The Republic of Ireland's Office of Public Works (OPW) has been around since 1831 and today is responsible for the preservation and conversation of over 700 historical monuments and landmarks throughout Ireland. Most of these are free and often only noted by signboards along some rural road through the countryside.
Grennan Castle sitting out in a County Kilkenny is one such example. It was one of our first stops that we just happened upon during a day trip. Through the work of OPW, these landmarks' stories can be told to those passing by who otherwise would have no way to know about the historical ruin they are viewing.
Around 100 of these historical sites have received significant attention in terms of archeological research and restorative services. These are the heritage sites that most often assess an admission fee to visit. The fee are most often between €2 and €6 for adults with discounts for seniors and students.
While not a lot of money on an individual basis, if you are going to visit many of these, the cost will increase quickly. For visitors who plan on exploring Ireland's history through these OPW Heritage sites, you would be well served to consider purchasing the OPW Heritage Card. At €21 for adults, €16 for seniors and €8 for students, you can't afford not to buy one. There is also a family card for €55 which provides admission for two adults and "a reasonable number of children under 18 years".
During our 15 days in Ireland, we visited 11 of the OPW Heritage sites. Had we paid ala carte for admission, the cost for David & I would have been €39.50 and for his mom (a senior) €31.50. Some of the more popular sites cost €6 so it would only take four of these to exceed the card price of €21. Of those we visited, Kilkenny Castle, Rock of Cashel, Clonmacnoise and Kilmainham Gaol were all €6.
If you are unsure about what sites are operated by OPW, they have an extensive website that includes an overview map of the sites covered by the OPW Heritage Card. They also segment the country so that you can research based on what geographic regions you are planning to visit while in Ireland. Further, the site provides some historical information on each site along with a photo. This really helped us to decide which sites we wished to visit during our limited time in Ireland.
You can buy your card at your first OPW Heritage site or by writing them at least a month before your trip. More information may be found at: http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/Info/HeritageCards/ .
FOOTNOTE for 2012. In researching for this journal, I came across an announcement that for "Heritage Days" admission into all OPW Heritage sites will be free of charge on the first Wednesday of each month.
When we were at Dun Aonghasa, we noted a sign that it was Heritage Day and admission was free but thought it was something unique to that site or just one day in the year. Being that our visit was Wednesday, May 1st I now assume that is why the admissions were waived on that day. Please keep this in mind as you plan for your visit to Ireland and the possible purchase of an OPW Heritage Card.