Tuesday, 16 January 2018


Continuing north from Glenarm along the glorious coast road which hugs the Antrim shore, we come to Carnlough (‘cairn of the lake’), a village on the bay of the same name and lying at the mouth of Glencloy.  The villagers must be made of stern stuff, the harbour here being one of a number of locations on the Northern Ireland coast known for its New Years Day swims.  The limestone cliffs in the vicinity have played an important role in the area’s history right from Neolithic times, when the flint deposits in the cliffs served as tools for these ancient inhabitants.  Much later quarries were set up to extract the limestone, and the harbour, originally a stone pier built in the 1700s, was redeveloped in the mid-19th century by the Marchioness of Londonderry.  The limestone was used for the construction of the harbor, as well as many of the houses in the village, and a 1.5 km mineral tramway was built for transporting the stone.  

Another spinoff from this activity was the Londonderry Arms Hotel, built in 1848 as a coaching house.  Between 1921 and 1924 the hotel was owned by Sir Winston Churchill courtesy of an inheritance from a second cousin who was a grandson of the Marchioness.  The Marchioness, meanwhile, used to stay in a summer residence a few miles to the north of Carnlough known as the Garron Tower, a dark grey castle-like structure with turreted towers.  The building is now occupied by St Killian’s College and lies just off the coast road, which here is known as the Garron Road.  Back in Carnlough, as well as the charms of the village itself there is a scenic drive called the Slemish Scenic Drive which follows Glencoy up to Slemish Mountain, where St Patrick spent 6 years in captivity.

No piece on Carnlough would be complete without making a mention of one of the most famous former residents of the village, Paddy the carrier pigeon.  During the D-Day landings Paddy was sent to France with a coded message on the Allied advance, a secret mission codenamed U2, and remarkably was back home within 5 hours.  He was rewarded for his efforts by being awarded the Dicken Medal for bravery, the only Irish pigeon to have received the award.  Paddy died in 1954, but his memory lives on in the form of a commemorative plaque erected at the harbour.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Arnold Price, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 11 January 2018


Glenarm and its surroundings constitute one of the nine “Antrim Glens”, or valleys which are among the attractions of this part of Northern Ireland.  The glen itself, the river, the bay and the village are all called Glenarm, which stands for “Glen of the Army”, a reminder of a bloody past dating back to the Normans.  The harbour at Glenarm has a long history, but has been restored and updated, and nowadays houses a marina used by yachts and pleasure boats.  The village itself, dating from the 17th century, is a Conservation Area. 

Across the river from the village is Glenarm Castle andWalled Garden, home to the Dunluce family.  The castle originates from the 13th century when one John Bisset, expelled from Scotland for murder, arrived in the area and established a castle for the defence of his newly acquired land.  However, it was in 1636 that the present-day version of the castle was built by the Earl of Antrim Sir Randall McDonnell. The Walled Garden dates from the 18th century and is one of Irelands oldest.  There is a tea room which last year had a glowing write-up in the Belfast Telegraph.  The garden is open to visitors from March until September, however the castle itself is only occasionally open to the public, and is available for group visits.  The Glenarm Forest Park used to be part of the demesne of Glenarm Castle but is now open to the public and maintained by Ulster Wildlife Trust.

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Glenarm Castle. Photo by Glenarm Castle, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 5 January 2018


Larne is a major gateway to Northern Ireland courtesy of the ferry link to Cairnryan, 6 miles north of Stranraer in Scotland.  Formerly known as Latharna, from Lathar, son of the pre-Christian King Hugony the Great, one of the earliest records of the area dates from Roman times, when a galley bound for Scotland was blown off course to a place called Portus Saxa, believed to be Larne Lough.  The lough was later named after the Norse King Ulfrich during the time of the Viking raids.  Fast forward to the 18th century, when the quays which had been built in the port were used by people emigrating to America.  It was the coming of the railway which led to Larne being established as the departure point for ferries to Scotland, initially using a paddlesteamer called the Briton, a service which lasted until 1863.  Three years later the harbour was bought by James Chaine, a linen merchant’s son, who updated the port and re-established the link to Scotland.   People arriving at Larne by sea will be reminded of this by the ChaineMemorial Tower which dominates the harbour entrance. 

During the First World War Larne became a naval port, then during the Second World War the port played an important role for the Allied Forces, including as a conduit for troops preparing for the D-Day Landings.  In the post-war period, after various ups and downs with efforts to establish ferry links once more, the Larne-Cairnryan service finally started in 1973.  This outcome, which contributed considerably to the success of the port, was facilitated by one Colonel Frank Bustard, who was made a Freeman of Larne in recognition of his efforts.

