Category Archives: A Tour of Ireland

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 31

Epilogue

On the 5th September 2010, I began what I thought would be a short tour of Ireland. Little did I realise how much I wanted to include, or should that be how little I wanted to leave out.

Ireland is a small island, but there so many amazing places to see and enjoy. The pace is slow and relaxed outside of the main cities. A Pint can take time to pour and settle, the Pot of Tea needs time to draw and “Sure if you wait five minutes the scones will be ready to come out of the oven”!

So this week in order to help you find your way I will list the various episodes and where they take you.

Episode 1 ~ A general introduction to the series with some useful tips.

Episode 2 ~ Dublin – Getting about and places to see on foot.

Episode 3 ~ Dublin – History, Museums & Galleries

Episode 4 ~ Dublin – Literature, Theatre, Eating & drinking, Sport, Parks & Gardens and Shopping

Episode 5 ~ County Wicklow

Episode 6 ~ County Wexford

Episode 7 ~ Waterford

Episode 8 ~ Tipperary, Kilkenny, Carlow, Kildare & Laoise

Episode 9 ~ Cork City and County

Episode 10 ~ West Cork

Episode 11 ~ Kerry

Episode 12 ~ Limerick & Clare

Episode 13 ~ Galway

Episode 14 ~ Roscommon

Episode 15 ~ Mayo

Episode 16 ~ Sligo, Leitrim & a little of Donegal

Episode 17 ~ Donegal

Episode18 ~ Laois in more detail and Offaly

Episode 19 ~ Westmeath & Longford

Episode 20 ~ Cavan & Monaghan

Episode 21 ~ Meath & Louth

Moving across the border we begin with:

Episode 22 ~ Belfast Part 1

Episode 23 ~ Belfast Part 2 & surrounding area

Episode 24 ~ County Down

Episode 25 ~ Armagh

Episode 26 ~ Fermanagh

Episode 27 ~ Tyrone

Episode 28 ~ Londonderry

Episode 29 ~ County Antrim Part 1

Episode 30 ~ County Antrim Part 2

Episode 31 ~ Epilogue

For accommodation:

For Help

If you wish to hire a car, it is cheapest to arrange it when booking your flights.

If you are hoping to trace ancestry, do as much work as possible before you leave home.   Helen Kelly is a professional genealogist.

This is not the definitive tour of Ireland, it is my personal tour and I am sure to have left something out.  If you do have a query, ask away and if I don’t have an answer, I will try to find out for you.  To date in this series I have written approx  39,366 words, so it is time for me to take a back seat and allow you to digest it.  It was fun.  I hope you enjoyed the tour and found it helpful.

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.

Portballintrae

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.

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 29

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.

Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland as well as being the second largest city on the island of Ireland.  You will find more about the City and surroundings here and here.

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.

Glendun

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.

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 28

Co Londonderry

Londonderry/Derry has been chosen to be City of Culture 2013 and perhaps it may now earn a new name of… Legendary!

The City Walls of Derry were built during the period 1613-1618 as defences for early seventeenth century settlers from England and Scotland.  They are approximately 1.5km in circumference and form a walkway around the inner city and provide a unique place to view the layout of the original town which still preserves its Renaissance Style street plan to this day.

The four original gates to the Walled City are Bishop’s Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Butcher Gate and Shipquay Gate. Three further gates were added – magazine Gate, Castle Gate and New Gate.  The Walls vary in width between 12 and 35 feet.  The city claims to have Europe’s largest collection of cannon.  In 2005 the surviving 24 cannon were restored back to their former glory. The cannon are displayed throughout the City Walls with the impressive Roaring Meg located on the double bastion.

Fashioned in a neo-gothic style, the Guildhall is one of the city’s most beautiful buildings and is a venue for concerts, plays and exhibitions.  There are guided tours in the summer months.  The stained glass windows include a reproduction of Follingby’s The Relief of Derry; the original is in the adjacent Harbour Museum.  This museum commemorates the city’s maritime tradition.  Artefacts include the Iona Curragh, used in 1963 by a crew of clerics to replicate Saint Colmcille’s journey to Iona.

At the Heritage Tower permanent exhibitions include The Story of Derry exhibition and the An Armada Shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera exhibition.  The museum also plays host to a range of other temporary exhibitions throughout the year.

The Museum of Free Derry focuses on the civil rights campaign which emerged in the 1960s and the Free Derry/early Troubles period of the early 1970s.  It is the people’s story of the civil rights movement, the battle of the Bogside, internment, Free Derry and Bloody Sunday.  Most of the 25,000 items were donated by local people.

St Columb’s Cathedral was built between 1628 and 1633.  The elegant tower and spire, can still be seen for miles around.

