My friend in Dublin was getting married so I was heading back to the Emerald Isle. While the main purpose was the wedding and the weekend events, all taking place in Ballyvaughan, County Clare (west coast), I was starting in Dublin. I arrived at DUB to my friend’s fiance collecting me at the airport. After spending a few days in Dublin, I left and headed to a new destination in Ireland that my friend had strongly recommended to me. In fact, it was where she had her hen party (bachelorette party). The town: Carlingford. Location: The Cooley Peninsula near the border with Northern Ireland, just north of Dublin. I had a few days before I needed to be in Ballyvaughan for the wedding weekend so I planned to take advantage of exploring and photographing on my own for a few days.
I hadn’t heard of Carlingford when my friend recommended it to me via email a month or so before my trip. I googled it and thought it looked and sounded wonderful. My kind of place: small, historic village; beautiful harbor area; and mountains to hike. I found a nice guesthouse, Beaufort House, and booked my 2 nights.
Since Carlingford is only a little over an hour north of Dublin, it is a popular spot for hens and stags (bachelorette and bachelor parties) for Dubliners. But, I was visiting midweek, which is the time to go. And it was mid-September so the tourist crowds were mostly gone. A short drive on a dry day and I was pulling into the guesthouse which overlooks Carlingford Lough, a beautiful inlet from the Irish Sea. Across the sea was Northern Ireland and the Mourne Mountains. Behind me was the majestic Slieve Foye mountain, also known as Carlingford Mountain. I settled in and walked into town to explore.
From Beaufort House it is about a 5-10 minute walk to town and much of it is along the water. In about 5 minutes I came to the harbor, boats bobbing about. I could see Slieve Foye and the central part of the town. There are also ruins of King John’s Castle sitting on the far side of the harbor. There’s not much left, but it is interesting to walk around it take a look.
I found the tourist office which is near the harbor area and got some information on hiking up the mountain the next day. The Táin Way is an established trail of 40km that basically makes a circuit around the Cooley Peninsula. Carlingford serves as the starting and end points. The track is a mixture of paved roads, forest tracks and green paths. Part of the trail goes up Slieve Foye which is what I wanted to do. If you want to do the whole route, it usually takes 2 days, staying in Ravensdale one night before returning to Carlingford. The hike up is fairly easy. It’s not terribly steep and once off the road, you are walking in on a grassy route sharing the space with sheep. Just beware of sheep poop! I got to the saddle just below Slieve Foye when the weather started to turn. I had to head back down as the rain was moving in. But, it is Ireland so this is to be expected. Be prepared. The views from up there are spectacular even in the rain.
The town of Carlingford is small and easy to walk around. It has a medieval feel to it. There are the usual pubs and small shops. And, there are some good restaurants as well. I hit The Kingfisher Bistro on night one. The food had an Asian flare to it, though used local Irish ingredients, namely fresh fish. I highly recommend it. If the weather cooperates you can sit outside. The second night I found myself at Magee’s Bistro which featured a board of daily specials, again, mostly fish. After my hike earlier in the day, I was hungry. The food didn’t disappoint and neither did the wine list. Magee’s has a nice, cozy feel to it.
There are some great pubs in town too. Taaffe’s Castle Bar is a pub downstairs with good Guinness and soccer matches on tv. Upstairs you will find the disco. So, if you want to, you can go dance off your dinner…and your Guinness. Taaffe’s is the place for hens and stags. On the other hand, PJ O’Hare’s is an institution and typical of the old Irish pubs: store in front selling groceries and other sundries and pub in back. And, more than likely, some good traditional Irish music. You don’t want to miss a visit to PJ’s.
Carlingford is definitely a great place to go in Ireland. It doesn’t attract many Americans. You will likely run into Irish folks, both from the Republic and from the North, and some other Europeans. But, there is loads to do here. Although I wouldn’t blame you if you just sat back and enjoyed the lovely views with a spot of hot Irish tea…or maybe a cold Guinness. Your choice.
Eating and Drinking