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Larne Antrim

Larne Antrim

Larne is an important town on the coast of Antrim. According to the latest census Larne has about 20,000 inhabitants. In front of Larne lies Larne Lough, a small natural gulf and excellent safe port protecting boats from the waves of the Atlantic. Larne is known by most non-Northern Irish for the ferry connections that run to and form England and Scotland with more 750,000 passengers leaving and arriving at the port. However, there is much more to the town than the port. It has a fascinating history and several places of interest to visit.

Larne Antrim – Early History

As with other Irish cities, Larne has a long history. The name Larne probably drives from Lathar, a son of the legendary great king of Ireland Ugaine Mor who reigned in the 5th century BC. What is more certain is that the Greek and later Roman explorers may have visited the area for Larne Lough as there seem to be references to in ancient maps.

Larne Antrim – Come the Vikings

From the end of the 8th century until about AD 950 the Vikings raided throughout the island but especially in the west and north. The area of Larne must have experienced its own share of fighting and pillaging. We know that the Vikings set camps just to the south in Strangford Lough and to the east in Lough Neagh. Larne Lough was for a time known as Ulfrich after a Viking king. The Vikings eventually stopped raiding and settled down to trade and live among the locals. It is hard to determine their impact on Larne town.

Larne Antrim – Later History

Larne played a role during the fighting between the English and the Irish. As a harbor invading forces at times landed here. Larne also played a role in the large waves of Irish immigration to America in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was from Larne that in May 1717, the Friends Goodwill, the first immigrant ship to sail from Larne left for America and landed in Boston. Many Irish Bostonians are descendants for immigrants either from the Larne area or who left Ireland through Larne. Later in the 18th century John Wesley, the great Methodism preacher and revivalist preached in Larne. A small plaque in the High Street marks the place where John Wesley preached. During the Troubles Larne was a loyalist stronghold and still retains a strong loyalist outlook. Today two things that dominate the business life of Larne are the Port and F. G. Wilsons a large factory that produces industrial generators and gives employment to a substantial part of the population of Larne.

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Dunluce castle and shipwrecks near Lacada point, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Travel: Let’s go to Dunluce Castle

Dunluce is probably one of the most dramatically located Northern Irish castles built on a basalt headland dropping straight into the ocean.

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Northern Ireland Travel: Dunluce Castle Location

Located less than five miles from Giant’s Causeway, it is well worth a visit. And while there, you will also want to look over the treacherous Lacada point, the place of the famous disaster of the Girona as well as the tragedy of the Exmouth shipwreck.

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Northern Ireland Travel – History of the Dunluce Castle

It is believed that the castle was built in the 13th century by Richard De Burgh when Ulster was ruled by the Anglo-Normans. However, some kind of fortifications probably existed even before. In the 16th century it was part of the property of the MacDonell’s of Antrim and later the MacDonalds of Scotland, and back to the MacDonells.

Medieval castle life would not have been easy here. Dunluce Castle was beaten by fierce winds coming from the Atlantic ocean , and winters can be harsh. Dunluce castle itself is not in the most accessible of positions and on cold dreary winter nights it might have felt lonely.

In 1643 during a severe storm part of the Dunluce Castle kitchen fell into the sea, the only kitchen occupant surviving being a little boy who was sitting in a corner. Fancy that, huh!

The Duchess Catherine Manners, resident lady of the castle, never liked Dunluce Castle and used the collapsed kitchen as an opportunity to press for moving residence away from the rock to the mainland. The castle was eventually abandoned and slowly fell into disrepair with material from it taken to facilitate construction of other buildings in the area. It is currently in the care of the Northern Ireland Department of Environment.

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Northern Ireland Travel – Our Visit to Dunluce Castle

Our visit to Dunluce Castle was short and to the point. We enjoyed the tremendous views but to tell you the truth, the story of the kitchen falling into the sea, gave me a knot on the stomach. Legend has it, that there was a wedding celebration going on when the disaster stroke, which makes all the more tragic.

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Northern Ireland Travel – Dunluce Castle Facilities

The castle is open daily and there is a small charge for admission. Toilet facilities are available and there is a small tourist office. Guided tours are available on request.