The Amelia Earhart Centre, a small interpretative centre is located on the outskirts of the city within the beautiful Ballyarnett natural park. The centre includes a recently renovated exhibition detailing the local aviation history, with particular reference to Amelia Earhart, who landed on the site in 1932, following her pioneering solo Trans – Atlantic flight. Visits are normally by appointment. Free Admission

Prehen House commands stunning views of Derry, the river Foyle and the hills beyond.  Records reveal that it was inhabited by 1640; in 1738 the Knox family began their great association with Prehen when Andrew Knox, the MP for Donegal married Honoria Tomkins, the Prehen heiress.  In Victorian times the colourful Colonel George Knox was one of Derry’s most eminent figures. But with World War I looming his grandson Baron George Carl Otto Louis von Scheffler Knox was put under house arrest. Soon after the 3,641 acre estate was seized as ‘enemy property’.

Magilligan Point guards the mouth of Lough Foyle and is home to Lough Foyle Ferry and Martello Tower.  There is a short beach walk through a National Nature Reserve which provides opportunities for visitors to explore the beach or spot birdlife and sealife.

Mountsandel Fort, is located just outside the town of Coleraine. It is the setting for the remains of one of the earliest known hunter-gatherer settlements in Ireland, dating from before 7000 BC.

Hezlett House built in 1691, is a long thatched cottage.  It is important because of its construction.  It was made with ‘crucks’ (frames of curved timber) which act as upright posts, and sloping rafters set straight on to a foundation of rock.  This was a quick of building in the 17th century.  Sometimes Planters brought the frames with them, ready for assembly – and we thought that flat pack was a modern invention! 😉 The house is restored and now opened to the public.

Mussenden Temple is located in the beautiful surroundings of Downhill Demesne.  Originally built as a library and dedicated to the Earl Bishop of Derry’s cousin, Mrs Mussenden, the Temple perches dramatically on a cliff top.

The Roe Valley, Limavady was the territory of the O’Cahans, and the O’Cahan’s Rock is one of the landmarks of the nearby Roe Valley Country ParkThe Londonderry Air was first written down here by Jane Ross, when she heard it being played by a street fiddler.  Limavady was the birthplace of William Massey (1856-1925),Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912 to 1925.

Dungiven Priory is an Augustinian priory with a 15th-century tomb of Cooey-na-Gall, an O’Cahan chief, who died in 1385. Free access to the priory. On the east side of Dungiven (A5) it can be reached on foot down a lane passing a wart well and rag tree.

Banagher Glen nature Reserve is one of the oldest ancient oak woodlands in Ireland. Located three miles from Dungiven it promises spectacular views whilst hill walking enthusiasts will enjoy a challenging 14km circular walk through a magnificent lake and forest.  The steep sides of the glens are clothed by mature trees, mostly oak and ash, as well as rowan, hazel, hawthorn and holly. Ferns and mosses thrive in damp shady nooks along the river banks.  It also contains Altnaheglish Reservoir, used for the supply of water to the surrounding area.

Garvagh Museum is situated in the walled garden of the former Garvagh Estate, the museum’s collections cover many aspects of rural and domestic life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Also blacksmith’s shop and displays of horse-drawn agricultural machinery. Stone Age artefacts from the Bann Valley. Boat from nearby eel fishery and farming implements. Jaunting car and Victoriana.

Tirnoney Dolmen, Archaeologists are to dig out a portal tomb in Northern Ireland for the first time in 50 years.  The collapse of Tirnony Dolmen near Maghera has produced a rare opportunity to discover what lies beneath — and exactly how old it is.

Bellaghy Bawn a 17th century fortified house and bawn (the defensive wall surrounding an Irish tower house), it was built by Sir Baptist Jones around 1619.  Bellaghy Bawn was opened to the public in 1996. Resources on site include a film made for the bawn, as well as a collection of exhibitions on local natural history, local history, and poetry by local Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney.

Moneymore Model Village is complete with figurines set in landscaped surroundings. The village depicts life in rural Ulster at the time of the plantation.

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 27

Tyrone

Tyrone is the largest county in Northern Ireland, with prehistoric sites, forest parks  and is great hiking country providing access to highest peaks of the beautiful Sperrin Mountains.   Sawel is the tallest at 678 m.  The Sperrins are a haven for hill walkers and cyclists.

Dungannon is a flourishing town that was once home to the O’Neills, kings of Ulster for 500 years.

Off the Dungannon-Ballygawley road at Dergenagh, is the ancestral home of Ulysses Grant, President of the US from 1869 to 1877.  The house, restored to its appearance of 1880, is set on a farm that is worked by traditional methods from that time.

Near Cookstown, you’ll find the 10th Century Ardboe Cross, it is believed to be the first High Cross of Ulster.  It measures 18.5 feet high and 3.5 feet wide with 22 panels depicting various biblical scenes.

Northeast of Cookstown is Springhill, a 17th century house, often described as the prettiest house in Ulster.  It is home to a costume museum dating from the 18th century to the 1930s.  Living history tours tell the tales of ten generations of the Lennox-Conyngham family.

