revamped, other times raw, here is a list of 20 of the oldest buildings in the biggest cities of Ireland.

Oldest Buildings in Dublin, Ireland

#1  Christ Church – The Oldest Building in Dublin

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Also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Christ Church, established by King Sitriuc Silkenbeard and Dúnán (first bishop), is the most aged architecture in the city. The initial proof of its current existence was discovered in a manuscript dating from 1030.

The construction was then renovated in stones, in 1170, by Strongbow (an Anglo-Norman invader), and restored again with imposing Gothic traits in 1871.

The crypt, underneath the edifice, is initial and dates back to the late 12th century. It is the largest catacomb in both the island and Britain, and it hides a unique feature. Found stuck in one of the organ’s pipe, the mummified remains of a cat everlastingly chasing a rat are on display.

Admission Fee: €7.00 adult, €5.50 senior/student, €2.50 children under 12s

Address: Christchurch Pl, Wood Quay, Dublin 8

#2 St. Audoen’s Church

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There are two churches dedicated to St Audoen in Dublin. Adjacent to each other, one is Roman Catholic Polish and was built in 1841, and the other belongs to the Church of Ireland and was constructed in 1190. The latter, named after the saint French Ouen, was developed by the Anglo-Normans. The earliest structure is St Anne’s Chapel; the nave and the chancel were respectively adjoined in the 1275 and 1330. The tower, on its side, was added in the 17th century and shelters 6 bells (including 3 of the country’s oldest).

The cemetery, today a park, conceals the remains of eminent personalities as parliament members, duchesses, bishops and scientists.

Admission Fee: Free! 30-minute guided tour free as well!

Address: 14 High St, The Liberties, Dublin 8

#3 Earliest Waterholes in Ireland

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Despite a difference of 300 years, both the Brazen Head and Sean’s Bar claim being the primaeval and, believe it or not, they’re both right.

Erected in 1198, the former is the oldest Pub as it serves both food and beverages. The latter, implanted in AD900, provides only drinks and remain not only the earliest bar in the country, but also in the world! The two alehouses are definitely worth a visit, but only one is located in the capital city. In both, the ‘Black Stuff’ (Guinness) pours perpetually, and folk music alongside storytelling reverberate every single night.

More details in our article “What is the oldest pub in Ireland?”

Address: The Brazen Head, 20 Lower Bridge St, The Liberties, Dublin 8

    Sean’s Bar, 13 Main St, Athlone, Co. Westmeath

#4 Clontarf and Malahide Castles

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From a castle to a bar, a cabaret to a hotel, Clontarf has put on many hats since its creation in 1172. Held by the Knights Templars, the English realm and the Vernon’s Family; it turned into a 4-star accommodation with 111 rooms in 1998. Prices for a night start at €149 and goes up to €509 depending on the season and the type of bedroom chosen.

Malahide Castle, 13 years younger, owned by the Talbot family for 791 years, played a major part in history through the Battle of Boyne and World War 1.

The West Lawn covers 8 hectares (20 acres), lodges wooden sculptures as well as the Fairy Trail. This 1.8km path is perfect for kids as it displays an enchanting forest and farmyard with donkeys and goats. The Butterfly house and walled garden, on their side, hide over 5,000 species of plants in 105 hectares (260 acres).

Admission Fee Malahide: All sites included: Adult €14, Concession and Students €9, Children under 12 €6.50,  Family (2 parents, 3 kids) from €35

Address: Clontarf, 3 Castle Avenue, Clontarf East

   Malahide Demesne, Malahide

Other Ancient Buildings in Dublin include:

  • Trinity College, 1592, where the Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett, the playwright/poet Oscar Wilde or the first (and two others) President of Ireland studied.
  • Rotunda Hospital, 1745, is the oldest running maternity in the world
  • Kilmainham Gaol, 1796, is a symbol of militancy as generations of rebellious leaders were incarcerated in the ancient jail (today a museum) that closed in 1924
  • Leinster House, 1745, is the seat of the Parliament, aka the Oireachtas Éireann
  • Bank of Ireland, 1739, is the legislature’s ex-house
  • Marsh’s Library, 1701, is the earliest public library and shelters 300 manuscripts and over 25,000 books
  • Number 130 Thomas Street, the oldest house in Dublin, is also known as Slighe Mor and, was constructed in 1639

Oldest Buildings in Cork, Ireland

#5 Red Abbey, a National Monument

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Founded by Augustinian monks in the late 13th century, this religious site, named ‘Red’ due to the bricks used, hides quite a life. When sieged in 1690, the city-tower turned into the ideal war vantage point for John Churchill. The gardens, on their side, were hiding canons to shell Cork.

