Tom’s Travels: Northern Ireland

Day 1: Belfast

After 5 days of business meetings, my wife Beth finally arrived to join me in Belfast. She had been to The Republic of Ireland 4 times but had yet to venture north. After hearing me rave about the brilliant scenery along the Antrim Coast and Donegal we decided it was time for her to see what I had been talking about for all these years.

Pictured: Belfast's City Hall.
Pictured: Belfast's City Hall.

One of the best aspects of traveling to the Old Sod is getting to meet with our hotel partners and seeing the accommodations through the eyes of a traveler. We want to extend our warmest thank you to Aileen Martin who treated us to an evening in a gorgeous suite at the Grand Central Hotel. This hotel, located in the heart of Belfast, boasts multiple exquisite spaces: the cocktail lounge located on The Observatory, a high-quality restaurant and bar, and serene rooms that overlook the charming Linen Quarter.

The most exciting part? This was where Joe Biden stayed when he visited Belfast that same week!

Grand Central hotel

Day 2: Titanic Museum Belfast

A busy day in Belfast started with a visit to Titanic Museum Belfast. In the early 1900s, Belfast's shipyards were lauded across the seas for spawning the world's greatest ships. Titanic was no exception. Thousands of Belfast residents lined the shore as the Titanic began its maiden voyage. 'She was fine when she left here,' the proud residents said when the Titanic sank just days later in the North Atlantic.

We enjoyed some lunch at St. George's Market followed by some shopping at Victoria Square. Lots to do in Belfast!

Titanic museum

Day 3: Northern Ireland

We scheduled a very ambitious day for our third day in Northern Ireland. We just didn't realize that we were being ambitious.

We started with a 40-minute drive from Belfast to Islandmagee which is on the Causeway Coast Route. The Gobbins Cliff Path is one of the most unique walking paths that you will ever see. A 3-mile walk might not sound like much but factor in the equivalent of 50 flights of stairs, both up and down, and it soon becomes clear that the Gobbins is a bit of a fitness test. The views and uniqueness of the walk make it well worth the effort.

tom and beth 1
Tom and beth walking across long and narrow bridge

Following the coast North and a little West for 1 1/2 hours will get you to The Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. It sounds reasonable. How long can a Rope Bridge be? In this case, 20 meters across and 30 meters above the Atlantic Ocean. Not factored into the adventure was a 1-Kilometer walk down to the bridge and another Kilometer uphill back to the parking lot. Absolutely not an issue if we had not just done the Gobbins Walk.

Our final stop of the day was The Giants Causeway. While confident that we could handle the 1 Kilometer walk down to the Basalt formations, we weren't confident that we would make it back up the hill to our car. Fortunately, we found a bus that would return us to the parking lot for 1 GBP. The best money that we spent on the trip.

A fantastic day of sightseeing was followed by a great dinner at Bushmills Inn. We had earned it!

Day 4: Derry & Donegal

Derry & Donegal

After a great breakfast in Bushmills, we drove by DunLuce Castle on our way to Derry. We didn't see the Derry Girls but we did get a great tour of the walls. It's the largest walled city in Europe!

As is often the case in this part of the world, much of the tour was spent by the tour guide doing his very best to give us a balanced history of "The Troubles." Maybe not perfectly balanced but a very good and fair explanation of what happened before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.


After Derry, we drove through some beautiful countryside on our way to Donegal Town and our home for the next two nights at Harvey's Point.

The mood in Ireland is very hopeful these days and many, many people that we spoke to during our visit were optimistic that the Irish have turned the corner. We had an amazing visit to Northern Ireland and hope that we can help you enjoy an amazing trip to Ulster sometime in the near future!

Day 5: Donegal

We awoke to a beautiful morning and breakfast overlooking Lough Eske. The temperature was in the low 50s but with a bright sun, the weather was spectacular.

Marie Gallagher was our host today. I had been to Donegal a few times but I was driving myself and didn't really know where to go and what to see. Marie did.