Wellbrook, Corkhill, lies in a wooded valley.   As you come over the hill, the Beetling Mill comes into view beside the river.  It is the last working water-powered beetling mill in Northern Ireland.  The mill is a hive of activity when the machines are running, pounding the linen with heavy mallets to make it less porous.  Hands-on demonstrations are given by costumed guides of a cottage industry in the 19th century.

Drum Manor Forest Park is one is small but very attractive.  The tower and the ground floor walls of the early Victorian manor-house remain intact.  It opened as a forest park in 1970.  The manor-house was partially demolished in 1975 and a ‘Japanese’ garden was created within the ruins.  Part of the walled garden is designated as a butterfly garden. The Gardener’s House lies between the walled gardens and is in good repair.

The largest town in County Tyrone is Omagh sits high on a hill, it makes a great base for exploring the surrounding areas, including the picturesque Gortin Glen.  has a fine forest park with a herd of Japanese sika deer.  There are a variety of walks and at the entrance there is a stone seat beside a cool stream with the inscription ‘Rest and be Thankful’.

The Ulster History Park traces settlements from the Stone Age in Ireland to the Normans.  Full scale models of houses and monuments vividly recreate life of that time.

6kms from Gortin on the B48 road look out for the place known locally as Magnetic Hill, it gives the illusion that your car is travelling uphill, when it is really going downhill.

The nearby Ulster-American Folk Park, one of the country’s best museums, tells the story of Northern Ireland’s unique contribution to the ‘New World’.  The park combines the two cultures – Ulster’s tradition of emigration from the thatched cottage (the Old World), to the log cabin (The New World of America). There is a recreation of the brig, Union, an emigrant ship, where visitors can experience the dreadful conditions, smells, and sounds of a transatlantic passage.

Strabane a charming town, is home to Gray’s Printing Press on Main Street.  Behind the elegant façade you will find the story of ink, galleys, presses and emigration.  This is the place where John Dunlap, printer of the American Declaration of Independence, and James Wilson, grandfather of President  Woodrow Wilson, are said to have learned their trade.

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 26

Fermanagh

Fermanagh the county, derives its name from ‘Firmonach’. ‘the men of Monach’, a Celtic tribe that settled around the shores of the loughs in the early Christian era.  Evidence of the Celts abounds in the area, particularly in the enigmatic pagan stone idols of Boa island.  The two head figure of Janus in Caldragh Cemetry on Boa island was the inspiration for Seamus Heaney’s poem, ‘January God’, with the Celts believing that the head was the seat of the soul and the centre of man’s life force.  Another figure from nearby Lustymore Island, has only one fully carved eye suggesting that it represents Badhbha, or Divine Hag, the Celtic goddess of war.

The twin lakes of Lough Erne, Upper and Lower, are the jewel in Fermanagh’s crown and cover one-third of the county.  A perfect location for watersports; from fishing to waterskiing and cruising to canoeing this magnificent lake has it all. For the all round activity enthusiast there’s plenty to keep you occupied – caving, walking, cycling and horse-riding to name but a few.  For the golf fanatic  look no further, there are a wide range of golf courses for all strengths and abilities including Lough Erne Golf Resort with its Nick Faldo designed course.

Local folklore tells us that a graceful woman glides across Lower Lough Erne through the mists of May, clad in flowing garments and carrying a garland of wild flowers.  Her appearance is an omen of good times ahead and is celebrated at the Lady of the Lake Festival each July in Irvinestown.

Enniskillen is the County Town of Fermanagh, located almost exactly in the Centre of the County on the natural island which separates the Upper and Lower sections of Lough Erne. Enniskillen is perfect for that weekend shopping trip.  With an array of well known high street brands as well a quaint high street littered with boutiques, craft shops, cafes & restaurants you’ll be spoiled for choice.  The old Buttermarket has been made into a very attractive crafts and design centre, and the Ardhowen is a beautifully sited theatre with a varied programme.

The evocative Watergate on the lough is part of a castle that was used by the Maguires.  It subsequently became a Plantation strong house, and an 18th –century artillery barracks.  Now it houses the County Museum and the Regimental Museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Take a ferry from Trory to get to Devenish Island.  One of the most important monastic sites in Ulster founded by St Molaise in the 6th century.  The remarkable group of buildings to be seen are mostly from the 12th century.  The round tower was repaired in the 19th century.  The towers, famous symbols of Christianity in Ireland, acted as signposts, bell towers and places of refuge and retreat in attack, and a safe place for treasures during Viking raids.  The great Book Shrine of Molaise, which is a masterpiece of early Christian art, is now housed in the National Museum in Dublin.

