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Thursday 22 April 1999

We've saved enough Airmiles again for a nice trip. This time we are heading for Ireland for a week. We fly at 9:40am with KLM UK to Belfast. The flight is slightly delayed, but around 11am we're standing in front of the Alamo desk at Belfast International Airport to collect our rental car. I've booked the car through Internet, but the price quoted by Alamo on the website and by e-mail is, according to the sales assistant, exclusive of insurance, a difference of £70! As the text on the website and on the e-mail does not mention that anywhere, I insist on the quoted price. After some heated discussion and frantic calls with head office we get the car for the quoted price. It's an upgrade too: Vauxhall Vectra 1.8 16v. Around half past eleven we're driving towards Ballycastle on the North coast of (Northern) Ireland. We take a bit of a detour through the Glens of County Antrim, a beautiful drive. Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim In Ballycastle we take a room with sea view in the Marine Hotel After a simple pub lunch we drive to the number one attraction of the Antrim Coast: the Giant's Causeway. The coast line near Bushmills consists of some 37,000 basalt columns, most of them hexagonal. It is the result of a massive subterranean explosion some 60 million years ago. The phenomenon stretches all the way to the Scottish coast on the other side of the Irish Sea. According to legend the giant Finn McCool fell in love with a female giant from Scotland. He built the Causeway to enable her to come over to Ireland. After a good walk along the clifftops looking out over the Causeway and over the Causeway itself we drive on to the ruins of Dunluce Castle. Once the castle was the home base of the McDonnell clan who controlled the area. The castle lies on the edge of the cliffs. This position was also the cause of its decline, because in 1639 part of the castle disappeared in the sea during a storm. Shortly after that event the family moved away from the coast. The ruins are a great sight on the edge of the cliffs. After this excursion we drive back to Ballycastle. We take a swim in the indoor pool of the Hotel.Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim

At night we eat in the simple Kimark restaurant and we drink a pint in one of the many pubs of Ballycastle - McCarroll's.

Friday 23 April 1999

After breakfast we drive to Downhill Castle in County Derry. This, too, is a ruin. This time of a country home of the Anglican Bishop of Derry, Frederick Hervey. The House and adjoining chapel (Mussenden Temple) were built around 1780. Especially Mussenden Temple lies very beautiful on a hill top overlooking the coast. We carry on along the coast to Derry (Londonderry). Having arrived there we take a room in Clarence House, a guest house just outside the city centre. The room is allright, but the owner is a bit out of the ordinary. Not unpleasant, just a bit neurotic.

Derry has earned a dubious reputation during the "Troubles", with an absolute low on Bloody Sunday in 1972. The progress in the peace process has taken away much of Derry's grim outlook. Only the heavy security measures around police stations remind of the tense situation in the recent past. Many check points seem deserted. Derry's main attraction is its old town with a city wall that's completely in tact. Derry: Old Town seen from the city walls,  Co. Derry We make a marvellous walk over the city walls. From the walls you have a beautiful view of the old city and the areas around. We pass St Collumb's Cathedral (Church of Ireland; protestant) from 1633. In the church there are many memorabilia of military expeditions and a 18th century bishop's throne. The wall also offers a view of the Bogside, the catholic working class area of Derry. From the wall you can still see a number of political murals, among them the famous Free Derry Mural.

Early evening we get the first bit of serious rain. We have dinner in a modern pizza restaurant and go see a movie later (A civil Action with John Travolta). We end the day with a pint in a crowded pub (The Strand).

Saturday 24 April 1999

After breakfast we cross the border into the Republic of Ireland. You don't notice the border crossing at all. No Check Point, not even a sign. We're now in County Donegal. Soon after the border we pass a celtic fort, GrianŠn of Aileich. It is a round stone fortress without rooms. From its walls we have a fine view of the area. We carry on and have coffee at Letterkenny, the main city of Donegal. We continue along the northern edge of Glenveagh National Park to Bunbeg on the West Coast. The roads are narrow and full of pot holes. You hardly see anyone and there are no villages whatsoever in this desolate landscape, where you meet the occasional sheep. The weather becomes brighther and even the sun makes an appearance. Around 1pm we arrive in Bunbeg and move into Bunbeg House, a good Guest House. After a simple lunch we set out for Errigal Mountain, one of the highest mountain tops around here. We attempt to climb it, but the steep path up there is still very boggy and slippery, which makes the climb difficult and hazardous. When we're past halfway up we decide to give it up. But already at this level the views are tremendous. We drive into the Glenveagh National Park and call on the visitors centre. From here shuttle busses leave for Glenveagh Castle. The castle is beautifully set on a promontory on the shore of the Glenveagh lake (or Lough). It was built in 1870 for George Adair. You can make nice walks along the shores of the lake. At the end of the afternoon we head back for Bunbeg via small and endless roads through a scenery only filled with a few remote farm houses, many sheep and an occasional peat cutter. Peat is still being cut here and used as fuel for the fire place. In the villages you can always smell the burning peat. Finding our way back is not easy. The road signs are few and far between and and the place names are sometimes in English, but also often just in Gaelic and our road map does not have Gaelic names for each village or town.!

At night we have dinner in the Sea View hotel. The food is OK, but a bit expensive for the quality offered. After that we drive to the next village, Crolly, where we find Leo's Tavern. The owners, Leo en Baba Brennan were at some point in time famous Irish dance band musicians, but their children rose to greater fame. Three of them are members of the group Clannad and a fourth is the singer Enya. It is very obvious that Leo is very proud of his offspring. The walls are covered with posters and golden CD's . It is a cosy pub (some Gaelic is spoken) and late at night there is live music and the celebration of a wedding anniversary of a local couple.

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