Connemara

Leaving Bundoran early on a crisp, autumn morning, we continued our drive through County Donegal heading southwest through County Mayo toward Galway. The journey was broken by the necessity to stop and take photographs of the beautiful scenery. Solitary stone ruins scattered the countryside

1.ruins

and gentle waterfalls tumbled a tune.

2.waterfall

Rivers skilfully traversed rocks before disappearing beneath ancient stone bridges.

3.river4.stone bridge

Shafts of sunlight shone briefly on the mountains before retreating once again behind the clouds.

5.mountains6.mountains7.mountains

As the landscape changed, gentle streams meandered through farmland

8.stream

and  flowed calmly under stone arches.

9.stone bridge

Despite our distractions, we reached Connemara in good time, this old caravan by the side of the road presented a subliminal suggestion.

10.old caravan

We arrived in Leenane in time for lunch, a peaceful village at the head of Killary Harbour. Extending 16km toward the sea, Killary Harbour is the most westerly fjord in Europe, majestic mountains rising on either side make for a spectacular panorama.

11.Killary Fjord12.Killary Fjord

The cemetery has prime position.

13.Leenane cemetery & Killary Harbour

Further along the shore we had a different perspective of the fjord

14.Killary Fjord

and a breathtaking view of Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht and County Mayo.

15.Mweelrea, Killary Fjord

We were looking forward to exploring Connemara, a region in west Galway known for its National Park, stunning coastline and fishing villages. Our intention was to drive to Clifden on the far west side of Connemara and continue the loop back to Galway. Unfortunately, we hadn’t gone far before a police roadblock informed us the road was closed due to an accident. Taking a detour, we came across a pub in the middle of nowhere and sought to assuage our disappointment with a tasty beverage. Entering the establishment, we were greeted with indifference by the three men at the bar who had seemingly already partaken of the amber liquid. The barman disappeared, presumably to prepare for customers. We waited at the bar, then took a seat at a table while the three aforementioned persons spoke to each other in Gaelic and furnished us with less than friendly stares. We were a bit slow on the uptake but, when the barman failed to return, we beat a hasty retreat and, without looking back, made a beeline for Galway. For those of you who have read of our disgruntlement with Holly, our satnav, here is evidence. She is unable to comprehend that we are already on a road!

16.Holly

County Donegal

After a very comfortable night and hearty breakfast at the Ramada Hotel in Portrush, we took an early morning stroll to admire the scenery before continuing on our circuitous journey of Ireland. The small seaside resort town was quiet this time of year, the snow-capped mountains confirming the advent of winter.

1.Portrush2.Portrush

A panoramic ten minute drive

3.drive

delivered us to Portstewart. Founded in 1792, this fishing village became a popular holiday destination for middle-class Victorian families. The two miles of golden sandy beach are still popular

4.Portstewart

and waterside homes have a stunning backdrop.

5.Portstewart

The spectacular Derryveagh Mountains accompanied us on our route through County Donegal,

6.Derryveagh Mountains7.Derryveagh Mountains

until we met the coast again at Ardara. The beautiful beaches, perfect for swimming, were serenely deserted.

8.Ardara9.Ardara10.Ardara

To the east, the Blue Stack Mountains loomed out of the mist.

11.Blue Stack Mountains

We stayed the night at the Holyrood Hotel in Bundoran, the tourist season was obviously, well and truly over.

Dunluce Castle

The light was beginning to fade as we left the Giant’s Causeway and we had yet to find accommodation for the night. Heading to Portrush to do just that, we diverted to investigate Dunluce Castle. The ruins of the medieval castle perch precariously on the edge of a cliff and are reached by a bridge connecting it to safer ground.

1.Dunluce Castle

The first castle at Dunluce was built in the 13th century by the 2nd Earl of Ulster. In the 16th century, Sorley Boy McDonnell arrived from Scotland and based himself at Dunluce Castle, consolidating his territories in both Ireland and Scotland.

2.Dunluce Castle3.Dunluce Castle

He certainly couldn’t complain about the view.

4.Dunluce Castle

There is a pathway leading down to the cove, looking back at the castle gives a rather startling perspective.

6.Dunluce Castle7.Dunluce Castle

There is a story that the castle was abandoned in the 17th century after the kitchen , along with the kitchen staff, fell into the sea when the cliff face collapsed. It’s easy to believe but apparently a myth, as paintings from the 18th and early 19th centuries show that end of the castle intact.

8.Dunluce Castle

There are caves under the castle, although we didn’t venture that far.

9.Dunluce Castle10.Dunluce Castle

The north wall of the residence building collapsed into the sea sometime in the 18th century, I wonder how long before this one follows?

11.Dunluce Castle

Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway was discovered by the Bishop of Derry in 1692 and much debate ensued as to the origin of this amazing phenomenon.

