For today’s post I’m going to focus on the part of Ireland where I grew up: the Boyne Valley. As I’ve said before, Ireland is positively littered with structures built in earlier times from early Christian churches to castles of all types, sorts and sizes. In the Boyne Valley, you’ll find all of that and passage graves which pre-date the pyramids at Giza within an easy hour’s drive from Dublin.
Let’s be clear, when my school group took day-trips to Newgrange wellington boots were required. We tromped through the mud to line up against the standing stones for lectures by our teachers on the importance of these pre-historic sites in our cultural heritage – usually in the pouring rain. A visit today is a much more pleasant and much more informative experience. The site has been recognized as a World Heritage Site and the information and displays at the interpretive center are worth checking out before venturing to the site itself. For me, Newgrange is a must-see stop for any visitor to the area although it might be difficult for the under-5 set. Thankfully, Newgrange Farm, a working farm with plenty of animals to feed and pet and play with is just a few miles down the road. There are cafes at both Newgrange and Newgrange Farm.
Continuing with the pattern of “things I used to do when I was a kid”, my parents used the woods at Townley Hall as their favorite “let’s wear out our children” spot. If you plan to continue into Northern Ireland I strongly suggest stopping here to stretch your legs and actually see the spot where the Battle Of The Boyne occurred. This battle between the largely Protestant forces of King William III of Orange and the Catholic King James II of England was a pivotal moment in Irish history. Besides, if you stop here now, the 1690/King Billy murals which you’ll see in Northern Ireland (like the one above) will make much more sense.
When I was traveling to college in Belfast, the drive from the Boyne Valley area to Belfast regularly took over four hours – with over an hour spent waiting at the border check-point between Dundalk and Newry. Today, this same journey will take under two hours and you won’t spend any time waiting at the border. For somewhere to stay in Belfast, the Malone Lodge Hotel is a great choice for families offering one, two and three-bedroom apartments in a beautiful part of the city. Settle in, because you’ll be spending three nights here while you explore the city and enjoy some fun day-trips.
Historically, Belfast was a center for the linen industry and shipbuilding – perhaps most infamously as the place where the RMS Titanic was built. Spend a morning at the Titanic Dock and Pumphouse to learn more about Belfast’s maritime history and enjoy the afternoon exploring the city’s downtown core. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is your destination for day two of your Belfast visit. Spread over 170 acres, the folk park (outside) and transport museum (inside) will give you a real insight into the life and livelihoods of people who lived in this area over 100 years ago.
When your day plan includes giants, legends of yore, stunning scenery and whiskey, you know you’re going to have a great day out. If you’re traveling with children, make sure they know the story of Finn and The Giant in advance of this day-trip otherwise the basalt volcanic columns may seem little boring to them You can decide whether to visit the Old Bushmills Distillery before or after visiting the Causeway – just remember that the distillery tour ends with a tasting of some fine Irish Whiskey. Finally, if visiting a whiskey distillery is not something you’d usually consider a child-friendly activity, remember that there’ll be forklift trucks, large oak barrels and plenty of room to explore. The distillery tour is not available for children under eight, but when we visited with CAM (at six) we really enjoyed our visit – even without taking the tour.
We’re off to Ireland again in early April. We’ve got some family events to attend but we’ll also have some time to visit parts of the country my husband and I haven’t been to since before we moved to the U.S. in 1995. Check back next Monday for the third and final part in this series: Road Trip Ireland Part III – Into The West.