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Allocate about an hour for the visit, unless you are passionate about history in which case you might want to take longer. The castle is in ruins, but the dramatic location makes visit more than worthwhile.

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Northern Ireland Travel – Dunluce Castle and Lacada Point

Lacada point is a rock promontory that juts into the ocean a few hundred yards west of Giant’s Causeway. It is typical or the rugged yet beautiful North Antrim Coast, but became the scene of the Girona tragedy that resulted in great loss of life.

Read about the Girona shipwreck and her treasure here!

Fancy some more castle ruins? Here are some on your way:

Dunseverick Castle – It stood for ages – since the 5th century- but the waves brought it down. Ruins in a dramatic setting.

Kinbane Castle – Somebody loved the sea. Another Castle ruin that belonged to the powerful MacDonnell clan.

Photo credits: photo no.4 courtesy of Dwight Peck. Photo no.5, courtesy of Elisabeth and Teije. Many thanks!

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Medieval Castles in Ireland – An authoritative Guide

Medieval Castles in Ireland

Medieval Castles in Ireland

Medieval Castles are one of the most visible characteristics of the Middle Ages (circa AD 700-1500) in Europe. No matter where you travel on this continent, chances are you are not far away from the remains of one. The same is true of Northern Ireland, indeed of the whole island. Here we will tell you briefly their story and give you a list of castles in Northern Ireland.

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List of Early Modern and Medieval Castles in Northern Ireland

Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle Weddings

Carrickfegrus Castle

Castle Weddings and Birthday parties

Dromore Mound

Dunluce

Dunseverick

Dundrum

Enniskillen Castle

Hillsborough Castle

Kinbane Castle

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Why Medieval Castles?

The history of the castle is closely connected to feudalism. Under the feudal system, kings gave lands to their barons and lords. They in turn might keep some lands for themselves to be cultivated by villagers.

These villagers called serfs were tied to the land and to their local lords and barons. Their freedoms were curtailed. They could not travel freely and even for such things as marriage, they had to ask the lord’s permission. The lands that the lords did not keep for themselves they might parcel out among their knights who in turn would get the local villagers to work them.

In return for their work the serfs received (hopefully) the lords’ and knights’ good will and protection. To protect themselves and their serfs from other land hungry lords nearby, lords needed fortifications. And thus the story of castles began.

The earliest Medieval castles were little more than an area enclosed by a palisade. Often they were built on hills because hills offered better protection and a better view of the surrounding countryside. An approaching enemy could be spotted quickly.

Medieval Castles in Ireland – Motte and Bailey

Motte and Bailey castles were a type of fortification or castle popular in the 11th and 12th centuries during Norman times. The name comes from the French word “motte” which means a “mound”. Motte and Bailey castles consisted of an earthen mound, sometimes natural, more often artificial. On top of the mound knights would build a defensive building or tower, the Keep.

Beneath the mound on the flat ground there would be an enclosed courtyard which served as an area for the castle’s daily activities and as a first line of defense. In the courtyard the attendants of the lord of the castle would both live and work. Initially the courtyard was surrounded by a palisade, or wooden fence, but with time palisades were replaced with stone walls which provided much higher levels of protection.

Medieval Castles in Ireland – Switch to Stone

The weaknesses of wood soon became apparent. It burned easily, or could be chopped down. The richer lords began to build stone castles. Soon, everyone was building them. Wood had fallen out of fashion.

Castles dotted the landscape and remained the focus of life during times of both war and peace throughout the Middle Ages. The arrangement was as follows.

Medieval Castles in Ireland – what was life like?

On the high point of the grounds stood a strong tower, the Keep. On the top floor of the Keep lived the local lord and his family. This place was called the Solar. The floor beneath the Solar would be used as a reception room were notable visitors were received, cases judged and audiences offered. War councils would be held here and the lord would party with his knights during the long winter nights, when campaigning against other lords was out of the question due to weather. Musicians provided plenty of music and jokers entertained them with juggling acts and jokes. During the day they would often hunt with dogs and hawks.

The basement of the Keep would be used for storing supplies. Castles had to be well stocked to be able to withstand long sieges. Usually they would have enough supplies to last them for months. If they could hold out for the summer, chances were that the enemy would go home once the winter colds came.