Castle Archdale extending over 230 acres is located on the Eastern shore of Lower Lough Erne just 10 miles north west of Enniskillen.   It surrounds the demesne of the Archdale Manor House, built in 1773.  The Courtyard is complete with a visitor centre and World War 11 museum.  A very relaxing place, despite a massive camping and caravan site and a marina frequented by the ubiquitous cruisers. And what is an additional bonus for the tourist – you don’t have to bring anything, from boats to bicycles everything you need can be hired on the spot.  There are woodland and lough-shore walks, red deer enclosure, wildfowl ponds, nature trail, butterfly garden and wildflower meadow.

Belleek a village that borders with the republic of Ireland is famed for its fine parian china, best known for its delicate basketwork, shamrock decoration and lustre finish.  The range has expanded to include designer items alongside the classic patterns and visitors can tour the 1857 factory, see the best example of the china and watch exquisite craftsmanship use the skills handed down from generation to generation.  Then why not taste the fare in the restaurant  which is served on Belleek tableware!

One of the highlights of a visit to Fermanagh is the mysterious beauty of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark with over 300 million years of history is here among a strange landscape of chasms and valleys, amid stalactites and stalagmites.  You can glide along an underground river on electrically powered boats and explore winding passages and lofty chambers.  Powerful lighting reveals the beauty and grandeur of the magnificent caverns.

The county has three National Trust properties,

Castle Coole, is an 18th century mansion designed by James Wyatt, with beautifully landscaped gardens and stunning interiors including a State Bedroom prepared for George 1V. The wooded landscape park slopes down to Lough Coole and is ideal for long walks.

Crom Estate is considered to be one of the National Trust’s most important nature reserves as the largest area of woodland in Northern Ireland.  The old Castle Garden is also home to the ancient Yew Tree, named among the 50 greatest British trees.

Florence Court is noted for its rococo plasterwork and a fine collection of Irish furniture.  It was the home of the Enniskillen family, who moved from a castle in the county town to the wild and beautiful setting of the present 18th century house.  It was named in honour of a new English wife.  It is surrounded by a large area of parkland, gardens and woodland.

Fermanagh People:
John Armstrong (1717–1795), born in Fermanagh, United States Congressman
Denis Parsons Burkitt (1911–1993), doctor – discoverer of Burkitt’s lymphoma
Edward Cooney (1867–1960), evangelist and early leader of the Cooneyite and Go-Preachers
Bobby Kerr (1882–1963), athlete & Olympic Gold Medalist
Gordon Wilson (1927–1995), Peace campaigner and Irish senator

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 25

After a couple of weeks break, I return to continue the tour around the 6 Counties of Northern Ireland.

Armagh

Armagh is known as the garden of Ireland and considered the spiritual capital for 1,500 years and the seat of both the Protestant and Catholic archbishops, the venerable city of Armagh predates Canterbury as a Christian religious site. Armagh was also the legendary seat of the Celtic kings of Ulster. It has a vibrant city, with hospitable people and great attractions.

In the City of Armagh itself are the two Cathedrals of St Patrick – the Church of Ireland Saint Patrick established his first stone church, on the site where the cathedral stands today, in 445 ad and decreed that Armagh should have pre-eminence over all Irish churches. Armagh, like Navan Fort (Emain Macha) takes its name from the Celtic Goddess Macha – Ard Mhacha means ‘Macha’s Height’.  The present cathedral was first built in the 13th century and has been rebuilt several times, most recently between 1834 and 1840. Around the cathedral was built one of the most famous of the great Irish Monastic Schools to which students came from all over Europe.  Brian Bórú, the last Ard Rí or High King of Ireland (arguably the only one who actually controlled the entire country) is buried here. He was murdered after the Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday, 1014 ad.   On the neighbouring hill is the Roman Catholic Cathedral begun 1840.

In the City Centre beside the Tourist Information Centre is St Patrick’s Trian Visitor Complex where you can explore the history of the settlement since pagan times and  unlock the secrets of the Book of Armagh, a ninth century manuscript containing the life of St Patrick.  Nearby, in Market Square is the modern Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre.

Francis Johnston, the best architect in Ireland at the time, built the Courthouse and a house that is now the Bank of Ireland, and Archbishop Richard Robinson laid out the  magnificent oval tree-lined Mall with elegant Georgian buildings surrounding it in the centre of the city, cricket is played here in the summer. He also founded the cathedral Library and the Observatory, and built the Archbishop’s Palace, now the council offices.  In the grounds are a superb 18th-century chapel, by Francis Johnston, and a 13th-century friary, and there is a heritage centre in the stables.  Along the Mall is the county museum.

Armagh Public library was founded in 1771 by Archbishop Richard Robinson and is the oldest public library in Northern Ireland.  It is home to some 500 years of books many from the Archbishop’s own collection of 17th & 18th century books on theology, philosophy, classic and modern literature, voyages, history, medicine and law.  It includes a first edition of Gulliver’s Travels containing Swift’s own handwritten notes (1726).

