Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The usual question - when to visit Ireland?

One cannot guarantee anything as far as the weather is concerned in Ireland but statistics over the years do give a good indication of the best months to visit the Emerald Isle. The following chart shows the average monthly rainfall. As you can see there is not a great difference between the wettest and the driest month but the spring and early summer would seem to be a safer bet than late summer or early winter. Equally as ,temperatures vary, you can rely on a maximum daily temperature during the summer months of 20C and a minimum of 11C.
Persoanlly if I were to chose, May or June are excellent months for seeing Ireland at its best.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Who says the Irish can't cook?

Some posts ago I mentioned the Bureau restaurant at Newtownabbey between Carrickfergus and Belfast on the shores of Belfast Lough. Last week before leaving as a special treat I visited the restaurant again and was far from disappointed. On the contrary it was a night to remember. For future reference and until they change the menu my personal favourites:


Main course




It's a meal you will never forget.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Belfast - a changed city

Last Thursday I was in Belfast to see the first of the tall ships arrive for the Belfast Maritime Festival from 13 - 16th August. What an impressive sight to see these magnificent galleons sai up Belfast Lough. In all they had visited 4 continents on their journey, their most recent ports of call being Bermuda, USA and Canada. It was 18 years ago in 1991 that Belfast last played host to the tall ships participating in the Atlantic Challenge. The idea behind the Atlantic Challenge is to offer sail training experience on sailing vessels, some of them as old as the early 1900's. The race is from Nova Scotia in Canada to Belfast and the vessels are between 10 and 100 meters in length and a total of 40 took place in the event.
On Thursday an estimated 250 000 people visited the ships at Belfast harbour. Today, 16 August, at the end of the festival the ships will all sail down Belfast Lough in a flotilla.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Very disappointed by car rental easycar.

Sorry but a major disappointment. Having arrived in Northern Ireland and needing to hire a car, I decided today to book online with a company called easyCar. After I had booked I then called the contracted agent at the airport in Belfast to arrange when I could pick up the car. By the way I had a confirmed reservation. I was told by the contracted agent - in this case Alamo - that they had no cars available and that they could nto understand why easyCar was still accepting reservations when they had no cars. Alamo could accept no responsibility for the services of easyCar.


Thursday, 6 August 2009

News from Ireland

As promised the first report from Ireland. All went well until London Gatwick with British Airways but a one hour delay for easyJet. No apology and a crowded flight with a turn around time for the late aircraft in London which was frighteming.
We were told that the flight was completely full but I managed to get a seat with no one beside me as the seat had disappeared. It really felt like the rumours of Aerflot Russinas airlines in the 70"s. We could not land at Belfast International on account of a thunderstorm and had to circle for an extra 30 minutes before landing. Then it was off to stay with friends for the night at Carrickfergus. The thunderstorm had passed and it was strange to have day light at around 10:00 p.m. even in August. This morning was the first dry morning since the beginning of the month according to our friends so made use of the good weather to drive from Carickfergus to friends in Ballymena. The green of nature on the route was really impressive as the copious amounts of rain had really helped the flowers and the grass.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Off to Ireland today - stay posted

Lunch time today I am off to the Emerald Isle for 10 days, staying in and around the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland. Weather reported to be awful but what can a man do? Anyway I will be reporting on a daily basis in this blog on my wanderings, etc. so if you have any questions about travellig in Northern Ireland post them now. If I have not got the answer I will make sure I get it there "from the horse's mouth" so as to speak.
In parenthesis - in spite of the low cost airlines, I got a great deal. Easyjet wanted Euro 154 for a single trip to London Gatwick from Thessaloniki, Greece. On the British Airways site I was amazed to find a fare of Euro 80 for the same trip on the same day. And guess what? British Airways even offered be a business class upgrade for Euro 100. Normal single fare to Gatwick with them today is Euro 892. Whoppee! I'll be writing to you soon.

