Early warning, this is a long one but I’ve tried to keep it sound bitey and mostly pictures.
As a background to some timelines in this blog, Jenni and I were working while we were travelling, we’d wake early to sync with late afternoon in Australia. Then we’d keep working till 10am or 11am after they left for the day in Australia. We’d have a lot of the day to explore. In the evening we’d log on again at 10pm for an hour or so to catch the early morning in Australia. It was a challenge and quite tiring but we made it through. Sometimes, when there was a proposal or big client deliverable we’d have to work longer during the day. But we managed to make enough time to enjoy the journey.
To recap, two years ago, for my 60th birthday Jenni and I had arranged a trip to see family and friends back in the Auld Country. However, when were in Sydney in March 2021 about to get on a plane we were watching the Covid story unfold. Wisely, as it turned out, we placed a halt on the international trip and weathered out the intervening two years in Tasmania.
Two years later, international travel is back on the cards so we gave the big trip another go. This time it happened.
Approximately 28 hours later we arrived in Belfast. Becky and Chris surprised us on arrival at the airport. It was a beautiful reunion. We’d been apart too long.
The more observant of you may notice a lurker in the side of this picture.
As fate would have it, our Tassie friends Sandee and Brian, from the ECHO festival in the last blog, had already planned a great European Tour around the same time as ours. Their trip also included a few weeks in Ireland. When we all discovered our similar travel plans they added a couple of weeks to the start of their trip and met up with us in Belfast to spend the first part of their trip with us.
After picking up our hire car we drove to Carrickfergus and checked into our Airbnb. Of course the first place we visited in Carrick after checking in was Dobbin’s Inn for lunch and a pint of Guinness.
The following day we took a trip to see James who lives in Downpatrick. We’d planned a big family lunch later in the week but because James couldn’t make it to see us we went to see him. We all had lunch in the newly refurbished Cuan bar before taking a walk around Winterfell, or Catsle Ward as it’s know locally.
When some of The Dark Hedges’ trees blew over during a storm, the wood from two of the felled trees was made into 10 intricately carved doors, each of which displays a scene from Game of Thrones. These doors were then gifted to various local landmarks around Northern Ireland, each of which sits near a filming location from the show. We’ll visit another location with one of these later in these blogs. The Cuan was where many of the cast and crew stayed while filming in nearby Castle Ward.
The big historical tour of Carrick
As Sandee and Brian hadn’t visited this part of the world before I took a day off on Wednesday and took them on a grand tour of my old home town and surrounds. First stop, the Knockagh Monument.
Last night in Carrickfergus
On this leg of the trip we were only in Carrick 3 nights. The last night was big family dinner night. We’d booked a table at Ownies Bistro and met up in the bar beforehand.
Ownies dates back to 1846 and is a landmark historical pub in Carrickfergus. The name over the door was the Joymount Arms for years but everyone called it Ownies. Eventually they stopped fighting it and changed its name above the door. It has roaring fires to keep you warm on a cold night and also great beer and food.
The next day we (Sandee and Brian and us) departed our Airbnb and set off for a 7 night tour of Ireland. First stop, the cracking little fishing village of Killybegs.
On the way to Killybegs we drove over the Sperrins, one of Northern Ireland’s Areas or Outstanding Natural Beauty. The drive was, as always beautiful. We didn’t take any pictures.
We stopped in Donegall at the Old Castle Bar for some Guinness and Oysters.
That night we introduced Sandee and Brian to Father Ted. We had Kicking Bishop Brennan up the Arse, The Holy Stone of Clonrickert and of course no Tedfest would be complete without this classic!
Seafood was to be a theme of this part of the trip. Killybegs is a pretty busy fishing port. The next day Sandee and Brian took the car and left to explore Donegall. Jenni and I explored Killybegs on foot. Didn’t take long.
Sandee and Brian didn’t make it back until late so Jenni and I had a great meal at Andersons Boathouse restaurant. The food was excellent.
