2010 Vacation – Northern Ireland – Belfast and Antrim Coast

Belfast

After bidding farewell to the family in Scotland, Karen and I flew to Northern Ireland, arriving in Belfast a short 45 minutes after departing Scotland.  In Belfast, we rented a Ford Ka for the remainder of our exploration through the Irish countryside.  The trick with this arrangement is that Ireland, both North and the Republic, are left-hand drive and the Ka is a left-hand stick shift.  Good thing I’m left handed.  In Belfast, we stayed at Bienvenue Guest House, which is an older Victorian house on the south side of town near the Queen’s University.  We took a Black Cab tour of the town with Peter from TaxiTrax.  This is highly recommended.  Belfast’s Catholic and Protestant factions have been at war for years.  A particularly troublesome period was a 40 year stretch known as “the Troubles.”  Peter was such a great tour guide that the typical 1.5 hour tour lasted 2.5 hours.  Given the Troubles are such a recent problem, most of the town is dedicated to memorials, explanations, and social spaces dedicated to mending and building the peace.  Today there are few problems in town.

Antrim Coast

After a light breakfast our second day in Northern Ireland, we set off from Belfast for a driving tour of the Antrim Coast.  Heading north on the A2, the coastline started our scenic and did nothing but get better.  The coast is quite dramatic with steep bluffs and craggy rock.  We stopped at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.  This is a 90-foot high rope bridge that allows access to a small island separated from the mainland by a narrow channel.  It suffers quite strong winds.  The day we visited the wind was blowing 35 miles per hour.  The bridge doesn’t close until 60 m.p.h.  Next, we stopped at the Bushmills Distillery; the oldest whiskey distillery in the world and licensed since 1608.  After our refreshments, we drove to the Giants Causeway, some unusual geology with  37,000 vertical hexagonal columns of rock.  Our last stop of the day was Dunlace Castle, an old ruin clinging to the coast.  We took some photos before driving on to Portrush and Maddybenny Farmhouse.

Maddybenny Farmhouse is a highly recommended place to stay.  It is a working farm with 3 rooms and 5 cottages.  There are chickens, horses, ducks, and other stuff.

Drive to Galway

After a great breakfast, where we had a “Ulster fry.”  This consists of sausage, bacon, egg, and potato.  The drive is a long one from Portrush to Galway.  Around Derry the road crosses into the Republic of Ireland.  The scenery was mostly farmland with lots of cows and sheep.  After 4 hours on the road we stopped for lunch in the pilgrimage town of Knock.  Not the best stop to take, but we were hungry.

Cory Abbey is a fun old ruin along the shores of some water near Lough Corrib, a 30 mile-long lake in County Galway.  Then we drove to Ross Errilly, another elaborate monastic ruin.  We also stopped at Anaghdown Priory.  After visiting Ross Errilly, this is not a recommended stop.

Once in Galway, we found Amber Hill B&B several miles outside the town center.  We stopped in at Sonny’s for shepherd’s pie and a pint.  Galway is known for its pub scene with live traditional Irish music, and we were lucky enough to strike gold on our first try.  We spent the evening at Tig Coili, where 4 young musicians called Nic Gavisky.  The group consists of a fiddle, flute, accordion and concertina.  After some good music we retired and readied for the next day.

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