Belfast via the US to Enniskillen

Yes, it does sound like a strange itinerary and only one an Irishman could think up but this morning we leave Belfast - follow the signs for the MI and then the M4 to Omagh and later to Enniskillen. The total journey takes us right across Northern ireland from East to West beneath Lough Neath and this trip covers about 85 miles - most of it by highway.
We are not doing this because there is nothing further to see in and around Belfast. There is nothing further from the truth but I assume that time is pressing and we want to be selective in what we see and where we stop. This trip will take us first of all to the Ulster American Folk Park ending up in Enniskillen and the two Loch Ernes by the evening in beautiful country Fermanagh. The map below gives you an idea of the trip - Belfast stopover just outside Omagh - final destination Enniskillen. Arriving in Omagh off the M4 keep your eyes opened for directions to the Ulster American Folk Park which is just outside the town on the main route from Omagh to Strabane. In the summer the opening times of the Park are as follows:
July to September 2009
Monday - Saturday 10.30am - 6.00pm
Sunday 11.00am - 7.00pm

Admission prices to the museum you will find here.
The museum also lists the time you need to see everything:
* Emigrants Gallery, 30 mins
* Temporary Exhibition, 30 mins
* Old World Area, 1 hour
* Ship & Dockside gallery, 30 mins link
* New World Area, 1 hour
I would really recommend taking this time. It gives you a great impression of the US immigrant Irish trail from the starvation and poverty of the potato famine, the incredible journey by boat across the North Atlantic to Ellis Island and the makings of a new life in what they called the New World. The outdoor museum has a fine collection of houses, craft shops, from both sides of the Atlantic and you really feel drawn into the whole immigrant experience. My own ancestors made this jouney themselves in 1909 - exactly one hundred years ago - which probably makes this whole experience much more personal for me.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Belfast - plenty to offer

I would suggest if you have spent the morning on the Bus Tour then it is well worth the time to spend the afternoon doing a little shopping. The main shopping areas in Belfast you can conquer by foot as they are off both sides of Royal Avenue which is the main street running up to the City Hall and was your point of departure in the morning on the bus tour.

A good start - particularly if the weather is not good - is the Castle Shopping Centre just at the bottom of Royal Avenue. This is a multi-storey shopping mall with shops for every taste and every pocket. There is also a food floor where you have a great choice of inexpensive meals and snacks.You will not find anything particularly Irish though here. If that is what you are looking for then cross Royal Avenue and at the corner of Ann Street you will see an Irish shop - you cannot miss it on account of the green colour. Here you can find Irish linen, Aran pullovers, it also had Waterford Crystal last year but since they went into administration, I cannot vouch that you will still find that now. Of course there is every conceivable Guinness object - glasses, t-shirts, golf balls, you name it we have it.
One shop I really love is Sawer's Delicatessen which has just about everything exotic in food that you can imagine. Since I grew up in Northern Ireland at a time when there was scarcely a restaurant to be found in the city - seriously - I could spend hours in this shop. it is located just at the top of Lombard Streeet (number 9) Walk up Royal avenue towards the City Hall and at the top of Royal Avenue turn right and turn right again at the first street you find. From there it is some 25 meters until you find Lombard Street and you will see Sawers about 10 yards in front of you. You can't miss it because of the magnificent outdoor display of fruit and vegetables. Enjoy!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The City Bus Tour Belfast - the dead live on

After savouring the northern Ireland of 100 years ago at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, we continue with a sightseeing tour of Belfast City. This is time very well spent and you can choose between the upper uncovered deck or the covered lower deck of the typical red Belfast bus. You will find information on Belfast City tours here. The tours start in Royal Avenue one of the main streets leading up to the majestic Belfast City Hall. From here you go to the Albert Clock, the Belfast shipyards, the Lagan side, the river on which Belfast is situated, then on to Stromont - the seat of government - the Shankill and Falls Roads and coming back to the old pubs in the center and the Belfast opera house. The tour takes a couple of hours but is very wortwhile if you want an impression of what Belfast was in the troubles and how it has changed to a vibrant modern city. The graffiti on the sides of the little terraced rows of houses in the Shankill and Falls Roads show you the existing loyalties - Republican and Unionist. But the violence has gone, the bombs and rifles are silent but somewhere on this trip you get the feeling - the dead live on.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Ireland - a day out 200 years ago

