Saturday, 27th September

Today’s trip takes us from Sligo to Limerick – a five hour trip via Galway, the Cliffs of Moher and Ennis. After a good nights sleep we were up super early and made our way to Sligo Abbey, built in the 13th century.

IMG_4795 On our way out of Sligo, we stopped to have a look at a beautiful church – the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A relatively new church, opened in 1874, it is the only Norman style church in Ireland. We had a brief look inside, as the morning mass was about to start.

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Over the next two hours, we really enjoyed the drive through country Ireland as the scenery was incredible. We came across Dunguaire Castle which was not on our itinerary, but simply too picturesque to drive past. We didn’t pay the entry to go inside, but did look around the gift shop. This place seemed to be a major tourist attraction – we knew this because the coaches tried to kill us as we left!

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On the coast road just outside of Ballyvaughan we spotted a large keep of a castle and decided to explore. Upon further investigation, it turned out that only one of the walls was intact! The others had fallen away over the years. We later found out that it was Muckinish West Tower House built around 1350.

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We were only an hour away to our next destination, the Cliffs of Moher. This part of our journey was amazing as it was an incredible day – one of the warmest we’d had since returning to the UK. The rolling hills along the coastal road along with the blue sky and green fields partitioned by traditional Irish stone walls were perfect.

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Along the road we also encountered spectacular views. One of them (below) was of a place called The Burren. It is within a national park, and has an almost alien landscape on top of the mountains there – a huge contrast to the green everywhere else. We didn’t have time to explore further, but seeing The Burren in the distance was great!

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One of the most iconic places to visit in Ireland is the Cliffs of Moher. The site itself is visited by a million people per year and is well built to cater for the numbers. They have a great car park, visitors centre and walks around the cliffs – all for six euro per person (including parking). One of the best value locations we visited on our trip.

At about 215 metres high and going for 8 kms, they are an impressive sight to behold – 320 million years in the making. Many films have been made here including a couple of our favourites: The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

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Throughout the UK we had problems finding Air BnB’s so we stayed at a lot of hotels. This meant we had issues doing our washing! We managed to find a laundromat in a place called Ennis – en route to our hotel. We have to plug Fergus Dry Cleaning, they were really lovely people and after we explained we were travelling, had 8 days worth of washing and an hour to get it sorted, they agreed to prioritise us, we were really surprised with the price as well. While they washed our clothes, we went and had a traditional Irish lunch (including real Guinness) at a local pub (Brogans Bar and Restaurant).

Back on the road, we continued toward Limerick, on the way we saw some horses with a new foal that Bec just HAD to feed an apple to.

Unfortunately time had gotten away from us, we drove around Bunratty Castle, however couldn’t look around too much as it was closed.

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Once at the hotel, we hung all our wet washing up in the room and slept under our drying clothes that night.

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2014 European Adventure Ireland

Friday, 26th September

We had a huge day of driving and sightseeing ahead of us in our trip from Belfast to Sligo via the North Coast so we had an early start.

Everywhere you look in Northern Ireland the scenery is breathtaking. The bright blue sky and the emerald green of the fields are only broken up by rough cliffs and sea glimpses. The weather had now turned and the cloudless days, whilst beautiful, were cold.

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Our first destination was the Dark Hedges, only an hour outside of Belfast. We should point out that the initial reason we went there was to see the filming location for the Game of Thrones TV series. Regardless of the pop culture reference, it was amazing.

The Dark Hedges is a beautiful avenue of beech trees, planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century. Two hundred years later, the Dark Hedges have become one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.

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Ballintoy is situated in one of the most picturesque parts of the North Antrim Coast between the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This stunning harbour location has been used for exterior Pyke shots and as the Iron Islands in Game of Thrones.

We spent a lot of time at the harbour exploring the rocky coastline. The noise of the wind, ocean and birds was deafening, particularly as the waves crashed onto the rocky shore. Despite this it was incredibly relaxing and strangely calming.

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As we continued along the North Antrim Coast we made our way to Larrybane headland. Larrybane was featured in Game of Thrones being the location of Renly Baratheon’s camp site in Season 2.

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The coastline constantly surprised us with spots like the White Bay viewpoint and Castle Dunseverick. We had to stop a number of times to enjoy the scenery and take photos before reaching the Giant’s Causeway.

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The Giants Causeway is a Unesco listed heritage site that is a result of intense volcanic and geological activity. It is believed that the causeway is a 60 million year old legacy to the cooling and shrinking of successive lava flows…. or it could be that the mighty giant, Finn McCool, wanted to build a way to get to Scotland to have a ‘discussion’ with the giant Benandonner in Scotland who was taunting him.

Regardless of science or legend, the Causeway is mind-blowing. The shapes seem alien, nestled in a spectacular coastal setting. Many movies have be filmed there for its unique landscape.

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Our experience with the National Trust of UK has been fantastic. Everything was well set out, easy to navigate and well maintained.

For a  9 pound adult entry fee, we could experience the visitors centre (with exhibits and movies!), self-guided tour and shuttle bus to the causeway itself. The shuttle bus saves time, but it is a great walk. We enjoyed the walk down and the bus back up the hill.

After leaving, we headed west towards Dunluce Castle to see more amazing landscapes! The castle traces back to the 13th century but is now mostly in ruins. It features in Game of Thrones as castle for the House of Greyjoy, though almost unrecognisable due to CGI enhancement.

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Stretching along the coast from Dunluce Castle are the unique limestone cliffs of the White Rocks. These soft sedimentary rocks have been carved through centuries into a labyrinth of caves and arches.

IMG_4654 We found a small car park at a lookout on the coast and decided to have our lunch there. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were able to get glimpses back towards Dunluce Castle. IMG_4672

Our next stop on the itinerary was Downhill Demesne, Hezlett House and the Mussenden Temple. They are all located on an immense grassy field with the house the crowning point and the temple perched on the edge of a 120 foot high cliff. The house was a marvel of design and architecture until destroyed by fire around 1850.

To this day is sits a gutted facade, grass as its carpet and sheep living in the servants quarters. The bright green, sky blue and fluffy white clouds made for fantastic photos. Entry was free, the area was well maintained and you could easily roam through the gardens all day.

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Thirty minutes outside Sligo, our final destination for the night, we spotted Benbulbin. Benbulbin was shaped during the ice age, when Ireland was under glaciers. Originally it was a large plateau. Glaciers moving from the northeast to southwest shaped it into its present distinct formation.

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Just before we reached Sligo, we saw St Columba’s Church of Ireland in Drumcliff the location of W.B. Yeats grave.

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There is still contention regarding the authenticity of Yeats’ remains, initially scattered in an ossuary in France in 1946 before being repatriated by his wife back to Ireland.

Finally we reached Sligo, checked into our hotel and had dinner at the restaurant on site. We retired early, exhausted after a long day with the promise of another huge day of beautiful scenery ahead of us.

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