The Ancient Architecture of Ireland

March 12, 2012 By Michael Smith

With St. Patrick’s Day on its way, we’d like to honor the Irish nation with a quick look at some of the rich pre-historic architecture decorating the rolling green hills of Ireland.

Ireland has always been a conquered nation in some regard, and its modern architecture reflects the country’s history of conquest, colonization and ultimately independence.  However, the pre-historic architecture of Ireland is unlike anything else the nation would ever see. Dating as far back as the Stone Age, the countryside of Ireland still holds great structures which scholars to this day study and debate.


The Grange stone circle, also called Newgrange, is the largest of the old stone circle buildings of Ireland.  While scholars have not yet agreed exactly upon the building’s use, several have speculated that it maintained some sort of religious significance.

The stone circle contains a mound and an underground passage, which doubles as a tomb.  The building also contains various examples of Neolithic art and decoration carved into the stone face.  Some scholars believe these decorations to be purely aesthetic attributions; however others argue that they maintain some sort of symbolic significance or possibly astrological.

During the medieval period, Newgrange was thought to house supernatural beings or folkloric icons.

Photo Credit: Shira

Ireland’s other intriguing prehistoric structure is the ring fort, or rath.  Built in the Iron Age, these ring forts consisted of an earthen embankment surrounding around a central enclosure, sometimes sitting on a raised mount or hill.  Due to the defensive advantages of these structures, many scholars believe they were most likely military embankments, though there is also evidence they had agricultural and industrial uses.

There are over 40,000 raths distributed throughout Ireland.

Grainan of Aileach