Ireland is a land full of beauty and magic. Out of it’s cyclical hardships, it is emerging as a gem among travel destinations. The people are friendly, the food is good, the spirits are a national treasure and the grass is always green. Mix that in with dramatic landscapes and small land area, and you’ve got yourself perfection! You could easily travel from East to West on a day trip, or from North to South in a couple. People will act like you’re crazy to do so, but where I come from, driving an hour to town is nothing. We took a 3 week road trip, with 3 kids under the age of 5, in a counter-clockwise motion from Dublin, around the edge of the country. We spent a full week in Northern Ireland, here are some of my favorite things about this country (which IS a separate country from The Republic of Ireland).
“The Bothey”, Rousky, Northern Ireland.
We found a house rental in the Sperrin Mountains, near the village of Rousky (pronounced Roooo-skey). We are “country” people and would rather visit historical sites and nature instead of the “city” ANY day! So, this place was just up our alley. It was a beautiful house, which was beautifully converted from an old barn. We were greeted with a nice cozy Peat fire burning and some “goodies” on the dining table. The Irish really are some of the nicest people I have EVER met! There was a nice walled garden out back with breathtaking views of the River valley. The weather was perfectly Irish, with cold, windy rain for most of our visit. I would’ve been content to sit with a nice cup of Coffee and a good book, in the back room, for DAYS on end…..If only we weren’t strapped for time and surrounded by 3 energetic little girls!
We made sure to take advantage of the “bar-b-que” out back and even grilled hamburgers and hotdogs one night (even if it WAS windy, rainy and 50ish degree weather)! Our oldest daughter, Waverly, couldn’t imagine “Cooking out” without hotdogs, its all she wanted. Now, there were NO shortages of IRISH Hotdogs (Sausages), but that was NOT what she wanted. We searched EVERYWHERE for hotdogs (known as frankfuters in Ireland) and only found some, FINALLY, in a tiny store… which were canned (think of Vienna sausages in the States…). …Now, Daddy DID throw those squishy little thangs on the grill, and the girls DID eat ONE, but most of them were thrown out. …Best to stick with Irish food in Ireland!
Mussenden Temple, Coleraine
Built in the late 1700s as a library ,this place offers Italian inspired architecture castle ruins, the library (The “Temple”) and magnificent Cliff to Sea views. It was quite a bit of walking for the girls, so their was lots of pushing on our part. Walking up the path to the House ruins was like walking into another world. The smell of the ocean was perfectly salty, without the smell of fish. Wind was swishing across the meadow, bringing with it the rain that is so common here. We took refuge in the “Temple” just in time for the worst of the storm. Again, I would’ve LOVED nothing more than to sit there for Hours, under the light from the window, with a good book and a cup of coffee! After our visit (we were technically ran OUT of our “refuge” at 4:30 due to closing time-out to the “hurricane” we went!!) we were soaking wet, cold and ready for a hot meal. We found ourselves at The Crannagh, near Coleraine. We were not dissapointed with the meal, it was absolutely wonderful!
Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills and The Dark Hedges
We enjoyed these 3 sites on a FULL day trip, but we could’ve easily spent several days here. We started our day at The Giant’s Causeway, having read that buses full of tourists arrive out of Belfast around lunch. The place was PACKED. It is a World Heritage Site, with an outstanding Visitor’s Center. Nice bathrooms, local gifts, interactive Museum and seating in front of a large movie screen showing theories of how the landmark was created. There is a bus that goes up and down the hill, we walked down, hiked up to the “Pipe Organ” and then took the bus back up the hill to the Visitor’s Center. On a wet day (hmmmm….), the paths and rocks are very dangerous and slippery. We about found ourselves at the bottom of the hill on more than one occasion (pushing a double stroller with 3 little girls in it).
Bushmills was just up the road, which is where we went to find lunch. We had the traditional Fish and Chips at a store right on the main road: The Cods Way. We went to the Bushmills Distillery but didn’t tour, due to having the children with us. While there, we were able to get a good picture of Waverly with the iconic Red Telephone Booth!
Literally, just a few miles up the road, are The Dark Hedges. Made famous due to being featured on HBO’s Game of Thrones, this place is now a tourist hot spot. Sadly, with lots of attention also comes abuse, and the grove of trees are botched with carvings. It still is an impressive and beautiful stand of old growth trees with a majestic sense of power about it. Words of wisdom, this place is an ACTIVE road! People are crazy, I’ll just say that. Please don’t be one of those obnoxious tourists….