The Armagh Observatory is a modern astronomical research institute with a rich heritage. Founded in 1790, the Observatory has around 25 astronomers actively studying Stellar Astrophysics, the Sun, Solar System astronomy, and the Earth’s climate. The Observatory is funded by major grants from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for Northern Ireland and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Palace Stables Heritage Centre – a restored Georgian stable block situated next to the impressive Primate’s Palace, formerly the home of the Archbishops of the Church of Ireland from 1770 until 1970s.  Guided tours can be organised by arrangement, costumed interpreters recreate both the grandeur and the squalor of the Georgian period.

Armagh City and District cover roughly mid County Armagh and the area is rich in places of historical, cultural and industrial archaelogical interest:

The site of the Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598) a little north of the City or the sites of the Battle of the Daimond (1795) where one can visit Dan Winters’ Cottage and Dan Winters Ancestral Home as well as nearby Loughgall where the Orange Order was founded after the battle.  Scenic drivestake you along country roads to visit the apple blossom county around Loughgall in early May or stopping off at the two National Trust properties in the area – The Argory and Ardresss Houses near to Moy/Charlemont.
During the years the areas has many cultural, music and sporting festival.  So everyone both local and visitor alike will usually find something to interest them.

Keady and Milford grew in the 19th Centre on the Strength of the linen industry.  Markethill and Tandragee have castle seats of the landed gentry – Markethills, now closed is in the picturesque Gosford Forest Park while Tandragee Castle now houses a potato crisp factory.

Tynan Cross stands by the roadside, opposite the churchyard wall in the pretty village of Tynan. It dates to the 8th or 9th century and is highly ornamented. Like many crosses of its kind in Ulster, it consists of a number of fragments of different crosses mounted on top of one another. According to tradition Cromwell’s soldiers vandalised the earlier crosses. the village Celtic Cross is from the 8th Centrury and there are other crosses in nearby Tynan Abbey Estate (private property).

Derrymore House & Gardens spread over 48 acres of parkland.  There are a variety of walks ,but the house is currently closed.  It is an elegant thatched cottage, built in the late 18th century by Issac Corry and believed to be where the details of the Act of Union were drafted.

The Ring of Guillion is an area of outstanding beauty in the south of the county, sites of interest include Kilnasaggart Inscribed Stone and Moyry Castle built in 1601 to secure the mountain pass known as the Gap of the North.

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 24

County Down

County down has a coastline along Belfast Lough to the north and Carlingford Lough to the south (both of which have access to the sea). Strangford Lough lies between the Ards Peninsula and the mainland.  County Down is where, in the words of the famous song by Percy French, “The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea“, and they are renowned for their beauty. Slieve Donard (2,785 ft) in the Mournes, is the highest peak in Northern Ireland.

The Ards Peninsula is home to many treasures that include Mount Stewart House, built in the 18th century and now owned by the National Trust.  Set in an exotic garden it houses a fine collection of art and furniture.

Greyabbey is a small village situated on the western shores of Strangford Lough, on the Ards Peninsula. Grey Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey, from which Greyabbey probably derives its name, was founded here in 1193 A.D, is located on the northern edge of the village nestling in a beautiful park land surrounding. Unfortunately Grey Abbeys’ annals do not survive but what little history is known is non-the less intriguing. Full details and a picture gallery of the Abbey can be found here.

Portaferry is a small village at the tip of the Ards Peninsula with an attractive waterfront of colourful terraced cottages, pubs and shops. The Marine Biology Station, part of Queen’s University, Belfast, is situated opposite the ferry jetty.  Close to the tower-house is the Northern Ireland Aquarium – Exploris, a premier marine life centre and aquarium, featuring walk-through tanks which house examples of Strangford Lough’s marine inhabitants.  The lough is host to large fish, including tope and skate.  A regular 5 minute car-ferry service links Portaferry with Strangford and gives stunning views of the lough.

Sweet Portaferry Author Unknown
You may gaze from green mountains across the bright seas,
Where wonder and pleasement are taking their ease.
You may search the world over from there to Japan,
Transported with nature and the glory of man.
But why should man toil foreign lands to explore,
When wonder and pleasement are here at the door,

Strangford is a small village with two bays, pretty houses and a castle  Castle Ward is an 18th-century eccentric house with two distinctly different styles, classical and Gothic. This 332-hectare (820-acre) walled demesne, with walking trails, exotic garden, stunning vistas and picturesque farmyard, will take you through family history, leisure pursuits, events and industrial heritage. A children’s pastimes centre and laundry room are a short walk from the house in the stableyard, alongside a gift shop, second-hand bookshop and tea-room.

Killyleagh Castle, I was fortunate to have a private tour of the castle a few years ago.  It was lovely to visit an occupied home like this.

