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Ancestors, castles, scenery, celtic history, and more. 10 days in Ireland.


Oct 11th, 2012, 03:31 PM
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Ancestors, castles, scenery, celtic history, and more. 10 days in Ireland.

This is the third of three trip reports covering our 5 weeks in England, Scotland, and Ireland. the frirst two reports; London, and Bath . . Edinburgh, have been previously filed under the United Kingdom forum, and can be found by clicking on my name. Sorry this is so late, have been very busy (with good stuff).

25th day , 12 July, Thursday

As I have previously reported here, we spent 5 weeks in England, Scotland and Ireland in July 2012. This was a result of DW declaring her July birthday wish to be in Great Britain. (Click on my name, and you can find the trip reports on the first two phases: “Seven Nights in London”; and, “Bath . . . . Edinburgh.”)

Some time ago, I read some advice on visiting Ireland, maybe on the Fodor’s Forum. If you had 10 days or so for Ireland, draw a line from Galway to Dublin, and stay on either side of it. That was my original plan; to stay south of the line. Until I found that I have relatives buried in a castle graveyard in Northern Ireland.

With our itinerary set, and many reservations made, should I throw the whole thing into a loop by making the attempt at finding their graves? Yes, I decided. Which leads me to confirm the above advice. Though it worked for us, it did put a strain on a couple of days, getting back on track in the Republic of Ireland (south). So, as you read the following trip report, please recall that originally I never intended to be in the north at all, and a total of three days was taken from our original scheduled time in the Republic of Ireland, because we quickly decided that since we would be in Northern Ireland, we might as well see the Antrim coast, including the Giants Causeway and the Rope Bridge. But we also did not want to give up what we wanted most to see in the south.

Took the 08:20 Easy Jet flight, Edinburgh to Belfast. Hotel (Scotsman) got us up and into a cab on time, and the airport was a breeze. In fact, could have slept in a bit. The flight to Belfast was only about 30 minutes, hardly enough time to get comfortable. As you will see, we normally do not get up and going at an early hour. We like leisurely breakfasts. So this morning was unusual.

EuroCar had my reservation, and I drove the Vauxhall diesel (more get up and go than the previous unleaded Vauxhall) strait-away to Kilwaughter, about 22 miles to the northeast. Kilwaughter is not much more than a crossroads, and narrow roads at that, but it is an area where my 4th and 5th (maybe 6th) great grandparents lived back in the late 1600’s through the mid 1800’s.

It was pretty exciting to roam around on tiny little roads of Antrim County, Northern Ireland, thinking about what life would have been like growing flax in the 16 and 1700’s, and into the 1800’s. My crowd left Ireland in the 1840’s, during the potato famine, and settled in Ontario. Good for them. A sizeable portion of the Irish population left Ireland during those hard times. Another sizeable portion perished.

When we think of the hardships and troubles we face today, I wonder how many of us would face those troubled times. My 4th great grandmother, with 4 kids in tow, the oldest was 4, got on a ship with all their worldly possessions and left everything they had ever known. During the 6 week trans-Atlantic trip in a crowded sailing vessel, she had twin girls who died and were buried at sea. After arriving in Ontario, the family set up a lumber business. She had 4 other children, the last born when she was 46.

We came into Northern Ireland on July 12. We knew it was a holiday, in fact a “bank” holiday, but had no idea of the significance of the 12th of July. Well it turns out there is much significance, as it celebrates the “Battle of the Boyne,” where in 1690 the Protestant William of Orange defeated the armies of the Catholic kings of England and Scotland. More on that later, as we visited the Valley of the Boyne River, the sight of that pivotal battle. Imagine the world today had that battle gone the other way.

Later we learned that there were some “troubles” in both Belfast City and Derry, as celebratory Protestants incited some violence in both cities. Will it never stop? In our brief speedy journey through Northern Ireland, foregoing both Belfast and Derry, locals we talked to uniformly told us not to go into either city. Interesting, and sad. We surely found the “country” folk of Northern Ireland to be among the most wonderful people we have ever met in all our travels. We agreed that we need to return to N. Ireland and give it justice.

We found the ruins of Kilwaughter Castle easy enough, and got into several conversations with locals. Two ladies, especially, who were out for a walk during the first sunny day in weeks. They were really sweet, and talked to us for quite a while with directions, local gossip about our kin, and other interesting little bits of conversation.