Boa Island-The Janus Figure and Caldwell Castle Park
I love folklore, so we went to the Caldragh Cemetery to see The Janus Figure. It is believed to have been carved before the arrival of Christianity and has an otherworldly look about it (Hello Ancient Aliens!). It is also said to have a magnetic anomaly; supposedly it causes a metal ring held by a string (or necklace) to rotate between the two faces. We tried it with a piece of sting and key ring. It DID move, but our poor excuse of materials left more to be wanted…
Just down the road, we made an unexpected stop into Caldwell Castle Park. We walked down to the lake shore and was greeted by a majestic Swan, who was quite disappointed in our visit when we didn’t produce a meal for him. We stayed and hiked up to the castle and the church area for about an hour or so, just enjoying the solitude of having the place all to ourselves.
Cookstown-Beaghmore Stone Circle Complex and Drum Manor Forest
Beaghmore Stone Circle Complex was only about 20 minutes from our house rental and was a must on our “to do” list. This is an ancient complex, consisting of 7 stone circles, 12 cairns and 10 stone rows. This is what HAS been discovered, when farmers were cutting Peat in the area, however it is believed that more structures still remain hidden under the ground. Its hard to wrap my mind around the sense of time while standing in a place like this. Artifacts from the complex date to 2900-2600 BC, yet the purpose of these circles, stone avenues and cairns are pretty much unknown. Its really humbling, to stand in a place so ancient, imagining the lives of the people who lived and loved here so many years ago.
Drum Manor Forest was an unplanned visit. We were drawn in by the astounding size of the old growth trees that were at the entrance. I do believe these were the biggest trees I have ever seen!
Last but NOT least, we visited the country’s capitol: Belfast! This was a fun city. Since we only had a day, and its fun anyway, we took the Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour! Open topped Bus tours are such fun! You can tour til you drop, then just hop on and ride! We didn’t get near as much in on that day as I’d hoped, but what we got, we enjoyed! First thing we did was go to St. George’s Market. “St George’s Market is the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast, Northern Ireland”-Wikepedia. This place was BUSTLING with people! It really was such a fun place to visit. The girls each picked out a bracelet from a local vendor and we ate an early Lunch from the Vendors. Daddy and the Girls got locally sourced Hamburgers, while I tried my very first Curry. Curry is EVERYWHERE in Ireland, even McDonalds has Curry Sauce for its Nuggets?!
Next, we spent several Hours touring the Titanic Center. This place has had a ton of money invested in it’s success, and it shows! This place left nothing out! They had a really nice Tea shoppe as well! ….Actually, EVERYWHERE we have went that had a visitors center, tended to have a nice little Tea Room, with Fresh Espresso, Tea and Cocoa. That became a sort of Comfort Food for us on all of our little adventures.
The Hop On Hop Off Bus tour took the rest of our “visiting hours” day. We ate dinner in Victoria Square Shopping Center. A week into our Irish vacation, we were missing American food, so we ate at Frankie and Bennies. Waverly finally got a good hotdog “Frankfurter” (And then didn’t eat it….), Wymberly had Chicken Tenders with FRIES, Wyndal had Penne Pasta with Bolognese Sauce, Patrick a BBQ Pizza, and I had the BBQ Appetizer Sharing Platter (Wings, Ribs, Onion Rings, Bacon and Cheese Fries).
Interesting Side note: Patrick and I were confused on the difference between a Pub and a Bar. Well, a nice fellow gave us some funny looks, but then explained that a PUB serves alcohol along WITH Meals and is suitable for families. The BARS serve MAINLY alcohol along with Bar Food, but are NOT suitable for families. I had wanted to eat dinner at Bittle’s Bar in Belfast, just because its supposed to be really neat, THATS where we met the Gent who explained the difference to us! ……We tended to eat a late breakfast and then snacks and a late dinner during our stay. Mainly to have more time touring AND to save on money. There are lots of Tea Shops and Cafe’s, but they all close down by late afternoon. That left only the Pubs and Bars open for our late evening meals (it stayed daylight well up until 10:30pm). There were very few Restaraunts in most cities, other than fast food (KFC, McDonalds, Chinese or Indian Take Away) and we really wanted Authentic Irish food. THIS is why we mainly stuck to Pubs for our Dinner meals.
Random Thoughts: Northern Ireland was amazing. If you drive, get the insurance, the small roads are CRAZY! Prices are about the same as you would expect at home, unless you look for stuff FROM the United States, then it will cost more. Fresh fruit an vegetables are much cheaper than in the U.S. Locally sourced meat is all that I saw sold in the stores. If you visit, try “THEIR” foods and products! Tea and Espresso really IS served EVERYWHERE. There wasn’t near as much Cabbage as I expected, but Potatoes were served at every place we ate at and along every major roadway. There really are more sheep than people. I would love to LIVE there for a while!