The grounds around the Keep would be a beehive of activity. There was a chapel where people could pray and attend religious services, workshops for metal smiths to make their weapons, carpenters to fix furniture or other equipment, masons to expand the castle and plenty of food vendors. A castle would often have at least one well, maybe two, to ensure a supply of fresh water.

Around the grounds would be the outer walls of the castle. Smaller towers than the Keep would be in place at regular intervals in the wall. They offered extra protections and a longer field of vision. Soldiers would patrol the walls in times of tension and there would be look outs even in times of peace. There would usually be one main gate with a strong tower about it and a portcullis, two gates one after the other. Sometimes they would open the outer gate and once enemy soldiers passed it towards the inner gate, they would close the outer gate trapping the enemy soldiers in between the two.

Medieval Castles in Ireland – the Decline Begins

As the Middle Ages were coming to a close in the 1400’s, castles began to loose the importance and central role they once held. Three things happened to change this situation. First, the advent of canon meant that even the stout stone walls of castles could be broken down with relative ease. Castles therefore ceased to be the safe places they used to be.

Second, from the 13th century onwards, the decentralized nature of feudalism began to slowly give way to more centralized governments, governed by a king. They didn’t want strong barons in strong castles, because they might challenge their authority. As kings grew more powerful, they built their own bureaucracy, their standing armies, their police force. The world became a somewhat safer place, lords and knights stopped fighting local skirmishes for small plots of land and the need for castles for everyone became redundant. Lords and knights were more likely to join the king in fighting a distant war than to attack each other.

Third, as Europe grew more affluent, refined ladies and rich lords decided they wanted their comforts. And while Medieval Castles were good for defensive purposes, they were small and crowded, smelly and dirty and didn’t afford many creature comforts.

As the Middle Ages were drawing to a close, it was becoming evident that the days of the castle as the mainstay of defensive warfare and the centre of society were fast coming to an end. Don’t get me wrong, castles continued to be built for centuries to come. In fact, some were built even in the 19th century, maybe even in the 20th. But the newer castles were different. There was less emphasis on defense and more on comfort and elegance. Newer castles, unlike their medieval predecessors, were more like palaces with splendid landscaped gardens and glorious views. Defense, in many cases, was just about the last thing on their mind.

How About the Medieval Castles in Northern Ireland?

A country with as rich a history as Northern Ireland not surprisingly has many medieval castles. Depending on what you include (early modern ones) there are as many as fifty or more.

The earliest date from Norman times like Dundrum Castle near Newcastle in County Down. Such will give you an idea of how medieval Europe castles looked like.

Others were built in relatively modern times like, for example, the delightful Hillsborough Castle.

Some were built for defensive purposes and have seen their share of wars and battles. An good example is Carrickfegrus Castle.

In fact, Carrickfergus castle is in such a good condition, it is frequently used for Castle Weddings and Birthday parties or Wedding photography shots.

Others functioned as stately homes and are more elegant than fearsome, like the famous Belfast Castle.

Some are in excellent state of preserve, like Enniskillen Castle.

Others are in complete ruins, like Dunluce, Dunseverick or Kinbane Castles in the Antrim Coast, or Dromore Mound in Dromore.

Depending on how much history fascinates you, you can decide how many to visit. But a tour of Northern Ireland would not be complete without at least a casual viewing of some of them.

History often developed around them and though no longer in the mainstream of political developments, the stout architecture and often dramatic locations of older ones as well as the refined elegance of some of the newer ones will give you a good overview of the rich history of this glorious land.

In my-secret-northern-ireland.com you can read descriptions and see photos of some of the better known Northern Irish castles. Our list is by no means complete. But we plan to build and expand it. So take your time, read through the relevant pages, plan to visit them and come again to our website to learn more as new pages on the castles of Northern Ireland are added.

’till then, happy exploring!

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Seatbelt laws for tourists wishing to drive in Northern Ireland.

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Seatbelt laws in Northern Ireland

A MUST for every person in the car. This is serious stuff and rightly so the Police treat it as such.

Who needs to wear seatbelts

Back seat passengers need to wear them. Children up to 3 years old must be in an appropriate child seat. A child aged 3 – 12 or up to 1.35m tall must wear the appropriate child restraint. All others must wear the normal, adult seat belt.

