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Published: September 6th 2012
Baltray Golf Course near Drogheda
Storm clouds rolling in on the 17th - lucky there was a shelter shed for the tourists to take cover
So we are finally back on line and recovered from the flight over. It was a good flight but oh so long because we spent an additional 1 hour and 40 mins in the plane waiting to take off from Hong Kong airport. The pilot said it was because the Chinese were controlling the airspace but we think it was just a busy airport. Everyone on the plane was beside themselves by the time we finally left Hong Kong still facing another 12 hours in the plane.
We said goodbye to Carla and Brent after landing at Heathrow – they went to get a hire car and were heading for Dover. We waited another 5 hours for our 35 minute flight to Dublin where we collected our hire car, which ended up being an i40 Hyundai. It is a beautiful car but has so many gadgets and things happening automatically: we just sit and think what caused that to happen - like when were exiting a car par park and as Graham put the card in to release the boom gate the car mirrors closed inwards because the car sensed we were very close
Mountains of Morne
Driving from Drogheda to DownPatrick we saw the beautiful Mountains of Morne - there is a really popular walk up to the waterfalls
to the pole. It is a great highway car but it has taken some getting used to the car switching the engine off when it is in neutral and you are stopped e.g at the lights it just stops and then it restarts when you put in the clutch. As you can imagine that took the ‘jet lagged’ driver a couple of days to get used to!
Our first B&B at Drogheda was excellent. The breakfasts were yum – heaps of fresh blueberries, strawberries and yoghurt and great bacon. We played our first round of golf at County Louth (Baltray) Championship course. We played a mixed bag of golf – some awesome shots and a few wild ones. The summer has been so wet and as a result if you are 10 cms off the fairway it is difficult to find the ball in the lush green grass. We found the greens a lot slower than we had expected and that meant we left a lot of putts short until we got the pace of the greens. Weather was good until the 17th
when a monster storm hit with loud cracking thunder. The
Royal County Down
Views from the clubhouse
storm wasn’t a problem because they have these awesome shelter sheds all over the course. Luckily there was one just at the 17th
where we could stay dry and wait for the storm to pass. It was a great course to start on – and it was the home of the Irish Open 5 years ago so we felt it gave us a good introduction to Irish golf. We also found a great pub that did gluten free food so we ate there both nights.
Before leaving we did a bit of touristing around the Drogheda area before driving north along the coast to a town called DownPatrick. It is close to Royal CountyDown Golf Course where we were booked for an afternoon game. We called in at the course for to ‘check out things for the next day and would you believe it we ran into a guy who played with us in our group at St Andrews in Scotland last year. It was great chatting to him. The B&B that we are staying in has beautiful gardens but the old couple who run the place have a few quirky collections like
9th tee Royal County Down
Graham on the 9th at Royal County Down - spot the fairway!
swans. I think John is an artist cause he had paint all over his pants and the walls inside the place are covered in murals – not that good might I say. The rooms were extremely comfortable and after our 5 day stay we were like family. Liz kept cooking gluten free bread and cakes and insisted we ate it – you can’t argue with the Irish as they get offended. Headed to Paddy’s Barn for dinner – imagine our surprise when we found the pub menu had a full selection of game meats including kangaroo, ostrich and crocodile.
I must say that you have to see Northern Ireland to believe how strange they are up here. County Down supports the Orange Men (protestants) and every town has their Orange flags and the Union Jack decorating the shops and the whole of the main street. Now this is all happening in the local county that was the place of St Patrick – a Roman Catholic Saint. When you get to Belfast that is the really crazy place – after the Troubles of the 1970’s they have built a great big steel fence called
‘the Peace wall to keep the Protestants and the Catholics apart – some peace!!
But oh my gosh in Northern Ireland the fold of the DownPatrick are so much more wealthy than down in Dublin. You should see the houses, country manors and estates - they make our houses look like humpies!!
Sunday 26 August –We have heard that Canberra is having a tough time with the weather at the moment. The temperature range in Ireland is nothing like that in Canberra at the moment. We see regular showers of rain but in general have been very lucky with the golf – minor showers which we have been able to avoid.
Our last day in DownPatrick was a bit crazy. It started with Graham losing the voucher to register our new mobile sim card. Found the voucher in the bin about an hour later after searching the car, the bedroom, suitcase, wallet etc. Then we could not find the camera and after the same search party all over again we rang Royal CountyDown Golf Course who were able to tell us that our caddy had forgotten to
Canoeists heading out onto the Loch to fish - we put the car on the ferry to cross to Portaferry and on to Belfast
give us our camera after our game yesterday and he had left it at the pro shop. So that meant a 30 min drive back down there to get the camera.
We played Royal County Down last Friday. It was just voted world no1 for most playable golf course. Not sure we would agree because the course demanded huge carries off the tees over crazy rough and huge sand dunes that made the tee shot totally blind. It feels great if you hit a super drive but not if you are short or off line. The course was a great experience and we really enjoyed the wonderful challenge that it provided. Needless to say the scores were not great and we will be buying more balls before heading to Ardglass tomorrow.
On the recommendations of our B&B owners we took the Strangford Ferry road that follows the Loch to Ardglass – a lovely 2hour drive – there are lots of tidal areas that are bird sanctuaries. We passed many cyclists and walkers all sharing one skinny little road!! The ferry crossed from Strangford to Portaferry –
Ardglass Castle Course
Graham is way over on the 1st men's tee in front of the castle
this crossing has huge tidal changes of 7 to 9 metres and it is a favourite place for canoeists who test themselves against the currents – not for the faint hearted. We had lunch in Strangford before heading to the Ardglass Golf Course.
Ardglass is a cliff top golf course looking the Irish Sea. The pro shop is in a castle and the 1st
tees are right in front of the castle with the cannons. It was really spectacular with quite a few holes like Hogan's Hole at Narooma. Graham started really well but ran out of puff – Leanne managed 4 under and was starting to think she knew how to play golf. It was a great day made even better because we missed the rain.
Today we decided to have a day exploring Belfast. We got about 15mins up the road and sat in a big traffic queue. We hadn’t realised that it was one of the main days of the marching season - the cops close off roads to the local towns so that the marches can go ahead. Everywhere we went the
Ardglass Golf Course
Leanne getting ready to hit over another cliff edge to a green that seemed so far away
‘Orange Men (Protestants) and their marching bands” were in action. We are staying in Orange CountyDown and we finally got to Belfast where there were really big marches – which later turned a little ugly with 40 cops being hurt. It took us two hours to do the 40 min drive to Belfast.
We decided to stay well clear of the crazy marches and had an awesome time at the Titanic display. We actually went down into the big dry dock etc where they did the Titanic fit out – the whole thing was such an amazing engineering feat and the 2 hour walking tour guide was excellent. We learnt heaps and as the tour guide said it took 5000 Irish workers to build the ship over 5 years and it was sunk within 40 minutes of hitting the iceberg with over 1500 people dead.
After that we drove to Rory MacIlroy’s home golf club at Holywood. The club is so proud of him and his achievements. They have a great display of his trophies and a replica of the US Open Cup. It is a
Graham checking out the entrance to the Titanic Quarter of the docklands where they have opened the Titanic exhibition - building in the background is the same height as the Titanic
lovely parkland course – nothing like the wild links courses where we had been.
We then drove back to our little town of DownPatrick (area of the patron saint of St Patrick) yes there is a whopping big statue of him up on the hill behind our B&B!!!
And then it was time to pack our car and move on to Portrush via Belfast (again) along the coastal roads across the north east of Ireland. The scenery along this road is spectacular and we had to make many tops to take photos. The 3 hour drive took more than 5 hours. This included the 2km cliff top walk across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We hadn’t planned to do this but the weather was sunny and we had to seize the moment because rain was forecast. We finally arrived at our next B&B, and old Georgian townhouse with a wonderful view over Portrush Beach and harbour.
We were amazed at how busy Portrush was – it was the last week of school holidays lots of local fairs and markets. Eating out required us to
Titanic dry dock
We were amazed at the size of the dry dock used to outfit the Titanic. It took years to dig this hole and install massive pumps to fill and change the water levels to work on the Titanic
either wait for a table or get organised and prebook.
Wednesday 30 August saw us play the Valley Course at Royal Portrush – Leanne shot 6 under her handicap (an excellent score on a difficult course).
After the game we headed to the Royal Portrush Clubhouse for late lunch. It was quite funny - we sat beside the Captain and his 3 friends – my goodness you should have heard the gossip these 4 old guys were spitting out about the Royal family. One of the old guys rents an apartment to Fergie, wife of Prince Andrew. He then told us how his best friend, who is one of the Sea Lords in the Navy, had caught Fergie’s hubby Prince Andrew in bed with another Navy Officer…. and to keep things quiet about his camp ways, Prince Andrew is very happy to stay married to Fergie. We enjoyed a yummy lunch overlooking the chipping greens where Darren Clarke’s two sons were practising their golf. They are only about 11 and 13 but you could see they had learnt a lot from their father who won the British Open last year
Titanic Dry Dock
Spot the tourist...
when we were at Royal St Georges.
After that we did some local tourist spots including Dunluce Castle and the seaside town of Port Stewart.
Thursday – as we had an afternoon tee time to play the Dunluce championship course at Royal Portrush we decided to spend the morning walking the Giants Causeway. They have built a huge new visitor centre which just opened this year. We thought it was much nicer when we visited in 2007. Back then it was just a simple road down to the stunning causeway scenery but now it is
more organised with concrete walking paths etc – unfortunately with new visitors centre this world heritage site seems to have lost a little of its charm.
