Friday, September 17, 2010

More Northern Delights - from the Giant's Causeway to the Western Seaboard

On the final leg of our trip to Donegal we did some sightseeing in the North of Ireland (the UK part is Capitalised to distinguish it from the north of Ireland - which would be Donegal and the border counties of Ulster in the Irish Republic - oh, it's complicated if you don't know it already, I'm not going there in this post!)

It's often said there are two topics one should avoid in Northern Ireland - religion and politics - as they are the elephants in the room. What I do find is that I am trying to assess someone's position on both so I don't make a major faux pas in conversation. The clues are often easy to follow - just being introduced to someone can give a clue - an Irish-sounding name is generally a Catholic with probable nationalist sentiments, while an Anglo name is probably Protestant/Loyalist leanings.

That's the sort of thing living in Ireland over the decades of the euphemistically-named "Troubles" teaches you - that you can pigeonhole someone in a nano-second with the most ephemeral clue - and it still baffles hubby that we can do that - he thinks it's stereotyping -and he's right, but then so am I! At least now that a tenuous peace has been restored in the North since power-sharing those dark days are gone but they've left a horrendous legacy which you never escape as there are reminders everywhere - as I wrote on Derry two posts back.

We left Donegal and via Derry we went to the most magical place in Northern Ireland and one of the most beautiful in the whole island - the Giant's Causeway on the Atlantic coast. Legend has it that Finn McCool used the causeway as stepping stones to Scotland. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site - I think the only N. Ireland one and there are two in the Republic. (Skellig Michael and Newgrange/The Boyne Valley).

Basalt columns make up the Causeway and they are beautifully symmetrical polygons - mainly hexagons. It's free to visit but you pay £6 to park the car! We didn't walk the entire site - just down the road to the rocks and walked out onto them - and enjoyed the views and the landscape. It was a bit showery but generally the day was great and sunny, and we got some great photos.

We went back to Ireland via Strabane and headed through Co. Donegal towards Sligo - another lovely county. We went on another detour to Mullaghmore and saw the village where Lord Mountbatten owned Classiebawn Castle and where he was assassinated by the IRA in 1979 - a horrific mass-murder on one of the worst days of the Troubles when 18 British soldiers were also blown up by the IRA in an ambush in Warrenpoint. Sligo's iconic mountain, Ben Bulben, famed in W.B. Yeats's poetry, towers over every vista in the county, and it's a beautiful table mountain.

The light was wonderful as the evening sun was shining through rainbow-scattered skies between the sunshowers, and we were heading south-west for Co. Mayo, which made driving into the setting sun a bit of a challenge for hubby while I snapped and clicked both our cameras. We'd phoned ahead to book a room for the night in the Hotel Westport, thanks to the Garmin's hotel guide which I knew would come in useful one day! Thanks to the recession, rates were good for B&B in a 4* hotel even though I slept too late to have a swim the next morning - as I'd stayed awake watching two films back to back on telly - Witness (love that Amish film!) and a Nicholas Cage black comedy The Weather Man (a spectacular cinema flop by all accounts but I enjoyed it - love male menopause movies!)

Next day we drove home via Connemara and the Western Seaboard of Co. Mayo and Galway, and enjoyed the wild rugged mountain scenery of Delphi and Leenane at Killary Harbour which is Ireland's only fjord, in the true sense of the word - although we in Waterford claim to have one - hence the Ford in the name. We drove around the famous Reek - Croagh Patrick, the pilgrimage mountain that draws thousands of climbers in bare feet on Reek Sunday every July, and enjoyed the views to Achill Island across Clew Bay with its 365 islands - though I don't know who's counted them! In Connemara we saw Kylemore Abbey and the lake, and headed for Galway via Oughterard.

It was a lovely trip home and we arrived back in Lismore that evening, having driven from Galway via Limerick's new bypass tunnel under the River Shannon, which will make life a lot easier for airport-bound travellers who had to run the gauntlet of Limerick city centre en route to Shannon airport for years - last year hubby took 3 hours to get through the city in a bad gridlock day when he was coming to collect us when we returned from hols in Spain.

I still had two more days of hols before I had to return to work which made for a nice short week, and I am enjoying the balmy September days before the autumn kicks in - already it's
dark by 8pm and I miss the long bright evenings.

Photos are a mix of hubby's and mine:
  • Both of us @ the Giant's Causeway
  • The Giant's Causeway
  • Ben Bulben
  • Classiebawn Castle
  • Killary Harbour (Mayo-Galway border)
  • Sheep crossing at Doolough, Delphi, Co. Mayo
  • Kylemore Abbey and Lake, Connemara


Jeannette StG said...

Beautiful country! Thanks for the tip how to avoid taking sides:):)

Jane said...

Stunning photos! Sounds like an amazing trip. I remember when Lord Mountbatten was killed. Dark day.
Nights drawing in here too. Thoughts are turning to pumpkins, soup and knitting by the fire!

Ann said...

I am so envious. I have been trying to get to the Giants Causeway and Newgrange forever! I think I will just insist next summer or throw a tantrum! Your photos are wonderful. What a wonderful staycation you have had. Will have to pick your brains about places to stay when I get back home next summer.

Oh and I must check out that Weatherman flick too! Thanks for the tip. Have a wonderful weekend.

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Unknown said...

Northern Ireland has to be one of the most beautiful places in the whole world. I'd love to get there some day. Having grown up in the East, I'm patial to lush green landscapes. I especially loved the pictures of the Basault Columns. Thanks for sharing.

Catherine said...

Thanks for your comments - nice to see a bit of gender balance here!
Jeannette - yes it helps to know when to keep your opinions to yourself - and anything could be a flashpoint in such a volatile setting!

WTK - yes it was an amazing trip and I'm really glad we went there- I was in Bangladesh when Mountbatten was killed and news filtering in was very scarce - all I know is that as Irish citizens we kept the head down and didn't go to any parties or club nights for quite some time - there was a horrendous anti-Irish backlash particularly in British circles which we all fell victim to, however unfairly. But that's what the Troubles did - divide communities and rule by intimidation and coercion.

Ann - you must put it on your bucket list or at least go there next year! Newgrange I haven't made yet but I did go to another Passage Grave in Meath which is just as old but not as tidied up - and I forget the name of it. It has a solstice light chamber too. I like the staycation term - hadn't thought of it! As for staying up there - we found hotels reasonable for a short break - Buncrana was about €40pp for B&B and Westport was €110 for B&B on a Sat. night which was fair enough for a 4* hotel - pre-booking would get you better deals I'd say. I enjoyed the Weatherman - funny and chaotic dopy guy!

Ben - thanks for dropping by - lovely to get new visitors. Hope you become a follower of my blog! All of Ireland is beautiful but the North has a rugged beauty on the coast. Why is Ireland so lush?All that rain!!! The Basalt in the Giant's Causeway is spectacular and I'd certainly love to go back. I must visit your blog now and follow it!

All the best, Catherine
All the best

Janet said...

Hello Catherine - so nice to read about your travels and see the photos. Ian and I wanted to take a holiday in the West before we departed for Seattle, but alas in the end Once Ian got his visa we just came straight over from Dublin. I particularly wanted to visit the Aran Islands again. Oh well, we'll have to return.

Catherine said...

Hi Janet - glad you enjoyed the travel posts and there are a lot more photos on Facebook if you are on that too. Yes, now you have a reason to return to see the Aran Islands - I've never been there at all and I live here! It's definitely on my to see list. Nice to see your blog too.
All the best ,Catherine

Tilly said...

Wow, that's an amazing stretch of coastline. Fabulous photo's.