Having reached Belfast, the city has much to offer and is not recognisable compared to the troubled city of 20 years ago. Depending on the amount of time you have at your disposal - and the weather - one should choose carefully what is worth seeing. If the weather is good then make straight for the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum which is located at Cultra. To get there from the centre of the city simple follow the signs for Belfast City Airport and contibue to Hollywood. Shortly after passing through the village you will see the turn off for the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum During the summer months it is open July to September 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 11.a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
For me the great attraction is the authenticity of this outdoor museum which has removed stone ny stone houses, churchs and shops from throughout Northern Ireland and reconstructed them here at Cultra. The picture below shows the main village street.. Allow yourself at least half a day to take in Northern Ireland of the past. There are many events organised throughout the year, relating to the local history. There is a Linen Day, a Donkey Day amd you can actualyy see workers practising skills now all but extinct - leather shoe making, making reed baskets, baking soda and potato bread. In any case make sure you visit the Old Rectory where research on the wooden structure shows it dates back to 1717. The main village street offers the shops of 100 years ago with authentic contents and shopowners all ready and willing to answer any questions you have. At the end before to visit the shop for local produce such as ginger and rhubarb jam.
Looking for a hotel in Belfast?. And for the evening you will find any number of excellent restaurants in the city centre. For a real overnight treat you will never forget, try the Culloden Hotel on the Bangor Road, 5 star and unbelieveable I am told. Olde world charm in antique surroundings amd great hospitality.

A short Irish gourmet stopover......

On your way from Carrickfergus driving along the side of Belfast Lough you will soon drive through Newtownabbey. If you have time, look out on the right hand side of the road and you will see a restaurant called the Bureau. Here I can vouch that the food is truely magnificent be it for lunch or dinner in the evenng. The upstairs restaurant requires advance booking and you can sit and look out over Belfast Lough. I would describe the menu as fusion but with a Northern Irish touch. Food is not expensive considering the quality and they have a large range of excellent wines. Be careful as weekends are particularly busy but I promise a meal you will not forget.
Following this stop contine along the shore road to the M5 and the motorway for Belfast City centre which can be reached in about 15 minutes from the resturant. Tomorrow? We spend the entire day in Belfast with a mixture of things to do - depending on the weather, of course!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Looking for relevant quality link exchanges to other blogs

By the way, if anyone has a blog related in any way to this one and is interested in exchanging links, please leave your details in the comments box below and I will be right back to you.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Glens of Antrim and on to Larne and Belfast City

Shortly after Carnlough still staying on the coast road we will come upon the village of Glenarm. Until a few years ago Glenarm had a thriving salmon farming industry in the bay but a strange type of jellfish apparently destroyed the salmon eggs and dessimated the industry. Leaving Glenarm we leave the last of the Glens of Antrim and enjoy the drive to Larne. Larne is a busy little town but not a tourist resort. The harbour here sees a lot of passenger traffic as this is the shortest crossing between Ireland and the UK mainland. To be honest, there is not a great deal to see in Larne. it is the point of access for many coming to Northern Ireland with regular services several times a day to Cairnryan and Stranraer in Scotland. Leaving here following the signs for Carrickfergus, a more beautiful and interesting location. From there it is only a short drive down the western shore of Belfast Lough to the capital of the province, Belfast. And that is where we will spend at least one day on account of its recent history and the great changes the city has seen in the past twenty years.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

From Ballycastle we are off to the Glens of Antrim

For me this is one of the most impressive drives. From Ballycastle we drive on winding narrow roads along the coast and through the villages of Cushendun, Cushendall, Waterfoot, Carnlough and Glenarm. The nine glens of Antrim are called Glentaisie, Glenshesk, Glendun, Glencorp, Glenaan, Glenballyeamon, Glenariff , Glencloy and Glenarm. The one in the picture is Glenariff and well worth a stop over. Here you will understand why people claim that Ireland has forty shades of green.

