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Pot of Gold
Rating: (4.8) (12 Votes)

Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Oct 27, 2003

Pros : Giant's Causeway and Hiking
Cons : Not enough time

Driving on Irish roads involes avoiding a lot of old Irish men taking their evening constitutional. It also takes a little patience (not my strongest point behind a wheel!) and good windscreen wipers.

Nine days ahead, a general feeling of....north?....., 6 travel guides (nice crisp pages, you can tell we prepared!), 3 people, 1 car, one virus of unknown strain. Our very own outbreak was about to begin, who brought that monkey?

The team:

Me; driver...the rest of the team may have some critism to insert here but I deny it all!!

Katie: Navigator: I have a theory that each trip must involve Katie giving one wrong direction, but after after that you are home free. Sure enough, a little detour (which I sure there was a good reason for!) and then no probs!

Rach: Accomodation guru: 3 stars all the way! No hostel was good enough for this trip and with Rach getting us accomodation each night at up to half the price we were set. Just don't let her have the map! It is not so much an inability to navigate, just a greater interest making sure we had good tunes on.

There are so many places to go, and never enough time. To cut down the selection I now rule out "Gateway" or "Market" towns. Anything with a postcard is at least worth a look, and an attempt to get some pics.

Up the road from Dubliin airport is Newgrange, an ancient grave site dating from 3000BC. We actually ended up in Knowth, another of the graves. The graves are large mounds with tunnels leading to central chambers, surrounded by large slabs of stone carved on all 6 sides. Over the millenia various settlements have actually been built on and around the mounds. The centre chamber has a large stone bowl that poses a puzzle: how do you get a large bowl through a tunnel much smaller than its dimensions. Solution: the bowl is first, then you spend centuries covering it over in stone and earth....or so the story goes.

Our next puzzle was, where do you stay in Belfast when Rotary hold a convention in town....solution, way outside the city! But if you get a concierge who knows a cook, who knows someone else...this was the start of a trend everywhere we went in Ireland, people going out of their way to help.

Falls Rd (Ulster-Red Hand-Protestant)and Skankill Rd (Catholics) are separated by a large corrugated iron wall called the 'peace-line'...although it was anything but peaceful given the violent conflicts in the region. Both sides have painted large murals over the decades with strong political messages. There's a few pics above, walking around the streets makes you appreciate the nice quiet surburbia of home to grow up in.

Hiking and driving alongs rugged coastline occupied much of the next few days gradually heading to the northeast coast and stopping along the way at places like Glenariff Forest Park(nice walks, waterfalls), Cushendall and Cushedun (the last recorded foot and mouth case was here, a statue of a goat and and lone goat chained below it... not sure of its tourist appeal though!!) and then along to Ballycastle and Londonderry. Mangaged to squeeze in an essential detour to the Bushmills distillery for a little whiskey appreciation along the way.

The Irish have the alternative version to the Giant's causeway story. Since they have the far more impressive end of causeway I will run with their version. It was said that an Irish Giant by the name of Finn McCool challenged the Scottish Giant Benandonner to battle. Finn then dresses as a baby. When the Scottish Benandonner comes across he finds the giant 'baby' Finn and thinks to himself, if this is the baby I don't want to meet the father. He flees back to Scotland and the causeway is torn up.

The scientific explanation is about volacanic rocks and erosion....the causeway is all protected national park now and has plenty of hiking trails that are worth wandering along.

More hiking, driving and stopping at various natural sights and monuments and we end up on the western coast heading towards Sligo. About this stage of the trip the itinery took a bit of U turn as a passport and wallet went walkabout. So back to Dublin and an unexpected trip to the consulate.

The Sat morning spent sitting watching the Ireland-Australia World Cup match. 2nd best place to watching it after Aust!

At the end after walking and driving a substantial distance a strong feeling of exhaustion lingers but was worth it. No luck with the leprecaun hunting on this trip but perhaps next trip!