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Ireland part 3 – Co Sligo, Co Mayo, Co Galway and the Isle of Man: 8th-14th June 2019   Leave a comment


After our time in Donegal we drove south to Sligo where we spent the night and then continued on along the coasts of Co Sligo, Co Mayo and Co Galway. After returning to Dublin we took the ferry to the Isle of Man where we stayed overnight before returning to Dorset.

The hotel by the river in Sligo.

A walk in the town

We drove along the north coast of Co Sligo, passing a number of old forts. The scenery was interesting but not stunning …

… but further along in Co Mayo the scenery became more dramatic …

… with beautiful coves …

… and dramatic loughs and distant mountains.

We stayed the night in Belmullet and spent the evening exploring the beautiful Belmullet peninsula.

Next day we drove to Achill Island and headed for the westernmost point.

On route I noticed a number of swans on a roadside lough, one didn’t look quite right so I stopped and my suspicions were confirmed. It was indeed a Whooper Swan. This winter visitor from Iceland is quite common in Ireland in winter but it is very rare in summer. Possibly this is an injured bird that was unable to migrate, although I checked the lough again as we left and it wasn’t there, so presumably it was capable of flying.

The road didn’t go all the way to the western tip and it was too far to walk within the time we had available. However the views from the cove at the end of the road …

… looking southwestwards towards Toremore Island and the Galway coast beyond were outstanding.

The wonderful scenery continued as we returned eastwards.

Between Newport and Westport the main roads runs north – south. Offshore are a multiplicity of islands but getting to see them is very difficult. On our visit in 1991 we stayed at a B&B nearby and we were given directions to a great viewpoint. However as hard as we tried we were unable to repeat this experience, we drove down many narrow roads to farms but all ended up as private dead ends

.We stayed overnight at Murrisk and were able to get another perspective on the islands from the south.

The view from the village was dominated by this bare-flanked mountain.

At Louisburg we climbed over the peninsula …

… before dropping down south towards Killary Fjord, Ireland’s only true sea fjord …

… we stopped at the lovely Aasleagh Falls …

… before heading up the south side of the fjord.

On route we stopped to photograph the lovely Kylemore Abbey.

South of Killary Fjord the trip took on a different dimension. Once past the Giant’s Causeway and the Dark Arches we had seen virtually no tourists and the roads only held local traffic.

Now there were tourist busses and kiosks selling leprechauns and other souvenir trinkets. Heading south past Connemara NP we took a side road to the coast to get away from mass tourism and encountered some wonderful beaches …

… this one with a marked route that allows you to cross to a nearby island at low tide.

Moving on again, now to the west, we passed the the mountain range known as the Twelve Pins.

Finally we ended up well to the south at Rossaveal, the start point of our ferry to the Aran Islands. We found a B&B without too much difficulty but finding a restaurant took much longer. We also followed a series of causeways which took us to five low-lying islands (see above) over the course of a thirty-minute drive.

I had wanted to visit the island of Inisbofin (mainly I think because it has hosted a few rare birds, not that any would be there in June) but Margaret wanted to go to the Aran Islands. These comprise of three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer and we chose to visit the largest island, Inishmore.

There is quite a lot of ‘traditional’ transport on the island.

From Inishmore we had great views across the sea to the Twelve Pins mountain range. The Aran Islands are politically part of Co Galway but geologically are part of Co Claire. The landscape is more typical of the limestone pavements of the Burren than the largely granitic Co Galway.

We were heading for the ancient fort of Dún Aonghasa, situated on a cliff 100m above the sea on the south side of the island.

From Wkipedia: It is not known exactly when Dún Aonghasa was built, though it is now thought that most of the structures date from the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Excavations at the site indicate that the first construction goes back to 1100 BC, when the first enclosure was erected by piling rubble against large upright stones. Around 500 BC, the triple wall defences were probably built along the western side of the fort. The 19th-century artist George Petrie called Dún Aonghasa “the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe”. Its name, meaning “Fort of Aonghas”, may refer to the pre-Christian god of the same name described in Irish mythology, or the mythical king, Aonghus mac Úmhór. The fort consists of a series of four concentric walls of dry stone construction, built on a high cliff some one hundred metres above the sea. At the time of its construction sea levels were considerably lower and a recent documentary estimates that originally it was 1000 metres from the sea. Surviving stonework is four metres wide at some points. The original shape was presumably oval or D-shaped but parts of the cliff and fort have since collapsed into the sea. Outside the third ring of walls lies a defensive system of stone slabs, known as a cheval de frise, planted in an upright position in the ground and still largely well-preserved. These ruins also feature a huge rectangular stone slab, the function of which is unknown. Impressively large among prehistoric ruins, the outermost wall of Dún Aonghasa encloses an area of approximately 6 hectares. Photo from

I crept on my belly to the edge of the cliff and had dizzying views down to the sea far below.

