After the Highlands of Scotland, I was looking forward to returning to Ireland. It has been 12 years since I first was here. I came for a photography workshop that was based out of Westport, in the Republic. During that visit, I explored not only the west coast, including the Cliffs of Moher but also the Aran Islands, Waterford, the Wicklow Mountains and Dublin.
My husband’s mother’s family were Tobin’s from Country Cork and it’s always fun to see that name on signs or meet people who are probably in some way related. I was told that everyone in Ireland are related somehow!
This time I wanted to visit The North, so I flew into Belfast. I was met at the airport by the lovely, and extremely talented Ruth Forrester, an internet sewing friend and fellow blogger, who I had emailed from the States to say I was coming to Belfast and would love to meet her and buy her a cup of tea. I’ll tell you a little bit more about my welcome and Ruth when I tell you about the people I met.
Ruth whisked me away to a wonderful craft fair where demonstrations of beading and weaving, quilting and quilling, spinning and wood-carving were ongoing in at The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. This museum of international renown, is regarded as being amongst the best of its kind in the world. Set in over 170 acres of rolling countryside overlooking Belfast Lough, visitors can wander through the past and discover how people lived and traveled over the centuries.
The Folk Museum tells the story of life in early 20th century Ulster. A bygone era is recreated in a rural landscape of farms, cottages, traditional crops and local breeds of livestock. A typical Ulster town of the early 1900s is brought to life with homes, shops, workplaces, churches and schools. Costumed visitor guides, working buildings and exhibits, as well as the chance to touch, hear and do, bring history to life for visitors of all ages.
For my 2 nights in Belfast, I stayed in an old, Victorian house where I had to lug my suitcase up 3 flights of stairs and share one bathroom with five other guests. Not quite as advertised on their AirBnB listing, but a good breakfast, this one I wouldn’t recommend, so I won’t share the link. But the location was good as it had bus access directly to the center of Belfast right outside the door.
I decided to take the double-decker Hop-On-Hop-Off-Bus for an hour and a half tour of the city. These buses give you the option of getting off at any of their numerous stops along the way, then hopping back on the next bus when you are ready to move on.
It was a very cold, gray, windy day but I chose to sit outside, on top so I could see lots of the city. Stops included Belfast Castle, the Titanic Quarter, Stormont (the Parliment), the Falls and Shankill Roads, the Peace Wall and the murals and the huge security gates that are still in place.
|Woman with Hula Hoop!|
|The ramparts of Belfast Castle|
After 2 days in Belfast, it was time to pick up my rental car and set off to the far northern coastal areas. But let me digress a bit and tell you about renting a car in Europe – specifically in Ireland. DON’T!
I was told by a lovely Irish woman I met while in Germany teaching that the best deal was to rent through Rentalcars.com. They will find you the best rate with the best company. So I booked a tiny, 2-door, stick-shift KIA for $431.88 for 16 days. That came to $26.99 a day plus gas – reasonable, I thought. So off I go to the SIXT Car rental office to pick up my car. This is when the s–t hit the fan and you find out that there is a few more added fees you didn’t know about.
Now I already knew that not one American credit card company will cover the liability waiver in Ireland. Why? Don’t ask me, they just don’t. They don’t cover Jamacia either. So I had to purchase a daily, full-coverage liability insurance for 16 days. Then there was the fact that I was going to drive the car ‘across the border’ into The Republic and that was an additional daily fee. Don’t forget taxes and VAT and, and, and…..for an additional total of $643.90!!! I am now up to $1075.78 for 16 days or $67.23 a day for the pleasure of wandering around on tiny, winding, badly marked, in some cases, one-lane roads for the next 16 days, all the time driving on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! The only good thing was they felt sorry for me and upgraded me to a 4-door which got 50 MPG, so my gas costs were quite small – in comparison.
|My little Kia with steering wheel on the Right (wrong) side.
Can’t tell you how many times I got in on the left side of the car to dirve!
I would have loved to have saved the expense of the car – and the stress which was a really huge part of driving here – but I could never have gone to the places I went, nor seen the sites I saw without a car. So in the end, it was worth it – until I had to return it to Belfast on my final day in Ireland, instead of Dublin, which I was near where I was staying, because they wanted another $200 for drop-off in a ‘foreign country.’
So I drove 2 1/2 hours back to Belfast, arriving in the middle of morning rush hour. OMG! – I have never been so happy to have a smartphone with GoogleMaps in my entire life! I also learned, after-the-fact, that there are no gas stations along their highways, so I arrived without a full tank of gas. When I learned the closest gas station where I could fill up was 8 miles away on a busy highway near the airport, I said ‘please take an additional $45, I refuse to get behind the wheel again!’ I then took a cab to catch a bus to the Dublin Airport (returning along the same road I had drove on) to catch my flight to the Isle of Man.
But whoa – first we have to go back to where I started my driving adventure – picking up the car and heading North!
After studying my map in great detail, knowing I wanted to take the A2 coast road all the way up to Portrush, I said a prayer, got in the right/wrong side of the car and off I went. I had just made it out of Belfast proper and was driving through the first medium-sized town of Carrickfergus when I glanced to my right and there it stood – my first medieval Irish Castle!
Though I didn’t have the time to take the self-guided tour, I did learn that this castle since it was first built in 1178 has remained fully garrisoned for 750 years until 1928. It was besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English, and French and saw action right up to World War II. Cool!
The location was in the middle of all the places I hoped to visit – Giants Causeway, Bushmills, Dunluce Castle.
My room had huge windows overlooking the 5th hole of the Royal Portrush Golf Course, a links course and home of the 2019 British Open, and the Atlantic Ocean – wide open to all the way north to the Artic Circle.
There was a white sand beach that was open for miles where the beautiful racehorses were brought each morning to exercise and run.
As evening closed in on my first night, the sun chose to put to on show of colors as it went down behind the faraway hills of Donegal while my host Ian and I sipped a wee bit of Jameson’s and swapped stories of our lives.
My Canadian friend Linda had originally planned to join me for my Irish sojourn and that was why I had booked an entire week in one place. When her plans changed, I thought why not just stay, relax, read a couple of books and take in the sites of the area?
|Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge|
|Rocks at Giant’s Causeway|
|Backside of Giant’s Causeway|
Whiterocks Beachhouse had other guests while I was there for my week and I got to be friends with a couple from NYC and a solo woman traveler from Portland, OR. We decided that exploring together would be more fun so off we headed to Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (no, I did not walk across this bridge – photo only!), the Bushmills Distillary and a delicious dinner at The Harbor Bar in downtown Portrush.
My friend from Portland and I decided that one day should be devoted to exploring Londonderry/Derry. We chose to go by train as the ride there from Coleraine is said to be one of the most scenic in all of Ireland. We lucked out with a bright, sunny day and enjoyed taking the Free Walking Tour. We climbed a short flight of stairs and slowly strolled all around this fortified city on top of the city walls. The Troubles played a big roll again in this divided city and murals depicting those times are still very visible. They recently erected The Peace Bridge which spans Louch Foyle and has had such famous ‘crossers’ as Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King, Jr., David Cameron (British PM) and Courtney Cox (who married a guy from Derry).
|The City Gate|
|Walking on top of the wall|
|St. Columb’s Cathedral – Erected 1628|
|Beautiful little church in a quite corner of the city|
|The Peace Bridge|
On my last day in Portrush, I walked just up the road a piece to the ruins of Dunluce Castle and village. They had a great Visitors Center where the history of this one-time home of the notorious pillaging and plundering MacDonald clan could be explored.