Thursday, 19 April 2018


Such is the appeal of the now-ruined Dunluce Castle that it, and its magnificent surroundings, have been the inspiration for both poetry and music.  The 4-part poem published in 1814 by Edward Quillinan sets the scene at length, describing the castle itself, the roar of the Atlantic “in wildest fury frantic” and the dramatic coastline around it.  A tone poem called Dunluce was written in 1921 by Irish composer Norman Hay, while a more recent musical work called Dunluce Castle was performed by the Irish Rovers in the 1990s.  The castle made an appearance on the sleeves of two albums: Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy in 1973 and American musician Jandek’s Glasgow Friday in 2008.  The castle is believed to have been the inspiration for Cair Paravel in Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.  Finally, not surprisingly, the castle was one of the many Northern Irish locations used in Game of Thrones as the castle of Pyke, seat of House Greyjoy.

Dunluce Castle was the first stop on our wonderful drive along the Causeway Coast a few years ago, and it set the scene magnificently for the rest of it.  The castle was built by the MacQuillan family around the year 1500, but 50 years later it was seized by the MacDonnell clan.  There was once a small town called Dunluce, founded by the Earls of Antrim in the 17th century.  The town was abandoned long ago, but visitors can view the remains uncovered by an archaeological dig.  The castle’s precarious position perched over the foaming sea was allegedly the cause of a catastrophe in 1639, when the castle’s kitchen fell into the sea along with the unfortunate kitchen staff while the 2nd Earl of Antrim and his wife were waiting for their dinner.  However, the veracity of this story is in some doubt, since the kitchen is still in situ among the present-day ruins.  What is for sure is that in the 18th century the north wall of the residence building did fall into the sea.  The remaining walls are still standing. 

File:Awesome Dunluce Castle.jpg
Photo by Osioni, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 5 April 2018


Looking at Portballintrae on the map, the eye is drawn to a small but perfectly formed horseshoe-shaped bay.  At one end of this is a small harbour, formerly the haunt of the local fishermen, but nowadays used mostly by leisure craft, and at the eastern end is Salmon Rock Beach which, while popular with families, is risky for swimmers.  The Bush River wends its way down to the coast to the northeast of the village, enclosing the Bushfoot Golf Course.  Back in 2007 it was reported that Donald Trump was considering the village as the site of a £1 billion golf complex, but it never came to pass. 

On the outskirts of the village are two strange mounds of earth forming concentric rings.  Known as the Lissanduff Earthworks, it is not clear what their original purpose might have been.  Some archaeologists, however, think they may have been linked to ancient worship rituals.  Fast forwarding to the 16th century, in 1588 a Spanish galleass called the Girona, part of the Spanish Armada, sank off Lacada Point, further back along the coast from Portballintrae.  In the 1960s a treasure trove from the ship was recovered by a team of Belgian divers, and was hauled ashore at Portballintrae.  It was the greatest find ever recovered from a Spanish Armada vessel and the gold jewellery from the hoard is displayed in the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

File:The bay of Port Ballintrae. - - 435121.jpg
Photo by Des Colhoun, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 26 March 2018


In December 2012 I blogged about Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa.  The geology that is the cause of the cave’s distinctive appearance is the same as that on view at the Giant’s Causeway, namely the strangely uniform interlocking hexagonal basalt columns formed from cooling lava. The unique nature of this coastal wonder has earned it the status of World Heritage Site, and it is run by the National Trust, with all the associated trappings such as shop and tea room.  From the car park there are buses on hand for anyone who does not fancy the hike down to the causeway. 

When the causeway was discovered by the Bishop of Derry in 1692, no-one was sure whether the feature was man-made or created by nature.  There was even a school of thought that a giant was responsible for it, hence the name given to it.  The favourite candidate was one Finn McCool.  The story goes that there was a battle between Finn and a Scottish giant who was threatening Ireland.  Finn started throwing chunks of rock into the sea to form a pathway to towards his Scottish enemy.  In reality, as indicated above, it is ancient volcanic activity that was responsible for this most unusual of coastal features, as explained in the Visitor Centre.  The Causeway is a must-see for anyone visiting Northern Ireland, and is probably the best known and most visited site in this corner of the British Isles.  When we visited we stayed in a nearby roadside pub; alternatively the nearby village of Bushmills makes a good base.

File:Causeway-code poet-4.jpg
Photo by code poet, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 8 March 2018


The hamlet of Dunseverick, on the way from the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge to the Giant’s Causeway, is tiny but with several points of interest.  Dunseverick Castle and earthworks, on a peninsula managed by the National Trust, date from at least the 5th Century AD when St Patrick visited and baptized Olcán, a local man who later became Bishop of Ireland.  The Gate Lodge of the castle can still be seen standing proud, although ruined, on the grassy clifftop.  There is a well on the headland named after St Patrick.  Walkers can take the North Antrim Cliff Path from the castle to the Giant’s Causeway, a distance of 5 miles. 

The harbour, sheltered by basalt islets, was where many local people emigrated from during the 19th century.  They were rowed out from here to schooners headed for Glasgow or Londonderry before continuing with their onward journeys.  Between the harbour and the castle, Dunseverick Falls, although not the most dramatic of waterfalls, make a picturesque sight as they tumble down to the sea.

File:Dunseverick Castle - - 475761.jpg
Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 28 February 2018


Heading north from Ballycastle on the way to Ballintoy we come to Kinbane Castle, reachable by a minor road off the Whitepark Road.  The castle is in ruins and there are many steps leading down to the main castle area, but those fit enough to tackle the approach will be rewarded with some of the best views on the Antrim coast.  The castle was built in 1547 by Colla MacDonnell, brother of Sorley Boy MacDonnell, and was laid siege to more than once by English forces.

As a member of the National Trust, I have visited many of their properties over the years, but possibly the most unusual site I have been to is the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  The bridge was originally built in 1755 by fishermen to provide access to the small offshore island called Carrick, from where they were able to fish for salmon.  Now, under the auspices of the Trust the bridge is solely a novel tourist attraction, providing a frisson for visitors as they wobble their way across while daring themselves to look down at the foaming sea below.  The bridge is a popular attraction, so be prepared to wait to make the crossing, which is only 20 metres.  The island itself is very small, but offers wonderful coastal views and birdlife.  Back at the entrance to the site there is a cafe for visitors to warm up in.  The nearby village of Ballintoy has a number of facilities for visitors in the area, and the harbour is worth a visit for Game of Thrones fans, as it was used for the Iron Islands scenes.

File:Carrick a Rede.jpg
Photo by Qole Pejorian, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 23 February 2018


This small resort is located in the far northeast of the Irish mainland and at the most northerly point of the Antrim coast.  Ballycastle’s main attraction is its wild and windswept beach, with lovely views along the coast to Fair Head.  At one end is an area known as Pans Rock, the remains of an iron salt pan used by fishermen, and just beyond that is the Devil’s Churn, with steps leading down to an underwater tunnel.  Ballycastle’s big event of the year is the Ould Lammas Fair, which originated in the 17th century, and which is the subject of a ballad by John Henry MacAuley, a sculptor by craft.  The first line of the ballad tells how “At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle long ago I met a pretty colleen who set me heart a-glow”.  The Fair is held on the last Monday and Tuesday of August.

On the way in to Ballycastle by the road from Cushendall lie the ruins of Bonamargy Friary built by Rory MacQuillan in 1500.  88 years later the friary was seized by the rival MacDonnell clan.  Many of the features, including a cloister, altar and burial vault, are still relatively unscathed, although the roof is missing.  The friary is the last resting place of several Earls of Ulster and of Sorley Boy MacDonnell.  The friary is easily accessible from the road, free to enter, and there are information boards for visitors, who can also enjoy the lovely surroundings, including a golf course. 

Map of the area.

File:Pans Rock - - 470238.jpg
Pan's Rock, Ballycastle beach.  Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 15 February 2018


Heading north out of Cushendun the Causeway Coastal Route takes on the name Torr Road, and after a few miles there is a turnoff from this to Torr Head.  This headland, with its spectacular views of the Mull of Kintyre, was used in the 1800s to record the passage of Transatlantic ships for Lloyds of London, and the remains of the old lookout station are still visible.  This was also one of the first places where Marconi’s wireless telegraphy system was installed.  Nestled against the headland on Portaleen Bay is a small harbour, a reminder of a former salmon fishery. 

Further north is Murlough Bay, known for its flora, fauna and geology, with birdlife including eider ducks and peregrine falcons.  Beyond the bay is Fair Head, which has been described as Northern Ireland’s tallest cliff face, rising to 600 feet above sea level.  As well as fantastic views along the coast and across to Scotland, there are goods views of Rathlin Island, which lies just across the way.  The headland is popular with rock climbers.  Running around the headland is a path called The Grey Man’s Path.  The Grey Man in question is said to derive from a local legend about a “devil-horse” living in nearby Lough Dhu who wandered along the path disguised as a human and frightened the living daylights out of a local woman called Mary McAnulty. 

File:Ballycastle beach, September 2010 (01).JPG
Fair Head from Ballycastle.  Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons.