Friday, 23 February 2018


This small resort is located in the far northeast of the Irish mainland and at the most northerly point of the Antrim coast.  Ballycastle’s main attraction is its wild and windswept beach, with lovely views along the coast to Fair Head.  At one end is an area known as Pans Rock, the remains of an iron salt pan used by fishermen, and just beyond that is the Devil’s Churn, with steps leading down to an underwater tunnel.  Ballycastle’s big event of the year is the Ould Lammas Fair, which originated in the 17th century, and which is the subject of a ballad by John Henry MacAuley, a sculptor by craft.  The first line of the ballad tells how “At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle long ago I met a pretty colleen who set me heart a-glow”.  The Fair is held on the last Monday and Tuesday of August.

On the way in to Ballycastle by the road from Cushendall lie the ruins of Bonamargy Friary built by Rory MacQuillan in 1500.  88 years later the friary was seized by the rival MacDonnell clan.  Many of the features, including a cloister, altar and burial vault, are still relatively unscathed, although the roof is missing.  The friary is the last resting place of several Earls of Ulster and of Sorley Boy MacDonnell.  The friary is easily accessible from the road, free to enter, and there are information boards for visitors, who can also enjoy the lovely surroundings, including a golf course. 

Map of the area.

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Pan's Rock, Ballycastle beach.  Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 15 February 2018


Heading north out of Cushendun the Causeway Coastal Route takes on the name Torr Road, and after a few miles there is a turnoff from this to Torr Head.  This headland, with its spectacular views of the Mull of Kintyre, was used in the 1800s to record the passage of Transatlantic ships for Lloyds of London, and the remains of the old lookout station are still visible.  This was also one of the first places where Marconi’s wireless telegraphy system was installed.  Nestled against the headland on Portaleen Bay is a small harbour, a reminder of a former salmon fishery. 

Further north is Murlough Bay, known for its flora, fauna and geology, with birdlife including eider ducks and peregrine falcons.  Beyond the bay is Fair Head, which has been described as Northern Ireland’s tallest cliff face, rising to 600 feet above sea level.  As well as fantastic views along the coast and across to Scotland, there are goods views of Rathlin Island, which lies just across the way.  The headland is popular with rock climbers.  Running around the headland is a path called The Grey Man’s Path.  The Grey Man in question is said to derive from a local legend about a “devil-horse” living in nearby Lough Dhu who wandered along the path disguised as a human and frightened the living daylights out of a local woman called Mary McAnulty. 

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Fair Head from Ballycastle.  Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, 9 February 2018


Like Cushendall, Cushendun, at the foot of Glendun, one of the nine Glens of Antrim, is classed as a “conservation village”, and as such is protected by the National Trust.  The name comes from the Irish Cois Abhann Duinne, which means “beside the River Dun”, the river that tumbles down from the valley of Glendun.  The village was planned in 1912 by Clough Williams-Ellis at the request of Baron Cushendun, and the Cornish appearance of the village is no accident, as Williams-Ellis designed it in this way to please the Baron’s wife Maud, who was from my home town of Penzance.  There is even a row of whitewashed cottages named after her. The village passed to the care of the National Trust in 1954.

Just to the north of the village is Castle Carra, thought to have been built in the 14th century and now a ruin.  The castle was the scene of a series of shenanigans involving Shane O’Neill and the McDonnells, culminating in O’Neill being stabbed to death as revenge for his earlier defeat of the McDonnells.  Not content with this act of violence, they cut his head off and sent it to representatives of Queen Elizabeth in Dublin. 

Last, and by no means least, fans of the hit series Game of Thrones will want to include a visit to Cushendun Caves on a visit to the village.  The caves, formed from over 400 million years of weathering, appeared in the series as the background for the Stormlands, one of the nine constituent regions of the Seven Kingdoms.  They can be reached by following the walk suggested via this link.  

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Cushendun Caves. Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 1 February 2018


Formerly known as Newtown Glens, Cushendall and the surrounding area is classed as a “conservation area”.  The ‘dall’ part of the name comes from the River Dall which tumbles down to the beach via the Cushendall Golf Club course.  One of the main historic landmarks in the village is the Curfew Tower, also known as Turnly’s Tower, after Francis Turnly of the East India Company, who erected the tower as “a place of confinement for idlers and rioters”.  However, the history of the area goes back much further; there are the remains of Bronze Age forts in the mountains overlooking the village.  In 1924 the village became one of the first places in Ireland to have street lighting installed. 

