Carlingford is one of our favourite towns in Ireland full of history, famous for oysters, and at the foot of the small mountain range the Cooley’s, which are crisscrossed by perfect walking trails.
Ireland had seen the best heat wave in my lifetime so we booked a midweek night away in July to make the most of it. We awoke the morning of our trip to the first overcast day in five weeks and the promise of showers. Hmmmm. That guy Murphy.
Carlingford lies about one hour and thirty minutes from Dublin so it’s perfect for a short stop over. Just outside Dundalk I took a detour to see the Proleek Portal Dolmen which is a megalithic tomb from around 3000 BC and is located in the grounds of the Ballymascanlon Hotel. It’s on a golf course but there is an easy access point from a side road near the Deerpark Stud. It’s a fully intact Dolmen and worth a fleeting visit. Best to keep an eye out for golfers with poor trajectory though.
On our previous trip to Carlingford we had stayed in the Four Seasons Hotel. It was adequate, certainly not spectacular. However having quoted me €160 for the night I took to Booking.com and spent half that on a b&b located slightly outside the town. We first stopped by this B&B, the Walker’s Nest. It was certainly deserving of its high rating on review sites, little trinkets and ornaments bring the house to life, and each of the four rooms has a theme, be it Elephant, Owl, Bird or Butterfly. Ours was the owl room and there were owls on the cushions, walls, and on the many surfaces, Surprisingly it was all down with style and felt so homely. They also provided maps on walks in the adjacent hills.
We drove into Carlingford and after parking we took a stroll through the town. Carlingford as a settlement first sprang up around the nearby King John’s Castle in the 12th century. It saw much prosperity in medieval times as a port, and also due to its fishing and oyster industries. It’s greatest fame perhaps owes to those oysters, Green Finned Oysters are harvested in the beautiful Carlingford Lough, and a yearly oyster festival takes place within the town. Some remnants of those medieval times still remain within the town, not least in the streets which are narrow and lined by several medieval buildings. Market Street in the town centre features many colourful buildings and some famed antique shops and boutiques. Needless to say but a good number of pubs too. The pride of the locals is felt in a sheer number of flowers, they decorate each wall, garden and lamp post throughout the town.
One of these pubs has somehow blended into Taaffes’ Castle, which was a medieval merchants fortified residence from the 16th century. It used to stand at the shore line but land reclamation means it now lies inland.
Another distinctly medieval building is the Mint, which is also heavily fortified. It’s name presumably comes from Carlingford having a licence to print coinage in the 15th century. This is probably supported by the machicolous over the door which allowed the inhabitants to fire arrows at unwelcome visitors. We could do with bringing those back for TV licence inspectors.
The Tholsel was the original town gate where tolls were levied from for visitors to the town. It later served varying functions and the dank room underneath served as the town gaol in the 18th century.
We have a fond memory of visiting Ruby Ellen’s Tea Room in the town and we decided now was the perfect time to drop in for a slice of apple pie. We had lunch in a service station en route so we only needed some refreshment. The tea rooms are incredibly quaint and busy as a result. Service was a little sluggish as a result but didn’t diminish from the end product.
We stayed here a little while as the weather was less than desirable for exploring and after it cleared we took a walk along Carlingford harbour. The views across the way to Mourne mountains are pretty. One thing I can’t figure out, it is called Carlingford Lough, but its the sea, so can’t be a lake. It is more like a fjord but apparently it’s not a true fjord. Maybe they were as confused as I and just rolled with calling it a lough.
On an outcrop overlooking the
lake fjord water is King John’s castle. This 12th century castle was built by the Norman Hugh De Lacy. It takes its name from a visit by King John. The last time I visited the castle could be walked around, but now the ravages of time have taken its toll and the area is completely cordoned off. Sad to see. The harbour can be walked to its end and to take in the views beyond.
We returned to the car to venture into the Cooley mountains (they are more like hills). The Cooley mountains were the subject of a popular story from Irish mythology. In this fable, Queen Meabh of Connacht (an Irish province) stole the Brown Bull of Cooley, a prize animal, from the great warrior Cu Chulainn, and herded the beat across the country. A great chase ensued. This walk can be relived in the Tan Trail, which stretches across much of Ireland, with a looped Carlingford version.