Outside the castle, there was the original gatehouse along a very narrow road. An old gentleman was outside trimming a large hedge of fuchsia’s with a power trimmer. He was glad to share information with us about the old castle and the gatehouse he now lived in. The actual gate, is chained off, and the road beyond is overgrown with trees and shrubs. It is impassable. (More on fuchsia’s later.)

It was accessible via a separate dirt road up to a farm house. The castle and immediate grounds are derelict, abandoned, and in a forlorn state. It is occupied primarily by rabbits, chickens, geese, and various farm animals, and along one wall of the castle is a huge pile of manure. We could not enter it in any way, as it was overgrown with thick weeds and bushes, and clearly not safe. Floors and ceilings were missing, having fallen into the interior of the castle rooms.

The cemetery, in which my ancestors are buried, was chest high in weeds, and pocked with sink-holes and debris hidden in the overgrown weeds. Reluctantly, we decided not to enter the graveyard. Many of the tombstones were not even visible in the undergrowth.

The farmer who rents the property around the castle was nice enough, and motioned his ok to prowl around, but we didn’t understand a thing he said, his brogue was so thick. Another farmer talked with us at length of the flax crops no longer grown here (a crop my ancestors grew), and that sheep cultivation was about all that went on, now that many dairies had shut down. In fact, even that was marginal at this time.

With the ancestral search mission apparently carried as far as it could be, I stood on a rise and took one last look around, knowing that the roads we rode on were the roads my ancestors traveled in their everyday business of living. The countryside was beautiful, as we were blessed with blue skies and actually a bit warm, in contrast to the 3+ weeks of rain and cold we have just been through.

With some photos of the crossroad that is Kilwaughter, off we went on a narrow road without a center line, arriving at Ballygally on the coast around 2 with the help of our GPS handheld, Dorothy. We continued to Glenarm, where we found a little café serving soup and sandwiches, which was excellent. We were the only non-locals in the place. Later, we had a great conversation with some folks setting up a bar b q down by the beach on this holiday. So far, we have been overwhelmed with the friendliness and openness of the Irish we have come in contract with.

That night we stayed in the Ballygally Castle Hotel, one of the Hastings properties. Our room was in the tower portion of the original 1625 castle, and looked out over beautiful gardens within the original castle wall. There are many weddings and other events here, and also tour buses, one of which unloaded its horde here this night, and almost crowded us out of the dining room. But the food was very good, and the room excellent. A very positive experience.

Supposedly, the ghost of a woman lives in the tower above our room. One of the cleaning persons refuses to go up there, but the room is not used. We heard some creaking of floors above us during the night, like a room above was occupied. When I asked about it the next morning, no, there were no rooms above us, except the one, which is never rented out. Well now. Do ya think? Uhmmm?

26th day, 13 July, Friday

We drove too quickly through the “Glens of Antrim,” an incredibly beautiful area deserving much more time, and stopped at Carrick-a-rede. It was sunny and clear, warm, perhaps 23 or 24 c. Hardly a whisp of a breeze. We could see Scotland. The color of the ocean was beautiful.

At Carrick, you pay a small fee, and walk about half a mile with great views. Then you queue up for the crossing on the rope bridge. Here is where many folks decide not to cross. It is a simple rope bridge, with rope rails on both sides (years ago, only one side had a rope rail). It sways and bounces with the weight of those crossing with you. A maximum of 8 people cross at a time. Guides on both sides control the direction of travel. Depending on the crowds, you may wait some time for your turn to cross. Once across, you can climb all over the little outcropping. It is steep and rough. Once across, we turned around and went back.

Next we stopped at Giant’s Causeway, and lingered there for a couple of hours. This strange geologic display is popular with locals, as the rocks were swarming with folks of all ages on this sunny (what, the sun?) holiday. The formations are very curious, and remind me of the old Egbert vintage video game.

There is a large visitor center that is well organized. There is a video presentation explaining the geology and how the landscape was formed, as well as an animated version of the legend of the giants. There is also a very good café serving soups, salads, sandwiches and hot stuff. You can ride a bus down to the rocks, or walk. We walked down, and rode the shuttle bus back up. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the ride back up. An audio guide is provided which is very informational as you walk around.