My wife Beth had been to Southern Ireland 5 times and doubted that she would experience better scenery. She did!
I had only experienced Donegal behind the wheel of a car before. I was looking for golf courses and found them. Until I got to the course and started my round, really seeing Donegal was impossible. If you are ever lucky enough to get to Donegal, let us hire you a driver. Driving yourself is OK. Hiring a driver is way better.

Donegal cliffs on the ocean

Day 6: Bundoran & Achill Island

Another stunning day from a weather perspective made the 30-minute drive south to the Belleek Pottery go by quickly. When we arrived at the Visitor Center our money started to go quickly as well but soon we will have some beautiful new tableware to show for the visit. It was very interesting to see all of the different products that Belleek has sold over the years.

Continuing south we visited the "Surfing Capital of Ireland," Bundoran. No surfers yet but they will start to appear this month. Still further south distinctive Benbulben came into view. Described in Wikipedia as "a large flat-topped nunatak rock formation in County Sligo, Ireland." I don't really know what that means but it really is a distinctive thing to see and one that you will not soon forget.

We drove into "Sligotown" and found a cozy pub for some lunch.

With all the traveling that I have done in Ireland in the 12 years since starting the business, I had never been to Achill Island. I had heard of it many times but it is a bit off the beaten trail. I have often heard that Achill was the most beautiful place in Ireland. Having seen pretty much all of the country, that seemed like a bit of hyperbole; it wasn't. The mountains, valleys, beautiful beaches and seaside cliffs all combine to produce a magical landscape. It's a bit out of the way, but the time that it takes to get there and experience the island is a good investment of time.

From the bridge heading back to the mainland, it took us about an hour to get to our home for the night, Westport.

Westport is a beautiful small seaside town that features some great pubs, many of which feature live Irish Music.
We enjoyed a great "trad session" before turning in for the evening.

Bundoran & Achill Island
Bundoran & Achill Island

Day 7: Western Mayo & Galway

A lot to see and do today so after another "Full Irish", we were on the road again!

Some truly spectacular scenery today as we wound our way through Western Mayo and into Galway. The first site to see was Ireland's only Fjord, near Killary. Carved out of the land by Glaciers thousands of years ago, Fjords feature very steep walls and generally deep water.

Our next stop was one of Ireland's most iconic attractions, Kylemore Abbey, and its famous walled gardens. Further south near Clifden we found the aptly named "Sky Road." Another one of those things in Ireland that I had only heard of, never seen. As suggested above, Sky Road lived up to its name.

The nearby town of Clifden was, like much of Ireland, a quintessential small town with a very welcoming vibe. A further 20 minutes south we found the Marconi Radio Station. The Station was built by the inventor of "Radio Transmissions" and sight became one of the busiest Radio Stations for Transatlantic communications. While there is equipment from the original radio station, the brilliant location led to a well-needed walk of a few miles. We had been spending too much time in the car and a good walk was much needed.

30 minutes east we arrived at Cashel House, a classic Country House Hotel. Cashel House is a great spot from which to visit the sites and attractions that we saw earlier in the day and is convenient to Connemara Golf Club and Galway City.

Western Mayo & Galway
Western Mayo & Galway

Day 8: Galway

I didn't have the equipment to measure it, but I am pretty sure waking up in Cashel House this morning, my Blood Pressure was at an all-time low. A real "Country House" in Ireland tends to have that effect.

After a walk along the shoreline, we were off to Galway for the day. In 2010 my second daughter Kathleen spent a semester "studying" in Galway. I think that it is fair to say that the time spent in Galway had a profound impact on Kathleen and my visit to see her had a similar impact on me. On my flight back to the States, I started working on my first business plan for Old Sod Travel.

Beth and I enjoyed the day exploring the city. From Eyre Square to the Wolfe Tone Bridge, the city has a buzz. Lots of shopping, some great restaurants and pubs; there is a lot to enjoy in Galway!

Tonight we enjoyed an excellent meal in the Pulman Restaurant at Glenlo Abbey. Glenlo recently underwent a significant refurbishment and belongs on any 5-star itinerary to the west of Ireland.

Pullman restaurant
Galway streets
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