The wall forms the perimeter of the fort but the steep cliffs continue on as far as the eye can see.

We also visited a group of seven ancient (7th or 8th  century) churches, each dedicated to a different saint.

Margaret at one of the churches.

We aimed to finish our tour around the coast at the City of Galway because from here it is a fairly short drive on the motorway back to Dublin. It was raining that morning and we decided not to bother with a visit to the city but press on eastwards. We stopped for a break at Shannonbridge which, hardly surprisingly, ‘does just what it says on the tin’. After some difficulty with the road system in Dublin we found a hostel near to the docks which was OK but was probably the least salubrious of all the places we stayed in Ireland. The following morning we caught the ferry to Douglas in the Isle of Man.

In 2018 on a tour to Mongolia I met Tim Earl and Liz Charter who live in the Isle of Man. We contacted them ahead of our visit and asked if we could meet up somewhere for a drink. They kindly said we must stay with them and they would show us around. This our view of Douglas as the ferry approached.

Here’s Margaret with Liz and Tim at the top of a very windy Snaefell, the highest point of the island.

Near their house was this public (ie private) school looking like something out of Hogworts.

Tim and Liz took us to the southernmost tip of the island which overlooks the the offshore island known as the Calf of Man. This is a site of a Bird Observatory and is known for attracting a good number of rarities as well as having a lot of breeding seabirds.

Whilst Liz had other things to attend to Tim, Margaret and I caught the steam train back to Castletown where my car was parked.

An old fashioned steam train complete with an old fashioned ticket collector.

Tim insisted that you can’t ride the steam train without a stop in the Railway Siding pub at the other end. Who were we to disagree?

Here is the Castle Rushen in Castletown. The Isle of Man is a self- governing British dependency. It is claimed that the Manx government, known as the Tynwald has been in continuous existence since 979. (The Tynwald is of course situated in Douglas not Castletown).

Castletown has a pretty little harbour.

Another view of Castletown.

In the evening we went for a walk to Dreswick Point. Although it was still early June there was evidence of the first returning waders with both Curlew and Whimbrel seen. Most appropriately we saw a single Manx Shearwater (although first described from the Calf of Man the species is now a rare there although increasing after a de-ratting program).

The scenery was quite dramatic with views southwards towards Anglesey in north Wales.

An offshore rock is known locally as the ‘Drinking Dragon’.

The following morning Tim and Liz took us to Laxey where we caught the tram to the highest point of the island, Snaefel at an altitude of 621m.

The Laxey Wheel (also known as Lady Isabella) is the largest working waterwheel in the world and was built in 1854 to pump water from nearby mines. The wheel is 22m in diameter.

The tram slowly climbs the mountain passing and crossing sections of the famous TT circuit.

The view from the (very windy) top was great but it was rather misty. On a clear day you can see from the Mull of Galloway in Scotland right all the way round the Solway Firth, the Lake District, the Lancastrian coat, north Wales and Anglesey and to the west, from the Wicklow mountains of Eire to the hills of Antrim. In spite of the haze you could still see Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland through the binoculars.

There was some delay in returning as there was a cruise liner in Douglas harbour and the cruise passengers were given priority in boarding the trams, so after a rather chilly wait at the top we descended and lunch in a pretty beach shack near Douglas …

… before visiting Marine Drive just south of the capital. A landslide has closed one end of this scenic route so now it gets far less traffic and a family of Peregrine Falcons has taken to sitting on the road. We had great views of the two adults and three juveniles (as seen above) before it was time to say our goodbyes to Tim and Liz and head for the 3pm ferry to Liverpool.

At the ferry we had a shock, even though we had used identical details in booking the Douglas -Liverpool ferry as we had (with the same company) to book the Dublin – Douglas one, we were only booked on as foot passengers. Fortunately there was space for our car although the additional cost was eye-wateringly high. We arrived at the Liver Building at Liverpool in the rush hour and got stuck in some dreadful traffic jams getting out of the city. We arrived home in Dorset before midnight.

