Category Archives: Northern Ireland 2024

Last Week in Ireland

Two years ago we discovered Portstewart, a charming resort town on the North Atlantic coast, and knew we wanted to return. Being able to rent the same apartment we had before sealed the deal. Sue, our Portstewart host, called our time here the “jewel in the crown” of our trip. And we totally agree.

We spent most of our week in Portstewart golfing, hiking and returning to favorite restaurants. As sometimes happens, reality didn’t always measure up to our memories, and we had a couple of disappointments. But some of our favorite restaurants were as wonderful as we remembered.

The Bushmills Inn, located just a couple of miles from the Bushmills Distillery, surpassed our memories. I don’t know if they serve whiskey-marinated salmon because they are close to the famous distillery, but it was a new preparation for me and it was fabulous.

The Dark Hedges

The last time we were here, friends recommended visiting The Dark Hedges, but we ran out of time. So, it was high on my list for this visit.

The Dark Hedges is an avenue of 225 year-old beech trees along Bregagh Road in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. But it is more than just a row of trees. The old trees are majestic, and the light is magical.

James Stuart created Dark Hedges when he planted 150 trees in 1775 along the entrance to his Gracehill House estate. He wanted to impress visitors as they approached the house.

Today a property developer owns the grounds and has created a golf course, hotel, coffee shop and landscaped entrance to the avenue of trees.

Although I never watched Game of Thrones, it was a very popular show. Fans of the show visit The Dark Hedges because it was the Kingsroad in the first episode of the second season.

Dunluce Castle is another stunning spot in the area that was used in Game of Thrones. It was used as the Seat of House Greyjoy, the great castle of Pyke.

Because we arrived after it closed, we could only see it from the outside. Built in the 1500s, the remains perch dramatically on the edge of a cliff. It was the seat of Clan McDonnell and is still owned by the family.


We love hiking in this beautiful area. Beauty and history are everywhere.

On one walk, we passed a 17th century stone building that was used for commercial salmon fishing .

I am inspired by the saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Since most of the week was windy and rainy, we had many chances to put this saying into practice.

As much as I try to be hearty, the Irish put my efforts to shame. They are masters of not letting the weather keep them inside. We walked the beach one day when it was 56 degrees and windy. Although I needed a neck scarf and puffy jacket to stay warm, people were swimming in the ocean. Our server at dinner one night told us when some of the staff get off work at 11PM, they often don wet suits and swim in the ocean-in the winter!


Golf is high on our list of what we love about this area. There are grand and famous courses and small unknown courses. During our week in Portstewart, we got to play both.

Thanks to a recommendation from a friend of a friend, we discovered the Bushfoot Golf Club, a small nine-hole course. As soon as we arrived, we noticed the informal, friendly atmosphere of the club.

Because it doesn’t get dark here until about 10PM, we booked a 6:40 tee time. When we got there, the pro shop was closed, and we weren’t sure what to do. A friendly man, who may or may not have worked there, got us score cards and push carts (called trolleys here) and directed us to the first tee.

We enjoyed golfing at Bushfoot so much that we decided to go back. This time the closed pro shop left a note on the door for us about how to get our trolleys.

Paul’s Best Golf Day

We hit the jackpot with Sue and her husband Dave, our delightful Portstewart hosts. Before meeting us, they invited us to spend two days golfing with them.

Sue is a member at Royal Portrush Golf Club and invited us to join her and Dave for a round of golf. Royal Portrush Golf Club has hosted The Open, the oldest of four major championships in professional golf twice and will host it again in 2025. It is the only course outside Great Britain to host The Open, sometimes referred to as The British Open in the US.

Golfing Royal Portrush was the highlight of the trip for Paul and a wonderful golf challenge for me. In spite of the wet and windy day, we had a fabulous time on the beautiful course. Paul’s birdies on #3 and #4 made it even better.

Paul and I didn’t know it at the time, but the man who took our photo after we finished was Sir Anthony Peter McCoy, a famous jockey and 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Sue said he was probably happy to be asked to take a picture for us rather than with us.

Sue and Dave, invited us to play with them at Malone Golf Club, their course in Belfast, the day after we played with them at Portrush. After playing all links courses, it was fun to play their beautiful parkland course.

The stunning tree-lined entrance and stately 19th century club house showed us a side of Belfast we had not seen before.

Golfing on a beautiful course in almost perfect weather with great people was a perfect way to end our Ireland journey.

