A Day in Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle

This was the day we needed to tick some “must see” Northern Ireland spots off the list.  I had traveled the coastal route all around Ireland back in 2000.  Our bus had stopped so we could see Dunluce Castle but we did not stop at the ruins themselves.  I intended to make up for that today.

We arrived at Dunluce Castle minutes away from Portrush and just after opening. It was another rainy day but we both had minimal rain jackets available. Dunluce began as a fort and was converted into a keepless castle by the Normans in 1305 A.D. It became a manor house in the early 1600s and was abandoned in 1660 after part of the kitchen fell into the sea.

It was inhabited by the Scottish clans of MacDonnells and MacQuillans in the 1600s. Twenty-nine miles of sea flow between Dunluce Castle and Scotland. It never achieved greatness in part due to the fact it lacked a port. The entire structure is built upon a finger of a cliff that stretched out to the sea. The view must have been fantastic.

We both enjoyed walking among ruins and imagining what had once existed.  This is an extensive group of ruins that are very accessible to explore.  Recent archeological digs support the existence of a community above the castle on the stable lands.  

I had planned to show Bill the Carrick-A-Rede bridge.  It’s a suspension bridge linking the mainland to an island.  We began the walk down and then concluded the neither of us were that interested.  We had a limited amount of time for this day and I had at least two more adventures in mind.

We arrived at the Giant’s Causeway Hotel prior to lunch being served; however, we did get some coffees, a muffin and some Bailey’s porridge in the bar.  Not only was the nourishment welcomed, we also avoided paying money to park our car while we explored the Giant’s Causeway.  In addition, we did not pay money to go into the visitor’s center, instead opting to pay for the bus ride down and back. We lined up for the bus realizing that we had no British coins.  The bus driver selected 4+ Euros to cover the difference.  We road the bus down the incline to the Giant’s Causeway in the rain.

We had resorted to using our cheapie rain ponchos that soon proved to be more of a hinderance than a help. The wind made them blow up in our faces and oh what a racket all that flapping about made! The basalt columns were crawling with people and were at times quite slippery. We cautiously adventured for a while before taking the return bus back to the top. It was a “must see” but in the middle of a busy, wet day; not such a treat. If we’d had several hours to spend here there were trails heading to the east that might have proven interesting.

Our next stop was going to be new for both of us.  I had read snippets about Kinbane Castle but had never actually seen it.  We followed the road until a sign pointing the way to Kinbane Head.  Once there, we parked the car began our next adventure.  Not much is known about Kinbane Castle although it is believed to have been built by Colla MacDonnell in 1547.  The power of the Antrim Scots was threatening to the Elizabethan government so the castle was fired upon in 1551.

It was 139 steps down to the castle that felt a lot more like 339 on the way back up!  This was a perfect spot for us.  Other than meeting two out-of-breath guys heading up as we were heading down, we had the entire place to ourselves.  The rain had stopped though the rocks and ground were still slippery wet. 

The remains of this castle sit on another promontory of rock with a natural arch tunnel from one side to the other. We were delighted to make its acquaintance! The ruins are not many but the location was to die for. Bill and I ventured all about. We could see seagulls nesting in the cliffs and one lone sailboat skirting the shoreline. A great off-the-beaten path location. As perhaps previously implied, the only real issue was the walk back up. The steps are steep at the lower end and level off more as you reach the car park. We just took our time.

I had hoped to drive the A2 by the Glens of Antrim but our rental car was due back in Dublin by 5:00. Accordingly to my estimation, that route would not get us there before 5:30. It was a wise choice to leave the Glens for another trip. We could not have done them justice and would have been stressed trying to beat the clock. Instead we took the most direct route around Belfast (as much as any route goes around Belfast) and to Dublin. This was the longest drive of the trip. I was ready to be done. I groaned a lot prior to arriving at the Sixt car return.

Based on the many exclamations of my children and Bill, I fully anticipated having to dole out some money for scratches and that little bit of white paint on the rearview mirror of the car.  I had knocked into one of the marked posts at The Green Gate and folded the dang mirror right in.  Then of course, there was the time at Kell’s Priory where I had driven up and over the curb.  That one really brought excitement to my children.  Or the ding in one of the doors that I did not recall having been there before.  Much to my surprise, the car inspection went off without a hitch!  Whew!

Bill and I boarded the shuttle to the airport where we would pick up our bus passes for the next two days. I had purchased round trip tickets from the airport to Dublin earlier in the year for 12 Euros each via Airlink Express. We probably could have taken a taxi for $20 each way, but sometimes I can be too cheap for my own good. Though the bus was purported to arrive every 10 minutes, we waited much closer to 45 minutes for our ride in. It was chilly and I was tired. Once on the bus, all was well.

This bus drops and picks up passengers at various locations throughout Dublin.  Our Christchurch drop off was about one block from our hotel.  That was a piece of cake!  We checked in to the Harding Hotel with no problem and located our room on the 4th floor.

Our room looks out at the bell tower of Christchurch Cathedral!  We had one more must-do for the day so after a brief refresh, we headed off to find the pub that claims to be the oldest in all of Ireland, The Brazen Head; established in 1198.  

The Brazen Head was less than a half mile from our hotel and we walked along the River Liffey to get there.  It was full of character and characters.  We enjoyed sampling their finest product and then decided to head back to the hotel for dinner.  There would be more noteworthy pubs on the agenda for tomorrow.  On the way we passed the location of the first performance of Handel’s Messiah, just 3 or 4 buildings down from our hotel.

We decided to eat at Darky Kellys that promised both good food and music.  Plus, it’s connected to our hotel for a short trip “home”.   There is a sign at the entrance of the bar that claims it to be the site of  “The Maiden Tower”.  It continues, “This building was actually an 18th Century brothel that was run by ‘Madam Darky Kelly’ who, in 1746 was executed for the alleged murder of her child.” 

Alrighty then! We were fortunate to find a table at which to settle in for the rest of the evening. Darky Kelly’s is one hopping place. It was a busy as could be and the live entertainment lasted until around 10:00. We enjoyed decent food and drink until calling it quits and heading up to bed.

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