In the 18th century, the friars settled to new headquarters in Fishamble Lane and, a section of the abbey became a sugar refinery. The latter unwittingly burnt in 1799 and left as the only witness, the 700-year-old tower that still stands today. 

Address: 23 Dunbar Street, Cork

#6 Elizabeth Fort 

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This 1601 star-shaped fortress, named after Queen Elizabeth 1, was established to protect the city against both Spanish and Irish Gaelic invasions. In addition to the Cat Barracks, the fort turned into British military quarters for over 700 men in 1719. Its function evolved throughout the centuries from a female prison to a Garda station. Today, thousands of visitors and various festivals animate the grounds each year. This historical gem also offers the best views of Cork.

Admission Fee: Free! A €3 guided tour is available every day at 1:00PM (complimentary under 12-year-old)

Address: Barrack St, The Lough, Cork

#7 Skiddy’s Almshouse

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Skiddy’s Almshouse, built in 1719, is the oldest inhabited building in Cork. This L-shaped architecture used to function as a complex alongside the Green Coat hospital and school, both destroyed in the mid-20th century. It was named after Steven Skiddy, a wealthy wine businessperson and Cork-native living in London. He “settled a perpetual annuity of twenty-four pounds (€27) paid by the vintners’ company of the city of London” for the benefit of the poorest elderly people. A donation that still remains today.    

Admission Fee: Free!

Address: Behind Kinlay House Shandon, near Bob and Joan’s Walk, Shandon, Cork

#8 Cork’s Collins Barracks

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This 1802 military barracks had its Old Guard Room converted into a museum in 1985. It is dedicated to the history of both the grounds and the Defence Force. It also exhibits a generous compilation of artefact that belonged to General Collins as well as an extensive collection of ancestral uniforms as old as 200 years. The Irish Army uses the rest of the structure as its 1st Brigade’s headquarters.

Admission Fee: Free!

Address: Collins Barracks Old Gate, Old Youghal Rd, Montenotte, Cork

Other Ancient Buildings in Cork include:

  • Lifetime lab, best-maintained water supplier since the 1760s
  • University College of Cork, built in 1845, which alumni include former Taoiseach Jack Lynch, the actress Fiona Shaw and the rugby coach Declan Kidney
  • St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a Gothic-style triple pyramidal edifice erected in 1870s near the River Lee
  • Cork City Goal from 1824 to 1923. It turned into the earliest official local radio until 1950 before an ultimate transformation into a museum in 1993
  • Shandon Craft Centre, 1769. Previously Cork Butter Exchange, the biggest provider in Britain was built on the grounds of Shandon Castle
  • Church of St Anne and Shandon bells, 1722. It is the oldest running church in the urban centre

Oldest Buildings in Limerick, Ireland

#9 St Mary’s Cathedral

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This religious sanctuary, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, dates back to 1168 and hides the remains of the latest High King of Munster in its nave. Today, it is the oldest running building in the entire city of Limerick. The tower, adjoined in the 14th century, rises above 36 meters (120 feet) and holds 8 bells including 6 made by Taylor’s, the world’s biggest running bell foundry.

In case of attack, the defenders traditionally honed their weapons on the stones nearby the west door and marks are still detectable today.

Admission Fee: Free if visiting for religious purposes. Otherwise, €5 donation fee recommended for adults and €3.5 for students

Address: Bridge Street, Limerick

#10 King John’s Castle

Located on Kings Island and overlooking the Shannon River, King John’s Norman Castle’s conservation is one of the greatest in Europe.

Defeated by the King of Munster and his allies in the 10th century, the earliest Vikings perennial bastion reduced to a single clan. Then, Domhnall Mór Ó Briain burnt the city to the ground as he claimed the Munster’s title. It became Anglo-Norman and property of King John, brother of Richard the Lionheart, only after the latter’s death.

After the construction of the fortress, Limerick, now well protected from invasions, remained in peace for 400 years until its ultimate siege that led to the demolition of some of the walls.