Time to Go Home

Before flying home from Dublin, we made a short stop in Newcastle, a small seaside resort town, and stayed in the Conlyn House, the B&B we had loved two years ago. Maria, our thoughtful host, gave us the same room overlooking the ocean and the mountains in the distance.

As with all great trips, we are looking forward to going home but sad to leave this wonderful country. We returned to Northern Ireland because we loved the beautiful nature, friendly people, complex history and cool weather. After a wonderful three weeks here, we are going home with treasured new memories.

Greencastle and the Potato Famine

After our lovely ferry ride across Lough Swilly, we drove a short distance to Temple View Lodge. Located right outside Greencastle, a small commercial fishing port, the lodge overlooks beautiful Lough Foyle.

Doagh Famine Village

Another instance of synchronicity! Paul and I had been talking about how little we knew about the potato famine. Then, as I was looking at things to do around Greencastle, I read about the Doagh Famine Village.

Doagh Famine Village tells the story of a family and community living in a remote area of Donegal and how they survived the potato famine. It covers late 19th century and early 20th century. Located on the Inishowen Penninsula, the little museum is a labor of love and dedication.

Pat Doherty, creator of the family-run museum, welcomed us and invited us in to his original family home to begin the tour. He and his family lived in the thatched-roof cottage until 1983.

Inside the little cottage, he talked about his childhood and demonstrated some of the tools they used. I loved his story about using diving rods to find water. About 1% of the people had the gift to use the divining rod.

Over the years, the family added on to the museum based on the questions visitors asked. Other buildings focused on fishing, worshiping, burying the dead and making moonshine.

In the moonshine building, we learned about poitine, basically Irish moonshine. One tiny sip of the strong drink was enough for me.

After touring the buildings, we moved to the exhibit part of the museum. Some of the exhibits are life-sized historical depictions. One showed how landlords evicted tenants and destroyed their homes when they were unable to pay the rent.

The Great Famine

We were most interested in the exhibit about the potato famine. Although I had a vague idea of the devastation it caused, I didn’t really understand how awful it was. The potato crop, upon which a third of Ireland’s population depended for food, was infected by a disease that destroyed the crop. Between 1845-52, this caused a period of starvation, disease and emigration that became known as the Great Famine.

About two million of Ireland’s eight million people emigrated during this time. With a current population of a little more than five million, Ireland’s population has not returned to its pre-famine level.

I loved the little Home of the Fairies exhibit and of course, made a wish and tossed in some coins. All the proceeds go to area non-profits.

Peace and Justice

A newer part of the museum covered The Troubles, a period of conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 60s to 1998. Pat told the difficult story of the road to peace, respecting all perspectives.

Quotes and posters throughout the museum demonstrated his dedication to peace and justice. I was so moved by his commitment to fairly telling a hard story and working to make life better for all people.

We left the museum sobered by having a stronger feeling of the suffering the Irish people experienced during this time. Our visit also caused us to reflect on the suffering so many people are currently experiencing . Focusing on suffering probably wasn’t on our list of things to do in Ireland, but we are thankful for the powerful experience.


Since we were close to Ballyliffin, Paul wanted to make a stop at the Ballyliffin Golf Club and reminisce a bit about playing there years ago.

And I wanted to eat lunch at Nancy’s Barn. In addition to many culinary awards, the cute little cafe featured world-award-winning fish chowder. I didn’t know there was an award for the world’s best fish chowder, but I thought Paul would love to try it.

Another Ferry Ride

Leaving Greencastle for the next part of our journey, we felt like ferry pros. Arriving at the dock right before departure, we were the last car to board. Last car on, last car off and we were on our way.


After three delightful days in Rosapenna, we drove to Rathmullen, a small town along the North Atlantic coast.

Rathmullen House, our home for two nights, is an 18th century Georgian house, built in the 1760’s by the local Bishop. Staying here felt like stepping back in time.

After checking in, we explored the beautiful grounds. Although it was a little too blustery to walk on the beach, the forest was magical.

I didn’t see any fairies, but I am pretty sure we were in a fairy forest.

Rathmullen House grows most of the produce they use in a lovely walled garden behind the hotel.

I enjoyed their garden-grown produce at almost every meal. Vegetable soup, a beautiful beet salad and grilled eggplant were some of my favorites.

