Northern Ireland

Alison visited Northern Ireland with her parents in an attempt to track down information on her mother’s family history. While there, they visited the incredible Giant’s Causeway and the crumbling Dunluce Castle. They made a quick trip to the Bushmills Distillery, to find a treat for Andrew and stayed at a quirky B&B in the countryside.

They also visited Gray’s Printing Museum and the Lifford Gaol, in Donegal, before heading back to Dublin for their flight home to Brussels.

All Articles about Northern Ireland

The Irish Coast with Dunluce Castle

After the whirlwind driving tour of Europe, I feared that the rest of my parents stay could be a bit of a let down for them. This was not to be the case.

We had Monday to rest and recover. Tuesday Andrew was back to work and Mom, Dad and I were on a Ryanair flight to Dublin. If you recall, this was my second such flight in under a month and I was looking forward to going to an entirely different part of Ireland.

The flight was painless and we arrived in Dublin with little fuss. The now famous David was there to meet us and take us to our home for the next two nights. We jumped into his brand-spanking-new Mercedes van and headed north… to Northern Ireland – Strabane, Co. Tyrone to be exact.

Before I go too far, I should explain why we were making this rather out of the way detour from mainland Europe.

Like half of the population of North America, my mother has traced some of her roots back to Ireland. It was only weeks before this trip (around about the time Sue and I were planning our visit) that Mom learned the name of the town her people came from. She didn’t quite believe me when I quoted her the flight price of 9.99 euro but once I convinced her that the three of us could fly there and back for under 200 euro total, she was sold.

After extolling the virtues of David’s tour guiding skills, we agreed that this would be the best way for us to do a bit of sightseeing on the way to Northern Ireland. So here we are in the van…

David decided that the best plan of attack was to get us checked in at our B&B straight away and then we would head out to see some of the sights. We stopped for a lovely little lunch and then found our way to Strabane.

Mom and Dad’s room at Carricklee

Our B&B was the Carricklee House and it was the perfect choice. Carricklee is nestled in the trees overlooking the valley. It is surrounded by horse pastures and beautiful flower gardens. The proprietress, Penny Herdman, is fantastic and was a wealth of information for our entire visit.

The house is a huge manor, (half of which is B&B and the other half is the Herdman home). It is decorated eclectically with paintings and curios collected over the years. It is beautiful but yet it doesn’t feel like a museum. It is a well lived in and loved home. Imagine staying in the home of a rich, slightly eccentric aunt. I loved it.

We dropped off our things and told Penny of our plans. Then we headed for the back roads with David.

Our first stop was Dunluce Castle. This gorgeous ruin sits on the cliff side about the sea. You can imagine its foreboding form, in the midst of a storm, with waves crashing around it. We clambered up and down the stairs around the ruins and took loads of photos before we jumped back in the van.

Dunluce Castle

Our second stop was the old Bushmills whiskey distillery. We managed to slip into the shop just as it was closing but unfortunately we were a bit too late to tour the factory.

Our final stop was the one I had been waiting for. I have wanted to visit this place ever since I first saw it in a photography magazine. I considered asking David to add it to the itinerary but thought it would be too far out of the way. Perhaps it was because David dabbles in photography too, or maybe it’s just because he is a great guide, either way we ended up at the Giant’s Causeway.

If you’ve never heard of the causeway, all I can say is look at the pictures. It is unlike any natural phenomenon I have ever seen before. It is truly bizarre.

The causeway is made up of multi-sided basalt columns – an estimated 40,000 in total. They seem to erupt out of the ocean like huge patio stones. We were able to wander around on the stones and photograph them before catching the bus back to the parking lot.

The Giant’s Causeway

As evening was setting in, it was time to part ways with David, who had to head all the way back home to the south of Ireland. He dropped us off in the centre of Strabane where we thought we could get some supper.

We walked the entirety of the town (not hard to do really) and only spotted one take out chip shop, and a terrifying looking Chinese place. We were stumped. We thought we could catch a cab and just ask the driver to take us somewhere but it had started to rain and the taxi stand was empty.

There was another man waiting to catch a taxi as well and Mom asked him if there was somewhere we could go to eat. He asked if we liked Chinese… When we replied that we had hoped for something a bit more Irish, he directed us to the hotel. When the next taxi arrived he took pity on us and asked if we would like to share his cab.

We ended up at the hotel (and I do think it was the only one) and had a nice supper of fresh fish. We caught another taxi back to Carricklee and turned in for the night.

The next morning, we made our way down to the dining room where we were greeted by Penny, Lottie (the most adorable little dog with the biggest ears I have ever seen) and some wonderful smells. Penny proved herself to be not only an informative hostess but a fabulous cook. I had scrambled eggs on smoked salmon and generous helping of good coffee.

Mom told Penny of her plans to search for traces of her ancestors and Penny offered advice on where to look and arranged a taxi into town for us.

Our first stop was the tiny tourist office where we met a lovely woman (who by the end of the two days was sick of us I’m sure) who offered advice as well. Then we crossed the street to the library.

At the Giant’s Causeway

Apparently people in Ireland are used to North Americans turning up looking for traces of folk, long dead, with little to no information. In fact, pretty much everyone we met, from taxi drivers to shop clerks greeted us with “Ah, what part of America are you from then?” When we explained that we were Canadian they often apologized for the blunder (not that we were insulted) and asked if we had family in Ireland.

And so it was at the library. We had a lovely research librarian gather some old records for us and scour the internet. We spent a few hours, found a few Fairs, and deduced that Mom’s people probably came to Ireland via Scotland (excuse for another trip if I ever heard one), made some photocopies and received many on-line resources from the librarian.

By this time we were ready for lunch and we found a little sandwich shop that hit the spot. After lunch we wandered about the town. We made a stop at the bookstore and the department store and then headed to the town’s main attraction – Gray’s Printing Museum. The museum itself wasn’t open for the season yet but there was a great little photography exhibit that we were able to see, which documented Strabane in its early days.

After the exhibit we took a cab back to Carricklee for a bit of a rest. We explored the beautiful gardens around Carricklee and met Penny’s other dogs (two lovely Golden Retrievers) and her big white cat.

Penny had arranged for us to go to a restaurant in a nearby town. It was fantastic. We went to bed with full bellies yet again.

We had another stunning breakfast the following morning. Our bus back to the airport wasn’t set to leave until after lunch so we asked Penny where we should go. She suggested the Lifford Gaol (jail) just across the boarder in Co. Donegal. Once again, she was spot on. The museum was an entertaining, interactive presentation showing the lives and crimes of some of the more interesting residents. At the end of our tour we were each convicted – me for being drunk and disorderly (how did she know…?)

Then we picked up our bags, said goodbye to Penny and Lottie and headed back into town to catch our bus. The bus ride was several hours but took us directly to the airport. We had a long wait but our flight was on time and we made it back to Brussels right on schedule.

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