On the outskirts of the village is Cottage Wood, with footpaths, viewpoints and picnic facilities.  Lovers of wildlife should keep their eyes peeled for the Red Squirrel, which are regularly seen here.  About a mile outside the village lie the evocative ruins of the Old Layde Church, dating from the early 1600s, although records suggest a church existed here as long ago as 1288.  Cushendall’s big event of the year is the Heart of the Glens Festival, which takes place in August and is a throwback to the days when there were eight fair days held throughout the year.

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Cushendall Beach. Photo by Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 24 January 2018


To the north of Carnlough the shore-hugging Causeway Coastal Route veers to the west, where it reaches Red Bay.  Glenariff, one of the nine “Glens of Antrim” and known as the “Queen of the Glens”, drops down to the sea here, and there is a small village by the same name.  Glenariff Forest Park speads over 1,000 acres, with woodlands, lakes, waterfalls and recreational areas.  Just beyond the neighbouring village of Waterfoot lie the ruins of Red Bay Castle, built in the 13th century by the Bissett family, self-styled Lords of the Glens of Antrim.  The family’s descendents, the MacDonells of Antrim, rebuilt the castle in the 16th century, only for it to be burned to the ground in 1565 by Shane O’Neill of Tyrone.  The MacDonnells rebuilt it again, but it fell into disrepair and after a further restoration was subsequently destroyed by Oliver Cromwell during his conquest of Ireland, hence the scant ruins on view today.  So not much to see here now, but worth swinging by anyway for the wonderful views across to the Mull of Kintyre.

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Waterfoot, taken in 1990. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018


Continuing north from Glenarm along the glorious coast road which hugs the Antrim shore, we come to Carnlough (‘cairn of the lake’), a village on the bay of the same name and lying at the mouth of Glencloy.  The villagers must be made of stern stuff, the harbour here being one of a number of locations on the Northern Ireland coast known for its New Years Day swims.  The limestone cliffs in the vicinity have played an important role in the area’s history right from Neolithic times, when the flint deposits in the cliffs served as tools for these ancient inhabitants.  Much later quarries were set up to extract the limestone, and the harbour, originally a stone pier built in the 1700s, was redeveloped in the mid-19th century by the Marchioness of Londonderry.  The limestone was used for the construction of the harbor, as well as many of the houses in the village, and a 1.5 km mineral tramway was built for transporting the stone.  

Another spinoff from this activity was the Londonderry Arms Hotel, built in 1848 as a coaching house.  Between 1921 and 1924 the hotel was owned by Sir Winston Churchill courtesy of an inheritance from a second cousin who was a grandson of the Marchioness.  The Marchioness, meanwhile, used to stay in a summer residence a few miles to the north of Carnlough known as the Garron Tower, a dark grey castle-like structure with turreted towers.  The building is now occupied by St Killian’s College and lies just off the coast road, which here is known as the Garron Road.  Back in Carnlough, as well as the charms of the village itself there is a scenic drive called the Slemish Scenic Drive which follows Glencoy up to Slemish Mountain, where St Patrick spent 6 years in captivity.

No piece on Carnlough would be complete without making a mention of one of the most famous former residents of the village, Paddy the carrier pigeon.  During the D-Day landings Paddy was sent to France with a coded message on the Allied advance, a secret mission codenamed U2, and remarkably was back home within 5 hours.  He was rewarded for his efforts by being awarded the Dicken Medal for bravery, the only Irish pigeon to have received the award.  Paddy died in 1954, but his memory lives on in the form of a commemorative plaque erected at the harbour.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Arnold Price, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 11 January 2018


Glenarm and its surroundings constitute one of the nine “Antrim Glens”, or valleys which are among the attractions of this part of Northern Ireland.  The glen itself, the river, the bay and the village are all called Glenarm, which stands for “Glen of the Army”, a reminder of a bloody past dating back to the Normans.  The harbour at Glenarm has a long history, but has been restored and updated, and nowadays houses a marina used by yachts and pleasure boats.  The village itself, dating from the 17th century, is a Conservation Area. 

Across the river from the village is Glenarm Castle andWalled Garden, home to the Dunluce family.  The castle originates from the 13th century when one John Bisset, expelled from Scotland for murder, arrived in the area and established a castle for the defence of his newly acquired land.  However, it was in 1636 that the present-day version of the castle was built by the Earl of Antrim Sir Randall McDonnell. The Walled Garden dates from the 18th century and is one of Irelands oldest.  There is a tea room which last year had a glowing write-up in the Belfast Telegraph.  The garden is open to visitors from March until September, however the castle itself is only occasionally open to the public, and is available for group visits.  The Glenarm Forest Park used to be part of the demesne of Glenarm Castle but is now open to the public and maintained by Ulster Wildlife Trust.

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Glenarm Castle. Photo by Glenarm Castle, via Wikimedia Commons