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The Mountains of Mourne: Granite rocks covered with honeybee inviting heather.

When I first heard about the famous Mountains of Mourne, I chuckled to myself “They call this a mountain?” Coming from mountainous and rugged Greece where you are closer to mountains than to the sea, I found the Mournes plain hills.

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Going up the Mournes however, humbled me. The environment is astonishing, the vicinity is declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the variety of peaks means that climbing the Mournes can be challenging enough for the seasoned hiker and easy enough for the novice hill walker.

Slieve Donard is the crown of the Mournes, standing at 849 metres (2,786 ft) and availing magnificent views.

Read our tips and facts if you planning your climb. You can always read our Slieve Donard climbing story and even have a look at the hiking checklist we prepared for you.

We did climb Slieve Croob too, which is relatively easy to do.

If however, you would rather relax in a park, the heart of the Mourne Mountains instead of sweating hiking them, Silent Valley is the place for you.

Why should you visit Mourne mountains:

It would be a pity not to. Famous as they are from Percy French’s old song, popular with hill walkers and and nature lovers, they still remain wild and untamed, teeming with wildlife among the purple heather and the yellow gorge plants.

Going up the Mournes will leave you refreshed in body and mind and you might be witness to nature dramas like the one described by Mourne mountain lover, John Lyons:

An Alfresco Lunch

On a bright summer day Walter and I were out walking in the Mourne Mountains. We had chosen Ben Crom as our target that day, not the highest peak in the range, but surrounded by wild and lonely country. From the top there is a grand panorama of mountains around you and not much sign of civilisation except for the reservoir below which satisfies the needs of Belfast, thirty miles to the north.

About mid-day we stopped beside a small stream for a sandwich and a ‘cuppa’, in the warm sunshine. Scanning around to see what else was about, my eye caught sight of a flock of racing pigeons moving up the valley. Maybe released in Wales or even France, they were now heading towards their home lofts as fast as their wings could take them. There, anxious owners would be waiting to clock them in and see who had won this week’s prize.

Suddenly out of a clear blue sky a female Peregrine Falcon hurtled towards the little flock. Too late they saw her coming and scattered in panic. The chosen target never stood a chance as he was taken out by the finest hunter in the bird world. A puff of feathers signaled the successful strike, to be followed by a wild cry of triumph. No government or EC committee could legislate to prevent this kill. Eat or be eaten is the law of nature, and only the fittest survive.

But wait. There was more for the watchers to see, still unobserved by pigeon or falcon occupied with the business of survival. The Peregrine had her offspring in attendance, still reliant on mother to provide. In a mid-air pass worthy of a French rugby forward, she handed the prize to junior. He, or maybe it was she, was not yet strong enough to carry something over half his weight. Doing his best and flapping wildly he lost height until he grounded in the heather of the valley floor. No encouragement from mother in the sky above could help, and she had judged that a safer lunch spot was required. So down she came to recover the carcass, and together they flew to a ledge on the mountain above.

Now with good visibility all around she commenced to pluck the feathers and tear off morsels of pigeon for them both to eat. Junior watched carefully and ate what he was given. No need for plastic toys, soggy baps or even golden arches up here, just good food in a setting few restaurants could equal.

Our own tea had gone cold while we watched something we had only seen before on a David Attenborough TV programme. How much more satisfying to observe it in the wild.

For a while the two birds rested on their ledge while lunch was digested, and we did the same far below. Then with another wild cry, typical of their species, echoing round the mountains, off they flew. Quietly we packed our rucksacks and continued our climb, feeling humble and privileged as we moved towards the peak.

Photo credits: photo no.1: courtesy of John Lyons Return from the Mountains of Mourne to Northern Ireland Tourism Homepage

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Saint Patrick, the story behind the name

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Saint Patrick

Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. His work was instrumental in establishing Christianity on the island and therefore he is highly esteemed by both Catholics and Protestants.

The respect for him was such that sometimes it is difficult to determine how much of the information we have about him is real history and how much is part of the legend.

The Biography of Saint Patrick

Patrick was born in England or Scotland (probably at or just north of Carlisle) around AD 387. According to tradition his parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa. The parent’s names suggest that they were Romans.

His grandfather had been a priest and his father a deacon, though some suggest that his father was not very religious and had only become a deacon for the tax benefits it afforded.

Patrick’s name at birth was Maewyn Succat. He took the name Patrick when he later joined the clergy. At 16 he was captured by marauding Irish raiders and taken to Ireland where he worked as a shepherd for six years for an Irish chieftain near Antrim. According to his own words, his faith grew while in captivity.

Later history of Saint Patrick

Eventually Patrick escaped on the basis of a dream and returned to Britain. He became a priest and went to study in France. His studies took about fifteen years.

Saint Patrick in Ireland

Patrick returned to Ireland in AD 432. It appears that there was a small number of Christians on the island at the time but Patrick set out to Christianize the whole island.

The boat carrying him was swept by strong currents and he landed just south of Strangford Lough in county Down. The local chief was called Dichu and he became a Christian, Patrick’s first convert on the island.

First Church in Saul

The chief gave him a barn to hold meetings and the first church was established. The place took the name Saul (in Gaelic “barn” is “sabhall”, pronounced “saul”), just outside Downpatrick in county Down. Today there is a little village there and a replica of the church that stood there for centuries.

Ireland Converted

From the village of Saul Patrick moved to other parts. His missionary efforts targeted chieftains and leaders of the Irish tribes and within the nearly 30 years he spent in Ireland he was able to change the country from a primarily pagan land to a Christian one.

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Legend of Saint Patrick

Around his exceptional life a number of legends were weaved over the centuries.

Snakes

The best known is that Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland. The likelihood is that Ireland didn’t have snakes even when Patrick arrived. In religious imagery Satan is at times portrayed as a snake based on the Creation story in the Bible. So, to banish the snakes was probably a metaphor for banishing evil by converting the Irish to Christianity.

Shamrock and Trinity

Another story that might be true is that when asked to explain the mystery of the Trinity, Patrick picked a shamrock. He then proceeded to explain that though there are three persons in the Trinity, they are all one just like the shamrock has three leaves yet it is one tiny plant. The shamrock is not a national symbol for the Republic of Ireland.

Patrick the Non-Conformist

Though Patrick is a patron saint of Ireland, historical research indicates that Patrick’s faith was in many ways at variance with mainline Christianity at the time. He held divergent views on liturgy and worship, on church hierarchy and Christian standards and lived with a strong expectation in the soon return of Jesus. You can read more about Patrick’s faith on the section on Celtic Christianity. (coming soon!)

Death and Burial

Patrick died in AD 461 in Saul, the little village where his work in Ireland began. He was buried in Downpatrick, a town that bears his name. His tomb is unassuming and plain, a large rock just outside the cathedral that unless you know it is there you will miss it. On the rock his name is inscribed.

The people of Downpatrick recognize the importance Patrick played in Irish history and have built a Saint Patrick Center with exhibits and information related to him. When in Downpatrick, also take time to see the Cathedral, the museum and also the Railway Museum.

Return from Saint Patrick to Northern Ireland Tourism Homepage

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