The final episode in Julia Bradbury’s Irish Journey series takes us to the north of the Emerald Isle – visiting Antrim and Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland before heading back across the border into County Donegal and County Sligo.
Whilst most people make a beeline for the northern coast of County Antrim and the infamous basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway – we’re heading somewhere different. We’re heading to the largest inland lake in the UK and Ireland – Lough Neagh. Legend has it that Fionn McCumhaill was chasing a Scottish giant and picked up a lump of earth from the north of Ireland and threw it after him. That lump of earth is said to be the Isle of Man, while the hole that was left behind became Lough Neagh.
At 400 square kilometres of water – when you’re on the Lough you can be forgiven at times for thinking you’re out at sea. Taking a boat tour is a great way to really experience the beauty of this area. Rams Island, located on the east side of the lake, is about a mile long and just 400m wide and is the largest of the islands on the lough. With the remains of a monastic tower dating back to the middle ages this is a beautiful place to stroll through the trees (keeping an eye out for those that American GI’s based in the area during the second world war carved their names on). Pausing to soak up the tranquillity of this place it’s a reminder why we need to preserve these gems for future generations.
Heading north, our journey takes us to Derry/Londonderry – a city with a troubled history but now experiencing the benefits of peacetime following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It’s a city with a double name that respects the sectarian divide of days past with Derry for the Catholic community and Londonderry for the Protestants. Now there is a growing sense of peace between the two as the city integrates as one. The Derry City Walking Tour offers you a great opportunity to learn more about the history of this city. You’ll also get to walk the city walls – the best example of intact city walls from the 17th Century across the whole of Europe!
Stepping outside of the city we find ourselves in the beautiful surroundings of Brook Hall Estate. This is a place rich in history as it was the base for King James during the siege of Derry back in 1689. It was in the 19th century that the arboretum was started – the oldest remaining oak on the land is believed to be over 400 years old. Now you can visit the estate for food foraging experiences, mindfulness workshops and outdoor yoga.
Crossing back across the border into Ireland, the next stop on our tour is County Donegal and the coastal resort of Bundoran. This has become a mecca for surf enthusiasts from all over the world due to the consistent and epic waves throughout the year – the beach here picks up any swell that’s offered by the ocean! It’s a great place to learn too – as Julia discovered. There are plenty of Surf Schools that will help get you started.
With lots of fresh, clean, bracing sea air you can’t help but want to breathe it all in. And that’s just what Julia did here when she met up with Patrick McKeown, the creator of the Oxygen Advantage breathing method. Whilst we breathe, on average, 20,000 times a day – all too often we take it for granted and pay it no notice. Taking the time to do some breathing exercises every day can help improve your life in many ways – try it for yourself!
Stepping back into the footsteps once more of WB Yeats, the next stop on our journey is in County Sligo and to Rosses Point on the Wild Atlantic Way. This was a favoured holiday location for Yeats and you can retrace his steps along the coastline, admiring the views out across the bay towards Benbulben (Ireland’s answer to Table Mountain), Coney Island (named before the one in New York) and out to sea. These are the vistas that inspired him – and who knows, perhaps they’ll inspire you too! This is a coastline with a history of piracy and shipwrecks – the striking statue called Waiting On Shore is a tribute to those who waited for their loved ones who never returned and were taken by the deep.
further south on the County Sligo coast. This isn’t any ordinary bath though – we’re having a seaweed bath! Kilcullens Bath House dates back to the Edwardian times when it would be farmers, at the end of the harvest, who would come for a break to soak in the mineral rich waters to revive themselves. Nowadays it’s a different, younger audience who come for the wellbeing and therapeutic effects. The session starts with a steam bath to open up the pores so you can really get the benefits of the seaweed bath that comes next. The seaweed, freshly harvested each day from nearby rocks, is placed in the bath turning it amber in colour and slightly oily in consistency. You can smell the goodness as you soak in the tub! Then it’s time for a bit of a shock to the system – a cold shower to close those pores back up again, trapping all that goodness inside you!
And with that our journey around Ireland comes to a close. It’s been an extraordinary adventure, discovering the history, culture, cuisine and landscape of this most beautiful island that stands proudly in the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll be back again for sure.
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Julia Bradbury’s Irish Journey …