The lazy little villages of Cushendun, Cushendall, Waterfoot, Carnlough and Glenarm all have their individual charm and you'll find the coffee shops worth a break. I find the village of Carnlough very enticing. It is at the bottom of Glencloy and has a great beach when the tide is out. The little fishing harbour and the limestone bridge used to carry the limestone by rail from the quarry to the waiting little steamers but the industry has long gone. Interesting in Carnlough is to stop over on the main street at the Londonderry Arms Hotel. It has changed little over the years and it's claim to fame is that it was once owned by Sir WInston Churchill. The hotel serves meals - great ones, I promise you won't leave hungry or you can just have a pint or a coffee in the bar.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

If you are lucky, you are in for a treat - the Aul Lammas Fair at Ballycastle

Not for the faint hearted or those who do nto like crowds, I can assure you. Towards the end of August every year the quiet little town of Ballycastle, turns into hell on earth. The fair is said to be some 400 years old and was originally to celebrate the harvest and to trade horses. Today it has become a national tourist attraction and sadly has lost some of its local flair. But if you are in Ballycastle at teh end of August perhaps it is worth a try?

Friday, 3 July 2009

A beautiful stepping stone between Northern Ireland and the Scottish coast

Rathlin Island is, as I said, to my knowledge the only inhabiited island in Northern Ireland. The photo below does justice to its beauty set only six miles off the coast from Ballycastle the little ferry (no cars allowed) travels up to five times daily in both directions and costs about 10.60 pounds or Euro 12 for the return trip. As you can see agricultural vehicles are carried as well as animals (sheep) for local markets. . But before we commence let us take a look back on the previous day and set how our trip along the North Antrim coast is progressing. Remember we started at Portstweart (very lefy hand side of the map below and continued through Portrush, Bushmills, the Giant's Causeway and Torr Head to Ballycastle. Today is the day we visit the little island at the top of the map. The trip takes some 20 minutes and we arrive in Church Bay and the village village. The island also has a primary school with one teacher and the older children now cross over to Ballycastle on a daily basis to attend other schools as they get older. Refreshingly enough, Rathlin island's population is growing and now numbers over 100 people. During the 1970's there were worries that the island would become deserted as the younger generation left to find employment and a better life on the mainland. Now there is a slight increase although I do not think holiday homes or buildign is allowed on accoutn of an awareness to preserve the natural environment. The island is a bird wacther's paradise with puffin colonies as well as flora such as wild orchid. Here you can find more information about the Rathlin Island Seabird Center.

To my knoweldge there is a small bed and breakfast for those wishing to stay the night and in the village there is a tea room so you will not starve. Last boat back is around 5/5:30 p.m.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

And off we go

Having visited the Causeway we continue round the scenic coast route to the spectacular Torr Head which gives excellent views of both the Mull of Kyntyre in Scotland the island of Rathlin, just of the coast from our destination, Ballycastle. Toro Head is worth a visit just for the views surrounding it. Admittedly the narrow roads are winding and difficult to negotiate but it is worth the trouble, [particularly if the weather is kind.] Toor Head's had a claim to fame in the 1800s as it was from here that one recorded the passage of ships, crossing the Atlantic and this information was then relayed back to Lloyds of London. After a short stop I recommend we continue our trip eastwards towards the quiet little seaside resort of Ballycastle. I love this photo of the town square. The town today is a holiday resort with many second homes for holiday purposes and in the summer also has its share of holiday makers. Look for accomodation on the sea front as there are a number of inexpensive but good hotels there. You will need a night's sleep because tomorrow we are off to Rathlin Island, the only inhabited island 20 minutes off the coast by with a service run by the Rathlin Island Ferry Company.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Continuing from Bushmills to Ballycastle.

May your troubles be as few and far apart as my grandmother's teeth

When you arrive at the Causeway there is a new tourist center at the top of the cliff. From there you can walk the whole way down to the actual causeway or for the less athletic there is a frequent little minibus carrying tourists up and down to the stones. When you arrive be sure to have a seat in the wishing chair and make your wish. (Please let it stop raining!- Can someone carry me back up that path?). By the way, this is NO PLACE for swimming the waters here are extremely dangerous with strong currents - under no circumstances should you even let it cross your mind. Another magnifient site down at the bottom of these cliffs is the "Devil's organ" a huge crystallised rock face resembling organ pipes. Take the path a little further along from the wishing chair and in five minutes you are there. And now it is back up to the visitor's center for a wll-deserved cup of tea before we continue towards our beloved Ballycastle.

