Daily Archives: May 8, 2011

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 30

County Antrim Part 11

Last week we stopped at Ballycastle, today we continue in a westerly direction along the north coast.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a swinging rope suspension bridge near Ballintoy and now in the hands of the National trust.  It was spans a 30-metre deep and 20-metre chasm from the mainland to the rocky tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede and was traditionally erected by Salmon fishermen, to check their salmon nets.  It is open all year round – weather permitting!!  It is approached from Larry Bane, a limestone head that had once been quarried.  Binoculars will add to the feast for birdwatchers.

The coast around Ballintoy has some really stunning and rugged scenery and Ballintoy Harbour is a quaint little limestone harbour at the foot of a narrow corkscrew road, take your time… it is well worth the effort.   The sea is strewn with little basalt islands that make any kind of boating a potential nightmare but give excellent photographic opportunities!

Next along the coast is the breathtaking sandy sweep of White Park Bay, the beach is accessible only on foot.  Among the low houses along the west end of the beach, tucked into the cliffs at Portbraddan, is Ireland’s smallest church, dedicated to St Gobhan the patron saint of builders.  The remains of an even smaller one (St. Lasseraghs) stands on the cliff above.  Most beaches have rip currents which are a natural part of beach dynamics.

Benbane Head is the most northerly point on the mainland in Northern Ireland.  It is a fantastic place to watch the sunset.  It is situated between Whitepark Bay and The Giant’s Causeway.

The Giants Causeway, is Ireland’s first World heritage Site.  The polygonal basalt stone columns were the result of volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago.  Now, I was not around back then so I cannot swear by the date!  The hot volcanic lava erupted through narrow vents to cool and form these geometric columns and shapes.  Most are hexagonal, but there are four, five, seven or eight sided columns too.  Look out for distinctive stone formations fancifully named the Camel, the Wishing Chair, The Lord Antrim’s Parlour, the Giant’s Harp and the Giant’s Organ.

A new visitor centre is under construction, so be patient at the entrance. Normally a multi lingual audio visual show tells the full story of the causeway through the geology, the myths and legends, the folklore and traditions.

Off the coast of the causeway at Lacada Point (see the Portballintrae link below), the Girona, a fleeing Spanish Armada galleon was wrecked in a storm on the night of 26th October 1588.  It was not my fault.  I tell you I was not even a twinkle in anybody’s eye back then.  A diving team retrieved a treasure hoard from the wreck in 1967, and it is now on display in the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

At the Causeway School Museum you can your desk in a 1920’s classroom with inkwells and splodgy pens. Whip ‘peeries’, play with Yo-Yo’s, Marbles, Skipping Ropes. Originally a National School designed by Clough Williams-Ellis of Portmeirion fame.

Bushmills, is a neat little village, on the River Bush.  The  fast flowing waters are rich in trout and salmon.  It not only supported the mills that gave the place its name, but generated electricity for the world’s first hydro-electric tramway, which carried passengers to the Giant’s Causeway between 1893 and 1949.

Bushmills Inn is comfortable and quaint with inglenook fires and even a secret room.  You will have to bring me if you need help finding it! 😉  I wonder if Elly can find it from the link above?

Old Bushmills Distillery, the site of the world’s oldest legal Distillery, established in 1608.  One hour guided tour and whiskey tasting are available on the hour and are on a first come first served basis.


Dunluce Castle, one of the most romantic and dramatic ruins clings perilously on rocky cliffs.  Most of the fortifications date from 16th & 17th centuries.  It was once the headquarters of the  Mc Donnell Clan.  Constantly fought over, it eventually succumbed to the power of nature, when half of the kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639.  It was abandoned shortly afterwards.

Stretching from Dunluce Strand to Curran strand at Portrush are the unique limestone cliffs of the White Rocks.   These soft sedimentary rocks have been carved through centuries into a labyrinth of caves and arches, magical headlands of distinguishable forms rise out of the ocean with names like Shelagh’s Head, the Giants Head, the Wishing Arch, Elephant Rock and the Lion’s Paw, while underneath the road you drive upon, huge cavernous caves, accessible only from the sea are home to scores of seabirds and the hunting ground for hawks. The caves are exceptional and one of the hidden treasures to be discovered along the coast. On the main coast road you will find pull-in areas and a large car park where you can take in the incredible views of the headlands to the Giants Causeway and back to Portrush and Donegal. The cliffs are best viewed along the pathway or better still from a boat, where the true beauty and awe of the many arches can be appreciated.

Portrush is a typical seaside resort, which flourished with the rise of the railways.  It has three good bays, with broad stretches of sand, ranges of dunes, rock pools, white cliffs and a busy harbour.  Royal Portrush Championship Golf Club first opened in 1895 and played host to many a famous golfer over the years.

Portstewart*, although in County Londonderry, is Portrush’s closest and they are very closely linked.  The Victorian era promenade boasts an upper and lower walk, with spectacular views across the North Coast to the Inishowen Peninsula of Donegal.  Popular as a holiday centre during the 20s and 30s, Portstewart also remained a busy fishing port right up to the Second World War with a new harbour being built for the fleet. The sight of the fishing smacks setting off  with the sun sinking behind the Innishowen hills in Donegal helped inspire the songwriter Jimmy Kennedy to  pen the poignant ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’.