It had been a great trip with fascinating history, good birds and wonderful scenery – all relatively close to home. I’ll conclude with this stunning view of the sunset at Derbyhaven harbour taken from Tim and Liz’s apartment.

We would like to return to Ireland in the not too distant future. Perhaps we will take the ferry to Dublin from Anglesea, drive to Galway and then head south to the cliffs of Moher, the Burren in Co Clare before heading to the Kilarney area before heading to Rosslare via Cork and Waterford. Time will tell if we ever get round to it.

Ireland part 1: Wexford to Belfast – 28th May – 2nd June 2019   1 comment

I visited Ireland with my parents in the 60s and again with my late wife Janet in the 90’s, however Margaret had never been and was keen to rectify this. We had planned to visit in June/July 2018 but I had to have an operation so that idea was postponed. So although there were a lot of travel commitments in spring 2019 we managed to fit in a trip to Ireland as well.

Originally we planned to circumnavigate Ireland, but the more we investigated the more places of interest we found, so we decided to cover around two thirds of the coastline and return in another year for the rest. Also on my Mongolia trip 2018 I met a nice couple from the Isle of Man who invited us to look them should we ever visit. So as neither of us had visited the IoM we added that to the itinerary.

We decided to take our own car rather than fly and took the ferry from Pembroke in south Wales to Rosslare in the southeast corner of Ireland.


The ferry left Pembroke in the afternoon, travelling down the enormous Milford Haven to the Irish Sea.


We passed a number of bird rich Islands including Skokholm, famed for its seabirds including a large Manx Shearwater colony …


… and the huge Gannet colony of Grassholm island. The white appearance of the island is produced by tightly packed nesting Gannets and not some light coloured rock.


After landing we stayed in a B&B at nearby Kilrane. The following morning we headed to Our Lady’s Island, a site of pilgrimage for catholics.


However we weren’t here for the ruins or the pilgrimage but to see the birds. Our main target was Roseate Tern, but all the tern colonies along the side of the lake were composed of Sandwich, Common and Arctics and not their rarer cousins.


At the south end the lake is separated from the sea by a shingle bank, hundreds of terns were flying over the bank and heading out to sea to fish.


Eventually we saw half a dozen or so Roseate Terns. Identified by their paler appearance, rosy flush to the breast in breeding season, darker wedge in the outer primaries and black bill with a red base, their population has declined markedly in the UK but there are still around 700 pairs breeding in Ireland. I didn’t manage to photograph these fast moving birds so here is a photo taken from eBird (photographer’s name not given).


We also visited the nearby Tacumshin lake, a site famous for rarities, in particular North American shorebirds in the autumn. Although there were quite a few birds they were all too distant for photos. We had lunch in Wexford at a pub that had converted the ally out back into an elegant covered lounge.


Margaret wanted to visit the Irish National Heritage Centre; we had hoped it would be an exhibition of arts and crafts and maybe music; instead it was a recreation of dwellings from various times in the past, the Mesolithic, Neolithic and early Christian eras with boards explaining what life was like in those periods, which was interesting in its way, but not what we had expected.


We continued northwards to Arklow and stayed by the banks of the Avoca River …


… at the predictably named Bridge Hotel.


We were travelling up the east coast on our way to Dublin. Today we headed into the Wicklow Mountains, but it wasn’t the best mountain experience I’ve ever had. Although the scenery was pretty they were hills rather than true mountains and allthough there were a few good views there was nowhere to park and photograph them.


A quaint village with an old church and an unusual tower was a nice place for lunch.


During the afternoon we drove up the motorway to Dublin. We had thought about finding somewhere to stay in the outskirts and getting the bus in but before we knew it we were in the centre. Finding a hotel was a nightmare as there was nowhere for me to park outside whilst Margaret went in to check rates and availability. All the ones we tried were either 250 Euros a night or over pubs and already full. Eventually we found a hotel that only charged 90 Euros a night but I had to drop Margaret off and then go round the block again and again until she emerged with the details.


Once settled, we found the hotel a very nice place to stay and quite central for sightseeing. That evening we walked to O’Connell Street, photographed the General Post Office (GPO), the site of the famous 1916 Easter Uprising, and the new gleaming spire before having a meal nearby.