Our first day trip along the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland

Many of my postings will be in the form of day trips you can take at your leasure - usually by car. This first choice is also my first choice and an area I know very well as I spent most of my Irish childhood in this area.

The trip can be done comfortably in one day. Starting off of course with a good Irish breakfast before departure. And yes I know you will find it a bit off if you are into health foods, yoghurt and muesli but when in Ireland do as the Irish and rest assured you will not feel hungry until well past lunch time. bacon, sausages, eggs, soda bread, potato bread, mushrooms - all fried. of course you start off with porridge before this and end up with two rounds of bread and marmalade (toasted).

Here is the plan for the day. We are in Northern Ireland and it is our first visit to the Antrim Coast - some of the most spectacular scenery in Ireland all of Europe. We start on the coast on the very left of the map and continue eastwards to Portrush, Carrickareade, Bushmills, the Giant's Causeway and end up in the sleepy little holiday resort of Ballycastle.
In total we are covering less than 70 kilometers but there is so much to see and plenty of tiem to see it.

Portstewart is one of th emost popular retirement towns in the north of Ireland. I has a magnificent beach called Portstweart strand and golfing, fishing, yachting activites. The white strand stretches for several miles and I believe you are still permitted to drive along it though beware I have seen many a struggling driver panicking as the tide comes in and he tries to escape. Portstewart is peaceful and the view from the promenade provoked the Irish ballad "Red Sails in the Sunset". In winter stragely enough students inhabit the town as it is close to the University of Ulster in the adjacent town of Coleraine and offers cheap winter accommodation once the summer tourists have fled. From here you continue round the coast some 3 miles to the little resort of Portrush, a favourite holiday location for local Irish and full of the holiday atmosphere. The harbour you see here is also great for swimming or hiring rowing boats but do not underestimate the currents when you leave the harbour. Portrush also is famous for the Royal Portrush Golf Course and reportedly is one of the bestin Ireland. The town itself is situated on a little promentory with beahes on both sides, packed on summer days. Leaving the town towards Bushmills you will pass the golf coarse and enjoy the drive towards Bushmills, the home of the oldest whiskey distillery in the world. Bushmills actuall is no larger than a village but the distillery is it's major claim to fame and there are guided tours to show the distillation process and a great shop for any whiskey connisseur. I recommend the 400th anniversary malt which came on the market last year (2008). A little pricey at around $70 but it will become a collector's item. Leave youself about oen hour for the tour of the distillery and the shop visit and then you are off to the 8th wonder of the world - The Giant's Causeway - a strange natural phenomenon of how basalt stome crystallised and formed hexagonal shapes when the lava cooled on meeting the chilly waters.

May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live

Monday, 29 June 2009

The Irish weather - a little unpredictable

Yes, I read this statement on a similar website and can but agree, if you want to have guaranteed wall to wall sunshine for the duration of your holiday then head to the Mediterranean, not to Ireland. There is a saying, and I have experienced it frequently, in Ireland you can have four seasons in one days. Typical Irish joke, "Paddy, that was a great summer we had last year", Yes, Matt I missed it I was at the dentist that afternoon." A slight - very slight exaggeration - but let's be honest Ireland is not renowned for heatwaves and drought! However, one thing I will say, which most people forget. The scenery in any kind of weather on the Emerald Isle is impressive. Take a look at the incredible photo below and you will get an idea of what I mean. It is a keen haven for golfers, though, with summer temperatures around 20C during the day. In any case if things are really bad maybe it is time for a little sustience in something you will find on practically ever street corner of even the most remote Irish village - the pub. In my view the best months to visit Ireland - although there is never a guarantee with the weather is May, June, July, September and early October.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Do I need a visa to visit Ireland

Check this link if you need a visa to visit ireland As you can see with the exception of a small number of African, Middle eastern and East European countries, by and large you do nto require a visa to enter Ireland as a tourist. But take care. We are talking about tourist visas and such a visa does not entitle you to study or take up employment in Ireland. Of course, citiziens of any EU country do have the right to seek employment in Ireland which is also a member of the European Union. Indeed with the now crashing boom in Ireland many workers from Poland, Latvia and Lithuania were in employment particularly in major construction projects around Dublin. If you enter via the Republic of Ireland without a visa you can also visit Northern Ireland - which is part of the United Kingdom - as there are no border controls between the two countries as both are European Community members.