A prominent feature of the town is O’Hara’s Rock Castle, built in 1834 and later converted into a school, still in use today as part of Dominican Convent School.  Beneath this building begins a magnificent cliff walk leading to Portstewart Strand and along the way is a holy well from which St Patrick is reputed to have drunk (Tober Patrick).
Stroll along Portstewart’s National Trust protected sweeping two-mile stretch of Strand via the winding cliff path or watch the world go by from one of the famed ice-cream parlours, cafes, pubs or restaurants.  Browse in the colourful art galleries, craft and gift shops, or enjoy an afternoon’s golf, tennis or bowls.

*I always notice that my UK mobile/cell phone switches signal to that from Donegal in the Irish republic when walking the prom.

Now after all that bracing sea air it is time to head south and inland to Coleraine it is the main town of the Causeway Coast, and forms part of the area known as the “Triangle” linking the nearby coastal resorts of Portrush and Portstewart. In true Irish fashion, the town square is called ‘The Diamond’ and is the location of the Town Hall.  The University of Ulster campus was built in the 1960s less than a mile from the centre of the town and has brought a high quality theatrical space to the area in the form of the Riverside Theatre.

Ballymoney a bustling town, was home for Joey Dunlop OBE a world champion motorcyclist best known for road racing.  He was affectionately known to him numerous fans and competitors alike as, ‘King of the Roads’ and ‘Yer Maun.’  Joey made endless trips to Romania, bringing vanloads of aid to orphans and their carers in that country. These were undertaken mostly by Dunlop himself on condition that would take place before each racing season started.

He died doing what he lived for – racing on the track, in Tallinn, Estonia, in 2000 while leading a 125cc race (he had already won the 750cc and 600cc events) on Pirita-Kose-Kloostrimetsa Circuit.  In May 2001 Ballymoney Borough Council officially opened the Joey Dunlop Memorial Garden.

Leslie Hill Open Farm is a compact estate of arable & grassland,woodland, yards, paths and lakes, which has altered very little in the past 230 years.  Experience living history and see items from a bygone day, as you wander among farm buildings and machines, carriages and carts.   There are many farm animals including some rare breeds. Walk in the lovely gardens and pick your own fruit, go by horse and wagon through wooded parkland and see the peaceful lake and visit the Bell Barn, built in 1760. Pay a visit to the tea room or bring a picnic.

The Dark Hedges, this group of trees known locally as ‘the dark hedges’ are thought to be around 300 years old. They are reputedly haunted by a spectral ‘grey lady’ and form an arc over the road. They have become a much-photographed natural monument within the Ballymoney Borough at Bregagh Road, Stranocum.

Ballymena, the county town of Antrim, can boast one of its sons, Timothy Eaton founded Eaton’s Stores in Canada.  To the east the hump of Slemish rises abruptly from the ground, as mentioned last week, it was where St Patrick worked when he was first brought to Ireland in slavery.

In the south suburbs of the town  is the 40-foot high Harryville motte & bailey, one of the finest surviving Anglo Norman earthworks in Ulster.

Just to the west is 17th-century Galgorm Castle, a Plantation castle built by Sir Faithful Fortescue in 1618.  Beyond it is the village of Gracehill founded by the Moravians between 1759 and 1765.  It is Ireland’s only Moravian settlement and the layout of the village and unique Georgian-style architecture remains unchanged.  In 1975, it was designated Northern Ireland’s first Conservation Area.

Antrim I covered last week.

Crumlin, a village in County Antrim, is at the head of a wooded glen on the Camlin River, near Lough Neagh, and 20 miles west of Belfast city centre.  Belfast International Airport lies just north of the village.  A stone clock tower, built in 1897 as a memorial to a member of the Pakenham family who were landlords in the area, stands at the top of the village near the former railway station. The town’s old linen mill was built in 1809.  It is home to T.A.C.T. (The Talnotry Avian Care Trust), a voluntarily run Wildlife centre.  The Trust helps to care for, rehabilitate and return to the wild a large number of sick and injured wild birds and mammals.

The Balance House in Glenavey is where John Ballance (1839–1893)  the 14th Premier of New Zealand at the end of the 19th century, was born.  It is now restored and a farmhouse museum.  John Balance was a pioneer of the welfare state and women’s suffrage.  Indoor and outdoor displays celebrate Ulster’s many links with New Zealand.  There are guided tours, a tea-room, gallery and a shop.

Lisburn, situated south-west of Belfast on the River Lagan, it forms part of the Belfast metropolitan area.  Formerly a borough, Lisburn was granted city status in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

At the Irish Linen Centre Ulster’s greatest industry is recreated with a weaving workshop with handlooms, audio visuals and exhibitions on local history & linen/craft.  There is a museum shop and licensed restaurant.

Enjoy the magic of brewing with a tour of Hilden Brewery in the 19th century courtyard of Hilden House near Lisburn.

Well we end the day and the tour around my Island, just a few short miles from Aldergrove, Belfast’s International Airport and close to the M1 motorway to Dublin.  I do hope you enjoyed it.

Next week I will try and pull it all together with links for the counties, the episodes etc.