County Antrim Part 1
County Antrim is situated at the north-east corner of Ireland, 46 Irish miles long, and 27 broad; bounded on the E and N by the sea where a channel only 13 miles wide separates Torr Head from the Scottish coast. Lough Neagh at the opposite corner is the largest lake in Ireland. County Antrim is home to the Glens of Antrim. There are villages with wonderful names like: Ahoghill, Portglenone, Cullybackey, Glenravel, Clough and Gracehill.
The main route north out of Belfast is the M2/M5 follow the signs to Carrickfergus, it is signposted for the coastal route to Larne, the gateway to the Nine Glens of Antrim. The road hugs the narrow strip of coastline between the sea and high cliffs. Around 60 million years ago (and no I don’t remember it!), Three great lave flows covered this area here, it cooled the basaltic plateau of North Antrim. You can still see the different layers in the cliff face.
At the end of the last ice age – no not last winter – I am talking about ten thousand years ago, massive glaciers gouged out the deep valleys to form the glens. Inland near Broughshane, Ballymena is Slemish Mountain. It is all that is left of the ancient volcano. It is said to be where St Patrick was held as a slave and herded sheep for his master, Miluic in the 5th century. It is still a place of pilgrimage to this day with people climbing Slemish in his memory every St Patrick’s Day, 17th March.
Now let me see if I can name all nine of the Glens…
Glenarm – is the family home to Lord and Lady Dunluce at Glenarm Castle with one of the oldest walled gardens in the land, dating from the 18th century. The gardens are open to the public from May to September.
Glencloy – takes its name from the stone ditches in the upper glen and on Garron mountain. Some of these have been shown to date from the Bronze Age. The main village is Carnlough stretching along most of the bay. Archaeological excavations at Bay Farm have uncovered evidence of Neolithic occupation (around 4000 B.C.) and further excavations in the same general area uncovered a Bronze Age settlement dated between 2000 and 1500 B.C.
Glenariff – is sometimes called the ‘Queen Of the Glens’. The village of Waterfoot lies on the coast at the foot of the glen. The Forest Park covers an area of 1185 ha of which 900 ha have been planted with trees. The remainder consists of several small lakes, recreation areas and open space left for landscape and conservation. Bisecting the Park are two small but beautiful rivers; the Inver and the Glenariff, containing spectacular waterfalls, tranquil pools and stretches of fast flowing water tumbling through rocky steep-sided gorges. Its three waterfalls provide a rich backdrop for photographers, as do the other Forest Trails that offer panoramic landscapes and peaceful riverside walks
Glenballyeamon stretches down from the slopes of Trostan mountain in between the slopes of Tievebulliagh and Lurigethan mountain and outfows into Red Bay – the village of Cushendall is situated at the mouth of the glen. A couple of good locations for those who enjoy waterfalls, especially after a few days rain when then river swells and cascades down over a series of waterfalls in close succession – on the northern side below Barard mountain there is another cut in the landscape where a smaller series of waterfalls cascade down and under the road bridge. The glen is unique in that you are able to travel up the Lurigethan mountain side of the glen and back down the far side – a nice loop drive up from Cushendall. Clearly visible in the landscape on the glen side area the remains of small fields of parallel raised beds – an old farming method of potato cultivation which date back to the 18th century.
Glencorp – Sounds like an American conglomerate, but in fact is the glen of the slaughter, bodies or dead – the glen runs at right angle to Glendun, both share the same outflow to the ocean. half way along Glencorp towards Cushendall is Glenaan and the glen then merges into Glenballyeamon, again both share the same outflow into Cushendall Bay. Slieve mountain forms the side of the glen and Gruig Top over looks the western side between Glendun and Glenaan.
Glenaan stretches from Aghan mountain and sweeps down between Tievebulliagh and Crocknacreeva to merge into Glencorp,a beautiful glen in summer when the blooms of red fuchsia bushes line the road. The most famous spot in the glen would have to be Ossian’s grave, the site is megalithic in origin and reputed to have been where Ossian, the son of Finn MacCool was buried, the story tells of him marrying Niamh and going to live in the mythical land of Tir na nOg, after a while he became homesick and wanted to come back to visit his family and home. Before leaving he was told never to touch the ground on his visit or he would die, on reaching Glenaan he discovered that 300 years had passed by and all his family and friends were gone. On seeing that no-one was left he turned to go back to Tir na nOg, as he was passing some men moving a heavy boulder, he stopped to help, as he turned in his saddle the belt holding his saddle broke and he fell to the ground, aged and died. Tievebulliagh is another unique site, having been the site of porcellantie axe production and distribution from Neolithic times.
Glenshesk – The glen lies on the eastern side of Knocklayde mountain and flows out to the sea at Ballycastle. At the foot of the glen are the ruins of the Friary of Bunamargy built in 1485. A number of battles occurred in the valleys of the glen and a number of standing stones mark the burial places of people killed in battle.
Glentaisie – The Glen of Taise – named after Princess Taise, the daughter of a Rathlin Chieftain who married Congal the son of the King of Ulster. Congal received the glen and other lands along the coast including Dunseverick as a wedding gift from Taise’s father. Congal later succeeded his father to become King of Ulster. Small hills and drumlins cover its length as its sweeps down the western flank of Knocklayde to Ballycastle, it has many interesting features which includes the remains of two motte forts, a rath, several standing stones and remnants of the narrow gauge railway which ran from Ballymoney to Ballycastle. Opened in 1880 the railway and its small light green engines and dark brown coaches served the district until it closed in 1950 – the entire project was tendered for under £40,000 and includes many bridges and even a small tunnel near Capecastle. A small and very scenic loop road can be taken up the glen from the Hillhead at Ballycastle to Breen Wood at the back of Knocklayde. Breen is a remnant of an ancient oak wood that would have once covered most of the glen, it is now a nature reserve. At Breen you can alternatively follow the high road along the eastern side of Knocklayde above Glenshesk which has some panoramic views to Rathin Island or follow the road into Glenshesk – its worth seeing both routes.
North of Cushendun, is a signposted scenic route for Ballycastle by Torr Head. Follow the sign for Mulough and you will be rewarded with spectacular views over the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland. This headland was important in the 1800s for recording the passage of transatlantic ships, relaying the information back to Lloyds of London. Looking northwards along the coast is Fair head a majestic headland with vertical dolerite columns reaching 600 feet above sea level. The waters below are some of the most treacherous in the northern isles, creating whirlpools and strong currents. This whole area saw lots of U Boat activities during both wars and the area is well known for its ‘wreck’ diving.
Ballycastle is home to the Oul’ Lammas Fair, held every August Bank Holiday (end of the month) when the streets are crammed with stalls, people and music on every corner. Horse trading lives up to its reputation and you will hear the refrain:
Did you take your Mary Ann
For some dulse and yellow man
At the oul’ Lammas fair in Ballycastle – O.
Dulse is edible, dried, seaweed and yellow man is a chewy sweet slab more dense than honeycomb.
A short ferry ride covers the six miles from Ballycastle to Rathlin Island and it is a must for bird-lovers. Early summer is the best time to see guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and puffins along the sheer rock stacks, close to the West Lighthouse. It was on Rathlin Island that Robert the Bruce found refuge when he was driven from Scotland by Edward 1 of England in 1306. He gathered forces to return and fight for his kingdom and succeeded in 1314 in regaining the crown of Scotland.
At this point we have reached the ‘North Coast’ with a great variety of treasures to be explored, so I have decided to save them until next week.