We weren’t up to this 40km walk so we took a drive out to Slieve Foy where a forest road takes you up to a viewpoint and a walk to the summit. We continued on our own circular route (driving) taking in some interesting stops including that at the Long Woman’s Grave, a story of heartbreak and well worth a read.
The chanageability of the weather forced us back to our B&B before we took a taxi back into the town for dinner. Upon our previous visit I had tried oysters for the first time (see my slide show) and I was keen to give them a go again. We had previously eaten in Magee’s Bistro which specialised in seafood and steak, it was exactly what we wanted. The waiting staff were brilliant and our waitress in particular had a hatred for oysters. She told us stories how during the oyster festival people were drinking oysters from shot glasses. She was clearly repulsed by the whole idea. So it was perfect. Except. It obviously wasn’t as good as we remembered as it was now closed.
However the owner of the current premises occupying the building did come out to us. He must have seen the dejected looks on our faces, and recommended we do to the Kingfisher Bistro. Funny how things work out. His recommendation was excellent the sizzling prawns were the best I ever had, and the steak…Yum. Beata’s goats cheese tartlet and cod were also fantastic. A bottle of wine (or two) later and we were back and ready for bed. The last shards of light treated us to a beautiful sunset on our return.
Our second day- Cooley Mountains
We had preordered our breakfast for 9am and it was reminescent of an Ulster fry-up. So many variations of the same thing between the UK and Ireland. It was great but huge so we didn’t rush out to go on our intended hike.
We took the advice of our hosts and selected the Molly Loop walk, it more or less started at the gate of our accomodation. The 5km route was along a road for a kilomotre before finally turning off onto a waking trail. Practically the first thing we did was take a wrong turn bringing us back down to the road. The reason we choose this trail was the presence of an abondoned village up on the mountain face overlooking the lough. It had allegedly been abondoned during the Irish famine, due to a lack of food. The Irish famine for those who don’t know was when blight attacked the potato crop for the consecutive years 1845-1849. Poverty ensured that no other food sources were available, and 2 million people perished as a result.
I presumed I had found the village and climbed over a gate into a field that was dotted with cows, I investigated futher. No just some old sheds. I did find an abobndoned caravan though. So pressing on with views becoming ever more impressive we finally came to a stile. Jackpot. Rows of stone walls reminescent of Connemara lined the hill face, and led into a small village. Very small now. There was a row of three cute stone ruins and from here the views swept down to the town below. it was beautiful. It was also a puxxle how anyone could have lived here in such hardship, exposed to the elements, and in such trying times. It was no surprise they abandoned in search of finer pastures.
We completed our loop walk and checked out from our B&B. Coffee time. We couldn’t resist the temptation of that tearoom again. Today we got to enjoy their terrace and of course their lovely cakes again.
We had a few more sights to see in the town and we started by visiting Crystal Antiques. Full of all manner of curiosities, this shop has countrywide fame through national TV coverage. Further along Dundalk Street The Church of the Holy Trinity now houses the Caringford Heritage centre. The church tower with its ramparts are medieval and flags rustle in the wind from atop. The grounds with its timeless graveyard, present views down to the fjord below. The final stop on the historical walking tour is the ruin of Carlingford Priory. The priory was established in 1306 by the dominicans and included a church and cloisters. All that remains today is the ruins of the church, as it fell into decline after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Its a nice area to wander around for free.
We bid a final farewell to the town and took a drive along the coast to see where the oyster beds are located. All we found was the skeleton of a boat, and to be honest we didn’t know what we were looking for. We turned the car inland and took aim for the highest accessible point on the peninsula by car, the TV mast located next to the Clermont cairns. The drive up from Omeath up what is essentially a paved hiking trail was as chilling as any in Ireland, and was not to Beata’s taste. Some excellent drops with wide reaching views over the lough and the Mourne Mountains. It’s a shame the cloud was so thick that day. The summit tower and cairn aren’t the most exciting, but sometimes the thrill of a journey is in the journey itself. Certainly true in this instance and we practiced our (very amateur) video skills on the descent, before directing homewards.
Thank you for reading about my trip to Carlingford. For more of my Irish based blogs see below.