In all of the stops yesterday and today, we were continuously amazed at the friendliness of the folks we talked to. With the fine weather, and the holiday, lots of locals were doing what the tourists do. Based on our experience, I believe we were a bit of an oddity, in that we were traveling independently, not part of a bus tour. They would ask if we were on a tour. When we stated we were traveling alone by car, they would look surprised and become very talkative. It was from one such local that we learned that if you say Londonderry, it is assumed you are from England. Up here, it is referred to as simply Derry, and we were cautioned that you don’t want to appear you are from England. Feelings run deep.

They would ask if we had been in Belfast or Derry, and when we said no, they universally said good, don’t go, or words to that effect. It was like the folks out in the countryside live a much less agitated life. They were very curious about our quest for ancestors, acting as though they wished they could help. It was an amazing feeling. We truly have to go back to Northern Ireland.

With not enough time to see Derry, we continued south to the Hastings Everglades Hotel. We wanted to get to Galway the next night, and Dingle the night after, two days of long drives, to get back on our original Southern Ireland itinerary. The Everglades, located on the southern outskirts of Derry, resembles a US style motel kind of place from the outside. But it has a full bar with a lushly furnished lounge area, a nice dining room with good food, and a clean comfortable room. We were off to The Republic of Ireland the next day.

27th Day, 14 July, Saturday

We are driving to Galway today. A few km’s out of Derry, you cross a bridge into Ireland, and it suddenly occurred to me that Great British Pounds are no longer the currency. So I turned around, went back to the other side of the bridge and topped off the tank with diesel, paying cash with pounds. Next door to the petrol station was a Bureau d’ Change, and I converted my few remaining pounds into Euros. Instead of pounds, it is Euros. Instead of miles, it is kilometers. But I’m still driving on the left.

For many km’s south, the landscape was beautiful, with mountains on both sides of the nicer road. Later, we got into flatter land, and it became somewhat boring. We made Galway in about 6 hours, but we stop a lot.

Our stay this night would be a bit of a splurge at the Park House Hotel, very near Eyre Square in Old Town Galway. The room was quite luxurious and well worth the splurge. Dinner here was tops, and so was the music down the street at a pub. We found a laundry service, but you couldn’t do your own, so we paid the lady 10 Euros and picked up our laundry a couple of hours later.

Like over in England and Scotland, we found the service staff to be young adults mostly from Eastern bloc countries. Jan, the bartender, is from Czech Republic, made very good cosmo’s. Some of my heritage is Czech, and we had a great conversation.

28th Day, 15 July, Sunday

We decided to forgo the Burrens and Cliffs of Moher in an effort to get to Dingle by mid afternoon. But we don’t get going real early, and I don’t like to drive more than about 4-5 hours in a day. DW doesn’t drive. She just sits on the left side cringing when I try to give a bus or a tractor part of my side of the road. It’s not that she didn’t want to drive; she offered many times. If you must know, the real reason is that I did not want to sit in the seat of terror (on the left).

She also helps Dorothy, our Garmin handheld, who sometimes needs direction. Dorothy has an adventurous spirit and wants us to follow her purple lined road. (Another Dorothy we knew followed a yellow brick road.) In Ireland we stayed mostly on major highways, which we found to be well signed, and didn’t really need Dorothy. But in cities, like Derry and Galway, she was indispensable.

Driving basically direct to Dingle featured more rather boring countryside, but the little village of Adare is worthy of note. What a darling village, says DW as we enter. We took this opportunity for a rest stop, later heard some history of this beautiful little town.

It was settled by German refugees in the 1700’s. They were very industrious and built a prosperous community. Tom, our B&B host 3 nights hence, said horses from Adare are world famous for their strong bones. Due to the limestone, ya know, says he.

One of the most spectacular passes into Dingle area is Conor’s Pass. However, the closer we got to Dingle, the worst the weather turned, and as we rose into mountains, we found ourselves in clouds. It had rained on us off and on all the way from Galway. We would have seen nothing from Conor, so we took the long way around. Later we confirmed with other travelers that one couldn’t see 50 feet on Conor’s Pass.

We got to Dingle and were enthralled with the little town. We drove around in it to get the lay of the land, then found our B&B, Heaton’s GuestHouse, right on the road about a quarter mile west of town.

