Ireland for Free

The National Library

August 30, 2011
by Linda Jackson

Baile Átha Cliath

 Tuesday 30th August

I spent today in the capital and there’s definitely plenty to do and see for free in Baile Átha Cliath. I wandered about The National Museum of Ireland which is on Kildare Street. It’s the national repository for all archaeological objects found in Ireland and would you believe the building is home to more than two million artefacts, not all of them are on show. It’s a wonderful place to learn about our past and you can literally spend hours in there. I’ve been to the museum once before a few years ago and was fascinated by the bog bodies and this time around, they were still as captivating.

I also visited the National Library just around the corner from the museum, which has an exhibition on Yeats at the moment. WB Yeats has featured many times on my wanders around Ireland and I have to say if you’re a fan then this exhibition is well worth a visit. It’s very well laid out out with alcoves that you can explore to learn more about the poet. There’s a family photo album you can flick through, as well as a section about the Abbey Theatre and a video about Yeats interest in the occult…

Beautiful Meath

August 29, 2011
by Linda Jackson
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Megalithic Meath

 Monday 29th August

I had a travel companion with me today, my cousin Fi and our search for free things to do took us to Co. Meath. We started off by exploring the megalithic cairns at Loughcrew. It’s a long time since I’ve been to Newgrange and I have a feeling it’s gotten very touristy and commercial since then, so it was nice to explore the cairns at Loughcrew with just 8 other visitors at the site. We had to wait for an hour for the guides to finish their lunch as they had the key to the main chamber. The guides are only there during the Summer months so if you want to get inside the chamber at any other time, there’s a little cafe nearby that has the key which anyone can borrow.

There’s a rock there, called the Hag’s chair, which you can sit on and make a wish. You then have to walk around the mound clockwise once to make your wish come true. We gave it a lash, but sure, I couldn’t be telling ye what I wished for or it might not come true!

We had lunch at a little cafe and they told us that Fore Priory, which was close by, was also free to visit. So we set off in search of it. It did take a while to find as we didn’t have a map with us and unfortunately signposts in that part of Meath are practically non existent. Thankfully some friendly locals pointed us in the right direction.

The Christian monastery at Fore was founded by St Feichin in 630AD and it was around 1180 that the Norman landlord, Hugh De Lacy built a Benedictine Priory on the facing hillside dedicated to Saint Feichin and St Taurin.

I’m sorry I didn’t have more time in Meath as I’d say there’s plenty more to explore and see there. I’ll just have to return another time…

Silent Valley National Park

August 28, 2011
by Linda Jackson

Discovering County Down

 Sunday 28th August

I spent today driving around Co. Down but didn’t take many photos. I drove along the coast and ended up at Silent Valley National Park. Unfortunately you do have to pay for parking but the park is free to explore. Funnily enough, Silent Valley wasn’t silent at all, it was so windy that waves lapped relentlessly against the reservoir wall…

The Ulster Museum

August 27, 2011
by Linda Jackson

Bustling Belfast

Saturday 27th August

Yesterday was a complete and utter wash out. I drove the Antrim coast from Glenarm to Belfast in the pouring rain. Grey was the predominant colour of the day, except for the red, white and blue painted curbs of the villages I drove through and the union jack flags that frantically waved in the wind.

By the time I arrived in Belfast I wanted to just give up and seriously considered driving straight on to Dublin. The idea of seeing the friendly faces I knew there was a huge pull, the rain had taken its toll and I was tired of it.

But I had come this far and couldn’t give up now. I eventually found a hostel and booked in for the night. I was lucky to get a bed at all as it was the weekend of the Mela festival which was taking place in Botanic Gardens on Sunday. The rest of the afternoon was spent explored the streets of Belfast, by foot, in the omnipresent mist.

This morning was dry thankfully and so I made my way to the Botanic Gardens. It was a hive of activity with preparations fully under way for tomorrows celebrations. The Ulster Museum is in the Gardens and it houses a diverse array of exhibits, from information about the Troubles to an Egyptian Mummy named Lady Takabuti. On the top floor is The George and Angela Moore Gallery of Applied Art which has some interesting and elegant contemporary pieces. The Museum is definitely worth a visit and is the perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon and of course, it’s free too, which is always a bonus!

The next stop on my to do list was to visit St. George’s Market which had a fabulous atmosphere. With live music, a bustling crowd, plenty of grub to eat and a selection of art, crafts and fine pastries it’s a site that’s well worth a visit.

