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Roger McCann

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Articles - Giant's Causeway


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Train Travelling Happily in Ireland

2021-03-11 14:57:50

Over the years, we have enjoyed many trips to various parts of Ireland but have always travelled in our own car or, as we did on one occasion as part of a family group, in a larger vehicle rented in Dublin. For this latest trip we decided to sit back and let others do the driving.

Starting in Scotland, in Central Station, Glasgow, we boarded a train to Ayr. Outside the station, after a few minutes wait, we got on the bus to Cairnryan Ferry Terminal. It’s a pleasant journey through rural Ayrshire and along the golf course coast. The ferry crossing to Belfast takes about two hours. A bus was waiting for passengers coming off the ferry and within thirty minutes we were in Belfast city centre.

It’s a walk of a few minutes through a shopping mall near Belfast’s Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street to Victoria Street Bus and Train Station where you can buy a combination train/bus ticket for the train to Coleraine. The train crosses the River Laggan and is soon out in the countryside, then runs within sight of the sea. A seat on the left hand side of the train is recommended for the chance to spot the ruins of Dunluce Castle. Formidable on a rocky headland, the castle must have appeared impregnable when it was built in the 1500’s.

Outside Coleraine Station the bus going to the Giant’s Causeway pulls in minutes after the train leaves. The connection appears to work near seamlessly.

The bus passes through small towns including Bushmills and Port Ballintrae.

From the final stop, passengers walk the short distance to the National Trust Visitors’ Centre where an introductory display gives information on the stones of the Causeway, some of it scientifically sound and some of it myth. There is also a shop and a café.

From the Visitor Centre there’s a shuttle bus, or you can walk along a pavement to the columns of the Causeway or take the rougher coastal path running along the cliff top. From this vantage point there are immense views along the sea-battered headlands, as far as the horizon and down to where walkers appear like moving dots on the pavement bordering the rocky beaches. Over a fence on the other side, sheep and cattle graze the fields.

Heading back, there are straightforward ways down the cliff to reach the lower path by the sea shore and the Causeway columns.

There are roughly 30 - 40,000 of these interlocking, many sided blocks of basalt which took shape 50-60 million years ago when successive, slow moving flows of lava from an ancient inland volcano reached the coast and cooled on contact with the sea.

Back in Belfast, on Great Victoria Street, there is a choice of restaurants and pubs. The Crown, directly across the road from the Europa Hotel is well worth a visit. The gas lamps are gone but the wooden booths with doors to ensure privacy are still there. It hasn’t changed much from the late 1800s. In the city centre, at 17 Donegal Square North, the Linen Hall Library has a welcoming café but it’s the wealth of books on Irish topics that is hugely impressive.

For the next stage of our journey we retraced our steps to Victoria Street Station where a local train took us to Lanyon Place Station for a train to Dublin.

The Enterprise is a long distance modern train running eight times a day from Belfast to Connolly Station, Dublin. From a comfortable window seat the views of the east coast, out to sea and the distant Mountains of Mourne are magnificent.

Dublin, like many cities, has dedicated tourist buses giving visitors an overview of the layout and attractions of the city. You may land lucky and be with a driver who, as well as telling tales about places along the route, may occasionally burst into song – it’s all ‘good craic’ as Dubliners might say.

If you choose to walk in Dublin, you shouldn’t miss O’Connell Street and the General Post Office, the Quays by the River Liffey, Trinity College campus and Grafton Street for shopping and buskers.

From Grafton Street cross over the road to St. Stephen’s Green, an extensive park with trees and formal flower beds, duck ponds and statues.

Along the perimeter path there are a number of information boards giving details of the Easter Rising of 1916 when 200 insurgents established positions in St. Stephen’s Green. They in turn were being fired on by British soldiers who were garrisoned in the Shelbourne Hotel on the north side of St. Stephen’s Green.