After checking in, we walked into town and explored a bit. Stopped in at the TI office and got a map and other information for Slea Head Drive, or the drive around the Dingle Peninsula. Made a reservation with “Up from the Blue” restaurant, recommended by our B&B host, David. Later, the weather took another nasty turn, so we drove back into town for dinner, which was very good.

29th day, 16 July, Monday

Our room looked out over the Bay of Dingle, and we were presented with an ever changing picture of life in the tidal shallows. Breakfast was really outstanding. Seems David is a trained chef, and has run a few restaurants. A few years ago, he, his brother, and his Dad (Cameron) decided to get into B&B’s. The brother runs the one next door. Cameron had very specific suggestions on driving the Dingle Peninsula, and together with our guidebooks, never had a problem. Even turned Dorothy off.

We were primarily interested in the archeological and historical things to see, and, of course, the scenery, and we were not disappointed. The ring forts, the beehive houses and other evidence of previous inhabitants dot this remote and wild land. We had to search around for the Oratory at the end of our day, but found it.

Here again we got up close and personal with the Fuchsia hedges that line the sides of the roads. Seems someone imported some fuchsia in the 1700’s, and now it is the default roadside hedge.

When trucks, busses and John Deere tractors come at you, you must find a place, and usually that means getting in the Fuchsia. At one stop we found fuchsia in DW’s door handle. DW didn’t like these little episodes of terror. Some of the bushes disguise bridge abutments, or culverts, and stuff like that.

I began to notice what appeared to be an oddity. About waste high, running horizontally along these very thick hedges, is a little groove. I finally figured out that it is a groove created by the left side rear view mirrors, as cars create room for oncoming traffic.

We found an unmarked gravel road that served a few private homes. We parked at the end and walked through a gate about 100 yards to view the schoolhouse from the classic move “Ryan’s Daughter,” filmed here in 1969.

Not a box office success initially, but developed quite a following later, the locals are full of stories of the time it was filmed. Like when Trevor Howard’s wife fell off a sea wall in Dingle and broke her leg. And how Robert Mitchum “liked the ladies and the booze.” The rest of the village (built for the movie) around the schoolhouse was taken down, but the schoolhouse remains. Uniquely, there is no charge to go see it.

We did identify with the movie’s weather. It remained cold, windy, grey, with blowing drizzle and occasional rain. Basically just this side of miserable. We were beginning to think the car’s thermometer was stuck on 12 (centigrade). It was in Dingle that we heard there was no bad weather in Ireland. Only inappropriate clothing.

Back in Dingle, did some more last minute shopping. At Dingle Crystal, we found beautiful crystal being made by a guy that used to work at Waterford Chrystal. We bought two large and very beautiful and heavy martini glasses. That night back at Heaton’s, I mixed up a batch of Cosmo’s, and we had them downstairs in the well furnished and comfortable living room, with a beautiful view out to the bay. Had great conversations with other guests that night. Returned the glasses the next day to the store, where they will be shipped home. (Note: arrived successfully.)

30th day, 17 July, Tuesday

After another of David’s magnificent breakfast creations, off we went east, passing Inch Beach, where some scenes from “Ryan’s Daughter” were filmed. There was kite sailing lessons in progress. It was very windy, but not as grey.

After Killarney, which seemed forgettable, got to Muckross house and thoroughly enjoyed that mansion. Very good tour given, the only way you can see it. The grounds and lakes of course are most beautiful. (Years ago, DW, toured a mansion in Southern California that was owned by the last owner of Muckross. What a connection.) This old house is worth a stop. It is among some beautiful grounds, on the shores of a lake. The tour gives much history and peeks into the lifestyles of the period.

Coming up out of Muckross, direction Kenmare, was a terror filled adventure. On the narrow, winding road heading for Kenmare, in the late afternoon, many busses returning from their tours of Ring of Kerry demanded the middle of a narrow road. It was raining hard. This was the only time I was not comfortable driving. DW yelped a couple of times when the bus front end encroached just a little extra onto our side, driving us deeper into the fuchia’s.

At the crest in the clouds, Moll’s Gap, visibility was about 50 yards. There were about 40 busses parked there, with swarms of tourists wandering around the little village. I’m sure the views would have been incredible. We pressed on. The car’s thermometer said 8 celsius. A fierce wind was blowing. The rain continued.