From Wikipedia: During the Easter Rising of 1916, the GPO served as the headquarters of the uprising’s leaders. It was from outside this building on the 24th of April 1916, that Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The building was destroyed by fire in the course of the rebellion, save for the granite facade, and not rebuilt until 1929, by the Irish Free State government. An original copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was displayed in the museum at the GPO. The museum was closed at the end of May 2015 and replaced by a new visitor centre to commemorate the 1916 Rising, ‘GPO Witness History’, in March 2016. The building has remained a symbol of Irish nationalism.


Out first destination today was Trinity College just the other side of the River Liffey …


… we walked through the pleasant quadrangles …


… pausing to photograph a Mistle Thrush on route.


Of course what we wanted to see was the wonderful Book of Kells, Ireland’s most important and most treasure historical artefact. Hardly surprisingly the actual manuscript is kept in a darkened room in the college library where photography is strictly forbidden but examples of the highly decorated pages can be seen on illuminated panels in the gallery beyond.


For those wanting a detailed description the following is (again) taken from Wikipedia : The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland and may have had contributions from various Columban institutions from both Britain and Ireland. It is believed to have been created c. 800 AD. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript’s pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasise the themes of the major illustrations. The manuscript today comprises 340 leaves or folios; the recto and verso of each leaf total 680 pages. Since 1953, it has been bound in four volumes. The leaves are high-quality calfvellum; the unprecedentedly elaborate ornamentation that covers them includes ten full-page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with decorated initials and interlinear miniatures, marking the furthest extension of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of Insular art. TheInsular majuscule script of the text itself appears to be the work of at least three different scribes. The lettering is in iron gall ink, and the colours used were derived from a wide range of substances, some of which were imported from distant lands. The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its home for centuries. Today, it is on permanent display at Trinity College Library, Dublin. The Library usually displays two of the current four volumes at a time, one showing a major illustration and the other showing typical text pages. The entire manuscript can be viewed on the Library’s Digital Collections Repository.


We also had the chance to look at the main hall of wonderful college library.


We also wandered along the banks of the Liffey admiring the architecture of the bridges, both and old and new …


… and the City Hall.


Near there was a series of sculptures illustrating the victims of the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1849. The near total failure of the potato crop due to blight, caused the death of over a million and forced even more to emigrate. The population of the country fell by 25%. The lack of support from Westminster at the time exacerbated tensions between Ireland and UK, the affects of which can still be felt today.


Later we made our way to the area known as Temple Bar …


… after the eponymous watering hole.


Nearby we had our lunch serenaded by an Irish folk group.


Further along the river we came to Ha’penny bridge, so called because that was the toll to cross it when it was built.


Quite a beautiful structure …


… the nearby inn bears the same name.


Further west we visited the Viking Museum from which you get a good view of the adjacent cathedral …


… which of course was our next port of call.


During the evening we returned to Temple Bar to eat. The area as now much livelier with musicians and competitions of strength to entertain the passers-by. Most of the bars were so crowded that you hardly get in the door so after finding an al-fresco bar we returned to the hotel.


The next morning we left the city via an underground motorway that leads straight from the docks north to motorway to Belfast. Our destination was Ireland’s most important archaeological site, Newgrange. Again it is easier for me to copy and paste from Wikipedia than type the whole lot out. Newgrange is a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, located 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne. It is an exceptionally grand passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. The site consists of a large circular mound with an inner stone passageway and chambers. Human bones and possible grave goods or votive offerings were found in these chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front, made mostly of white quartz cobblestones, and it is ringed by engraved kerbstones. Many of the larger stones of Newgrange are covered in megalithic art. The mound is also ringed by a stone circle. Some of the material that makes up the monument came from as far away as the Mournes and Wicklow Mountains. Newgrange consists of approximately 200,000 tonnes of rock and other materials. It is 85 metres wide at its widest point. After its initial use, Newgrange was sealed for several millennia. It continued to feature in Irish mythology and folklore, in which it is said to be a dwelling of the deities, particularly The Dagda and his son Aengus. Antiquarians first began its study in the seventeenth century, and archaeological excavations took place at the site in the years that followed. Archaeologist Michael J. O’Kelly led the most extensive of these and also reconstructed the frontage of the site in the 1970s, a reconstruction that is controversial and disputed. Newgrange is a popular tourist site and, according to the archaeologist Colin Renfrew, is “unhesitatingly regarded by the prehistorian as the great national monument of Ireland” and as one of the most important megalithic structures in Europe.