For children up to the age of 14 the driver is responsible for the seatbelts. For passengers aged 14 and above the passenger is responsible.

You must wear a seatbelt in cars and goods vehicles where one is fitted. There are very few exceptions to this, please see below. The driver of the car is liable to prosecution if a child under 14 years does not wear a seat belt or child restraint.

If your car does not have seat belts in the back and you do not have appropriate child car seats, you cannot carry children.

Seatbelt laws for children:

  • You must not carry an unrestrained child in the front seat of any vehicle.
  • Children up to 135cms in height must use the appropriate child restraint when traveling in any car, van or goods vehicle – there are very few exceptions, see above.
  • A child may use an adult belt when they reach 135cm or the age of 12.
  • In buses and coaches with seat belts fitted, passengers aged 14 years and above must use them. Passengers on vehicles used as a local service on routes consisting of restricted roads or where provision has been made for standing passengers and the operator permits standing. are exempt.
  • Exceptions

    For adults: only if seat belts are not fitted.

    For children:

    • if traveling in a taxi,
    • if two child carseats are already fitted in the back seat and a third will not fit.

    For more information and the latest updates you can visit Road Safely Northern Ireland

    For those of you who are thinking of renting a car, the rental company can provide appropriate baby and child carseats for a small fee.

    So.. if you are to drive to Northern Ireland, buckle up, folks…

    Now you know you should wear your seatbelt, read drinking and driving in Northern Ireland.

    Read about how to drive on the left of the road, the road system, roundabouts, and speed limits in Driving direction in UK and Northern Ireland.

    Read about the adjustments you have to make when driving in Northern Ireland and Ireland, how to save money on car fuel, what to expect in a Petrol Station, tolls and road traffic, in Driving in Ireland webpage here.

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    Slieve Donard tips and how to enjoy your hike

    Here are some quick Slieve Donard tips, so that you can conquer this mountain in Co Down, Ireland. Ready, steady… go!

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    Slieve Donard Tips and How to

    Fast Facts

    • Height:849 meter (2786 ft) Northern Ireland’s highest peak. The 19th tallest in the whole island. One of the 20 peaks in Mourne Mountains.
  • Location: Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland. Closest town: Newcastle
  • Distance to the top: 5.5 miles
  • Time it took us to climb: 5 hours approximately including rest stops.
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    Slieve Donard Tips – How to get there

    First you need to get to Newcastle. It takes 40 minutes to drive to Newcastle from Belfast City Airport and just over 30 minutes from Belfast via the A24 to Clough.

    From Newcastle you need to go to Bloody Bridge Car Park, which is around 5 minutes drive away.

    Or, you can take the Mourne Rambler bus: During July and August the bus follows a circular route around the mountains allowing you to hop off and walk and then catch the bus again.

    The service is available on the hour from 9:30am-4:30pm, starts and finishes at Newcastle Bus Station and stops at the following destinations: Bryansford, Village, Trassey Bridge, Mourne Rambler, The Rock Shop, Mourne Rambler, Meelmore, Mourne Rambler, Fofanny Dam Mourne Rambler, Ott Mountain, Mourne Rambler, Pigeon Rock, Mourne Rambler, Slievenagore, Mourne Rambler, Silent Valley, Car Park, Carrick Little, Mourne Rambler, Rouke’s Park, Mourne Rambler, Bloody Bridge, Bloody Bridge, Glenada House, Mourne Rambler.

    For update information call the Newcastle bus station on 028-4372 2296.

