The Antrim Coast to Belfast

Last night we stayed at the Ballygally Castle Hotel in Ballygally.  The hotel has three items of interest: it dates from 1625 (the rooms are renovated to modern standards), it has a ghost and the Dining Room door is made of wood from the trees from the Dark Hedges of the Games of Thrones  that had to be cut down due to disease.

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Continuing around the Antrim Coast, we went past the huge Norman castle at Carrickfergus, and arrived in the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast very early. An excellent local guide gave us a panoramic tour of the city seeing amongst other sites,  Queen’s University, Stormont and the Belfast Murals.

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In our free time, we visited the Titanic Belfast, a state of the art visitor centre and birthplace of the Titanic. I can highly recommend this, but you need at least two hours to see it properly. Our tour ended today and I fly home tomorrow.

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Londonderry and Giant’s Causeway

 

We started the day with a tour on and around the wall of Londonderry/Derry as it is officially known. Last night there were demonstrations and we saw the remains of a giant bonfire that had been set alight in the early hours of the morning. We had been advised not to walk around the town last evening as the  demonstrations were expected.  We went through the Bogside where the “troubles” were remembered in large murals painted on the sides of buildings. There is now a Peace Bridge across the River Foyle. 

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We then went to the legendary Giant’s Causeway, a geological masterpiece created by 60 million years of the cooling and shrinking of lava which formed the hexagonal columns seen today. The local people have myths and legends about the creation of the site and they also believe that there is magic in the stones.

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We then went to admire the beautiful Dark Hedges. This stunning avenue of  beech trees, planted in the 18th century, is more recently known as the Kings Road from Game of Thrones. Apparently the road will be closed off next year as the trees are dying from natural causes and the added stress caused by the number of visitors to the site.

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The Road to Derry

 

Today was a rainy day but we spent most of it on the bus heading to Derry. Our first stop was at the Shrine of Our Lady at Knock. It was convenient as a rest stop but for Catholics it is an important shrine. On August 21, 1879 fifteen people witnessed the Apparition of Our Lady. Two commissions of Enquiry in 1879 and 1936 found the testimony to be believable. Every Pope since Pope Pius XII has recognized Knock in some way.  Many miraculous cures have been reported at the shrine.

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We continued on to County Sligo, stopping at a peaceful churchyard in Drumcliffe to visit the final resting place of Ireland’s famous poet, William Butler Yeats.

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Finally, en route to Londonderry in Northern Ireland,  we passed the castle formerly owned by Lord Louis Mountbatten and the marina where he was killed by IRA bombers.

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Aran Islands, Ireland

 

After a wild storm last night, the day gave us clear skies for our visit to the Aran Islands. The islands are a highlight on the Wild Atlantic Way.  We took a forty minute ferry ride to the island where we boarded mini buses for a ride to  Dun Aonghasa, a stone fortification that has some evidence of existence back to 1100 BC and subsequent colonization as late as 1000 CE. It appears to have been built over several different eras and was slowly abandoned as hill forts became peripheral to social and economic development.  The first photo shows the long climb to the top which is over very rough terrain. The remaining photos are taken inside the fort and also show views from the fort of the cliffs and surrounding area.

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Our second stop was at the place known as Seven Churches. In fact there are not seven churches on the site as the photos show.  There are in fact only two churches with a number of other buildings. The title seven is possibly an allusion to the pilgrimage circuit of Rome which incorporated seven churches. It was also known was for centuries as one of the biggest monastic foundations and centres of pilgrimage along the west coast of Ireland. 

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The remainder of the tour was spent looking at the scenery and the remains of smallholdings on the island. The island is essentially rock. Loose stones were cleared from the land and used to make fences. Layers of seaweed and sand were placed on the fields over the centuries to grow food. It is exceptionally good for potatoes. During the potato famine, people from the mainland emigrated to the Aran Islands to farm as the potato blight did not spread to the islands. At one time there may have been 5000 occupants on the island but now there are only about 500 people living there.  The occupants also used to fish until the EU placed a moratorium on fishing around the islands. There are five sandy beaches on the islands. People were in swimming today though it was only about 15C.

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The Cliffs of Moher then on to Galway

 

Leaving our hotel located on the Shannon River on the outskirts of Limerick, we travelled to Limerick itself where we saw the Treaty Stone  and the medieval King John’s Castle.

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We then carried on to the 700-foot Cliffs of Moher on the Clare Coast. The walkways were either to the left or right and the view was terrific either direction. I went up to the left and did about an hours walk along the cliffs.  The Aran Islands were visible in the distance. We visit them tomorrow.

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En route to Galway we drove through the rocky landscape of the Burren toward Galway Bay. The landscape before you showed limestone terraces, green fields, hazel scrub and glacial till. This is the first example of this type of landscape that we have seen. We also saw some ruins of old Irish Castles.

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On arrival in Galway, we took a guided walking tour of the city. It was very crowded with  Sunday shoppers.  We started with the Lynch Memorial and Church of St. Nicholas, where Christopher Columbus reputedly prayed before his discovery of America. This church was originally a Templar church but it was later completely ransacked by Cromwell’s forces. However, the original interior of the church survives. There is a grave of a woman named Jane Eyre in the church. She is thought to be the inspiration for the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  We also walked through Eyre Square, dedicated to the late US President, John F Kennedy who gave a speech there in 1963.

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Ring of Kerry Experience

Yesterday we took an excursion around the Ring of Kerry. Here, mountains, valleys, lakes and sea blend into a beautiful landscape with sweeping sea views. Unfortunately it rained hard and constantly and very few pictures turned out.

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We had most of the afternoon at leisure and I walked around the town and part of the National Park  including Killarney House and Gardens.

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We started today with a  ride on a horse-drawn jaunting car with the local ‘Jarveys’ . We went through the National Park and it was a picturesque and enjoyable ride. I have pictures of the old Ross Castle and the gatekeeper’s house with its thatched roof.

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Following the ride, we headed off to the Dingle Peninsula.  The weather was nice and the scenery was beautiful.  We stopped to see some prehistoric ‘beehive’ huts and ruins of an ancient fort.  People were surfing in the cold water wearing wet suits. En route to our country hotel on the River Shannon, we saw some cute thatched cottages.

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Blarney Castle and Killarney

 

Today was a relatively easy day. We started with a visit to the ruins of Blarney Castle. As most people know, the idea is to hang upside down from the ramparts to kiss the stone and ensure a lifetime of eloquence.  The idea of actually kissing the stone did not appeal to me but it is acceptable to just blow a kiss.  Afterward, I walked around the gardens. We then went on to do an orientation tour around the university city of Cork. It was also our lunch stop and, except for the local market, I did not find Cork particularly interesting. We then crossed the Derrynasaggart Mountains to the town of Killarney. The mountains here resembled the barren mountains in the Scottish Highlands.  In the evening,  we went to a local B&B where chef John Sheehan, who is an award winning chef and also a culinary instructor, showed us how to make a classic Irish tea cake.  We then had an excellent dinner of beef stew made by the chef and his wife Freda to end the day.  

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