Ireland – Only for the Brave 5 - ‘Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea’

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May 11th 2018
Published: June 25th 2018
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7thMay 2018

Ireland – Only for the Brave 5

‘Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea’

Continuing the Grey Haired Nomads’ 2,200 mile journey by motorhome, clockwise around Ireland

Belfast to Dublin and beyond

Bank holidays can be a pain for retired folk like us when we’re on holiday. We don’t do crowds. And campgrounds can be full if you don’t pre-book. That’s never easy when you don’t know exactly where you’ll be when it’s time to stop play for the day. Inland seemed to be the best bet and we ended up for the night on a small site at Rathfriland, near Newry; very convenient, as it happens, for a tour around the Mountains of Mourne.

To the east, boulder-stone walls fringe chess-board fields: bright green meadows on hilly slopes, ash and sycamore fresh with the coming of spring and verges aflame with dandelion yellow. Silent Valley Mountain Park offered a scintillating walk in the hills above Silent Valley Reservoir with splendid views of the Mourne Mountain peaks in sparkling sunshine. Temperatures soared to 23 C during the day. Spring as we remember it at last! Spring indeed: our first sightings of whitethroat, redpoll and willow warbler this year, and butterflies, flitting too fast to be identified. How fortunate we are.

Along the southern shoreline, dense sea mist blanketed any views of the mountains, but the sun broke through again as we turned back inland to witness Bank Holiday fun and frolics. Lines of parked cars signaled the start point of a sponsored hill climb at Slieve Donald, the highest local peak, and a cycle race, complete with support vehicles and police escort, delayed our progress at Hilltown. It could only get worse.

If we were to have time to savour Dublin, back across the border in the Republic, before our ferry in a few days time, we needed to make speedy progress south. We took the motorway to Drogheda, then out to Monasterboice, a fascinating site of two ruined churches and many hundreds of tombstones. Of particular interest to us were intricately carved stone Celtic crosses, dating back to the 10th century, and a 33m high round tower. A seat would have been nice, to sit and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and contemplate. Can you think back that far – a thousand years? I know I’m getting old but…….

It doesn’t take much imagination for an Irishman to think back to 1690 and the Battle of Boyne. The historic site is on a meander of the River Boyne, where a great battle took place that changed the course of Irish history, and still bears the scars. Remember, this is Bank Holiday weekend. There was a fun-run going on, one- way traffic, hundreds of bottles of water on tables awaiting exhausted runners, police directing traffic, cars parked everywhere and anywhere. A guy on the entrance gate at the site was smiling, showing off his high-vis jacket and waving his walkie-talkie like a magic wand and telling us to go away - no room in the car park. “We’ve driven 500 miles to be here today,” I shouted over the noise of revving engines from the traffic behind us. We stood our ground, parked across the entrance. By this time the traffic behind us was blocking traffic crossing the bridge on the fun-run route - the police were about to get involved. We waited. Cars behind us were getting impatient. We waited.
Hill of TaraHill of TaraHill of Tara

St Patrick
A few cars came out through the exit. After a five minute stand-off, he eventually waved us through and we parked in the overflow car-park.

The battle was between the Protestant English King William 111 of Orange, and the deposed Catholic King James II. James the second, the Jacobite, came second, and more than 15,000 men died in the battle. Now, more than three hundred years on, the matter is still unsettled. I find it hard to comprehend that here, and in the north, schools are still segregated, Catholic and Protestant. Another generation passes, another opportunity lost. As a young gentleman in India responded last month when I suggested religion has much to answer for in terms of conflict, “It’s not religion, it’s people.” And this is Ireland.

There was a wonderful holiday atmosphere there with picnickers and families enjoying their first sunny outing of the year. Crowds gathered in the grounds where re-enactments were in progress. An infantryman in period costume fired off his flint-gun to much ‘oo’ing!’ and ‘ah’ing!’ from the crowd as smoke billowed across the field on the light summer breeze and a mounted officer in military red of the period, galloped around the field on his (actually a ‘her’) perspiring stead. A pleasant half-hour was spent in the very informative exhibition in the house. Great stuff, history.

Plan ahead they say, for without a plan you’re likely to end up somewhere else. Bru na Boinne was on Janice’s detailed itinerary for the day and we were spot on time. A sound plan.

This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of prehistoric passage tombs dating from as far back as 5,000 BC. A must see!

Arriving at 2pm on a public holiday was clearly not a good idea. All tours for the Newgrange passage tomb, the highlight of the visit, were already booked for the day and the next tour to the minor tomb, Knowth, would not finish until after 5pm - by which time we should be fifty miles away. I guess we should have known.