Admission Fee: Adult €11.7, Concession €9.5, Children 4 up to 18: €8.50, Family (2 parents, up to 6 kids) €49

Address: Nicholas St, Limerick

#11 Adare Manor

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An 1832 beloved family manor revamped into a 5-star hotel, awarded “best hotel in the world 2018” by “Virtuoso Best of the Best Awards” in Las Vegas. Another box to tick off your bucket list against the modest sum of €750 (up to €4,000).

Located in Adare, on the banks of the Maigue River, (home of the gorgeous thatched houses), 19km away from Limerick. The history behind the beautifully decorated and designed structure started when Windham Henry Quin, the 2nd Earl, developed gout. To keep him busy, his wife advised him to tackle the task by transforming their ‘simple’ house into a European-inspired masterpiece. The conception brought work to the villagers as the Great Famine stroke, which save numbers of lives.

Other Ancient Buildings in Limerick include:

  • 1840 Toll House, a Gothic-styled folly designed by James Pain
  • Not a building but a historical gathering that definitely worth a stop: the Milk Market has been opened since the mid-19th century

Oldest Buildings in Galway, Ireland

#12 Lynch’s Castle

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Converted into an AIB Bank, Lynch’s Castle bulk dates back to the 15th/16th century, and a broad extension was then added, in the 19th century. Rare Irish carved gargoyles, the arm of King Henri VII and the Earl of Kildare’s heraldic shield bedecks the limestone Spanish-inspired architecture. It belonged to one of the most influential Anglo-Norman-descent families, the Lynch, one of the 14 tribes (merchants trading with Europe) of Galway. The ground floor is open for visitors all year long.

Admission: Free!

Address: Lynch’s Castle, 40 Shop St, Galway

#13 St Nicholas Collegiate Church

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Founded in 1320 and dedicated to the St Patron of children and seafarers (St Nicholas of Myra), the edifice is the largest Parish Middle-Aged Church still running in the entire country. It is located in the heart of the medieval city. A Memorial to Jane Eyre, a 400-year-old baptismal basin, a Celtic cross as well as gargoyles, mermaids and a manticore are all in display. Local legends say that even Christopher Columbus stopped here to worship before his Voyage to the New World in 1477!

Few metres away is the Lynch’s Window, where Robert Lynch Fitzstephen, a magistrate, hung his son for the murder a Spanish merchant visiting the region.

Note: Coffee concert most Saturdays at 11AM

Admission Fee: Free but donation are advisable

Address: Junction of Churchyard Street and Lombard Street.

Oldest Buildings in Waterford, Ireland

Founded by the Vikings in 914, Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland. The Viking triangle is a 1,000-year-old series of walls that once encompassed the earliest settlement in the island’s history. You can download the free app for a self-guided tour of the city.

#14 Reginald’s Tower

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Initially, there were 17 towers encompassing the city, today only six survived, and Reginald’s Tower, part of Viking triangle, is the most dramatic. Its height reaches about 16.5 meters (54 feet), and its diameter verges on 13 meters (42 feet). It had different purposes (defensive, storage, home and prison) since its completion in the late 13th/ or early 14th century. Treasures from Viking times, such as a 9th-century sword and canons from the 15th century, are in exhibition inside the monument.

The five other towers that subsisted are the French Tower, the Double Tower, the Semi-Lunar Tower, the Watch Tower and the Beach Tower.

Admission Fee: Adult: €5.00, Sen/Group: €4.00, Child/Student: €3.00, Family: €13.00

Address: Parade Quay Waterford

#15 Blackfriars Abbey

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This construction is neither a ruin nor a complete building but it deserves its spot in this list. The chancel and the belfry of the Blackfriars Abbey still stand as part of the Viking Triangle. It was built by the Dominicans (their earliest settlement dates back to 1226) on a donated site, as requested to Henri III by local residents. The cloister was dissolved in the 16th century and was used as a courthouse first and then, a theatre.

Address: The structure stands by the River between Greyfriars and Bailey’s New Street

#16 St Patrick Church

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Raised in the mid-18th century, St Patrick Church turned into both a community centre with concerts and events and, a Methodist place of Worship. The graveyard, located around the building, is the earliest and the best-preserved burial ground in Waterford. Over 40,000 inhumation took place including soldiers and sailors from the Napoleonic war, the 7 Years War and the American Revolutionary War.