    Slieve Donard Tips – Climbing

  • It is windy at the top. Wear warm clothes. And we mean it! You might need something to cover your ears even during the summertime.
  • You might want to splash in the natural-occurring rock pool, bring suitable attire.
  • Beware of the recently repaired stone path – It can be tricky when descending.
  • There are toilets and picnic area at the Bloody Bridge car park.
  • The tradition: When you start your hiking, pick a small rock and carry it all the way to the top. When you reach the top, throw your rock to the ever growing pile at the summit. Leave your mark in an eco-friendly, non-intrusive way.
  • Smell the Gorse bushes. They flower pretty much all year, but they are at their best in June. Inhale deeply. Don’t they smell of coconut?
  • Better leave your dog behind. There are happy sheep roaming all over the place. Ooops! Mind where your step now!
  • Bloody Bridge Why is it called so? A sectarian massacre happened here during the O’Neill rebellion of 1641. (More of that in the History section. Coming soon…)
  • Marvel at the The Mourne Mountains wall: Why it was built? To map the boundaries of the water reservoir’s catchment area to provide Belfast with fresh water, (Silent Valley) bought by the water authorities.
  • Why is it important? Well, imagine building a wall from natural granite stone using traditional dry stone walling techniques for 18 years! (1904 -1922) By hand! For 22 miles (35 kms)! And not just a low wall, the average height is about 1.5 m and almost a meter thick. It encompasses an area of 9.000 acres and passes over 15 of the 20 Mourne Mountains. Ok, they worked only from April to October, but still…
    Have you read our Slieve Donard story?

    We climbed , Slieve Croob too. What memories!

    And what about the essentials:

    Hiking Checklists

    Hiking safety tips

    Hiking hazards

    What to wear when hiking

    and ofcourse…. the history of hiking!

    Coming very very soon! Please check back, or even better, save yourself the hassle and subscribe to our Northern Ireland Travel Secrets Blog! That way, you will never miss an update.

    Photo credits: Ryan McD at Flickr. Many Thanks.

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    Travel to Northern Ireland

    Travel to Northern Ireland by Air, Sea and Land

    Travelling to Northern Ireland is now easier than ever before. Whether you are flying in from the other side of the globe, or driving up from the Republic, Northern Ireland is accessible via land, sea and air.

    Travel to Northern Ireland By Air

    Northern Ireland has three airports:

    • Belfast International
    • Belfast City also known as George Best Airport
    • Londonderry.

    You might also want to consider Dublin airport. Though 100 miles from Belfast, the good road system and good transport services means you can be there quickly.

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    Travelling to Northern Ireland from America, or further afield?

    Dublin is probably your best option. Most major airlines fly to Dublin rather than Belfast so you will have more options.

    If you do fly to Dublin, the easiest way to travel to Northern Ireland is to take the bus.

    There are three bus companies that service this route: Ulsterbus, Bus Eireann, and Aircoach.

    Services are regular, and very reasonably priced. They stop at Newry, Banbridge, Hillsborough, Lisburn and Belfast.

    However, services do not always run at night and at peak travel times during the day the buses get full quickly. You might want to book in advance, or risk some delay.

    London airports

    Alternatively, try one of the London airports and then connect. This is easier today in that there are a number of low cost and regular airlines that have multiple flights every day to Northern Ireland airports.

    Beware of lost connection flights:

    Low cost airlines will usually not take responsibility if your inbound flight is delayed and you lose your connection.

    So you might want to arrange it in such a way that you spend a day in London. Or that you book your onward flight with one of the major airlines as one ticket in which case your connection is assured.

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    Travelling to Northern Ireland from Europe or Great Britain?

    Both Belfast airports and Londonderry have good connectivity.

    Try the low cost airlines like Easyjet, Ryanair, Jet2 and BMI service over 100 routes so chances are you will find one that suits you. If you book well in advance and choose your dates carefully, you can get REALLY cheap flights.

    Beware of extra costs.

    Some of the low cost airlines will charge you extra for services that are standard in other airlines.

    So before you make your booking check not only the advertised price, but the total price once you have made all selections.

    Travel to Northern Ireland By Sea

    Take the boat only if you are bringing a car. Otherwise, it is easier (and often cheaper) to fly.

    There are numerous options.

    • Option 1: Scotland to Belfast/Larne – Stena Line or P&O Irish Sea
    • This is the shortest route, it takes about three hours on a normal boar, or just over an hour on a super-fast ferry.

    The downside: If you are coming from the south of England it means a long drive to south-west Scotland to take the boat.

  • Option 2: Liverpool to Belfast/Larne – Norfolk Line or Stena Line
  • This trip takes over 10 hours. You can either travel overnight, or over the day.

    Travelling to Northern Ireland overnight sounds ideal, you leave at night, sleep on the boat, arrive fresh and relaxed in the morning.