Regrettably we had to give Bru na Boinne a miss, and instead, headed to another megalithic site at Loughcrew, beyond Kells, where there was also an overnight halt for campers at the local cafe. We staggered up the long incline to the cairns at 8.30 the following morning, all on our own, dipping into ancient history and loving the solitude and vast panoramic views. There are 25 passage tombs scattered across the hillside here.

In addition to healthy exercise, County Meath’s Loughcrew offered us much reward for effort, in its ancient monuments and scenic beauty. The Hill of Tara on the other hand, a little closer in time, takes us back to the days of Irish kings in pre-Norman times, but it’s mounds and monuments, where once 140 kings were supposedly crowned, failed to impress us on the same scale. Hazy early morning mist obscured much of our distant view, but we’re told you can see 23 out of the 32 Irish counties from here, a major factor in their choice of location. Bank Holiday traffic was manic: coaches and cars blocking all the roads, ice cream licking kids, mums and dads with pushchairs, happy families along with that rare Irish experience, glorious sunshine.

As it was Bank Holiday, the Visitor Centre was closed. This can only be Ireland.

This may be Ireland, but there’s a Scottish connection down the road in the little town of Trim. Trim’s well restored Norman Castle, looks out over the swift-flowing River Boyne. It’s popularity today sits firmly in the annals of Braveheart film settings, and it Is indeed worthy of the honour: a castle from the picture book you owned as a kid.

That night we camped at the Camac Valley Campsite on the outskirts of Dublin and took the bus into the city the following morning; past the huge Guinness factory, beside the wide grey River Liffey, along the Quays and round Parnell Square and O’Connell Street.

Dublin. Busy with busses belching fumes, hustle and bustle, trams and coaches all in a line, people, people, everywhere, tourists, touts, pedestrian lights busily buzzing, bridges and buskers, cafes and coffee, pubs and.......rain, smart men in suits, carrying papers, strutting by, looking important, chatter and clatter, banging and clanging. Cities are not our style, but we gave it a go.

Dublin is a tourist city, vibrant with youth, packed with sights for every taste and a tempestuous history recorded at every corner. City-centre streets are broad and airy, cars are banned, except for taxis. Buses trundle between tramlines gleaming in

the River Liffy
the watery gloom, groups of students; heads down, thumbs busy on mobile phones, missing the city’s sights and sounds beyond the screen, gift shops feeding the tourist frenzy.

A lunchtime drink at Kehoe’s Victorian bar gave us some respite from the city melee, it’s dimly lit period interior and long mahogany bar brightened by gleaming mirrors, highly-polished brass pumps and line after line of backlit bottles of all things alcoholic. Kehoe’s was awarded the accolade of ‘Traditional Bar of the Year 2017’, and ‘Best Pub in Dublin’ in the same year, which clearly gives them license to charge eye-watering prices. The Guinness was good and the ambience outstanding.

Art sits somewhere close to the top of our list of interests and hobbies. The wonderful National Gallery of Ireland sports Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Van Gogh, John Singer Sargent, Renoir, Monet......the list goes on, from gallery to gallery ‘till the legs grow weary. Time to take a seat in one of Dublin’s delightful, leafy parks: Merrill Square, Iveagh Gardens and St Steven’s Green, with tulips galore and fresh-cut grass, magnificent trees in new green cloaks, flurries of cherry blossom - pink and white snowflakes, children playing, tourists strolling, and ladies reading and sunbathing in the warmth of a true spring day by mid afternoon. All of this and the gift of stunning Georgian terraces with red and white doors, wrought iron railings, and the smiling Irish eyes of passers-by.

It’s the Home of Guinness and names from the past: James Joyce, Jim Larkin, Oscar Wilde and numerous political figures to hang your hat on. There’s Dublin Castle and Custom House and the marvelous architecture and grassy courtyards of Trinity College for the chance to see The Book of Kells, if you’re not put off by the long queue and heaving gift shop.

The Carmelite Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel offered us a quiet refuge from the murmuring city, a wonderful sanctuary for peaceful contemplation; a delight not to be missed. How wonderful it would be to visit for a few minutes each day, whatever your faith, as I am sure many do.

Somehow we managed to miss the Leprechaun Museum.

