From gaols to famine sites, here are our top 10 dark tourism destinations in Ireland.
If the term ‘dark tourism’ is new to you, it can be defined as tourism that involves travelling to places associated with tragedy, death, loss and suffering. The main appeal of these destinations is not necessarily their association with morbid themes, but rather their immensely significant historical value.
These thought-provoking destinations offer unforgettable experiences that allow visitors to gain a unique insight into Ireland’s deeply complex and troubled history, while also striving to educate visitors on the societal impact of communal loss and tragedy.
Here are our top 10 dark tourism destinations in Ireland to visit before you die.
10. National Famine Museum – discover the haunting histories of the Irish Famine
First on our list is the National Famine Museum in Strokestown, County Roscommon. The National Famine Museum tells the story of the Irish Famine, and the suffering, eviction, and migration experienced by the Irish people.
This ground-breaking museum documents the history of this period using papers and artefacts from Strokestown covering over 300 years of tumultuous history. Here visitors can discover the haunting histories of the Irish Famine and the cruel circumstances the Irish people found themselves in.
During the famine period, Strokestown became particularly infamous when Major Denis Mahon was the first landlord to be assassinated after forcing his tenants to emigrate on some of the worst of the coffin ships known at the time. The story of his murder in November 1847 is covered by the museum’s exhibits, and the gun that fired the fatal shot is also on display.
Location: Vesnoy, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon
9. Doagh Famine Village – uncover a community living on the edge
Our next destination also relates to the Great Famine of the 1840s. Doagh Famine Village, located in County Donegal, tells the story of Irish life from the famine period right through until the present day. Guides take visitors on a thought-provoking journey showing how families and communities were forced to ‘live on the edge’ generation after generation.
Doagh Famine Village details how a drastically changing environment and society, together with rural isolation, remoteness, and a widespread reliance on small plots of land made this area of Ireland a very harsh place to live, particularly during the famine period.
However, despite the hardships endured throughout the last few centuries the same families have lived here for generations, and the exhibits explore how these inspirational people adapted and survived as the environment and society around them changed over the years. An absolute must-do when in Ireland!
Location: Lagacurry, Co. Donegal
8. Battle of Aughrim Visitor Centre – relive one of Europe’s most historic battles
The Battle of Aughrim Visitor Centre is located in the heart of Aughrim village in County Galway. This visitor centre brings visitors back in time, using interactive exhibits and a display of intriguing artefacts, to relive one of Europe’s most historic battles that ultimately changed the course of Irish history.
In 1691, over 45,000 soldiers gathered at Aughrim to partake in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on Irish soil. Here visitors can learn about the decisive bloody battle of the Williamite War in Ireland and discover how three rival kings (William of Orange, James II, and Louis XIV) took hold of this small island in their struggle for power.
Visitors can also learn about key events such as the battle of the Boyne, the sieges of Athlone and Limerick and the Flight of the Wild Geese and discover the immense societal impact of these traumatic episodes in Irish history.
Location: Kinnaveelish, Co. Galway
7. The Irish Workhouse Centre – experience a real Irish workhouse
Our next destination explores another element of the Irish Famine – the workhouse. The Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna, County Galway, tells the story of the Irish workhouse as an institution, despised by the Irish people and an unfortunate and tragic last resort for many of the destitute poor in Ireland from the 1840s-1920s.
Entire families would often enter the workhouse together and to gain admission, often had to give up any possessions they had. Once admission was granted, family members were separated, sometimes never seeing each other again.
One hundred and sixty-three workhouses were built in Ireland throughout history, including the workhouse in Portumna. At the Irish Workhouse Centre, visitors can gain an insight into the reality of workhouse life through guided tours exploring the intact workhouse buildings and their impressive exhibits.
Location: St Brigid’s Rd, Portumna, Co. Galway.
6. Wicklow’s Historic Gaol – explore the realities of an 18th-century Irish prison
Next on our list is Wicklow’s Historic Gaol in Wicklow Town, County Wicklow. Here, visitors can experience prison life as it was endured by the gaols 18th-century inmates and gain a unique insight into Ireland’s past.
Through atmospheric interactive tours, Wicklow’s Historic Gaol tells the stories of the harsh reality of prison life in the 18th-century for participants of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and those awaiting transportation to a new life in Australia.
