My OE - Ireland                                           
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   Dublin Zoo
   Mourne Mountains / Ards Peninsula

Sat 6-Dec 03	Dublin - visited Dublin Zoo 

After being in Dublin for almost 10 months, I finally got around to visiting Dublin Zoo today!  It was... okay!  The baby tiger and chimpanzee were cool, the African Safari was okay, but most of the rest was old, run-down, empty, smelly, disappointing and/or depressing!  Alright to have a look at I guess, but certainly nothing to rave about.  

Giraffes, Dublin Zoo

Sun 7-Dec 03	Dublin

Went for a look up the Chimney Viewing Tower (only about 35m high - certainly no 'Sky Tower' or 'Centre-point Tower'!) to have a nosey at the Dublin City on Ice ice-rink from above (now called 'Smithfield on Ice').  Some goods views of Dublin and we definitely recognise a lot more since viewing Dublin from above from the Guinness 'Gravity Bar' back in February.  The windows were extremely dirty, so unfortunately not very good for photos.

The "Dublin City on Ice" Ice-skating rink, Smithfield, Dublin

Fri 12-Dec 03	Dublin (Co. Dublin) - Carlingford (Co. Louth)  

This evening we picked up a rental car after work and headed north to stay in Carlingford (on the Cooley Peninsula - above Dundalk).  Tomorrow we were heading into Northern Ireland to see the Mourne Mountains and the Ards Peninsula.

Sat 13-Dec 03	Carlingford - Portaferry (Co. Down, Northern Ireland)  

Drove from Carlingford up to the outskirts of Newry (across in Northern Ireland) and then out towards Rostrevor, Warrenpoint etc, to see the Mourne Mountains - Quite a pretty drive.  Just past Kilkeel we turned into the Silent Valley, detouring first to see the Spelga Dam.

The Mourne Mountains (and a bit of lovely gorse!), Co. Down

click here for Northern Ireland Map

In the Silent Valley Mountain Park we went for a walk to see the Mourne Wall, Sally Lough and the Silent Valley Reservoir - a very pretty and quiet/peaceful area.  We continued following the road around past the entrance to the mountain park and  ended up back onto the coast near Annalong.

The Silent Valley Reservoir, Co. Down

Sally Lough, Silent Valley

Carried on north, stopping briefly in Dundrum to photograph the castle, and then on up to Lecale Peninsula (between the Mourne Mountains and Ards Peninsula).  Lots of old castles - seven in Ardglass alone, which is a reasonably small seaside village!  

About half way up the western edge of Strangford Lough (the opposite side from the Ards Peninsula) we started seeing lots of small islands in the harbour - 'drowned drumlins' (a drumlin being a rounded hill deposited by glaciers at end of last ice-age).  Very pretty.  Visited the Nendrum Monastic Site ruins, which was okay, but the view was what really made it worthwhile - harbour views etc.  To get there we drove across 3-4 small islands (drumlins) interconnected by bridges!

Dundrum Castle (ruins)

The Nendrum Monastic Site

It was now getting dark very quickly - it gets dark about 3:45pm (and the sun doesn't rise until about 8:45am in the morning at the moment), so we carried on drive up to Newtownards and then down the eastern shore of Strangford Lough (the western side of Ards Peninsula) to Portaferry for the night.  Stayed in the hostel Barholm.

Sun 14-Dec 03	Portaferry - Dublin

Left the hostel early and started heading up the eastern edge of the peninsula (i.e. beside the open sea), first visiting the picture postcard perfect little village of Kearney (actually owned by the National Trust).  Headed further up the coast through Portavogie, Ballywalter etc with great coastal views, and detoured inland slightly at Millisle to see the Ballycopeland Windmill.  Up to Bangor and then down to Newtownards and up to Scrabo Tower (Scrabo Hill Country Park) for views over Strangford Lough, or at least there would have been good views if the weather wasn't so hazy.  Absolutely freezing cold winds!

Strangford Lough, looking south towards Castle Ward Estate


Ballycopeland Windmill (near Millisle, Ards Peninsula),        and         Scrabo Tower, Scrabo Hill Country Park

Next we started heading back down the western shore of Ards Peninsula (again), stopping briefly at Mount Stewart House/Estate and Grey Abbey, before returning to Portaferry to catch a car ferry across the entrance to the lough, to Strangford.

Grey Abbey

Before returning back home to Dublin we first headed west across to Lough Neagh for a quick drive - the largest lough/lake in all 32 counties of Ireland.

Fri 19-Dec 03	Dublin - Belfast (Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland)   

Caught 4pm bus from Dublin to Belfast for the weekend!

Sat 20-Dec 03	Belfast     

After another tasty B&B cooked breakfast (Ulster Fry) headed into Belfast city centre - in the rain!  After a little bit of shopping, we arranged to go on a tour of Belfast's political murals with the Original Black Taxi Tour company.  The tour was VERY good, and the driver/guide was very informative and unbiased.  First we went to Shankill Road which is a Protestant area.  Amazing murals on the ends of housing blocks, with very strong political and militia images/messages.  It felt a little uncomfortable, but safe enough.  There was one mural with the picture of the end of a rifle barrel - it looked as if it was pointed straight at you, and followed you wherever you went!

Interactive Map of Belfast

The Belfast City Hall

Loyalist (Protestant) Mural on Shankill Road

Next we drove to the 'Peace-line' which is a tall fence built between the Protestant Shankill Road and the Catholic Falls Road.  It was covered in scorch marks from various bombings, as well as lots of graffiti - we added our names along with hundreds of other tourists before us.  Further around the corner (through hefty security gates) we entered Falls road to see the murals on the Catholic side of this conflict - as well as memorials to fallen military personnel and civilians.  Saw more murals on the way back into town covering the 1981 hunger strike as well as civil rights movements in other countries (Turkey, Hungary etc).  A highly recommended tour.

The 'Peace Line', Belfast

Falls Road (Catholic area) side of Peace Line
showing sloped mesh to protect houses from petrol bombs etc

1981 Hunger Strikers Memorial Mural

Back in central Belfast, we went for a walk to the Lagan river and weir, and then did some more shopping, before going on a guided tour of the Belfast City Hall.

Lagan Weir, Belfast


Interior of the Belfast City Hall

Stucco work and Mural, Belfast City Hall

A long way from home, we then went to see the biggest New Zealand movie of the year (if not ever) - Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.  Awesome!!

Sun 21-Dec 03	Belfast - Dublin   

Found out this morning that where we were staying was actually very close to Cave Hill and Belfast Castle, so after breakfast decided to walk and have a nosey - unfortunately in the rain again (or intermittent at least).  Despite the rain it was still quite a nice walk, park and Scottish style castle (well, that's what some sign has said).  We then checked out of the B&B and headed into the city centre again. 

Interactive Map of Belfast

Belfast Castle, Cave Hill, Belfast

Belfast Castle

Upon arriving in town we unfortunately found that the Information centre was closed (where we were going to leave our bags), as was everything else until at least 1pm!  In the afternoon we managed to fit in going to the Botanic Gardens & Palm House (where it started to lightly snow!) and some more shopping before catching a 4pm bus back to Dublin again.  

Queen's University, Belfast

The Crown Liquor Saloon

Although we didn't fit in a lot of touristy stuff (as compared to our norm) we still had a good weekend away and would like to go back for another look - Belfast is a nice small City (about 280,000 people) and very friendly and helpful.  Snowed on and off between Belfast and Dundalk, almost half way home.  Unfortunately it wasn't looking promising for a white Christmas as far south as Dublin.

Christmas Decorations in Stephens Green Shopping Centre during December


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