The last free thing I managed to do today with to take the lift to the top of the Victoria shopping centre. And luckily the skies had cleared by then so I got to see beautiful panoramic views across the city. You could see as far as the Mountains of Mourne…

Views from Cunhendun Village

August 25, 2011
by Linda Jackson

Another day in Antrim

Thursday 25th August

Today began as a beautiful bright sun soaked day as I set off to explore the nine Glens of Antrim. I first stopped off at the small village of Cunhendun. I walked around for about an hour and a half exploring and chatting to some locals and tourists.

A number of kids playing on their bikes passed me as I took some photos, the oldest of which must have been about 9 and as she cycled pass shouted out ‘hello’ to which I replied ‘hi ya’. As I rounded the corner they had disappeared behind, the girl who had greeted me stood in a driveway.

‘Are you on your holidays?’ she asked in her Antrim accent. ‘I am indeed‘ I replied.

Are you one of them there tourists?’ was her next question. ‘I suppose I am‘ I answered with a smile.

It was my turn to ask a question ‘Do you live here?‘ ‘Yeah, just down the road a bit, next to the big white house. Where are you from?’ she asked. ‘I’m from Cork, which is right at the bottom of Ireland’.

Does the sun always shine here like this?’ I enquired. ‘Only on days when everyone is happy’ she replied. She asked my name and I asked hers, Molly. Then the other 5 little girls that stood close by piped up and each in turn told me their name. We spoke for a few more minutes about the lovely sunshine before they returned to playing their games.

As I headed back to the car I passed two women on a bridge who were frantically talking in Italian and laughing loudly. I soon realised what all the excitement was about when I practically walked into something I wasn’t expecting and exclaimed out loud ‘Oh, bloody hell!’ This set the Italians into another fit of laughter. Once they had regained their composure one of them asked ‘Is it goat?’ And indeed it was.

Is he on his holidays?’ I asked. This set them off again. They explained that their friend had returned to their car to get some carrots and did I think the goat would eat them. I told them I was pretty sure goats would eat anything if they were hungry enough. And he did.

It was their first time visiting Ireland and we chatted for awhile exchanging stories of our adventrues around this beautiful island. Of course I told them about Puck Fair, which had them roaring with laughter again. ‘And how do the judges decided which goat will be King of the Fair? Is it der eyes or coat? Or how you decide dis?‘ I explained that the goat catcher just went out and caught one on a mountain and it wasn’t like a beauty contest. More laughter. These Italians truly were giddy goats! Molly was right about the sunshine…

But, unfortunately the clouds had other ideas and as I arrived at Glenariff Forest Park, they opened and remained open for the rest of the day. You have to pay for parking at the forest which was a bit pricey at £4.40 but I’d come all this way and was determined to do the Waterfall Walk which was lovely, even if it was done in the torrential rain…

Sunset at Whitepark Bay

August 24, 2011
by Linda Jackson

A Beautiful Beach

I stayed in a lovely hostel last night overlooking Whitepark Bay which is one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever since. My dorm had a view of the sea, it doesn’t get much better than that. Since it was such a beautiful setting I decided to stay here again tonight and so explored the near by area and coastline today.

Ballintoy church was the first place I visited this morning. For an atheist I seem to be spending quite a lot of time visiting churches. I do like stained glass though, then there’s the fact that churches are always open, nearly always empty and are a great place to shelter from the rain. I also find them very peaceful. I have a similar fascination with graveyards, which always seem to have the best trees!

After the rain had subsided I continued on along the Antrim coast passed the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Thankfully it ain’t free as I’m not the biggest fan of heights. My next stop was Kilbane Castle which is built on a headland which looks out towards Rathlin Island. The walk to the castle ruin takes about 10 minutes. There’s also a little ruined cottage there as well. Both abodes have stunning views.

I drove through Portsteward and Portrush yesterday, and I have to say, I wasn’t impressed with either of them, but Ballycastle is just the cutest little place ever and I’d highly recommend a visit if you’re up that direction. It’s a lovely place to stroll around.

The next free thing on the agenda was to visit Portbraddan, which is a tiny picturesque fishing village. The night before I tried to walk along Whitepark Bay beach to get to it, but the tide was coming in. I was in arms reach of it but had to turn back. I didn’t discover until this evening that it also has the tiniest church in Ireland!