Other cities to fly to when vacationing in Ireland

There are a number of other points of entry by air to the Republic of Ireland other than through the capital, Dublin. The following map shows also three cities, Cork, Galway and Limerick (Shannon Airport) and you can enter by air. To be honest if you asked me which one to pick I would have extreme difficulties as all three cities are very beautiful. If you choose Galway for example you are on the very West coaat of Ireland (Dublin is on the east cost. This is a univeristy city with great old-world charm and charmisma. Using Galway as a base you can easily visit the impressive desolate western coastline and the area of Connemara with its white thatched cottages and fishing villages. it is like living in another world. I shall come back in a later posting about Galway and its history and sites. Another option is to fly to Cork. If you look at the map at the top of this posting you will see that Cork is on the very south coast of Ireland. It is a port and was the point of departures for many Irish who fled the hard life for a new future in the US and Canada centuries ago. Again Cork is a lively university city with a mild climate on account of the gulf stream and even has palm trees. The advantage of arriving in Cork is that you are close to the beautiful Kerry mountains and the lakes are ideal for fishing. It is an ideal base for exploring the southern and some say most beautiful scenery in Ireland. Third option is Limerick, again a bustling university city on the west coast south of the city of Galway. Which ever city you opt for you cannot go wrong - each has its own charm and there are no lack of sites to visit in all of the cities and in the surrounding areas. This may be a good choice for tourists from USA and Canada as the airport (Shannon Airport) has frequent flights from New York, Chicago, etc.

For tourists travelling by air on holiday to Dublin

Equally, if you decide to travel by air on vacation to Ireland, the choice of flights is enormous. This map shows some of the cheaper carriers in Europe and the cost of the flight. As I mentioned in an earlier post the Irish no frills airlines Rynair offers great prices also to Dublin from many international destimations (including the Uk and Europe. Should you be looking for direct flights to Dublin from the UK, the following map shows your nearest UK airport for destination Dublin.

Tourist going to Northern Ireland by air

In the meantime there are so many airlines and cheap no frills airlines serving Northern Ireland, it is difficult to keep up to date. If you are travelling from the UK mainland the map on the left gives you a smaple of your nearest airport which flies to Belfast. Belfast has two airports, George Best City Airport, in the centre of Belfast which has mainly domestic flights and Belfast International Airport, about 30 minutes from Belfast, which has both domestic and international flights.

If you are travelling from the UK mainland your cheapest options are Easyjet or Ryanair as both are low cost airlines and the earlier you book the cheaper the flight. In some cases the flight is free and you only pay airport services and charges, believe it or not.

Let's start from the beginning and get rid of some of the confusion for those going on vacation to Ireland

As you can see from the map above, Ireland is an island situated off the west coast of Britain, i.e. Scotland, England and Wales.

Also you will note that Ireland is a geographical but not a political entity. Indeed many of you will remember the troubled past of the last 30 years which thankfully has ended. Basically, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom (UK) and the larger part of the island (the south) is an independent country called "The Republic of Ireland" also known in the Irish langauge as "Eire".

The country is served well by international air routes. Dublin, the capital of The Republic of Ireland, has direct air links to most European capitals, and to several US destinations. Belfast, the largest city in Northern Ireland, equally has good air connections to European and UK destinations.

For travellers wishing to travel with their vehicles to Ireland, there are frequent services from Scotland (to Northern Ireland) and from England and Wales to Dublin. The map above gives you a clearer picture of all sea routes and as you can see you can travel by ship directly from France.