The Gardens and Tropical Butterfly House are situated in the historic demense of Seaforde in County Down,   which has been a family home for almost 400 years. Experience the beauty of free-flying tropical butterflies, visit Irelands oldest maze or relax and enjoy the fine collection of trees and plants in the gardens.

Down is named after its county town, Downpatrick.  Saint Patrick is reputed to be buried at Down Cathedral circa 461 AD.  The Memorial Stone placed there in 1912, traditionally marks Patrick’s grave.  There has been a church on the site since 520 AD.  The present building was built in 1183 as a Benedictine Monastery, it has been restored many times and became a Church of Ireland/Anglican Cathedral in 1609.  The building contains beautiful stained glass and rare stone carvings.

St Patrick Centre & Down County Museum tells the story of our patron saint.  It is situated in the historic buildings of the 18th century Goal of Down and has hands on activities and lively events.

The area of County Down between Rathfriland and Banbridge, is known as the Brontë Homeland where Patrick Brontë had his church, he was father of Anne, Charlotte, Emily Brontë, and Branwell Bronte. Patrick was born in this region.

Castlewellan Forest Park offers diverse woodland in an area of natural beauty.  A peace maze opened in 2001. The circular walk around the lake in front of the Castle is particularly good.  The Castle is now a Christian Conference Centre.

The author C.S. Lewis loved the Mournes and it is thought that he based his depiction of Narnia on the peaks, valleys and forests of these ancient mountains.  The silent valley reservoir is circled by the range and is home to beautiful parkland, lakes and a pond.  A shuttle bus runs from the car park to the older Ben Crom reservoir during the months of May, June and September.

Tollymore Forest park  was the first state forest park in Northern Ireland, established in1955. It is located at Bryansford, near the town of Newcastle. Covering an area of 630 hectares at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, the forest has four walking trails signposted by different coloured arrows, the longest being the “long haul trail” at 8 miles long. The Shimna River flows through the park.  . The Forest Park is now owned and run by the Forest Service NI, part of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 23

Belfast Part 2 and surrounding areas.

The Odyssey Complex at the Titanic Quarter, is home to the W5 exhibition, Imax cinema, sporting, concert, ice rink, and ice hockey arena.  It is home to the Belfast Giants.  Located on the bank of the River Lagan, it is the Northern Ireland Landmark Millennium Project and provides spectacular views of Belfast and the River and is only a short walk from Belfast City Centre.

The Ulster Orchestra was formed in 1966 and it has established itself as one of the major symphony orchestras in the United Kingdom. Its main concert season takes place in the Ulster Hall and the Belfast Waterfront Hall.

From its earliest years The Ulster Hall has played host to famous figures of the age; from Jenny Lind and Caruso to Charles Dickens and John McCormack, from Lord Carson and the Dalai Lama to Barry McGuigan and the Rolling Stones.

The Mulholland Grand Organ in the Ulster Hall, is named in honour of former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Andrew Mulholland, who donated it to the hall in the 1860s. It was built by William Hill & Son and donated after the hall was officially opened. In the late 1970s, the organ was extensively restored to Hill’s own original design.  During World War II, the Ulster Hall was used extensively as a dance hall providing entertainment for the US troops based in the province. Mysteriously, a shipment of American white oak planking arrived in Belfast to refurbish the dance floor.

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Bangor Road, Cultra, Co Down, is set in over 170 acres of rolling countryside, in the grounds of Cultra Manor.  This outdoor museum tells the story of life in early 20th century Ulster.  It is home to almost 50 exhibits that have been restored and authentically furnished. Visitors are free to wander through former Ulster homes, which include a thatched cottage, a rectory and a terraced house. A church, schoolhouse, water powered mills and many other buildings give a vivid picture of the past. The Transport  exhibits range from historic Titanic photographs to a 120 ton steel schooner, vertical take-off Short’s SC1 to a Belfast-built De Lorean sports car.   Together they form one of the largest and widest ranging transport collections in Europe – a collection that is of national and international importance.

The Hill family built the village of Hillsborough, starting with the fort in 1650.  It is a fine example of an artillery fort, but with pretty additions in the 18th Century.  The village is renowned for its beautiful castle, its fine restaurants and Georgian houses.  Many of the buildings in the village date from the 18th century. St Malachy’s Parish Church was built by the Marquis of Downshire between 1760 and 1774 in the hope that it would become the Cathedral of Down.  There is also a forest park with many walks running through it and a lake which is popular with anglers.  You can just spend a day walking round the village looking at the many beautiful and historical buildings, pop into one of the many village shops, to the coffee shops or even have a pub lunch washed down by a pint of the Black Stuff.   Hillsborough Castle is a late 18th Century mansion house used as a venue for government hospitality and to accommodate significant guests to Northern Ireland.  Members of the Royal family are regular visitors to Hillsborough Castle.

