More Northern Treasures: Ulster Holiday, Part II
The beautiful Coast Road from Larne to Portrush is one of the most scenic in Ireland. From chalky cliffs, the road soon passes the foot of each of the nine glens. Whether you turn inland the follow the valleys beyond or stay on the Coast Road with its famous marine drive, a delightful experience awaits.
Cornish style cottages dot the charming village of Cushendun, while the castle at Glenarm is the home of the Earls of Antrim. And Carnlough has a famous inn that was once owned by Winston Churchill.
Openings/closings, contact numbers:
The Sperrin Mountains are bare, peat-colored hills, actually. Their gentle contours spill south toward the county town of Omagh. Below the hills lie fertile valleys, once covered with primeval oaks and elms until settlers chopped them down to build Coleraine and Limavady. The forested land west of Lough Neagh was the haunt of Hugh O'Neill, the earl of Tyrone until 1603 when he submitted to the English at Mellifont.
Sperrin Heritage Centre Cranagh. Try your hand at panning for gold in the stream. Craft shop and cafe. (016626) 48142
In mild winter climates, the gorse, or whin, is in perpetual flower. At Eastertime, a bright yellow dye for eggs is made from the blossoms. Here, the land is rich in prehistoric and Celtic remains. Not far from Cookstown is the Beaghmore stone circles, uncovered just forty years ago. Also nearby, at the top of a wooded hill, is the chambered cairn of Knockmany. The Ulster History Park near Gortin Glen contains much information about this period and is well worth a visit.
The high cross of Ardboe stands on the shore of Lough Neagh, about ten miles east of Cookstown. Here, St. Colman of Dromore founded a monastery in the sixth century. The eighteen and one-half foot high cross is the finest example of this type of Irish art in Ulster.
Omagh, which means "the sacred plain" is situated attractively in a wide valley and is a good base for interesting excursions. Other towns of note are Dungannon, the chief seat of the O'Neills, in the eastern part of Tyrone and the first point most visitors approach as they enter the county and Strabane in the west. James Wilson, grandfather of American President Woodrow Wilson, emigrated from Strabane in 1807. The Northern Ireland Government purchased the ancestral home some years ago to ensure its preservation.
County Down is St. Patrick's Country. Located in the northeastern corner, Bound for Antrim, Patrick landed at Saul in 432 A.D.when his ship was blown off course. Undaunted, he set about the missionary business by converting the local chieftain who gave him a barn (sabhal) for holding services. For thirty years, Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity. He died at Saul and is buried nearby in Downpatrick.
From 700 to 1000 A.D., missionaries from Ireland and monks from the Ards Peninsula carried Christianity to Dark Age Europe. By the twelfth century, Cistercian monasteries were built on the shores of Strangford Lough. Grey Abbey and Inch Abbey, both of which have substantial remains, had filial connections with England and traded goods to beleaguered abbeys in Cumberland and Lancashire.
Other early sites remain as well--holy wells at Struell, 2 miles east of Downpatrick, and on the slopes of Cratlieve mountain south of Ballynahinch, the Legankenny Dolmen. The Sliddeyford Dolmen, lying in a field on the road to Newcastle, is a megalith associated with the three tonn or waves in Ireland mentioned in ancient writings. The Tonn Rudraidhe in Dundrum Bay is distinguished by the melancholy roar of the sea as it is driven over the sandbanks or rocks in stormy weather. These waves were said to herald the death of kings or chieftains. (The other tonn are Tonn Cliona in Glandore Harbor, West Cork and Tonn Tuaithe near the mouth of the Bann.)
Downpatrick Cathedral. The stone marking the place where St. Patrick is believed to have been buried is in the churchyard. Cathedral closes at 5pm every day. For guided tours contact the Cathedral office. (01396) 614922.
The Ards Peninsula faces the North Atlantic on the east and Strangford Lough on the west. No two sides could be more different. To see this phenomena, travel from Grey Abbey on the calm shores of the Lough just three miles to Ballywater Beach and the open sea rollers. You will think you have crossed to another world. The North Atlantic side is fraught with reefs, the cause of many a ship's demise in the nineteenth century. Only Donaghadee offered a safe port. Today one may see prawn boats off Portavogie, a windmill at Ballycopeland. Situated around the end of the peninsula is the narrow entrance to the Lough at Portaferry. Four hundred million tons of water rush through the gap twice a day. The Vikings named it "violent fjord" (Strangford) after these currents.
The Lough is a bird sanctuary and wildlife preserve for thousands of Brent geese who winter here as well as for greylag and white-fronted geese, oystercatchers, curlews and other wading birds. A hundred different species of fish live in the Lough which has the appearance of a freshwater lake.
Ballycopeland Windmill - one mi. E. of Millisle. One of only two working windmills in Ireland. Open April-Sept. Tues-Sat 10am to 7pm, Sun 2-7pm, Oct-Mar Sat and Sun only until 4pm. (01247) 861413.
Lough Erne, the subject of an earlier feature, meanders from one end of forested, watery County Fermanagh to the other. It is the most uncongested waterway in Europe with miles and miles of space for cruisers. In addition to 154 islands, there are hidden inlets and coves to explore. It is also a paradise for birds, flowers, and fishermen.
On Devenish, one of the islands, there's a twelfth-century round tower. Monks could see who was approaching well beforehand and hide their relics. A tiny church and a ruined Augustinian abbey also stand on the island. On Boa Island, near the mouth of Lower Lough Erne, two ancient stone Janus idols hold forth, dating from perhaps the first century. And on still other islands are Christian statues with distinctive pagan symbology.
Should you journey on the Upper Lough by cruiser or barge, take note of the abundant birdlife--swans, terns, sandpipers, garden warblers who nest along the shore. On the Lower Lough, Herons and grebes will accompany you with much flapping of wings.
Fermanagh is a sportsman's paradise with its miles of woodland and water. Fishing is splendid. Trout and salmon are so plentiful that locals tend to ignore the coarse fish in the waterways. In the words of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board: "The compleat angler's every need is catered for, on and away from the water: there are clearly marked access points, easy parking, well stocked tackle shops, convenient hotels and B & Bs, good restaurants and pubs."
If fishing is not your forte, there is much besides to attract visitors. The Marble Arch Caves and two stately homes--Castle Coole, the Palladian mansion at Enniskillen and Florence Court, seat of the Earls of Enniskillen. Both are in the National Trust and are open April until September.
The island town of Enniskillen was once the seat of the Maguire family, the medieval chieftains of Fermanagh. When the lough was the passageway between Ulster and Connacht, the Maguires policed the route from Enniskillen Castle with a private navy of fifteen hundred boats. At the Western end of the lough lies the town of Beleek, home of world famous china.
There's so much more to discover in Northern Ireland. We've really just scratched the surface. Perhaps this brief series will inspire you to visit and see Northern Ireland's treasures for yourself.
Until next time.
Copyright © 1997-2012 Suzanne Barrett and licensors. All rights reserved.