The original gaol dungeon also enables visitors to experience first-hand the sights and sounds of harsh life in the dungeon.
Location: 1 Kilmantin Hill, Corporation Lands, Wicklow, A67 Y337
5. Spike Island – an island of sinners and saints
Fifth on our list of dark tourism destinations in Ireland is Spike Island off the coast of County Cork. Over the last 1,300 years, the island has been home to a 6th-century monastery, centuries of island dwellings and a 24-acre Victorian fortress which became the largest prison in the world during the Victorian period holding over 2,300 prisoners.
Fort Mitchel, a 200-year-old star-shaped fort, consists of the Punishment Block, a 19th-century prison where inmates were chained to the walls of their dark cells; Ireland’s largest Artillery Gun Park, with cannons and modern military machines; and exhibits including the hold of a convict ship. This destination is one for the bucket list!
Location: Spike Island, Co. Cork
4. Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship – cargo ship turned famine escape vessel
Located on Custom House Quay on the Dublin Docklands, the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship offers visitors with an amazing opportunity to experience a famine ship first-hand. Originally intended as a cargo ship, the Jeanie Johnston ended up carrying a very different kind of cargo – desperate men, women and children fleeing the potato blight during the famine period.
The ship carried 2,500 Irish emigrants on 16 transatlantic voyages to Canada and North America. Visitors can see for themselves the harsh conditions that these Irish emigrants travelled in as they sought to escape from their famine-ridden homeland and fled for a new life across the sea.
Due to the popularity of the Jeanie Johnston, we’d highly recommend booking in advance and getting a queue jump ticket.
Location: Custom House Quay, North Dock, Dublin 1, D01 V9X5
3. Kilmainham Gaol Museum – a gaol of immense historical importance
Next on our list is Kilmainham Gaol Museum in County Dublin. This phenomenal museum gives visitors a dramatic and realistic insight into what it was like to have been confined in Kilmainham between 1796 and 1924. It offers visitors a unique insight into some of the most profound, disturbing and inspirational themes of modern Irish history.
The gaol held some of the most famous political and military leaders in Irish history and in some cases was the location of their execution. Names such as Robert Emmet, Anne Devlin, Charles Steward Parnell, Éamon de Valera and the leaders of 1916 will forever be associated with this place alongside the thousands of men, women and children who were detained here.
Location: Inchicore Rd, Kilmainham, Dublin 8, D08 RK28
2. Titanic Belfast – learn the stories of the ill-fated ship and its passengers
Titanic Belfast is a visitor attraction located on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast city’s Titanic Quarter where the original RMS Titanic was built. The centre consists of nine interpretative and interactive galleries, covering a variety of themes including the ships’ construction, launch, journey and its tragic sinking in April 1912.
The famous exhibits also detail the varying experiences of the ships’ passengers, the myths and legends that arose following the tragedy and the legacy of the disaster and its societal impact. The last gallery presents the Titanic as it is now, 12,000 feet (3,700 m) below the surface of the North Atlantic.
Location: 1 Olympic Way, Queen’s Road, Belfast BT3 9EP, United Kingdom
1. Glasnevin Cemetery Museum – the final resting place of Ireland’s heroes
Topping our list of dark tourism destinations in Ireland is none other than Glasnevin Cemetery Museum. Located in Dublin’s northside, Glasnevin Cemetery was established in 1832 by legendary Irish statesman Daniel O’Connell and is the final resting place to over 1.6 million people.
Among them, key figures from Irish history and culture are now laid to rest here including Michael Collins, Charles Stewart Parnell, Luke Kelly, Brendan Behan, Countess Markievicz, Maud Gonne and Grace Gifford to name only a few. Guided tours of the cemetery are available daily, delving deep into the history of the Irish people and covering a range of important historical events from famines and epidemics, rebellions and revolutions, to world wars and personal tragedies.
Glasnevin Cemetery Museum strives to celebrate and commemorate life compassionately and sensitively while also striving to educate visitors about Ireland’s complex history and the trials, tribulations and tragedies faced by the many people now laid to rest in this stunning cemetery. We recommend including Glasnevin on your next trip to Dublin!
Location: Finglas Rd, Northside, Glasnevin, Co. Dublin, D11 H2TH