And as the sun set on Whitepark Bay I wandered along the beach, as I had done the night before, but this time with my camera. If you’re heading to Antrim then I’d definitely recommend a visit to the bay. From the beach you can actually way along the rocky coastline to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. I didn’t make it all the way but the scenery I saw on the section I walked was beautiful. It was almost completely deserted as well, except for a few seagulls and rabbits…very peaceful indeed…


August 23, 2011
by Linda Jackson

In Search of Giants

Tuesday 23rd August

I stayed in a hostel last night in Derry and decided to head straight onto Antrim this morning. I wanted to explore the Antrim coastline and all it had to offer, but again visibility was poor due to the continuous drizzle.

I stopped off to have a look at Dunluce Castle. There’s a charge to visit it but you can wander around the outside and follow the steps right down towards the sea so that you are directly under where the castle stands on the cliff edge.

I continued on to the Giants Causeway where I knew parking would cost £6 so, just as the buildings and main car park came into view, I turned left onto a small side road and parked along side a number of others. It took me about 10 minutes to walk along the main road to the entrance of the causeway.

It truly is a spectacular sight, so unique. I’ve never seen anything like it.  About 40,000 interlocking basalt columns make up the causeway, the result of a volcanic eruption many, many years ago.

From the main area of basalt columns you can walk further on towards the giants boot and organ, but unfortunately beyond that part of the walk had been closed due to erosion and falling rocks.

This was one freebie that was completely and utterly mobbed. It’s the first place I’ve been to that was overrun by tourists, but that didn’t detract from the magic of it all. I remember learning about the Giants Causeway in primary school and it was amazing to finally walk where Finn McCool had once wandered, as had his rival, the Scottish giant Benandonner.

Glenveagh National Park Gardens

August 22, 2011
by Linda Jackson

Glenveagh National Park

Monday 22nd August

Glenveagh National Park was on the top of my free to do list today and it didn’t disappoint. In fact it might be my favourite National Park so far. There’s six in Ireland and I’ve managed to visit four on this trip. When you arrive at the park there’s a 3km walk to the castle and gardens and the gardens are absolutely beautiful. There is a charge for the castle but the gardens are free to visit. I was lucky with the rain, it kept stopping and starting so I did manage to snap some photos between showers but they don’t do the place justice I’m afraid.

I continued on to Glebe House which you do have to pay for but there is also the converted stables which now house a gallery with works by Jack Yeats and other artists. The gardens of the house are set next to a beautiful lake which is the perfect picnic spot…

Delightful Donegal

August 21, 2011
by Linda Jackson

Driving around Donegal

Sunday 21st August

I went to see the highest sea cliffs in Europe today, Slieve League in Donegal. It started off being a little overcast but thankfully cleared up after a while. From the car park it’s a short walk to the viewing point but you can also walk further up the cliffs if you want to get away from all the tourists who haven’t got the proper foot wear for the climb, which I did. I then spent the rest of the day just explore the Slieve League peninsula and stopped in Ardara for lunch. The area is truly one of outstanding natural beauty…around every corner there’s some new spectacular sight to enjoy…

I also visited Maghera beach. The walk onto the beach is lovely, the sand dunes are huge and create a valley of dunes which tower above you. I was hoping to get to the caves there but unfortunately the tide was in. During the time of Cromwell, people hide in one of the caves but a candle light was seen across the bay which alerted the Black and Tans to their whereabouts. All in the cave were slaughtered except for one survivor who hide quietly on a high ledge.

Rosses Point

August 20, 2011
by Linda Jackson

Stunning Sligo

Saturday 20th August

I stayed in Rosses Point last night. It’s a lovely little spot just outside Sligo town. Both William and Jack Yeats used to holiday there in their youth, I can see why. I’d definitely return there. It’s very picturesque indeed. I’d describe it as a holiday village but it’s not touristy if you know what I mean. It’s very small with a relaxed vibe to it and has a beautiful beach.

After a pleasant stroll around Rosses Point I ventured off in search of Innisfree. It’s on Lough Gill. It took a while to find as there are a few islands on the lough. As I mentioned I’m quite a fan of Yeats so it was lovely to see the inspiration for his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. I also passed Parke Castle on the way, it’s not free to visit but I stopped to have a little look.  I explored Creevelea Friary as well which I saw signposted just after Innisfree. Then back to Sligo town to have a look in The Model Gallery, the exhibition there is free to visit and there were a number of Jack Yeats paintings on show.

The last free thing on my to do list for today was W.B. Yeats final resting place. And a lovely resting place it is too. It is very close to a major road so there is a bit of noise pollution unfortunately. I have to say though I still think my visit to Coole Park, where W.B. Yeats used to holiday and where he carved his name into the autograph tree, was the most magical experience…I keep raving about Coole Park to anyone that will listen…so, if you’re anywhere near Gort…check it out…