Our final day in Ireland passed the way we came in, four weeks back - in the rain. So, it was hats

Japanese Garden
and gloves and waterproofs again as we headed out of the city to the south; to pretty Enniskerry in Country Wicklow, and Powerscourt House and Gardens. The house itself suffered a devastating fire in November 1974, but much of it has been painstakingly restored in recent times as a five-star hotel complex with two hundred rooms, a luxury spa, three dining rooms and a fascinating range of up-market shops to tempt the tourist. There are two championship golf courses on the estate.

Powerscourt has 47 acres of magnificent gardens overlooking the Sugarloaf Mountain: broad herbaceous borders just springing into life, an Italianate garden adorned with statuary of gods and myths, and an absolutely stunning Japanese garden, laced with winding paths and pools, azaleas and rhododendrons, cherry trees and pagodas. Grassy lawns sweep down from the house in vast terraces to the Triton Lake guarded by two dramatic Pegasus statues. It took 100 men twelve years to create this magnificent spectacle - there were no ‘diggers’ back then, if you’ll excuse the unintended pun. Our day at Powerscourt was rather damp, but well rewarded.

This was to be our last day in Ireland and we
Sally GapSally GapSally Gap

The Guinness Estate a brief moment of sunshine!
had promised ourselves a return visit to the Wicklow Mountains through Sally Gap. You might recall our first day in Ireland, a month ago now, when low cloud and rain totally obscured any chance of a view of the moor and mountains. But this is Ireland and the weather was not at all promising.

The mountains were almost deserted when we arrived: an occasional car, a few soaked walkers on the sodden trails and lashing rain beating its merry rhythm on the motorhome roof. Dense cloud swirled across the moor at the top of the pass leaving thinly veiled outlines of distant grey mountains, but there were fleeting moments of sunlit shafts between the leaden clouds – sufficient for us to say, “It could have been worse.” For all that, Sally Gap and the mountains of Wicklow are surely a delight to behold; where walkers can smile despite the rain, and all grey haired nomads would surely return to stand in wonder at the beauty that nature has gifted us.

Rain persisted throughout the day, just trying to make a point. It would be a shame to leave Ireland with the wrong impression.

Ireland’s Wild West stole our hearts, despite the incessant rain and searing wind. Spring crept stealthily on, taking it’s time turning skeletons of trees to bright green statues on emerald meadows, and primroses followed us all the way from start to finish. Storm-fed seas lashed rocky shores and vast sandy beaches turning somewhat placid by comparison, across the north and along the west, as early spring suns sought fleeting refuge in our wake.

The best of Ireland? Giants Causeway would be Janice’s favourite and most awe inspiring experience and we are both agreed that the overwhelming rustic beauty and serenity of Connemara is the one thing that would bring us back.

An extra week would have allowed us to stop a while more to smell the roses or take longer walks. Our endeavour is always to feel the pulse of the places we visit and to learn something from the experience to take away. It’s impossible to see all of Ireland in a month. Someone will always say, ‘Did you go to see Auntie Mabel’s statue?’ - or something similar. So, what the heck - if we’ve not been there we’ve been somewhere else. We’re considerably wealthier for our Irish journey: grateful for the warm welcome gifted to us by its people and the beauty of its countryside and heritage. It completes our map of Europe by motorhome for now, but the journey of life lives on.

It’s a long way to Tipperary - and anyway, the sweetest girl I know is sitting right beside me.

David and Janice

The grey haired nomads

And Todd came too.

Scroll down for more photos - and don’t miss the panorama slideshow at the top!


Loughcrew, Oldcastle, Co Meath: Tents, caravans and motorhomes. Cafe. Facilities rather poor, but fine for overnight and walking up to Neolithic site.

Dublin: Camac Valley. Large quiet site on outskirts of the city, with good services and bus service direct into Dublin (30-45mins).

Additional photos below
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Customs House

26th June 2018

Bringing Back Good Memories
Enjoyed reading your account of your trip 'round parts of Ireland; it brought back many good memories of our own trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland several years ago. Great photos!
29th June 2018

They were digging for gold in London...
...well that's what the Irish did in those days, didn't they? But, for all that they found there, they might as well have been - so the song goes - 'where the Mountains of Morne sweep down to the sea'. They had more luck during the gold rush of the 19th Century, I'm told - hence 'the luck of the Irish'. Here endeth the history lesson for today! Despite the few dry days (give me India's weather any day!), you clearly enjoyed your month in the Emerald Isle - some great stories and photos. I'll have to go back to Eire some day - it's been more than 55 years since my last visit.
2nd July 2018
To the east, boulder-stone walls..........

Life is grand
What a beautiful photo. Love the colors.

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