    The downside: This is probably the most expensive option.

    By contrast, the day sailing can be the cheapest of all options. You can opt to have a cabin, or stay on deck. A free meal is often included with the ticket (check when you book).

  • Option 3: Holyhead to Dublin/Dun Laoghaire – Irish Ferries or Stena Line
  • Three hours on a ferry, an hour and a half on a super-fast ferry. Usually slightly more expensive than Scotland to Belfast/Larne.

    The downside: You have to drive to Holyhead in north-west Wales, and then from Dublin to Northern Ireland.

    Our Advice

    In our five years in Northern Ireland we tried all three options, some several times.

    If you don’t mind spending some extra cash, the night sailing of Option 2 is the best.

    If you are not pressed for time and want to save $$ or ££, the day sailing of Option 2 is the most cost effective.

    Liverpool is easily accessible from most of England and you arrive at the heart Northern Ireland. You can have a cabin and rest during the trip and enjoy a good meal on the way.

    If you are coming from Scotland of Wales, options 1 and 3 are best respectively.

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    Travelling to Northern Ireland from Mainline Europe

    You can either cross by boat from France to the Republic. This is nice if you want to stop over in the Republic. If, however, you are in a hurry to reach Northern Ireland, it is a long trip made on secondary roads.

    Another option is to cross the English Channel by boat to England and then go for one of the three options above.

    Travel to Northern Ireland By Land

    Since Northern Ireland is part of an island, the only way you can come by land is from the Republic of Ireland.

    However, if you are a tourist from America, chances are that you have gone to the South first and are now considering travelling to Northern Ireland.

    The roads connecting South to North are generally small (as with most roads in the South) and not always in the best state of repairs. So, count on a lengthy trip even if the millage involved is not high.

    However, if you are in the Dublin area, then it all becomes so much simpler.

    The M1 is the main artery that leads from Dublin towards the North (just to make matters confusing, there is another road named M1 that starts is Belfast and heads south-west but the two are distinct).

    If you take the M1 from Dublin and avoid the rush hour, your trip will be quicker and more pleasant.

    From Dublin it is about 60 miles to the border, 66 to Newry, the first main city in the North,75 to Banbridge and about 100 to Belfast. The road is motorway until Newry and dual-carriage way from then on. Currently they are doing road works around Newry which can cause delays at rush hour, but otherwise it should be smooth driving.

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    Must-do Tours Northern Ireland and top places to see

    Tours Northern Ireland

    So you have decided to visit my secret Tourist destination (at last, what took you so long!); or maybe you are already there. You are crouching over a map and are trying to plan you itinerary. You are wondering which places are worth a visit and which you can skip. Relax… Here is a list of some of the most fascinating places. Take your pick.

    Giant’s Causeway

    Even if you don’t like natural attractions, you MUST plan a visit to Giant’s Causeway, the foremost natural wonder with the greatest claim to fame. Don’t miss it. And since you are there, marvel at the dramatic location of Dunluce castle

    Rathlin Island

    If you want to beat the crowds, go off the beaten track, to Rathlin Island, a birdwatcher’s paradise.

    Mourne Mountains.

    The crown of Ulster. Full of heather and ragged beauty, they will mesmerise you. If you enjoy hiking / trekking, you might want to try the challenge of climbing Slieve Donard (read our story!), the highest peak in Northern Ireland.

    Or, if you are close enough to the border, you might want to pop over to the Republic of Ireland for a day trip across the border.

    More Tours Northern Ireland to be added soon. Come back and check on us, we have so many things to tell you, we wish we had more hours in the day!

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    Your Northern Ireland Photos

    I invite you to share your best photos of Northern Ireland!

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    Village in the Antrim Glens, Glenarn, Antrim, Northern Ireland

    What exactly is it with Northern Ireland? There is something mystical that captures the heart of visitors. Have you seen it? Did you wish you had your camera? Is it the charming locals, the flowers and blooms of dainty villages, the smile of a happy child, the forty shades of green, the foam of the ocean?Do share your Northern Ireland photos with the rest of the world. Let’s showcase Northern Ireland!

    And don’t forget to add in your comments whereabout the photo was taken so people can visit and marvel themselves!

    What Other Visitors Have Said

    Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…

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