Twenty kilometres south of Limerick city on the R512 towards Kilmallock, a cluster of grassy limestone hills spring unexpectedly from the plain, sheltering in their midst Lough Gur, the site of dozens of largely prehistoric monuments. Their importance lies in the fact that many of them are not ceremonial sites but stone dwelling places, dating from around 3000 BC onwards, which have furnished archeologists with most of their knowledge of the way of life in Neolithic Ireland. That’s not to say that this curious landscape did not have a ritual aspect, as it was also revered as the territory of the sun goddess, Áine, and accrued a powerful mythical reputation, for example as the location of some of Fionn Mac Cumhaill’s adventures in the Ulster Cycle.

Before it was partly drained in the nineteenth century, the lake (now C-shaped) formed an approximate square, with a nine-kilometre shoreline around a large triangular island, Knockadoon. The drainage, which left a marsh on the eastern side of the island and lowered the lake’s level by 3m, revealed hoards of prehistoric items. These included myriad bones of ritually slaughtered oxen, gold and bronze spearheads, a bronze shield, swords and dozens of stone and bronze axes, all of which appear to have been thrown in as offerings to the gods of the lake but which are now scattered around the museums of the world. The tranquillity of the lake, broken only by the sounds of geese and a wealth of other birdlife, allows you easily to set your imagination to work on how life would have been here five thousand years ago.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Ireland features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

12 dreamy pictures of Ireland

12 dreamy pictures of Ireland

With its remote beauty, rugged landscapes and windswept coastlines, Ireland is a photographer's dream. Here, Philip Joyce shares some of his best pictures of…

23 Aug 2016 • Philip Joyce insert_drive_file Article
8 great alternative UK city breaks

8 great alternative UK city breaks

London, Edinburgh, Cardiff… These are the usual suspects when visitors are thinking about UK city breaks. But there are actually 66 other cities to be explore…

15 Aug 2016 • Greg Dickinson insert_drive_file Article
6 of the best road trips in the UK

6 of the best road trips in the UK

There is something about a road trip that creates an endless state of heightened excitement. It comes with a heart-in-mouth, funfair-like thrill. And no matter …

21 Jun 2016 • Mike MacEacheran insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month