We made it into Kenmare alive, though the car suffered some scathing scratches on the left side, with fuchsia flowers wrapped around the left side mirror and door handle. We met the most gracious and friendly Tom and Moira, of Shelbourne Lodge, a B&B just about a half a mile out of old town.

Intended to walk, but still raining, so borrowed one of Tom’s umbrellas and drove back to town, and found a parking place. Kenmare can be shopped in about one half hour, but there are plenty of pubs serving good grub. We picked Foley’s. It was very good.

31st day, 18 July, Wednesday

The next day, with advise from Tom, we drove the Ring of Kerry. While not dotted with as many archeological wonders as Dingle, it is perhaps wilder more diverse in its landscape. At the tip, there is a high crest, with a large parking lot. You can see both north and south, and the wind blows exceptionally strong here. We stopped many times along the way to view scenery or rock forts and “famine” houses. Also, the large bay where the “only seaside pub in Ireland” is located. We found the “up-side-down” bridge, where several cyclists were resting. In Waterville, we looked at a few parts of the famous golf course that is rated so high.

We were driving clockwise, and the tour buses drive counter-clockwise. Tom had told us how to time it right, so that when you get to the Skellig Ring, where the busses can’t go, by the time you get back to the main road they will have all gone past you. True. We met only one bus the whole day.

We lunched in Portmagee, a small lively fishing village, then crossed over to Valentina Island, found an old castle and took the short ferry over to Cahersiveem, where even more ruins were to be found. The drive home included some backtracking, but the weather cooperated and stopped raining.

We enjoyed the Kerry drive, and found it a leisurely day. We stopped a lot, enjoying views, talking to folks, and seeing some of the historical buildings and archeological locations. The weather was at times blustery and at times reasonably pleasant.

Dinner that night at Coachman’s pub featured some excellent Irish music, and meeting several couples from California, including one from our hometown.

OK, now to the never ending discussion of which peninsula; Dingle or Kerry. Since we did them both, we are now experts and can answer. The answer is: We vote Dingle. It seems to have more historical items of interest, such as the round forts, famine houses and other archeological sites of interest. It was fun to stay in the seaside town of Dingle, and of course, it was fun seeing things from a favorite movie of ours. The Ring of Kerry has it’s high points also, and we are glad we did them both. But if you only have time for one, we vote Dingle.

32nd day, 19 July, Thursday

Today after another excellent Moira breakfast, we took off for Cashel. We thanked Tom and Moira profusely for their friendliness and hospitality. We wished them well with their 350 year old house.

Once out of the hills of Kerry, we were on some very good highways, and made Cashel about 3:30 without difficulty. Joy’s Rockside Hotel is just that. We walked out of her parking lot to the castle grounds in about 20 steps. The Rock of Cashel was quite impressive. All the tour busses were gone by now, and we went with a guide who had a great sense of humor and told many anecdotes about the castle and it’s church.

We had a late dinner at Bruna Bryans, a pub some distance from Joy’s. After dinner, the music started about 9, and was really terrific traditional Irish and folk. We stayed for about an hour and half and hung on every note.

That night, after reading some of our guidebooks, DW wanted to go to Bru na Boinne, north of Dublin, before turning in the car, so an earlier than planned departure was necessary.

33rd day, 20 July, Friday

The Boyne river creates a little valley a couple dozen miles north of Dublin off the M1. Included in this area are several “Passage Tombs” one of which, Newbridge, you can go inside. These were built around 3200 BC, about 500 years before the pyramids of Egypt.

Also, in 1690, on the 12th of July, this was the sight of the famous “Battle of the Boyne,” where William of Orange defeated the catholic forces of England’s King James, who exiled himself to France. Recall back, that our arrival was on 12 July, the day of celebration of this momentous occasion. The battle ground itself has a visitor center and museum, though we did not visit it. From the Newbridge hill, you can see the battlefield, and we had a little battle diagram from the visitor center. We could see the battlefield pretty good, and got a real feel for the lay of the land.

It was interesting to go into the Newbridge Passage Tomb, made of “corbeled” rocks, no cement or sealers, where not a drop of water has entered for it’s entire 5200 years of existence, and maintains a constant 9 degrees centigrade, whatever the season. Archeologists are uncertain the real reason for these mounds, other than tombs. On the winter solstice, Dec 22 and 23, the rising sun shines through the opening (through which we entered) to the center of the tomb for exactly 17 minutes, then is not seen again for another year.

