Inner Ireland

 

Inner Ireland: Six-day tour

Start: Antrim  Finish: Antrim

Recommended Length: 6 days

Total distance:  996km / 618mls

Day One: Antrim to Enniskillen

Distance: 142km/88mls

1  Head west across the Bann at Toome, known for its eel fishery, and detour briefly to Bellaghy Bawn to see the Seamus Heaney exhibits. 

2  Next take the very scenic Glenelly Valley route through the high Sperrins, past Sawel mountain (678m) and the nearby heritage centre where tourists pan for gold in the Foyle headwaters. 

3  . Turn south through the dramatic Barnes Gap to Gortin village and the Ulster History Park near Omagh. Or continue to Plumbridge and on to Newtownstewart, where James II spent a night during his retreat from Derry in 1689, then south towards Omagh to spend an afternoon at the Ulster American Folk Park before dropping down to the Fermanagh Lakelands to overnight around Kesh or Enniskillen.      Note:An alternative east-west route is the Cookstown-Omagh road, which passes through Wellbrook linen beetling mill, Beaghmore Stone Circles and the An Creagán centre.     

Day Two: Enniskillen to Tullamore

Distance: 177km/110mls

1  Spend a couple of hours on the waterbus to visit Devenish Island’s round tower, and en route have a look at the fine plantation castles built around Lough Erne’s shores as far west as Castle Caldwell near Belleek. Otherwise, head for Belcoo via the National Trust house and gardens of Florence Court and the scenic Marlbank Loop. Or perhaps take in a tour of Marble Arch Caves. 

2  Follow the road between the two pike-filled Macnean Loughs, and skirt the bare Iron Mountains to reach Drumshanbo, once a smelting centre for iron mined on Slieve Anierin (587m). 

3  On to Leitrim  village, which stands at the south end of the canal linking the Shannon to the Erne. 

4  . After busy Carrick-on-Shannon, drive to Boyle, with its Cistercian abbey and circular lake, past Rathcroghan (Cruachán), ancient capital of Connacht, to Roscommon town. 

5  Overnight in Athlone, birthplace of Irish tenor John McCormack, and visit the famous monastic site of Clonmacnoise the next day or else go on to Tullamore, of Tullamore Dew and Irish Mist renown. 

Day Three: Tullamore to Lismore

Distance: 195km/121mls

1  After admiring Tullamore’s canal architecture, drive southwest to Birr, to walk around its Georgian squares and visit the exquisite castle gardens where a giant telescope was built in 1845. 

2  Next take the minor road east across raised bog to Kinnitty for a circular drive around the Slieve Blooms, low heathery hills that are delightfully under-visited. 

3  Continue to Roscrea to visit Damer House, and on to Thurles, notable for its July Féile in Liberty Square. 

4  Now make for Mitchelstown, first past Holy Cross Abbey and the astonishing Rock of Cashel. At Cahir, either take the parallel minor road through the beautiful Glen of Aherlow, an important mountain pass, fought over in history, or stay on the N8 that runs between two mountain ranges, the Knockmealdowns and the shapely red sandstone Galtees. (Mitchelstown Caves are signposted on the N8.) 

5  Continue to Fermoy, a late-18th-century British garrison town with large buildings, wide roads and a massive bridge. Spend the night around Lismore.

Day Four: Lismore to Trim

Distance: 232km/144mls

1  Lismore’s cathedrals, one ancient, one modern, are each worth a visit: admire the medieval monuments, sumptuous tombs and stained glass, and walk round the gardens of the castle, owned by the Dukes of Devonshire. 

2  You may have time to drive the hairpin road up to the Vee Gap and then coast down to Ballyporeen and the Mitchelstown Caves. If not, go east and beyond Cappoquin, turn north to Clonmel, a bustling former coaching town, prettily set beside the Suir. 

3  With the Comeragh Mountains on your right, drive east to Carrick-on-Suir, with its Elizabethan mansion, said to be Anne Boleyn’s birthplace. 

4  Continue to medieval Kilkenny City, full of historic buildings, great pubs and arts and crafts studios. 

5  The Carlow Road runs through rich farmland and soon you are driving parallel with the trout-filled Barrow Navigation right into Carlow Town, with its tall cathedral lantern tower. 

6  Pass east of The Curragh racecourse, go through Naas and overnight around Trim.

Day Five: Trim to Armagh

Distance: 129km/80mls

1  Stroll around Trim, on the south bank of the Boyne, edge of the medieval English Pale, and pace the 500yd-long outer wall of Trim Castle, the most extensive Norman castle in Ireland, where Mel Gibson’s Braveheart was filmed in 1995. 

2  After admiring the Yellow Steeple, a 14th-century bell tower across the river, take the country roads to ancient Kells, where the Book of Kells was created, to see carved crosses, round tower and St Columba’s House (it’s best to park and walk up the hill). 

3  Press on to Monaghan via Carrickmacross, famous for lace-making, and Castleblaney, where the fine public park beside Lough Muckno is ideal for a tea break and stretching the legs.

4  Next pass Clontibret, site of Hugh O’Neill’s first battle against the English in 1595. 

5  After exploring Monaghan’s squares and Gothic-Revival cathedral, the Cross of Clogher in the museum is a must-see. The museum has close links with the county museum in Armagh, seat of both Ireland’s archbishops and the city you head for next.

Day Six: Armagh to Antrim

Distance: 177km/110mls

1  Get up early because there’s a lot to see in Armagh. A shortlist would include a walkabout in the city centre looking at the Georgian architecture, including the Robinson Library where a copy of Gulliver’s Travels corrected in Swift’s own hand is a principal treasure, the 18th-century observatory and the two cathedrals, each on its hill. At least 18 churches have stood on the hill (where the protestant cathedral stands) since St Patrick built his stone church in the 5th century. 

2  Two miles west of the city is Navan Fort, capital of the Ulster Kings from 700 BC. Now, going via Gilford, birthplace of painter J B Yeats, and the pleasant country town of Banbridge, stop in Dromore to climb the motte-and-bailey castle where King John stayed in 1210. 

3  Continue under the lea of Slieve Croob, site of the Legananny dolmen, to Ballynahinch, prominent in the 1798 rebellion, and on to the exquisite village of Hillsborough. 

4  After a visit to the Irish Linen Centre in Lisburn, return via the flowery Moira and Glenavy village to Antrim.

 

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