Today the Shelbourne is a much loved meeting place. As well as presidents and politicians, celebrities and stars of stage and screen, it hosts wedding parties and other assorted gatherings. In the lounge bar, the price of drinks may make your eyes water but get comfortably seated in an armchair, relax and enjoy the ambience, do some people watching – it’s worth the money.

The train journey across Ireland from Dublin on the east coast to Galway in the west takes about three hours. We pass small fields with grazing sheep, cattle or a few horses. Through the train window, this landscape when seen in bright sunshine does appear to have ‘forty shades of green’ as the song goes.

Galway gets especially busy around Eyre Square and the surrounding streets where there is a variety of shops, restaurants and pubs. To leave the crowds behind, a bracing mile and a half walk westwards by seaside path and pavement will take you to Salthill, perhaps for a café lunch, before a return through the streets to Claddagh and Galway.

Claddagh, a fishing village in its own right on the south side of the River Corrib was once separate from Galway. Now you can stroll along a riverside path by sloping gardens fronting homes half hidden by trees. It’s a delightful way to reach Galway Cathedral on Nun’s Island. Made of stone, the Cathedral looks old but building only started here in 1958 and was finished in 1965.

Claddagh was where the famed Claddach rings originated. Each ring shows two hands clasping a heart topped by a crown. As an expression of love, friendship and loyalty, the rings adorn fingers all over the world.

From Galway Train Station our next destination was Kilkenny. We changed trains at Kildare and had time for a short walk to the town centre for a leisurely lunch in the Silken Thomas restaurant before boarding a connecting train to Kilkenny.

One of the many attractions of Kilkenny is the Design Centre where you can watch silversmiths working. As well as items produced in the workshops the shop sells a range of goods made by craft workers from around the country.

In the Centre’s formal walled garden there’s a lily pond. Spaced around it is a ring of substantial blocks of stone that came from Dublin. When Nelson’s Pillar was blown up on O’Connell Street by the Irish Republican Army on 8th March 1966, these blocks of stone lay unwanted amongst the rubble - destined to be dumped. How they came to arrive in Kilkenny is still debated. But it seems that admiration for the stone carver’s skill was a factor in their being placed here at the home of Irish craft and design.

Kilkenny Castle lies across the road from the Design Centre on The Parade. From one side of the Castle you can follow a path through mature trees and by a duck pond in the extensive parkland. On the other side of the Castle, varieties of roses are grown in the formal gardens set around a fountain. Lemon drizzle cake with a pot of tea in the castle café goes down a treat.

Kilkenny has a number of independent shops as well as the sizeable MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre built around the restored Kilkenny Famine Workhouse. While shop fronts show familiar high street names, an unusual feature of the complex is the audio trail which guides listeners to numbered stopping points. You can hire a set of headphones at the information desk and listen to the story of the Irish famine and particularly the two young brothers, John and Patrick Saul who were given refuge here in the workhouse after being abandoned by their parents on the docks in Dublin. The trail ends outside in the famine memorial garden where a sculpture portrays the boys, ‘helping each other along the journey and inspiring hope of survival’. It’s a harrowing tale but this trail helps to perpetuate the memory of these young lads and thousands of others who spent time here in the workhouse.

Kilkenny grew alongside the River Nore. A pleasant riverside walk from the centre of town starts at the hurling statue, ‘dedicated to all those who played for the county and the stars of the future yet to come.’ At 14ft tall it can’t be missed.

Follow the path as far as the footbridge below a main road bridge then cross over and stroll down the other side back into town.

Our next train journey took us from Kilkenny to Dublin Heuston Station. Outside the station tickets can be bought for the tram trip to Connolly Train Station, Dublin. The Enterprise carried us back to Belfast.

On this train trip in Ireland the service couldn’t be faulted. Trains were on time and many of our fellow passengers were happy to talk - mainly about Brexit. We were able to sit back in comfort and look out at the countryside. Would we do similar trips again? Would we recommend travelling by train in Ireland? Absolutely!

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