Northern Ireland

Old Feb 5th, 2020, 08:17 AM
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Northern Ireland

I am planning to visit Ireland in either May of September of this year, and think I would like to concentrate mostly on Northern Ireland (after a day or two in Dublin). I assume we'll do something in Glens of Atrim, Giants Causeway, Bushmill Distrillery, etc. Does anyone have specific suggestions for activities/sites or great lodging. Some off-the-beaten path, non-touristy spots are also good. Most likely, we'll be driving.
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Old Feb 5th, 2020, 08:50 AM
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Done!--North Ireland Without a Car (A Trip Report Continuation) One of the best NI trip reports you will read.
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Old Feb 7th, 2020, 08:46 AM
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I visit Northern Ireland fairly often, as I have relatives there. I have spent most of my time in Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh, which is where most of my relatives live. Both counties are very beautiful, and certainly off the beaten path. It wouldn't be easy to visit there by public transportation, although it wouldn't be impossible.

The Giant's Causeway is most certainly worth a visit; its beauty exceeded my expectations, although I had seen photos. Our visit was a bit hampered by rainy weather, so we didn't hike as far as we would have liked.

On the same outing, we visited Bushmills. My husband and I didn't take the tour, because we're teetotalers, and the perfume of the whiskey was a bit much for me. We sat out the tour in the very pleasant bar; the bartender invited my husband to take a turn at serving, so we got a photo of that, for the amusement of all our friends in Italy. The rest of the family really enjoyed the tour tremendously, and brought home plentiful samples. Some of the whiskey they sell in the shop is not available commercially.

The drive along the coast between the Causeway and Bushmills is very beautiful, but there are many beautiful drives in Northern Ireland, so I wouldn't hold this one to be extraordinary.

Another beautiful coastal drive in the north of the island, in the Republic, is the part of the Wild Atlantic Way in County Donegal. We didn't drive the entire route; it was another rainy day, and the visibility wasn't great. We drove the part from Donegal to Kilcar, where we visited the Studio Donegal workshop of spinners and handweavers. We went home with lots of hats, scarves, and throws.

County Fermanagh, where my father was born, has many beautiful spots to visit. Foremost, I would indicate beautiful Lower Lough Erne, which is actually north of Upper Lough Erne. ("Lower" means nearer the sea.) All sorts of water sports, including sports fishing, are practiced on the lake.

There are boat excursions on Lough Erne leaving from Enniskillen. One of these includes a visit to uninhabited Devenish Island, where you can admire a round tower and the Oratory of St. Molaise, both from the 12th century. There is also a fine Augustinian Priory from the 15th century. There is a beauty and peace on this island that I find hard to describe. The boat excursion stops here long enough to see everything and to just sit and comtemplate the beauty.

On the other side of the lake, there is a ferry (not operational at all times) that goes to White Island, where you can see some very interesting early medieval stone relief carvings on a wall of an ancient ruined church. Most of the carvings represent Christian figures, including what looks like a bishop, except for one Shiela-na-gig, which is a pagan figure representing a woman with her hands holding open her vulva. (I don't know if this will make it past the digital censor.)
The ferry departs from Castle Archdale, and stops at the island for about half an hour.

On Boa Island, which is crossed by a road, on the northern end of the lake, there is an ancient (5th to 9th century) Christian cemetery with some fascinating stone statues that probably date from the iron age, and probably represent Celtic deities. One is called the "Janus figure", because it has two faces, but probably has nothing to do with Janus. The other is even older, and more worn. It may be another Shiela-na-gig, but whose hands are crossed demurely across her belly.

On the northwestern side of the lake, just off Boa Island, the town of Belleek has a world famous ceramic factory, which is in a beautiful spot. They have very interesting tours, which allow you to see the artisans and artists creating the intricate decorations of the ceramic pieces. In additional to the traditional ceramics, which are quite expensive, given the time and skill needed to create them, they also have modern and traditional tableware, as well as glassware from Galway. We bought a bit of both modern and traditional, and had them shipped home. They ship worldwide. Belleek is a short drive from Donegal, which allows it to be combined with a drive along the Donegal coast, which I mentioned above.

The town of Enniskillen is a good base for this part of Northern Ireland. (My father was born on a farm south of Enniskillen, so I usually stay in this area.) Enniskillen is on an island, and is dominated by its castle, (I've driven past the castle many times, but have never gone in. I keep meaning to do so.) There is a very nice design and craft center in the Enniskillen Butter Market (which has gone out of the butter business.) One of my cousins has a shop there, featuring fabric arts.

Just south of Enniskillen, Florence Court House is a National Trust property. The stately 18th century house and its grounds are worth visiting. There is a tour of the house, which was once the property of the Earls of Enniskillen, who were also landlords to my grandmother's family.

The Sheelin Irish Lace shop and Museum, in Sheelin, is worth a visit if you are interested in Irish lace. My husband stayed outside to watch the grass grow, but I enjoyed it very much.

Another interesting visit is to the Marble Arch Caves, which are located in a Global Geopark, which spans County Fermanagh and the adjacent County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland. The caves are very interesting, but not spectacular from the scenic point of view. Part of the tour is in a boat, which can't operate when the water level is either too high or too low. The park itself is, to me, the highlight of the trip. The entrance to the cavern is in a lovely forest glen. The nearby landscape is spectacular. The Geopark includes Cuilcagh Mountain, where there are hiking trails and scenic overlooks. There is even a much-contested boardwalk which allows access to some of the more rugged parts of the park; apparently it has greatly increased the number of visitors, and there is concern about damage to the delicate ecosystem.