Donegal International Rally

On our second day in Rathmullen, we drove to Portsalon Golf Club, about forty minutes away. Driving along a quiet little country road, we suddenly ran into a massive traffic jam. Because we had lots of time to get to the course for out tee time, we weren’t too worried. However, when cars parking in one lane of traffic turned half the road into a car park, we started to worry a little more. When people started randomly parking anywhere there was open space, we got really worried about missing our tee time.

After finally making our way through the maze of cars to the end of the road, we learned the road was closed. Dodging pedestrians, bikers and other cars, Paul turned around and we slowly returned to our starting point to find an alternate route.

We had no idea why there were suddenly so many people on the little country road. A bit later, another stuck-on-the-road motorist told us the Donegal International Rally was causing all the congestion.

Recognized as one of the best domestic rallies anywhere in the world, it is quite popular. The three-day event consists of 275km over 20 stages on country lanes and roads in the northwest of Ireland. 70,000 people were expected to watch the rally along the different stages, and I think we saw half of them on our route.

After trying multiple routes only to encounter more closed roads, we finally made it to the golf course.

Golfing Portsalon

Although we were an hour late for our tee time, the kind starter got us on the course. I am so grateful for his flexibility, because Portsalon was stunning, probably the most beautiful course we have played so far.

Beautiful, lush grasses surrounded Paul’s tee box.

After golf, we wondered if the rally traffic would delay our trip back to the hotel. Two golf club members told us the fastest way back would be the scenic route over the mountain. With hesitation and a reminder to me of his acrophobia, my dear husband agreed to take the scenic route. I loved the views and know I enjoyed the ride back way more than Paul did.

Ferry Across Lough Swilly

Learning from yesterday’s surprising traffic challenges, we consulted with a few people in our hotel about the best way to get to Greencastle, our next destination. Everyone recommended taking the ferry across the lough rather than driving around it.

We listened to the locals and took the ferry.

Knowing the ferry might be busier than usual, we wanted to make sure we got to the pier early enough to get a spot. We might have been a little over-cautious because we were the only car in the ferry queue for about thirty minutes.

Waiting for the ferry turned out to be a fun part of our day. We enjoyed watching all the activity on the beach and talking with other people in the queue.

I especially loved talking with Harry and Kit , two brothers who were biking 1,000 km from the southern border to the northern border of Ireland. They had raised almost 2,000 pounds for Samaritan, a suicide-prevention call center. On day seven of their eight-day journey, they still looked energetic and happy.

We enjoyed the calm, soothing ferry ride across Lough Swilly and were almost disappointed when it ended.

The ferry docked at Buncrana. We drove off the boat and across the Inishowen Penninsula to Greencastle.


After leaving Slieve Russell and driving three hours on beautiful but steep and narrow, sheep-inhabited coastal roads, we arrived at Rosapenna Golf Resort, our home for the next three days. We went from a golf-course view at our last stop to a North Atlantic Ocean coastal view here.

Located in a remote part of County Donegal in Ireland, Rosapenna lies farther north than most of Northern Ireland. Learning that this part of Ireland is west, not south, of Northern Ireland made me realize I needed a geography lesson.

Ireland-North and South

Even though I have been to Ireland four times, I never thought about the geographic border between the two countries. In my mind, all of Ireland was south of Northern Ireland. Not so!

I knew from previous trips that the border between the two countries meanders through the top part of the island. Driving through the area, our GPS would switch between miles and kilometers depending on the country. Not always being sure which country we were in, we needed to ask if we should pay in pounds or euros.

Once I started thinking about not all of Ireland being south of Northern Ireland, I wanted to know why. So, I did a little research and learned that the establishment of the borders, like Irish history, is complex. The simple answer is the territorial extent of Northern Ireland, which came into existence on May 3, 1921, was defined by reference to six of the nine counties of Ulster. The desire for a Protestant majority determined which Ulster counties would be included.


Ever since we were rained out on the 16th hole of one of the Rosapenna golf courses two years ago, Paul has wanted to return to golf and explore the area. So, he was especially happy to be golfing Old Tom Morris and Sandy Hills, the two courses we missed on our first trip. Benny, the almost-eighty-year-old starter, was a great ambassador for the courses and the area.

All of the Rosapenna courses are links courses, the oldest style of golf course. Generally built on sandy coast land, they offer stunning ocean views. The beautiful views definitely distracted me from my game.


Downings, the nearby village, is on the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1,600-mile trail along parts of the west, north and south coasts of Ireland. After multiple people suggested driving the Wild Atlantic Way six-mile loop around the Downings penninsula, we drove the beautiful route one evening.