Crawfordsburn Country Park at Helen’s Bay is situated on the southern shores of Belfast Lough. It is full of variety, featuring 3.5.km of coastline, often rugged and rocky, the two best beaches in the Belfast area, a deep wooded glen with an impressive waterfall at its head, a pond and wildflower meadows with excellent views over the Lough. The Park also includes Grey Point Fort, a coastal battery and gun emplacement dating from early this century and updated during World War 2.
Nearby the Old Inn, Crawfordsburn is one of the Oldest Hotels in Ireland the perfect spot for a Victorian Tea beautifully presented in traditional old fashioned style for a little afternoon treat.

♣♥♦♣♥♦

Moving back through the City to the north side of Belfast Lough, and on to Carrickfergus.

Carrickfergus Castle is one of Northern Ireland’s most striking monuments whether you approach it from land, sea, or air. With over 800 years of history behind it. today it is open to the public.  Apart from its initial construction, there have been a number of alterations to the castle over the course of its history.  After use as a prison in the 18th century it was further strengthened and served as a magazine and armoury until 1928. Cannons from the 17th to 19th centuries are on show in the castle, while the keep houses historical and other displays.

Andrew Jackson Cottage at 2 Boneybefore, Carrickfergus, is the ancestral home of Andrew Jackson, 7th US President 1829-1837.  A US Rangers’ Centre, in the grounds of the Jackson Centre, has an exhibition on the First Battalion US Rangers, raised in Carrickfergus in 1942

Patterson Spade Mill at Templepatrick, is now in the hands of the National Trust and it is where you can hear the hammers, smell the grit and feel the heat of traditional spade-making. Guided tours vividly capture life during the Industrial Revolution.  You might discover the origin of the phrase ‘a face as long as a Lurgan spade’.

The historic Borough of Antrim retains much of its natural beauty and boasts a wealth of natural attractions.  Lough Neagh and its tributary rivers provide opportunities for water-sports, scenic walks and some of Northern Ireland’s best kept angling secrets.
Antrim Castle Gardens & Clothworthy House. Clotworthy Arts Centre was built in the 1840s as a coach house and stables for Antrim Castle. It was once the centre of a thriving farm and consists of an enclosed central courtyard flanked by two wings built in a neo-Tudor style. It has been restored as an arts centre providing exhibition and meeting spaces.
Shane’s Castle was the family seat of the O’Neills of Clandeboy. It has recently been sold.  The link will tell you about the restoration work.

Antrim Round Tower was built around the 10th century and is one of the finest of its kind in Ireland. It is 28 metres tall and was built as part of a monastic settlement.

Pogue’s Entry – this historic corner of 18th century Antrim contains the childhood home of Alexander Irvine, who became a missionary in New York’s Bowery and eventually pastor of the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue. His book “My Lady of The Chimney Corner” recalls his boyhood years in Pogue’s Entry and describes the lives of Irish country folk during the post-famine days.

Cranfield Holy Well on the shores of Lough Neagh at Churchtown Point lie the ruins of an ancient 13th century Irish Church and St Olcan’s Holy Shrine. Within a few yards east of the church is a holy well, which provides fine spring water and amber coloured pebbles. Pilgrims who visited collected seven ordinary stones to count ‘the rounds’. They recited prayers and walked barefoot seven times round the church, dropping one stone at the door each time. This was repeated seven times around the well. When all the rounds were completed the pilgrim bathed in water from the well.

On a hilltop close to Doagh is a Bronze Age megalith known as The Holestone.  Couples used to promise marriage by clasping hands through the hole in the stone. There is a legend regarding a black horse that inhabits the field in which the holestone is situated. According to this legend a young couple were married at the stone, but the groom committed an act of adultery on their wedding night. For this act he was cursed by the stone to spend eternity as a horse, never dying, and never able to leave that field.

Nick this map of Lough Neagh looks like you can drive all the way round the Lough.

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 22

This week we move over that invisible border to a different country, yet we keep our little footsies dry by staying on the same Island.

NORTHERN IRELAND (UK) HAS 6 COUNTIES.

They include (in an anti-clockwise direction): Down, Antrim, Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh.
Once you visit, you’ll want to return. It is compact and accessible and a land of immense variety, from wave swept coastal drives, hazy mountains, vast open moorland, Loughs and glassy lakes that are heavy with fish. There are an abundance of parks, gardens, historic homes and you can trace back the footsteps along St Patrick’s Trail back to the Jaus Figures in Caldragh Cemetery on Boa Island.

BELFAST Part 1

Today we begin in Belfast City,  where old and new go hand in hand. The city is rich in buildings from the prosperous Victorian age. Belfast City Hall,  built in Portland stone and completed in 1906, to mark the award of city status by Queen Victoria. It took eight years to build and cost nearly twice its original budget. Designed by Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas and built in the classical Renaissance style. Marble from Greece and Italy was used for the halls and staircase. The dome is 53m high. Figures above the door are ‘Hibernia encouraging and promoting the Commerce and Arts of the City’.