I can add that the reconstruction of the frontage by O’Keely is controversial because it is claimed that Neolithic people would not have had the technology to construct a wall of that height at such a steep angle. There has been much debate about the meaning of the spirals inscribed on the megalith by the entrance. As those on the left are coiled in a different direction to those on the right it has been suggested that this marks the movement of the sun before and after the winter solstice.


Also from Wikipedia: There is no agreement about what the site was used for, but it is believed that it had religious significance. Its entrance is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, when sunlight shines through a ‘roofbox’ and floods the inner chamber. Several other passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with solstices and equinoxes, and Cairn G at Carrowkeel has a similar ‘roofbox’. However some claim that although this might have been its original intent, the current positioning of the stones is due to the 1970s reconstruction. To get a ticket to see this wonderful alignment on the shortest day you can enter a lottery and pray, not only that your name will be drawn, but also that dawn on the 21st of December will be cloud free. Photo from the Irish Times taken at the winter solstice..


Nearby was the location of a most significant Irish event. The Battle of the Boyne a battle in 1690 between the forces of the deposed King James II of England and those of the Dutch King William of Orange who, with his wife Queen Mary (his cousin and James’s daughter), had acceded to the British Crown in 1689. The battle took place across the River Boyne close to the town of Drogheda in the Kingdom of Ireland and resulted in a victory for William. This turned the tide in James’s failed attempt to regain the British crown and ultimately aided in ensuring the continued Protestant ascendancy in Ireland and that of a Protestant Monarch in Britain.


We continued north but rather than head straight to Belfast we detoured to cross the border in South Armagh. Anyone who was around in the 70s, 80s and 90s will remember the constant run of bombings and shooting from what was then ‘bandit country’. Now we didn’t even know we had crossed the border until we noticed a sign saying ‘speed limit in miles per hour’. In fact we crossed into Northern Ireland back into the Republic and back into Northern Ireland again with less hassle than it takes to use a pedestrian crossing. The fact the sort of armed border posts that I encountered in my 1991 visit could soon return if we have a no-deal Brexit fills me with apprehension. The is the town of Armagh, famous for having two cathedrals, one Protestant and one Catholic both called St Patrick.


We headed towards the huge Lough Neagh which sits in the centre of Ulster; from the south the northern shore was only visible through my scope. We called in at Oxford Island nature reserve which was far better than I expected …


… with loads of hirundines including a huge House Martin colony …


… and some excellent close views of Barn Swallows …


… Great Crested Grebes with stripy young on their back …


… and Little Grebes, their diminutive cousins …


… plus lots of wildfowl, Tufties, Pochard and this drake Gadwall.


We would have liked to visit the centre of Belfast but we doubted if we had the time, so we headed towards the old docks, the site of the former shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, whose giant gantries Samson and Goliath dominate the city skyline. Once employing 35,000 people, the workforce had shrunk to under 100 in recent years, mainly making turbines for offshore wind farms. Since our visit the company has been sold.


Perhaps the most (in)famous ship ever made at Harland and Wolff was the RMS Titanic, the story of which is so well known that there is no need to repeat it here. We were heading for the Titanic museum, a peculiar shaped building beside the old docks. The museum deals with the history of Belfast at the time of the building of the ill-fated vessel, it’s commissioning, construction, fitting out and eventual demise on its maiden voyage. It was extremely well presented and it took a long time to peruse all the displays.


After a bit of a queue we took a ride on a gondola through the simulated hull of the Titanic whilst under construction, which gave some sort of idea of the heat, noise and unpleasant working conditions that the shipwrights endured for 12 hours a day.


Nearby the SS Nomadic was in dry dock. She was built to transfer passengers and mail to and from RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, and is the only White Star Line vessel in existence today.


Stopping only to photograph this Pied Wagtail, we headed for the nearby Game of Thrones exhibition.


Like so many others we are fans of this superb fantasy series, much of which was filmed in Northern Ireland, but were a little disappointed by the exhibition. The main displays were the costumes used and a number of props from swords to dragon skulls.


There were a few opportunities to get photos of yourself taken using props from the show against a well-known GoT background, but in most cases these photo-ops failed with the notable exception of Margaret sitting on the Iron Throne. As my friend Fenja has commented, ‘the real Queen of Westeros’.


The next post will cover our journey up the spectacular Antrim coast as far as Londonderry.