Northern Ireland Odyssey: Take Two (post-COVID, post-Brexit)


By Brian McGowan

Like a thief in the night, COVID-19 has descended on the last days of winter 2020 and has not yet left us. Hoping that this will subside soon, we turn our gaze back to shattered plans and delayed dreams.

For my wife and I, and two close friends, it involves a foray into the north of Ireland, where adventures await.

I have roots all over Ireland, and the north is not to be overlooked. With the ancestors of Down, Fermanagh and Donegal, I am coming home, regardless of borders, Brexit, COVID or any other flag that flies on the masts of municipal buildings – Union Jack, Tricolor or the Red Hand of Ulster. It’s all of Ireland to me no matter what.

There are four Irish. You can call them provinces – Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster – or use the compass, as I prefer, East, South, West and North. Each has a different flavor, a different meaning. In their use of native Irish Gaelic, each has their own dialect. And speaking English, it is much easier to understand a resident of Dublin (East) than a man or a woman of Galway (West).

On a previous trip to Ireland, I covered sections of every region except the North. And on this trip, my goal is to correct that.

And so, confident that Europe will reopen its doors to American travelers in 2022, we will!

We will begin – and end – our journey to beautiful Dublin, where we will spend the first two days. On our list are a few standards, such as the National Museum, Trinity College, Grafton Street, St. Stephen’s Green, Ha’penny Bridge, Guinness Brewery, Dublin Castle and the General Post Office, site of the Uprising of Easter of 1916. Less crowded places are also available – Iveagh Gardens and the Dublin Writer’s Museum.

From there, on a 119 mile jaunt to Belfast, we’ll enter the UK, driving through the Morne Mountains and stopping to visit St Patrick’s Grave at Downpatrick.

We will drive along the North Channel coast, where Scotland sits 13 miles above the water. A visit to Belfast promises 23 sites, including Titanic Belfast, where the RMS Titanic was built and launched, only to sink on her maiden voyage in 1912. Belfast City Hall and the Falls Memorial Garden are also on the bridge. No “Game of Thrones” on this trip!

Then, direction Derry – or Londonderry – depending on the view of Ireland that we have. Along the way we will visit the Nine Glens of Antrim, Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge and possibly a stop at the Old Bushmills Distillery. In Derry proper we will visit the Tower Museum, the Guildhall Museum and the iconic city walls.

Then we leave the UK to enter Donegal, one of the nine counties of Ulster, three of which are in the Republic of Ireland. We will visit Glenveagh Castle and Glenveagh National Park. With Sligo as our goal for day five, we’ll ride along the Slieve League mountains, see Yeats’s grave, pass Ben Bulben, and visit the Belleek China factory.

Leaving Sligo on the sixth day we will drive through Mayo and the Connemara region and stop at Westport, considered the most attractive town in County Mayo. Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holiest mountain, will rise before us, and some of us hope to brave the three hours of ascent and return. Killary Harbor and the Maamturk Mountains promise spectacular views, before ending the day in Clifden.

The seventh day takes us to Galway Town, where we will visit Eyre Square, the Salmon Weir Bridge and the Spanish Arch. Next, we’ll head to County Clare, where we’ll see the Cliffs of Moher, Burren Dolmen and Poulnabrone, one of Ireland’s oldest and most haunting burial graves. A night spent at Ennis promises good traditional Irish music.

Then it’s a long trip back to Dublin, and a flight back to the good old United States of A. All this next year, taking COVID into account!

Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the Bronx and is a second, third and fifth generation Irish-American / Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed multiple paths to the New World. Reach it at [email protected] or on Twitter (@ Bmcgowan52M). He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon” on the Battle of Waterloo and “Love, Son John” on World War II. Both are available on Amazon.com.

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