Every chance we got, we pulled into a cut-out to enjoy the view and take pictures.

Beach Walk

We planned to walk the beautiful beach right outside our window one morning, but a hotel staff member recommended we drive a half mile from the hotel and walk along Sheephaven Bay. It is usually a good call to follow locals’ recommendations, and this was no exception. We easily found the tiny parking lot and almost-hidden beach entrance.

Only four other people shared the beach with us. Walking along the quiet shore in the soft light was a serene and beautiful way to start our day.

At first glance, I thought I saw a woman walking on water. Looking closer, I could see that she was on a barely-visible sandbar.

The day was cloudy, but the colors and light were amazing.

Summer Solstice

Coming back from our beach walk, we saw two helicopters on the ground by the pro shop. Inquiring minds wanted to know what was going on, so we asked at our hotel. The front desk attendant told us some famous people were here to play all three Rosaspenna courses in one day to celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

When we got to the golf course, we learned that she wasn’t quite accurate. Jack Nicklaus’s son and grandson were the golfers who helicoptered in. They were playing one course at Rosapenna and flying off to play a different course later in the day.

However, Rosapenna was hosting a summer solstice event for fifty-four players who played all fifty-four holes in one day.

Not sure if they celebrate the summer solstice this way every year, but this one warrants special celebration. It is the earliest summer solstice date, June 20, 2024, in 228 years.

As we were leaving we talked with two of the summer solstice golfers who had nine of their fifty-four holes left. They were walking the entire course. After walking eighteen very hilly holes that day, I was quite impressed with their endurance.

A Little Reunion

On our way out of the area, we had a reunion moment with the Carrigart pharmacist and assistant who had helped us when we were here two years earlier. When Paul’s leg started bleeding uncontrollably, the golf course staff directed us to the Carrigart pharmacy for help. Not only did they remember us being there, the pharmacist wanted to know how Paul’s leg was doing. We ended up having a lovely chat with both of them.

It seems like the Carrigart pharmacist is always coming to our rescue. We stopped in this time because I had forgotten my prescription arthritis medicine and wanted to know what they would suggest for a substitute. The pharmacist took all my information, including my doctor’s name, and was able to give me a two-week supply of my prescription.

A Special Place

Many times during our three days in the area we talked about how we could live here. To be honest, I talk about living in almost all of the beautiful places I visit. But this area feels uniquely appealing. It is an interesting combination of wild and dramatic and serene and welcoming. Not sure if I will return, but I will always remember how much I love this area.

Hiking and Meditating

When the bright rays of the early-rising June sun woke us this morning, we had high hopes for a beautiful day. And that is exactly what we had-a sunny day and not one drop of rain!

After another hearty breakfast, we left our rain gear in the room and headed out to get some much-needed exercise.

Ballyconnell Canal Loop

We didn’t need to go far to find a lovely hiking spot. The first night we were here, our waitress recommended a walking trail in Ballyconnell, a quaint little town just a few miles from us. It has the intriguing distinction of winning numerous National Tidy Town awards.

The Ballyconnell Canal Loop follows the Shannon-Erne Waterway. Although our waitress told us how to access the walkway, and I put it in Google maps, we still got a little lost. The bad news was we walked almost a mile before we found the trail. The good news was we saw parts of Ballyconnell we would have missed if we had known exactly where we were going.

After wandering around, seeing off-the-path parts of the town, we found a sign identifying the start of the walkway and began the official walk.

We especially enjoyed the beautiful old trees along the path.

After the steep climbs yesterday, the nice level path was a welcome change.

Jampa Ling Buddhist Centre

Following our hike, we explored a totally different environment. After reading about the Jampa Ling Buddhist Centre on the back of a tourist map, I emailed them to see if we could visit. They promptly and warmly replied that we were welcome to come to the afternoon meditation.

Although meditating at a Buddhist center was not high on Paul’s list of things to do in Northern Ireland, he was a great sport and agreed to come with me. As we drove through the gate, a beautiful, tree-lined entrance created a sense of serenity and peace.

When we arrived at the center, I immediately noticed the interesting effect of Buddhist additions to a nineteenth century Irish estate.

Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. One of the monks escorted us to the meditation room in the main house and gave us an idea of what to expect.

Because His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been a patron of the center for more than 30 years, we saw his picture in many of the rooms.

After the thirty-minute meditation, the leader invited us to tour the grounds and visit the beautiful walled garden.

After enjoying the peaceful environment and unexpected experience of visiting a Buddhist center in Northern Ireland, we left feeling quite relaxed.

Cotswolds Connection

Sometimes things just happen and you have to trust that synchronicity is working for you. An encounter on our last evening here reminded me of this energy. Yesterday Paul told me about a conversation he had with a woman from the Cotswolds. She encouraged him to visit this beautiful area in central South West England.

Since the Cotswolds have been on my list for awhile, I was pleased to meet her the following morning when we saw her in the lobby. She promised to write a list of recommendations for the area. Because we didn’t even know each other’s names, I didn’t think we would ever see her again.

When we walked into the bar that evening, there she was, waving her list of recommendations at us. Because the hotel is large, and I have not seen anyone here more than once, I was amazed. She, however, said she knew she would see us again. We shared a drink and conversation with Liz (now we know her name) and left with a fun memory and a great list of recommendations for a visit to the Cotswolds.

Really, I think the Universe is telling us to go to the Cotswolds!

We have had a great three days in this lovely area, and tomorrow we leave and go on to our next adventure.

Return to Northern Ireland

Two years ago we fell in love with Northern Ireland. The friendly people, serene countrysides that come in a million shades of green, great golf courses, and delightful food made it an easy decision to return.

Unlike our last drama-filled trip here, flights went smoothly and luggage arrived on time. To celebrate, we had a commemorative cup of coffee at the little shop where, two years ago, a friendly airline employee met us with our golf clubs-three days after our arrival.

A little sleep-deprived but looking forward to another great Irish adventure, we picked up our rental car and began our journey. I am so thankful that my dear husband is comfortable driving a manual shift on the other side of the road. His driving gives us the freedom to explore at will.

After a two-hour drive from the airport, we arrived at the Slieve Russell Hotel and Golf Club, our home for three days. We are grateful that a friend who has relatives in the area recommended this lovely place.

The resort golf course is right outside our window.

Paul was happy to start his day with a full Irish breakfast. And I was happy to get a vegetarian version.

Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail

Ireland’s bogs have fascinated me since I read a novel based on the discovery of a body preserved in a Irish bog for more than a thousand years. So, I was excited to discover that the Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail, one of the largest expanses of blanket bogs in Northern Ireland, was just a thirty-minute drive away.

After only one missed turn, we arrived at the trail ready for an interesting hike. Dressed for a typical Irish day of potential rain, we began our hike on the limestone landscape that leads to the bog.

As we made our way up the gentle hill, we looked back at a misty view of beautiful rolling hills.

After hiking a short distance, we came to a meandering boardwalk through the lowest part of the bog.

Bog cotton, beautiful little white flowers that bloom in the spring, danced across the bog.

For most of our hike, clouds covered the top of Cuilcagh Mountain in the distance.

Irish Bogs

A bog is a wetland of soft, spongy ground consisting mainly of partially decayed plant matter called peat. These ancient bogs began forming in Ireland between 7,000-10,000 years ago.

More than just a geographic feature, bogs are a mythic feature, as well. Irish poetry, myths and folklore mention bogs and their magic. For example, will-o-the-wisp, which look like dancing fairy lights, appear over the bogs in the darkest of nights. Although there is a scientific explanation for this phenomena, long ago people believed the lights were the spirits of the departed attempting to lure travelers into the bog.

Beautiful as they are, bogs can be treacherous. They can swallow up people who inadvertently wander into them and preserve their bodies for years.

Scientists have recovered preserved bodies that are thousands of years old. Called bog bodies, these recovered bodies are on display at The National Museum of Ireland. In 1977, researchers discovered a Stone Age site that held artifacts from the Mesolithic era, around 8,000 years ago.

A sign along the walkway reminded us of the bog dangers.

For centuries bogs provided turf for domestic heating and cooking. Now, as the environmental cost of using bogs in this way has become apparent, the practice is being phased out. Today, healthy bogs are quite rare, with just 1% remaining active.

Although bogs no longer provide fuel, they provide wild spaces and havens for biodiversity. They also accumulate and store millions of tons of carbon and help control the green house gasses that contribute to climate change.

After a beautiful hike and wonderful dinner, our first day ended on a perfect note when our kids in Minnesota FaceTimed us to wish Paul a Happy Father’s Day.