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.