The Linen Hall Library at 17 Donegall Square North is a truly unique institution. Founded in 1788, it is the oldest library in Belfast and the last subscribing library in Ireland. It is renowned for its unparalleled Irish and Local Studies Collection, ranging from comprehensive holdings of Early Belfast and Ulster printed books to the 250,000 items in the Northern Ireland Political Collection, the definitive archive of the recent troubles.

There has been a Friday market on the St. George’s site since 1604. The present St. George’s Market, built 1890-1896, is one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. As well as being home to some of the finest fresh produce, with customers travelling near and far to sample the delights of Friday and Saturday markets, it has become one of the City’s most popular places to visit. Since its £4.5m refurbishment in 1997, this charming Victorian building offers one of the most vibrant and colourful destinations that Belfast has to offer.

The restored Grand Opera House, in Great Victoria Street, is a masterpiece of Victorian theatre architecture and is just along from the Europa Hotel, once known as The “Worlds Most Bombed Hotel” after being bombed by the IRA Several Times during the troubles. It has hosted presidents, prime ministers and celebrities, including President Bill Clinton during his visits to Belfast in 1995 and 1998.

On the opposite sides of the Street is one of the finest remaining examples of a Victorian gin palace, the Crown Liquor Saloon.  It is famous for its gas lamps, cosy snugs, fine ales and lunchtime cuisine. Built around 1895 by Michael Flanagan on the site of a former Railway Tavern.

St Anne’s Cathedral is built on the site of St Anne’s church. The church existed from 1776 until 1903, when it was demolished. The foundation stone for the Cathedral was laid by the Countess of Shaftsbury in 1899. The work was completed in 2007, when its Spire of Hope was installed. Enter the Great West Door and a black and white marble maze is at your feet. Choose the black path (sin) and follow it to a dead end, or take the white path (virtue) to the sanctuary, the heart of the church. Services are held on Sundays.

The Thompson Titanic Trail takes in the Thompson Dock and Pump House where the celebrated HMS Titanic had its final fitting out.  It is also possible to take a self guided multimedia walking tour starting from the Welcome centre.

Queen’s University is a public research university in Belfast.  Queen’s Visitor Centre is located in the heart of the university in the red-brick Lanyon building, named after its architect, Sir Charles Lanyon. It serves as an information point for visitors and tourist.

Botanic Gardens was first established in 1828.  With its unique glasshouses, collections of tropical plants, outdoor planting and mature trees the gardens have been enjoyed as a public park since 1895. There is an extensive rose garden and long herbaceous borders and the tree enthusiast can seek out the rare oaks planted in the 1880s, including the hornbeam-leafed oak. It is now venue for a wide range of events from band performances, pop concerts, and opera to enchanted illuminated evenings and the annual Garden Gourmet.

In 1998, the Ulster Museum, which includes Armagh County Museum, merged with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster American Folk Park to form the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Museum is located in the Botanical Gardens and has around 8,000 square metres of pblic display space, featuring material from collections of Fine Art and Applied Art, Archaeology, Ethnography, Local History, Industrial Archaeology, Botany, Zoology and Geology.

The Parliament Buildings, known as Stormont because of its location in the Stormont area, about 6 miles from Belfast, is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive. It previously housed the old Parliament of Northern Ireland, It is a very impressive building designed in the neo-classical style, with an exterior clad in Portland stone on a plinth of granite from the Mourne Mountains in County Down. The building is 365 feet wide and 90 feet high (to the top of the Britannia statue). The interior is based on the House of Commons in Westminster with a grand central meeting hall linking the two debating chambers. Tours are available by invitation of elected Members of the Assembly.

Belfast Castle towers 400 feet above sea level. Designed by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon in Scottish Baronial style and built with sandstone for the third Marquis of Donegall in 1870. Situated high up on the slopes of Cave Hill in North Belfast the castle and grounds were presented to the City of Belfast in 1934.

If time is limited I suggest a tour by open-top bus, black taxi, walking or boat.

Famous People

  • Sir James Galway grew up in a small house in North Belfast. It was a very musical household. His father James, a riveter with Harland and Wolff, was a talented piano-accordion player and he had learned the flute from his own father also called James.
  • Born Clive Staples Lewis on November 29 1898 in Belfast, his fictional work included The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy.
  • Mary McAleese President of Ireland is not the only state president to have been born in Belfast.
  • Chaim Herzog, 6th President of Israel from 1983 to 1993 was born at Clifton Park Avenue the son of a Belfast Rabbi.
  • Sir James Martin invented the aircraft ejector seat at Shorts Aircraft Factory it pioneered Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircrafts in the 50’s.
  • George Best lived in Cregagh, he spent every waking moment kicking a ball. The rest is history.