Perhaps my favorite part of the entire vacation was our spontaneous trip to Belfast and Northern Ireland. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m Catholic; there’s a lot of tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast. But, we decided to go anyway to meet my Mom’s friend for dinner. We had dinner at a place in St. Anne’s Square and really had a great time laughing and joking with them.
Before dinner, we met the lady we would be staying with, a charming, quintessentially Irish woman named Mary McNaulty. She was lovely. We got to her place mid-morning and decided that we’d go up to County Antrim to see the Giant’s Causeway.
As we were headed out of Belfast we had a choice of taking the regular highway up there or we could take a more scenic route and use the Coastal Highway. Naturally, we chose the coastal highway and man, am i glad we did. Northern Ireland is freaking beautiful. It is green and lush and full of heather and flowers. There are also sheep EVERYWHERE!
We stopped in a little borough to stretch our legs and take in the beautiful view of the ocean and came across an old church and cemetary.
There were also some binoculars you could use to look across the ocean and a sign explaining what you would see: Scotland! On a clear day, which we had, you can actually see clear across the ocean and see Scotland. If we would have had more time, we would have jumped on a ferry and gone!
We continued up the coastal highway and just came across breathtaking view after breathtaking view all the way to Giant’s Causeway. Let me tell you something, the pictures that you Google of it don’t even come close to doing it justice. It is remarkable. It’s a pretty good hike, about a mile downhill, but there are buses that will take you down and back up if you can’t make the hike. Once down there you can climb all over the hexagonal rocks and, if you’re really brave, can walk pretty much into the North Atlantic ocean.
After exploring as much as we could, we hiked back up the hill and headed for Bushmills, which is only a few miles from there. When you’re that close to the source, you can’t really not go.
We headed back to Belfast for dinner and took the main highway, but before that we made one final stop in a cute little town that had a marina with a beach. We had been nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge while we were gone and, not wanting to be left out of the reindeer games, decided that the best way to complete the challenge would be to get in the North Atlantic ocean. Pro-tip: Don’t. It’s freezing!!!!!
The next morning we decided to explore a little bit of Belfast before heading back to Dublin. We drove past the Peace Walls on Shankill and Falls and I couldn’t help but think and realize that on either side of the wall one of us wasn’t truly welcome. It was a surreal moment. We sat at the end of a Catholic neighborhood inside the wall and just stared. It’s a monstorous wall. And it is literally in someone’s backyard. The other thing that struck me was the stark contrast in artwork on either side of the wall. On the Protestant side are the murals and where everyone signs their name; on the Catholic side there are murals, but they are of Bobby Sands and say things like “Never Forget.”
While there has been a lot of progress made toward peace, there seems to still be some work to do.
Once we left Belfast, we decided that we wanted to see some more places where Game of Thrones filmed. We saw several as we drove up to Giant’s Causeway and since we really weren’t in a hurry to get back to Dublin, we took our time to explore. We went to Downpatrick and visited Inch Abbey which is where the Battle of the Trident took place. The Abbey is really just ruins now, but they have renderings of what it would have looked like in the 1100s and it’s gorgeous. Across the river you can see St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Downpatrick.
We also went to Castle Ward, which served as Winterfell. We walked around the loch and climed up to Audley’s Tower and hiked through the grounds.
After exploring Game of Thrones sites, we started our drive back to Dublin so we could pack and get ready for our flight home. Before we went to Dublin though, we made one last stop in Carlingford at the recommendation of the gentleman at the car rental place. It is a darling village right by the ocean. We ate at a place called the Kingfisher and had some wonderful seafood and a great time overall.
We continued back to Dublin and spent the rest of our time at the hotel packing and talking about what an amazing adventure we had been on over the last two weeks.
The next morning we made one last stop for a traditional Irish breakfast and then returned the car and headed to the airport for our flight back to America.
It was an incredible trip and I can’t wait to go back. As much as I missed my family and friends, I really didn’t want to leave. I tried to figure out a way to have Murphy shipped to Ireland but there wasn’t enough time to work out the logistics.
If you are considering a trip, I hope these posts have been helpful and informative; if you’re not planning a trip, I hope you’ve enjoyed following our adventures!