The golf clubs have been very nice to us even the Royal courses. Royal Portrush and Royal CountyDown Club seem more casual than Royal Canberra. The Portrush entry foyer has many trophies etc on display - there is a card showing that Rory holds the Royal Portrush record which he shot when he was 15:
Bombay Street Belfast
IRA Memorials in Bombay Street after the 1970's Troubles. Look at the wire cages protecting the back of the town houses from the petrol bombs
he shot a 61 off the stick (his handicap was plus 4 giving him a nett 65) to win the Junior Irish Championship – that is some effort on a very difficult championship course. We were lucky to break 100 including our handicap. Coincidentally when we talking to the junior professional in the County Sligo Golf shop he was telling us that he had played in the championship and was thrilled with his score of 38 off the stick on the front nine and couldn’t believe it when he was told that Rory had shot a 61 for the 18 holes.
On Friday, our final day in Portrush we headed to the beautiful Port Stewart Golf Course. This place was a real surprise because although it is a difficult course, it was easier to get around because it was well signposted – not like Portrush! It proved to be another challenging course with lots of spectacular views from the tops of the big sand dunes. Here we struck our first day of wet weather and got thoroughly soaked for about 6 holes. The wind dried us out but not our bags – that
Belfast Street Murals
Street murals are everywhere up on Falls Street in Belfast - the Orange and the Green are still enemies today.
required a big effort later at the B&B.
After another ‘hail and hearty’ Irish fried breakfast we farewelled Portrush and headed on to Londonderry and down the west coast to Sligo, a town with an amazing history dating back to 950. The streets were very narrow and parking was impossible in the old town centre. We found a car park on the river wharf. A plaque told the story that between 1855-1860 more than 30,000 Irish left this port on ships bound for America and Australia because of the potato famine – now they are leaving because of the financial crisis.
Sligo is also home to Ross’s Point Golf Club – a real beauty of a course on some lovely coastal real estate. The locals and European visitors were swimming late in the evening with a very chilly wind blowing – we had coats on and they were in swimmers!! They are a lot tougher than us when it comes to cold water.
We played with a nice American couple from Atlanta – they just happen to mention that 4 members of the
Holywood Golf Course
Home course of Rory McIlroy - as you can see this is no links course but a lovely parkland style course.
US Ryder Cup team are from their home club. We couldn’t match that one! We shot good scores and it was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Then headed to the restaurant for some Lissardel Oysters and they didn’t disappoint. If you like oysters now is the oyster season and Galway oysters are exceptionally good – the Oyster festival is this weekend and apparently the crowds are really something because people come from all over Europe to attend.
We left Sligo on Monday, the start of the new school year. Our B&B lady had to get her little kids off to school and they were really happy to be going back. They had their bags on their backs from about 8am waiting to get in the car at 9am – they looked really cute with their curly red hair!!
Our next B&B stop was at Lahinch, about 3 kms from the Cliffs of Moher. We managed to turn a 3 hour drive into 7 hours. We followed narrow, windy coastal roads between County Sligo and Galway enjoying the farming scenery and the castle ruins
Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge
We walked the suspension bridge following the path of the old fisherman
including Dungarven Castle. Then we headed into the Burren National Park – this is one seriously windy, narrow road where passing is very scary. The Burren is a huge barren area of rocks that is often described as being just like a moonscape. We have some beautiful photos of the ‘moonscape’ reflecting in the sunlight. Farewelling the Burren we arrived at SeaHaven B&B late in the afternoon. This B&B is really close to the Lahinch Golf Club and the Cliffs of Mohr – a very convenient location.
Tuesday and Wednesday saw us teeing off both days at Lahinch Golf Club. This club is a key target for Americans. The men play golf and the bus drivers take their wives off to the local towns for a day of shopping. We met some really nice guys to play with on both days. We don’t hire golf caddies but the Americans do. The caddies are a hoot but they can be quite distracting – I just laugh at what they say e.g. when you hit a putt too hard they say ‘oh Jesus you killed it man!’ or they are giving you instructions where to
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Enjoying the cliff top views walking back to the mainland
hit a drive and they say ‘see the big mound on the right, well hit it to the left of
there, straight up the middle, but don’t go left’. Talk about being full of Blarney! We just ignored them and enjoyed the entertainment.
We really enjoyed Lahinch – it was a difficult course but if you hit a ball reasonably straight you could score well. Playing the second time was great because we knew where to go on the blind shot holes.
Tomorrow is rest day and we will be exploring the Cliffs and the walking paths in more lovely sunshine as the good weather is predicted to continue for the rest of this week.
Cheers to you all
Graham and Leanne
Leanne and Graham
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