Not sure anyone realises but I love black pudding but you can’t get it in Australia for love nor money. Occasionally you see it in specialty small goods shops but its not in abundance. So I also had a private journey that when I saw it on a menu I ordered it. So it was great delight I saw it in the place we stopped for breakfast in Killybegs. I was, however the only one from our crew who did order it, ever.
In Killybegs we also introduced Sandee and Brian to Eurovision as we watched the semi final to see if Sheldon Riley representing Australia made it through. He did and therefore we were on for watching the final with Becky and John when they joined us in our next place, Westport.
The next day we left Killybegs. We’d planned a great route to Westport so we could take in some new sights. We seemed involuntarily, to be on the trail of Irelands oldest man made thing.
Mallinmore Court Tomb 3000BC
3000BC? That’s nothing, next stop Keshcorran Caves.
Keshcorran Caves 10,000BC
It hasn’t been mentioned before but the reason Sandee and Brian were on their journey partly to trace some Irish and European ancestors. Sandee has traced a line back to a location near Keshcorran Caves which were, coincidentally, between Killybegs and Westport.
I’d never heard of this place but when we pulled up it looked pretty impressive, several large caves cut out of the rocks by weather and time in the hills. This is from Wikipedia.
The caves have been used by man over several millennia, and it has long been suggested that they were the site of ancient religious practice or gathering such as Lughnasadh. Excavations carried out in the early 20th century discovered significant animal remains. Among others, these included bones of brown bear, arctic lemming, Irish elk, and grey wolf. Further explorations took place in 1929 and 1930, and these led to the recovery of more bones of lemming, reindeer, mouse, pig, hare, horse, frog, rabbit, sheep, fox, stoat, bear, dog, ox, badger and rat. The excavations also discovered remains of elk, cat, shrew, and duck. Those of the bear, deer, hare, and wolf were dated to around 10,000 BC, while those of the stoat and horse were dated to around 6000 BC and 400 BC respectively. Another important recovery was that of a metacarpus of reindeer, discovered above an area of burnt charcoal. This suggests that reindeer in Ireland survived until the human period.
As they were not man made they didn’t count. But being inhabited 10,000 years ago was quite impressive.
Jenni and I had booked a top hotel. It was our treat to ourselves but also a bit of a birthday present for Jenni. Sandee and Brian had opted for a traditional Irish Bed and Breakfast experience as so were staying in another part of town. Our hotel boasted a spa and thermal suite and our package included Dinner and Breakfast. Becky and her boyfriend John joined us at the hotel. We checked in, showered and got cleaned up and met in the bar for pre dinner drinks. The barman had to look up how to make a Negroni in a book. I would have to do that also but then I’m not a barman. The place was packed, it was several young girl’s Holy Communion after parties and was a massive gathering of the Irish Clans. Although it was early, signs were it could get messy.
The dinner was very nice, I especially liked the chicken wings. However the highlight of this evening, and what made this night Jenni’s favourite of the trip so far was Eurovision.
Becky and John retired to their room as did we, to watch the Eurovision final. We kept in touch through Messenger. This was John’s first Eurovision.
We watched and chatted with Becky to the end. It was great fun.
In the morning Jenni had a session booked in the Thermal Suite. While Jenni was cooking I had a walk through the town. Lovely place Westport, I’d like to go back.
We also said farewell to Becky and John whom we would see again in the big house in Cushendun. What? Have I not mentioned this? Well it will not be in this blog as it’s already too long. You’ll need to wait till the next one.
The Road to Kinvarra
Our next stop is Kinvarra which was a short distance but we planned it that way so we could have lunch in a place recommended by our friend Ian Moran. We’ll meet up with Ian and his wife later in this trip.
After the excellent lunch we drove to Kinvarra. Along the roads we kept seeing these old classic Jaguar cars. We realised they all had a sticker saying “The Craic”. We tried for ages to get a picture, eventually Jenni snagged one as a car went by.
Shortly after we arrived in Kinvarra to stay in a converted stable for 3 nights. However the rest of the journey will have to wait till the next blog as this is one already far too long.
The next blog does have cute lambs in it so its worth waiting for.
Till the next one comes.