We drove to the airport and checked our Vauxhall into EuropCar car return and they called a cab for us. We had three totally positive rental experiences with EuroCar, which has been my previous experience. Will use no other when in Europe. They didn't seem to mind the fuchsia's in the mirror. We put 1,000 miles on it, and didn’t destroy it or cause any bodily injury that I know of. Now we were to spend 3 nights in Dublin, the end of our trip.

With car travel ended, and ensconced for the next three nights in the very roomy and luxurious Westbury Hotel, about 50 yards from famous Grafton Street, we kind of crashed. Ate dinner later at Bewley’s, just around the corner. It was so good, we ate three other meals there, including excellent breakfasts. We liked to sit up on the 2nd floor and look out at the craziness of Grafton Street. Seems like all the wait staff here are also young folks from the continent, mostly Eastern Europe. Yes, one girl from Czech Republic knew Jan over in Galway. They were all fun to talk to.

One of the first things we did during our 2 full days (3 nights) in Dublin was to spend a couple of hours at Trinity College, going on a tour led by a second year student. He was very humorous and, the women said, very cute. He told some interesting things about the history of the College, which is entwined in many ways the religious history of Ireland itself. The library is incredible, and we were duly in awe over the book of kells

Of course, we took the red city tour Hop on Hop off bus, and the driver was the funniest of all the 5 we had taken on our trip. His running commentary, much of it not totally PC, was a very interesting view on Ireland’s history.

We visited the jail (2 hours plus if you take the jail tour + time in the museum) and the Museum of Archeology, which needs a good 2 – 3 hours. The HOHO also took us out to Phoenix Park, and we were impressed with the size and amount of activity. There were two cricket matches in progress, a polo match, and a whole lot of people out for a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was beautiful. We also strolled around St Stephens Green and Merrion Square.

So early on Monday, we take off for USA after a 5 week odyssey starting in London. We drove over 2,000 miles during the trip without mishap. While we had a few issues with Dorothy, she was mostly invaluable, especially in cities. We stayed in 15 different hotels or B&B’s, were consumed with the history of the British Isles, and enjoyed many many conversations with extremely friendly and humorous Brits, Scots, and Irish. We would seriously like to return to Northern Ireland, especially to spend more time in the country, including the northwest.

When we got home we stuck some more red pins in a wall map of the world, filled our beautiful crystal glasses with cosmo’s, and while reflecting on our wonderful trip, began planning the next one. Where to this time?
BillJ is offline  
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Oct 11th, 2012, 03:37 PM
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Thanks for your report. You did some of the same things we did on our trip (http://farmerstravel.wordpress.com/), but when we go back we really want to check out the north.
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Oct 11th, 2012, 09:08 PM
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Thanks for the report. It sounds like a marvelous trip.

Now you know the secret: we LOVE Northern Ireland. It's like a hidden treasure. And FYI, we have been to Derry -- and to Belfast (many times) and have never had any trouble re: "the Troubles." But I'd be concerned about the 12th of July! The Black Taxi tour of the affected areas in Belfast was profound and very interesting.

We love the Dingle Peninsula, too. We're busy planning our next trip--February. It's not the ideal time for the weather, but the trip is business related--so we're locked in.
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Oct 12th, 2012, 07:36 AM
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I perhaps did not word things properly. We were not worried about "troubles" in Belfast or Derry, (though we did not know of 12 July. We were interested in seeing those two towns. But since we were set on the south, we had to cut our time in the north after the relative thing, but couldn't resist the rope bridge and Giants Causeway.

I am sure we will return to Northern Ireland.
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Nov 3rd, 2016, 04:47 AM
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Hi BillJ
Indeed I hope you will return to Northern Ireland. If you are interested in Kilwaughter Castle in Co Antrim, there is a fair bit of information on the facebook site, with frequent updates on the plans for restoration of this important landmark. Best wishes and do check out Save Kilwaughter Castle and Graveyard
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Nov 3rd, 2016, 05:44 AM
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Great report and yes to Northern Ireland.
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Nov 3rd, 2016, 05:55 AM
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Thanks for your interesting and complete report. I enjoyed reading it and will now check out the other two parts.
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