Note: Check out their indoor market (most Saturday)

Address: Patrick Street Waterford City

Other Ancient Churches in Waterford include:

  • Waterford Cathedral 1793
  • Christ Church Cathedral 1779

Oldest Buildings in Drogheda, Ireland

#17 Millmount Fort

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Located on the banks of River Boyne, it sits on top of a hill, believed to be the tomb of Amhairghin Glúngheal, a famous Celtic bard. Millmount Fort, also named “the Cup and the Saucer” by natives, witnessed both the Cromwell Invasion and the 1922 Civil War. Converted to a museum, this fortification was once, the best defence resource in Drogheda.

The gallery exhibits a collection of Guild banners, artefacts of the local industrial revolution, a dairy room as well as archaeological and geological specimens.

Admission: Free! Guided tour of Drogheda town: Adults €5 Children & Seniors €3

Address: Millmount Museum, Millmount Complex, Drogheda

#18 Magdalene Tower

image of   Magdalene Tower

This 1347 Gothic bell-tower, also known as Millmount Martello Tower, was part of the Dominican friary, known as ‘Priory of Saint Mary Magdalene.’ Founded in 1224, this three-stage belfry is all that remains today. It is in this exact spot that O’Donnell, O’Neill and other Ulster leaders surrendered to the King of England, Richard II. Enjoy the architecture from outside as the gate is usually closed to the public. 

Address: 9 Magdalene St, Upper Mell, Drogheda

#19 Saint Peter’s Catholic Church

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This stunning French Gothic-Revival church was completed in 1884. Its façade displays an imposing rose window that struggles to put the giant gable in the shade. Something even bigger and unexpected awaits visitors inside.

Oliver Plunkett, the last Roman Catholic martyr of Ireland, not only gave his life to the Church but also his head. After he lost his life (hung, drawn and quartered’) to the Popish Plot in Tyburn, his body was split into two tin boxes; his inhumation took place in 1681.  Two years later, the exhumation occurred and his head travelled to Rome, before ending its journey in Saint Peter’s. Since 1921, pilgrims come to worship the preserved head standing in transparent glass.

Admission Fee: Free!

Address: West St, Downtown Drogheda, Drogheda

#20 Saint Peter’s Catholic, Church of Ireland

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This 1793 ecclesiastic site, situated 5 minutes’ walk from our previous site, was consecrated 50 years before its completion. This colourful stained-glass church hides impressive late baroque plasterwork, an eight-sided baptismal basin and unique churchyard. The latter’s wall holds a cadaver vertical gravestone, containing the remains of Elizabeth Fleming and her husband, Sir Edmond Goldyng. This enshrining practice was a European trend in the 15th /16th century.

Admission: Free!

Address: Peter St, Downtown Drogheda, Drogheda

Other Ancient Buildings in Drogheda include:

  • Saint Laurence Gate, neither a building nor a ruin, this structure was constructed in the 13th century National Monument
  • Saint Mary’s Church, a 19th-century dark site
  • The Highlanes Gallery, a 19th-century church displaying the Municipal Art Collection
  • The 1768 Mayoralty House, a Georgian Limestone structure
  • The 1765 Tholsel now houses Drogheda Tourist Information Centre

What’s the Oldest Structure in Ireland?

Newgrange, situated in the Boyne Valley, is older than the Giza Pyramids (2580BC – 2560 BC) and amongst the earliest sites in the world. Stone Age farmers built this 3,200 B.C. passage tomb and surrounded it with 97 kerbstones decorated, for some, with Megalithic Art.

Just a Little more:

  • 1172 Hook Head Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse in the world
  • Morahan’s bar, Co. Roscommon, Family owned since 1641
  • Wonderful barn, a 1743 valuable Connolly Folly
  • The 1142 Cahir Castle built in Tipperary by Conor O’Brien
  • Bunratty Castle, this 1425 fort, in Co Clare, is the most authentic/ untamed medieval structure in the country
  • Ballintubber Abbey, in Co Mayo, founded by King Cathal Crobdearg Ua Conchobair in 1216
  • Trim Castle, an 1174 Norman fortress on the banks of River Boyne in Co Meath
  • Kilkenny Castle built in 1213, a crucial defence structure standing by River Nore
  • The 1185 Lismore Castle in Co Waterford
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