1.Giant's Causeway

One theory was that it was created by an Irish giant called Finn MacCool who was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn built the causeway across the North Channel to meet his foe but he chickened out when he saw the size of the Scot. Instead, he disguised himself as his own son. Benandonner took fright at the thought of just how big his rival must be and retreated to Scotland, destroying the causeway as he went. The mystery was solved in 1771 when French geologist, Nicolas Desmarest, announced the structure was the result of volcanic activity around 60 million years ago. Almost 40,000 basalt columns were created as the molten lava cooled, forming a pavement from the cliff to the sea.

2.Giant's Causeway

Most of the columns are hexagonal,

3.Giant's Causeway

the tallest being around 12 metres high.

4.Giant's Causeway5.Giant's Causeway

Some of the formations have been named after objects they resemble. In the distance are the Chimney Stacks and about two thirds along the cliff to the right, the Organ Pipes.

6.Chimney Stacks

There was a lot more to see along the Giant’s Causeway Walk but unfortunately, it was too late in the day to tackle that. I was happy just to be standing in this spectacular location,

7.Giant's Causeway

Michael was a little more adventurous.

8.Giant's Causeway

Causeway Coast

The coast of Northern Ireland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. The present coast road was engineered in the 1830s and is now known as the Causeway Coastal Route, 190km hugging the Atlantic Coast from Belfast to Londonderry. Amidst the geology and greenery, there was the unexpected. Just before we reached Ballygally, a very happy bear appeared out of nowhere. The origin of the polar bear persona is unknown but every year, the locals touch up the paint and ensure his smile never fades.

1.Bear Rock

The village of Ballygally nestles along the shore of Ballygally Bay.

2.Ballygally

At the head of the bay, Ballygally Castle has an interesting history. Built in 1625 by Scotsman James Shaw, it would have been surrounded by four walls and withstood several incursions during the 1642 rebellion. It remained in the Shaw family into the 1800s and then passed through a few different families. In the 1950s, an entrepreneur bought, refurbished and opened the castle as a hotel and further development in 1966 created the hotel as it is now. Reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Ulster, there are a number of resident ghosts. The most active is Lady Isobel Shaw who had been starved and locked in her room by her husband. Tragically, she fell to her death from the window. She now has a habit of knocking on the doors of the rooms and disappearing.

3.Ballygally

The rest of the houses around the bay look very peaceful and undisturbed.

4.Ballygally5.Ballygally

Looking out to sea, The Maidens are visible 9km offshore. The two lighthouses date back to 1829, the lighthouse keepers and their families lived for a year at a time on these islets. The isolation was no obstacle to romance; in the 1830s, the assistant keeper of one lighthouse fell in love with the daughter of the keeper of the other. He often visited by boat until the families had a falling out and her father forbade them to meet. They found a solution, they eloped to Carrickfergus. No longer inhabited, the West Maiden was abandoned in 1903 and the East Maiden was automated in 1977.

6.The Maidens

The Mull of Kintyre broke the horizon, only 10km from the coast of County Antrim.

7.Mull of Kintyre from Glenarm

It was a pleasure to drive the coastal road surrounded by mountains to the left and ocean to the right. This fence line reminded me of Michael’s engineering feats when we lived in the Adelaide Hills.

8.Ballycastle

The next town was Ballycastle,

9.Ballycastle

the sunlight through the clouds illuminated the clifftops of Fairhead.

10.Fair Head

Rising 196 metres above the bay, Ballycastle’s headland formed as a result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago. The upper half of the cliff is composed of gigantic columns of dolerite up to 12 metres in diameter.

11.Fair Head

Further up the coast, rocky islands are scattered throughout the waters of Larrybane Bay.

12.Larrybane Bay

The dolerite cliffs of Sheep Island were magnificent.

13.Sheep Island, Larrybane Bay copy

Remnants of old machinery remain on Stackaboy Island from the days when dolerite was carried on overhead lines to the island and then loaded onto steamboats for the trip to Scotland.

14.Stackaboy Island, Larrybane Bay

I had mentally prepared myself for the heart-stopping walk across the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, not realising it was another icon that closed down for the winter season. First erected by salmon fishermen in 1755, the 20 metre long bridge is suspended 30 metres above the sea. The waters around Carrick Island were teeming with salmon migrating to the North Atlantic and the fishermen would walk the bridge in all weather and return with their catch. Whether due to changing migratory patterns or over-fishing of the area, there are now very few salmon left and the tradition ended in 2002. Carrick Island is the first bump from the headland (it looks attached from this angle).

15.Carrick Island, Larrybane Bay

These photos may look familiar to anyone who watches Game of Thrones, much of the filming took place along the Causeway Coast.