All along the western side of Lough Erne, there is a string of forest parks, with various recreational opportunities, especially hiking.

Places to stay in Fermanagh
  • Tully Mill Cottages These cottages are adjacent to Florence Court House, mentioned above. I believe the National Trust site itself is managed by the same company that owns the cottages and the Tully Mill restaurant. The cottages are self-catering, and include open fireplaces, where we managed to make a traditional Irish turf fire. They are surrounded by the park land of the Florencecourt House, and the scenery of Benaughlin Mountain.
  • The Tilery B&B is very near the town of Florence Court on the grounds of an old tilery (which made roof tiles), The family which owns the B&B is very gracious, and they have very comfortable rooms and serve a lovely Irish breakfast.
Restaurants in Fermanagh The Tully Mill Restaurant, next to the cottages mentioned above, is open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, and for lunch and dinner on Sundays. This is a superb restaurant, one of the best I've experienced in Northern Ireland. They have fixed-price menus, including a vegan menu. As far as I know, there is no a la carte option, although there is a buffet menu, also at a fixed price. The prices are quite reasonable, especially considering the high quality. They also have what seems to be a very good wine list, although I am not an expert on this. The Stables Tea Room at Florence Court National Trust House has an excellent lunch of soups, sandwiches, and salads, as well as scones and other sweets. I believe they're operated by the Tully Mill group, and have the same local high quality foods. The Three Way Inn, just outside Enniskillen, is often our go-to place for a meal when the other restaurants are not open. It's a simple place. much frequented by locals out for the evening, with an a la carte menu.

I don't have a vast experience of restaurants in Northern Ireland. We often are invited to lunch or tea by relatives, and we also have often stayed in self-catering cottages. There are numerous little restaurants where we've eaten and haven't made a note of the name or the menu. The area is certainly not a food desert, and we've never had a bad meal.

County Tyrone
My mother's family comes from this county adjacent to County Fermanagh. (All four of my grandparents were born within forty miles of each other in these two counties.) County Tyrone doesn't have as many (relatively) well-known locations as County Fermanagh, although the scenery is perhaps even more beautiful. There are many walking and hiking trails in the Sperrin Mountains, and in the many forests there. There is a very scenic drive in the Glenelly Valley, which starts in the town of Plumbridge.

The Ulster American Folk Park, just outside of Omagh, has an interesting look at the emigration to America from this part of Ireland, and the influence the immigrants had on American culture. There are a number of traditional buildings relocated here, including dwellings and a school, and an Appalachian house. There is also an emigrant ship. They have a nice gift shop and a café.

The Wellbrook Beetling Mill, in Cookstown, another National Trust site, is worth a visit. The mill itself has limited opening hours; it's open on weekends from April through September, only in the afternoons. The mill was used to beat the daylights out of linen cloth with big wooden hammers, so the cloth would be soft and lustrous. When they begin to turn the water wheel, the noise is deafening. In fact, they don't operate all the hammers simultaneously because it would be dangerous to the hearing, even with protective gear. There must have been a lot of deaf beetlers in the heyday of the linen industry. They give a very nice tour, which explains all aspects of the manufacture of linen. The little stream on which the mill is located is very beautiful.

Near the Wellbrook Beetling Mill is the Beaghmore stone circle site. Here you can see not one, but seven, stone circles in a beautiful landscape. There was only one other visitor when we were there. There is unlimited access to the site. To me, in its own way, this ancient site was just as impressive as Stonehenge, although the stones are small. It's the loneliness of the site and the large area covered by the circles and the other standing stones that made an impression on me.

Places to stay in Tyrone
  • An Creagàn Visitor Centre includes self-catering cottages, a craft shop, exhibitions, educational activities, and even ( at times) classes. The cottages are comfortable and spacious, although a bit more rustic than the Tully Mill cottages. Our cottage looked out on the nature park surrounding the centre, where there are very nice walking trails. The cottages are near the Beetling Mill and the Breaghmore stone circles, mentioned above.
  • Mellon Country Inn, just outside Omagh, is a very comfortable hotel with a good restaurant. They have a nice breakfast.
  • Siverbirch Hotel also has a restaurant. I've never stayed there, but this is my sister's favorite hotel in the area. I
Restaurants in County Tyrone The An Creagàn Vistor Centre serves a good breakfast and lunch every day. On weekends they are also open for dinner. On Sundays they have a very nice Sunday lunch. O'Brien's Restaurant at the Mellon County Inn is open all day, with a varied menu. They have a special Sunday lunch, like most restaurants around here. There is also a bar and a champagne lounge. Bertha's Bar and Grill at the Silverbirch hotel has typical pub food at lunch, They also have an afternoon tea and the ever-present Sunday lunch.

Last edited by bvlenci; Feb 7th, 2020 at 09:10 AM.
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Old Feb 7th, 2020, 10:12 AM
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We had a wonderful holiday in Northern Ireland last May.
One of our highlights was visiting Mussenden Temple on the north coast (link below) - it was stunning. The estate needs at least 2 hours.
We visited Belfast and struck lucky on a truly fabulous B&B a short drive out of the city. The reviews on TA are all 5 star which doesn't surprise me in the slightest.
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Old Feb 14th, 2020, 03:41 PM
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I've written a trip report of my last visit to Northern Ireland, in May 2019, which photos of some of the places I've mentioned here.

Brief trip to Northern Ireland, May 2019
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