If you are visiting Larne with a car or motorbike, the coastal route heading north from the town is highly recommended.  We did this route in the other direction after exploring the Antrim coast, and the journey was a delight due to the way the road hugged the coastline with the attendant views of Scotland.  At one point I nearly caused my husband to crash the car when I spotted a seal poking its head out of the water a short distance offshore. 

Back in town, the Larne Museum and Arts Centre provides a fascinating insight into the history of the town, including a display devoted to a famous warship called the Princess Victoria.  For lovers of the great outdoors, as well as the tower, James Chaine’s memory lives on in the form of Chaine Park, a green space with wonderful views, especially for people who, like me, love watching the comings and goings of shipping and ferries.  Just to the south of the port, the ruins of Olderfleet Castle, dating from at least the 13th century, lie on Curran Point facing the Lough.

For a list of events in Larne, follow this link.

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The Chaine Memorial Tower. Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 13 December 2017


Looking at the map of County Antrim to the north of Whitehead you will notice what looks like a lobster claw stretching northwards to just across the way from Larne and almost enclosing Larne Lough.  This is the peninsula known as Islandmagee, a strip of land characterised by quiet villages and beautiful coastline inhabited by seabirds such as Kittiwakes and Guillemots.

The eastern coast of Islandmagee is the most dramatic, since it faces onto the Irish Sea.  In 1902 a local civil engineer, Dean Berkeley Wise, opened The Gobbins Cliff Path, stretching for nearly 3 miles and following the line of the limestone Gobbin cliffs, over 200 feet high in places.  The path became an instant hit with tourists but fell into disrepair during World War II.  Now there is a Visitor Centre where supervised cliff walks can be booked, with safety helmets provided.  The walk, as well as being spectacular in itself, offers wonderful views across the sea to Scotland.  Would-be visitors reading this during this month of December should note that the path is now closed until April 2018.

At the northeastern end of the peninsula, near the village of Mullaghboy, is the delightfully named Portmuck, reached by a steep, twisting road.  Do not be put off by the name though, as this is a beautiful spot with a bijou little harbour sporting lovely views of the Antrim coast.  The National Trust, who manage this stretch of coast, have come up with a couple of walking trails for visitors to enjoy.  For further information follow this link.  A tombolo, or sandbar, links the peninsula to Muck Island, although access is forbidden due to it being a nature reserve.  Portmuck used to be the haunt of smugglers, and a reminder of this time is a 'horse cave' where smugglers used to hide their horses. At the northernmost tip of Islandmagee is Skernaghan Point, which can be approached via a walking trail.

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The Gobbins. Photo by Giorgio Galeotti, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 4 December 2017


Whitehead, on the north shore of Belfast Lough, is a small seaside town midway between Carrickfergus and Larne.  The town was originally called Chichester, and the ruins of Castle Chichester, built by Sir Moses Hill, are still on view in Chester Avenue.  The town became a railway town during Victorian times and its attractions include a Railway Museum which tells the history of trains in Ireland and which, judging from the comments on TripAdvisor, is a hit with visitors whether or not they are into trains.  The famous Portrush Flyer steam train is on view there.  The local Golf Club has a restaurant with fine views over the area.

There is a lovely walk leading from the Boat Club in Whitehead to Blackhead and its lighthouse, taking in habitats such as the woodland known locally as the ‘Magic Forest’, although walkers should be aware that some of the path around the lighthouse itself is reportedly closed for maintenance.  The lighthouse, perched on a cliff at the northern edge of Belfast Lough, was built in 1902 and was manned until 1975.  There is a wide variety of birdlife in the area, Belfast Lough being managed by the RSPB.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


Many people like to dress up for marathons, as viewers of the annual London marathon will know – everything from a lion suit to a full antique diving suit.  What has this got to do with Carrickfergus I hear you cry?  Well, earlier this month a couple from Carrickfergus who are members of the local running club decided to work a marathon run into their wedding celebrations.  The couple, accompanied by their guests, changed into running gear with a wedding theme and ran a variety of distances so that as many people as possible could take part, right up to the full 26 miles.

Carrickfergus is on the north shore of Belfast Lough, just over the Antrim side of the County Down/County Antrim border which crosses the eastern suburbs of Belfast.  The town takes its name from Fergus the Great, a legendary king of Dál Riata, a kingdom that encompassed parts of Western Scotland as well as northeastern Ireland.  Carrickfergus was a prominent settlement before Belfast, meaning that until the 17th Century the Lough was known as Carrickfergus Bay.  John de Courcy, the Anglo-Norman knight who we have met several times already in this blog, established his headquarters here in the 12th century and built Carrickfergus Castle on "Carraig Fhearghais" (the rock of Fergus) in 1177.  

Carrickfergus has had an eventful history over the centuries, at one point even becoming involved in the American War of Independence.  During the Nine Years War, a struggle against English rule which began at the end of the 16th century, the town was the scene of the Battle of Carrickfergus, which saw the English defeated.  The much wider Seven Years’ War in the mid-18th century brought the forces of William of Orange to the town, where they besieged the castle for several days and William himself arrived on the scene.  In 1777 there was a naval duel off Carrickfergus between the British Royal Navy vessel HMS Drake and the 18-gun sloop Ranger of the Continental Navy, as the US Navy was called during the War of Independence, which the Americans won.  By the time of World War Two relations with the US had improved to the point where the US Rangers used the Sunnylands Camp in Carrickfergus for training before heading to Normandy.

Carrickfergus Castle is still remarkably well preserved and is open to visitors, with historical displays on view.  The castle occupies a fetching position on the northern shore of Belfast Lough.  Near the castle is the King William III (William of Orange) monument, a statue of the king commemorating his landing in the town.  Further away from the shore, the Carrickfergus Museum, attached to the Civic Centre, has displays dating from the Middle Ages onwards.  For visitors staying in Belfast, the town is easily reached by car or train from the capital.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, lies on the River Lagan, which empties into Belfast Lough, and which flows through some attractive green spaces on the outskirts of the city.  The majority of the city is in County Antrim, with the rest  in County Down.  There has been a settlement here since the Bronze Age, though the populated area was still small by the 12th century, when the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy built a castle on what is now Castle Street.  This modest conurbation put on a spurt in the 17th century when Arthur Chichester, 1st Baron Chichester of Belfast established a town which saw an influx of Protestant English and Scottish migrants.  By the 19th century the city had become Ireland’s most important industrial city, with industries including shipbuilding.  The ill-fated Titanic was built in Belfast, and the memory of her lives on to this day in the form of the Titanic Quarter.  It was in the early 1920s that Belfast became the capital of Northern Ireland upon the partitioning of Ireland.

Just to the northeast of the central part of the city is the area known as Sailortown, so called because during its time as a working-class residential area from the 19th century until its redevelopment in the late 1960s it was frequented by sailors from all over the world.  The 1907 dock strike was started in Sailortown by trade unionist James Larkin, and it spread from there to the rest of the city, with carters and coal men getting in on the act.  The area has its own Facebook page with some old photos and other memories of past times.

Belfast’s more recent history has been dominated by TheTroubles.  Being the capital, the city has seen the lion’s share of the bombings, violence and general unpleasantness associated with that period.  However, I am not going to dwell on this unhappy time, rather I want to celebrate the magnificence of the city that has emerged from all this in more recent, happier times.  The aforementioned Titanic Quarter would be worthy of any modern, progressive city, with its glitzy apartment buildings, restaurants, hotels and so on.  Central to this area is Titanic Belfast, a museum which tells the story of the ill-fated liner in a realistic and interactive way.  I have not been there but I did visit a similar attraction in Cobh, Republic of Ireland, and found it fascinating, so I can only imagine that the Belfast one is even bigger and better.  

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Titanic Belfast. Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons

For plant lovers, the Botanic Gardens in the south part of the city occupies 28 acres with features such as a Palm House and a Tropical Ravine House.  The Gardens occasionally host concerts and festivals.  Fans of the TV series The Fall may find the Gardens familiar, as they are one of a number of Belfast locations which feature in the storyline.  The Crumlin Road Gaol is no longer used as a prison, having ceased that function in 1996, but it holds tours and events.  One of the most familiar landmarks in Belfast is the Belfast City Hall with its green copper domes, which is open to visitors and offers tours.  The city’s St Anne’s Cathedral has lent its name to the Cathedral Quarter, probably the liveliest district in the city at night, with a host of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and hotels for night owls to discover.   The imposing Parliament Buildings, commonly known as Stormont, are in the Stormont Estate to the east of the city.  The Estate also houses Stormont Castle, a hefty pile reworked in the Scottish Baronial style in the 19th century which hosts meetings of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Stormont. Photo by LukeM212, via Wikimedia Commons
This is just a sample of the attractions on offer in present-day Belfast.  Needless to say a vibrant city like this has lots going on.  The Cathedral Quarter has its own Arts Festival, and also hosts events such as the Festival of Fools and Belfast Pride.  For a list of events in the city follow thislink.

Map of the area