Thursday, 18 May 2017


Heading along the coast from Newcastle in a northeasterly direction, we come to a narrow channel leading into Dundrum Bay.  The route takes in Murlough National NatureReserve owned by the National Trust.  A boarded walkway leads to a wide sandy beach backed by dunes, with sensational views of the Mourne Mountains.  The animal life on the reserve includes rabbits and pigmy shrews, and common and grey seals can sometimes be seen hauling themselves onto the beach. 

The small town of Dundrum lies on the west shore of the bay, which is dominated by the ruined Dundrum Castle.   The castle is believed to have been built in 1177 by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy, just after he invaded Ulster.  A National Trust car park to the north of Dundrum marks the start of the 2.5 Km Dundrum Coastal Path, which follows a disused railway line and forms part of the longer Lecale Way.  The path takes in a variety of habitats supporting birdlife, for example saltmarsh and marshy tall herb stands.  Dundrum Inner Bay is visited by wildfowl and waders in winter, while Green Island in Dundrum Inner Bay attracts oystercatchers, lapwing, redshank and curlew.

The S. S. Great Britain, which we last met in her final resting place in Bristol, ran aground in Dundrum Bay in 1846 during one of her voyages to New York, an accident which caused her engines to be ruined.  She was refloated, but the expense of the operation forced her owners to sell her to Gibbs Bright and Company, who put her to work on the Australian run.

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Murlough Beach. Photo by Laureljade, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 20 April 2017


Not on the Tyne, but at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Newcastle is the first place which can be described as a resort when heading north from the border with the Republic.  We once stayed the night in a pub in Newcastle while exploring the coast of Northern Ireland.  It was quiz night, and we were persuaded to join in what turned out to be a very entertaining evening.  We shared a table with an elderly gent who sounded a bit like Ian Paisley, and who had a crush on the female quizmaster and was trying to get us to play matchmaker.  Looking at Google Streetview I can’t see the pub, so I’m not sure if it’s there any more – pity.

Newcastle’s backdrop is spectacular, dominated by the aforementioned mountains and with a 3-mile crescent of golden sand arranged around Dundrum Bay.  When we were there, there were signs of impending regeneration of the seafront, and now, £14m and several years later, the revamp is complete.  It has styled itself as an activity resort, with mountaineering and canoeing among the activities on offer.  For more relaxing pursuits, the resort boasts the UK’s only seaweed bathhouse for those in pursuit of the physical and mental benefits of soaking in seaweed.  There are two outdoor alternatives for bathers, at the Tropicana which has heated water and slides for the kids, and at the 1930s era Rock Pool for hardier souls, being unheated.  Fans of Game of Thrones should head out to Tollymore Forest Park, the Haunted Forest of the series.

Newcastle gets a mention in the medieval chronicles known as The Annals of the Four Masters, where it is referred to as New Castle.  The castle in question, this being 1433, was presumably a forerunner of the later castle which was built by the Magennis clan in 1588 at the mouth of the Shimna River, and which was demolished in 1830, having changed hands several times following the 1641 Rebellion.  One of  the most tragic events in the town’s history occurred during a storm in January 1843.  14 fishing boats from Newcastle and Annalong were caught up in the storm, resulting in 76 deaths, 46 of them men from Newcastle. There is a row of cottages in the town called Widows' Row, built to house the widows and orphans of the dead fishermen.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia  Commons

Thursday, 6 April 2017


This town’s name derives from the Gaelic ‘Ath na Long’ meaning ‘ford of the ships’, probably dating from the time of the Vikings, when the mouth of the Annalong River provided shelter for longships.  The harbour at Annalong was built for shipping out locally quarried granite to other parts of Ireland and to the UK, and it also developed into a fishing port.  The 18th century corn mill, once used for milling oatmeal, has a multi-media exhibition about the milling process as well as other aspects of local heritage.  It is also the start of a pleasant coastal walk leading to the bays of Arthur’s Port and Springwell Port, where a variety of birds such as oystercatchers and redshanks can be seen pottering around on the shore.  If you are lucky you may catch sight of a friendly seal popping up out of the water to check you out.  Herring fishing boats known as yawls used to be launched from here during the autumn herring season.  Visitors with kids in tow should head for the Marine Park, where there is parking and a play area.

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Photo by Aubrey Dale, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 13 March 2017


This lively port is not only home to the largest fishing fleet in Northern Ireland, but is also the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Mourne, and as such is an ideal base for exploring the beautiful MourneMountains and Carlingford Lough.  Kilkeel has a long history dating back to megalithic times, with many dolmens (megalithic tombs) and raths (ancient circular dwellings) in the area.  The harbour, which was first started in the 1850s, is mainly dedicated to fishing for shellfish such as prawns and scallops, but there are proposals for an expansion including the construction of a new breakwater.     

In the past, Greencastle Pier at the mouth of Carlingford Lough was the scene of many a departure for the New World by local people searching for a new life.  During World War II there was a US aerodrome at Greencastle, which was the venue for a wartime commemorative festival called GI Jive last year – I have been unable to find out whether the festival is running again this year. 

One of Kilkeel’s most unpleasant residents over the years was William Hare, born Thomas O’Hare, one of the infamous body snatching duo known as Burke and Hare.  After testifying against Burke, which led to the latter’s hanging in 1829, Hare went to live out his days in Kilkeel, acquiring a wife and child with whom he lived in Newry Street.  He is said to be buried at the Burial Banks alongside the former Kilkeel Workhouse.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 22 February 2017


Rostrevor, on the shore of Carlingford Lough, is a handy gateway to the Mountains of Mourne, approaching them from the south.  The name of the village is said to derive from Rose, the wife of Sir Edward Trevor, who married her in 1612.  Trevor was a key member of a Welsh dynasty who met Rose, daughter of the Archbishop of Armagh, while on military service in Ireland, and the land around Rostrevor was an estate he acquired there. 

Among the points of interest around the village is the Cloughmore Stone (Big Stone) just outside the southern end of Rostrevor.  This large granite boulder is thought to have been transported from Scotland during the last Ice Age, although according to legend it was tossed over from the other side of the Lough by a giant.  Being 1,000 feet above the Lough, it is worth the walk up to the stone for the views, in addition to which there is a local tradition at Easter in which the locals roll Easter eggs down the slope from here.  On the Kilbroney road above the village are the remains of the 6th century church of StBronagh.  The church is known for the ghostly ringing of a bell, even though there has been no bell in use there since the monastic community set up at the church came to an end.  On Shore Road is the Ross Monument, originally erected in 1826 and restored in 2008, in honour of local hero Major General Robert Ross, whose military adventures included a victory over American forces at Bladensburg, Maryland, during the War of 1812. 

For an energetic walk, head up into the mountains, where there are attractive walking routes through Rostrevor Forest.  Or if you have kids in tow, head over to Kilbroney Park, where the Narnia Trail brings the famous C S Lewis stories to life, with themes including The Tree People and The Beaver’s House.  Fans of ancient sites should head out to the Kilfeaghan Dolmen, about 3 miles out of the village.  This Neolithic portal tomb is about 5,000 years old and has one of the biggest capstones in Ireland, weighing 35 tons.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons