Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The beauty of Ireland

We're just back from two weeks holiday in Ireland. We had three stop offs: Dublin, Killyleagh on Strangford Lough and Portstewart on the Antrim coast.

We went over on the ferry from Holyhead. We were informed on the PA system that the ferry was being steered by "me, Alan Jones, assisted by my colleague, Olwyn Jones". It was all very Welsh and almost like something out of Ivor the Engine.

I took part in the Great Dublin Run, which was 10 kilometres around Phoenix Park in Dublin. Phoenix Park is mind-blowingly B-I-G. I can vouch for that. I did a practice run round it and ended up getting lost. I ran for two hours in the end!

Here's a pic of the Wellington memorial in Phoenix Park. It is quite awesome:

Dublin Zoo in the park, also, was a great visit. Dublin, as usual, was a great place to wander around. It was wonderful to see horses being used. In fact (and I say this in a very admiring and affectionate way) Dublin must be one of the few, if only, European capital cities where you have to occasionally sidestep horse manure on the pavement. It also has an absolutely superb tram system. The trams are gleaming new.

We went to Killyleagh on the shores of Strangford Lough. I've wanted to see Strangford Lough for a long time and wasn't disappointed. The exchange of waters/currents at each tide, in the narrows, is quite awesome to witness. At Killyleagh we had much excitement. We stayed in this castle:

More accurately, we were in the battlements, pictured below (our apartment was in the turret on the right):

It certainly had novelty value and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Killyleagh is a wonderful town which sports a great Irish pub, the Dufferin Arms. While there, I was taken by how Belfast seems to be the place to go if you want a job in TV continuity (and have an Irish accent). Both BBC1 and BBC2 have all their continuity links between programmes voiced from Belfast, even during the daytime. As does UTV. In the case of UTV, they are the only TV channel I know of in the UK which still have on-screen continuity announcers. So Belfast certainly seems to be the TV continuity capital of the UK, that's for sure.

I was struck by how most people in Dublin had dark hair but when we visited Downpatrick, further north, there were quite a few people who had fair hair. I wondered whether this was something to do with the Vikings (who visited around Downpatrick quite a lot) but I seem to remember that Dublin was founded by Vikings, so that doesn't necessarily follow.

While we were at Killyleagh I realised that it is mentioned in Prince Andrew's title. You know how the Royals have long titles "Duke of this" and "Earl of that"? Well, Prince Andrew is the Baron of Killyleagh. (His full title is: HRH Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward, The Duke of York, Earl of Inverness, Baron Killyleagh, KCVO, ADC). It was quite an experience to actually see one of these places mentioned in these long royal titles.

We moved on to Portstewart and the Antrim coast. It was a great thrill to visit Bush Mills distillery and have a tour round. I was interested to discover that Jamesons and Paddy is bottled at Bush Mills. Indeed, the same water is used in Bush Mills, Jamesons and Paddy whiskey. Not a lot of people know that.

The Antrim coast is quite rightly a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are so many wonderful sites along it. Dunluce Castle - pictured below - is quite magical:

Then, of course, there is the Giant's Causeway. It is a mecca for overseas tourists. Our hostel at Portstewart was over-flowing with backpackers of many and varied nationalities. In itself it is quite an exceptional geological phenomenum. But it is also surrounded by the most wonderfully picturesque coast, with breathtaking views of Rathlin Island and Jura, Islay and the Mull of Kintyre in the distance. Here below is a shot of the Giant's Causeway (far distance) and one of the bays along side it. The Causeway has its famous hexagonal rocks. When you get there you realise that Mother Nature made quite a lot of attempts before she got the hexagonals quite right. Either side of the causeway there are nearly hexagonal rocks, round ones, irregular ones etc etc.

We travelled north and visited the ruins of Bishop Hervey's pad including Mussenden Temple - below:

But our final destination was the most breathtaking for me. Lough Foyle (below). It really is exceptionally beautiful.

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