Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Having spent far too little time in Donegal, we arrived in Westport, in County Mayo. Where we also didn't stay for long, although I think we would have enjoyed it. Our B&B was just north of town, not too far for us to walk into Westport for dinner on Bridge Street. We were too tired to hang around for music, but it might have been good. Matt Molloy (his place is pictured above) played flute with the Chieftans.


Most of the day between Portrush and Westport was gray, sometimes very gray, and sometimes rainy. We stopped in Donegal Town for lunch and a cloudburst. Ben Bulben north of Sligo was buried in the clouds. I guess it was a good day to have scheduled for transit, not tourism.

One place on my list - coastal interest - was Mullaghmore, not far off the main road. And we got lucky. The sun broke through as we got near and we got a brief break in the drizzle to drive out and around the point.

Mullaghmore attracts surfers for its big waves, although the waves weren't particularly exciting during our visit. But it's still a spectacular coastline - a big beach, a modest harbor, and a rocky headland.

It also has a castle. Well, a 19th century estate built sort of like a castle. I've seen (on the internet) that Dunluce Castle, near Portrush, might have been the inspiration for CS Lewis' Cair Paravel on the coast of Narnia, but this is much more like I always pictured it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grianan of Aileach

The way our trip planning had worked out, our longest day (distance) was from Portrush, in Northern Ireland, to Westport, in County Mayo. Unfortunately, this meant no time to explore Donegal, let alone it's coast, or any of the area around Sligo. Even with three weeks, you can't do everything.

We did drive up to Grianan of Aileach, on the top of a hill not far west of Derry (we're back in the Republic of Ireland). This is a ring fort - the first one we'd seen on the trip. It turns out ring forts are all over the place - one thing I read said there were as many as 45,000 dotted around Ireland - most fuzzy stone rings and overgrown copses in the midst of sheep pastures and farm fields. But this one is impressively positioned on its hilltop and nicely restored.

We arrived in a squall, but we waited it out in the car and eventually it stopped. It was still gray and windy - although maybe not as cold as it looks.

We saw several more ring forts on the trip, including a great one in Kerry that I'm sure I'll get to as I work down through the stack.


We decided to check out Derry (also Londonderry) the day before we left Portrush, since we knew we had a lot of ground to cover the next day and this would make one less thing to do.

We had a good recommendation for an outfit that does walking tours - which turned out to be a great way to learn about city. The place has a long history (what place doesn't in this part of the world?), although its recent history is some of its most interesting.

The walk, which generally follows the city walls, includes much about the Troubles, including Bloody Sunday, and provides a great view of the Bogside area where much of the Catholic resistance was based. As we found in Belfast, the recency of the conflict and the violence added an edge to the story.

The city, like the rest of Northern Ireland, is making a big deal of progress and cooperation. One hopes that this is real and lasting - and that maybe a few other places are paying attention.


Portrush was our base for two days of exploring the northern Antrim Coast. It's a classic little resort town - with a beach, a small amusement park, and a golf course. We had heard that it was a tired little beach town - not sure we could judge or we cared too much. I liked its spectacular geography, the core of the town is located on a rocky peninsula that sticks out into the sea with beaches on both sides.  I also liked the fact that Portrush was important in the early history of geology.

We didn't spend much time in Portrush. I had a great walk early one morning out through town to Ramore Head and we walked around town in the evening after our long day of Carrick-a-Rede, Giant's Causeway, and Derry. We checked out the amusement arcade, but we didn't play any games or go on any rides. We did have ice cream. Or maybe I had ice cream. M may have shown more restraint.

Giant's Causeway

It's sort of cool to see a geological landmark get visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists. But then you realize maybe it's not so unusual, when you remember how many people visit Yellowstone, Mount Fuji, Niagara Falls, the Great Barrier Reef, or even Iceland!

The Giant's Causeway is sort of what eastern Washington would look like if the Columbia River were an ocean. Ancient lava flows, cooled into giant hexagonal columns, stretching out into the sea. Covered with busloads of tourists who will also be stopping at Carrick-a-Rede, Bushmill's Distillery, and several filming locations for Game of Thrones before the day is out.

Apparently, the giant Finn MacCool (really! that was his name!) built the causeway to make it easier for him to vanquish his counterpart giant in Scotland, just across the way.


The fisherman who first strung a bridge out to the little island where they stored their boats would never have imagined that some day people from around the world would queue up all summer long to check out their hare-brained scheme (the bridge itself has been rebuilt many times - this one may only date to 2008).

The bridge isn't terribly long, or even terribly high, compared to other well-known pedestrian suspension bridges (or even less well-known ones, like those flimsy things you see crossing raging rivers in pictures from Nepal and Peru), but the setting is spectacular. Especially when the sun comes out, which it did, despite some worries earlier in the morning.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


It was getting pretty late in the afternoon and we suspected we shouldn't wait until we got to Portrush before finding dinner. Which was about when we drove into Ballycastle and found ourselves in the middle of a carnival. Lammas Fair was winding down, but still packed. We parked on the hill heading out of town and walked back to the beach, where we got paella and a Cuban sandwich at a couple booths that were still open. Neither was very good, but that was more than made up for by the context.

Lammas Fair, apparently a holdover of an old harvest festival, has been going on for a mere 400 years. I suspect it didn't originally have a ferris wheel. Or Cuban sandwiches. We sat on the seawall and ate dinner. We didn't go on any of the rides.

Antrim Coast

If there had been any doubts what the rest of our Ireland road trip would be like, the afternoon driving up the Antrim Coast from Larne to Portrush pretty much laid them to rest. Narrow roads, sheep, and frequent stops so Hugh could take pictures of beaches.

The Coast Road is just that, sometimes following right along the beach or cliffs, and even when it's farther away, most bends offered views of the coast in the distance. There are many little towns, typically on small bays and valley mouths. Most have beaches. So there will be more pictures over on Gravel Beach - at least once I get around to posting them.

The main road cuts inland north of Cushendun, but we followed the less traveled path out to Torr Head, where Scotland's Mull of Kintyre could be seen less than 20 miles away.