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In Ireland Spring 2017 PDF Printable Version E-mail

In IRELAND in the SPRING of 2017

 2017_15.jpg

A 3-week Motorhome tour of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland


Continued from: Return to the UK from Portugal via Spain & France Spring 2017

Rosslare Harbour to Tree Grove Camping, Kilkenny, Co Kilkenny - 57 miles

Open 1 March-15 Nov.  www.kilkennycamping.com  €23 inc elec, free showers, free WiFi (slow) on pitches near Common Room.  N 52.64011  W 7.22983

During the last week of April we took one of our favourite ferries, the 'Stena Horizon' overnight sailing from Cherbourg in France to southeast Ireland: www.stenaline.ie. The morning started well with a full cooked breakfast, followed by a lazy day in the cabin reading the papers ('The Guardian' via Kindle; 'The Irish Times' compliments of Stena). We docked on time at 3.30 pm (Irish time) in Rosslare, County Wexford, where it was not raining. In fact, Irish farmers are complaining of drought!

Arriving in the Republic of Ireland in the Spring is always a joy, driving through fresh green pastureland, grazed by cattle and sheep with abundant young, all the trees in fresh leaf, the woods thick with native bluebells, like a land reborn. It takes a little time to adjust to driving on the left, while following a plethora of signposts (mostly in km, with older ones in miles). Prices are in Euros, yet English (a beautiful English) is spoken.

We take the N25 towards Wexford, then turn west for New Ross. After Ballynabola village we turn onto a narrow R-road for 5 miles, linking to N30 westward, to avoid the evening rush hour in New Ross. Crossing the River Barrow, we continue northwest on R700, a well-surfaced road that twists along a valley to meet the River Nore at a lovely bridge in the charming village of Inistioge, sadly lacking a place to park.

On through Thomastown until we see the Kilkenny ring road. The campsite set on an old Georgian estate is on the left, just before the ring road roundabout. Dan, the friendly and helpful owner, gives us a warm welcome, a taste of traditional Irish humour, a map of the city and directions to walk or cycle the 1.5 mile route by the River Nore into the centre. He seems pleased to tell us 'Prince Charles and Camilla are visiting Kilkenny soon. It will be good for tourism'. Next day we will hear other opinions! The campsite is busy with some colourful musicians as it's the weekend of the Kilkenny Roots music festival.

At Kilkenny

Next day we catch up1._Kilkenny_1_(2).JPG on email correspondence before taking an afternoon stroll into the city. After crossing the Ring Road, we turn off right to a wooded path beside the canal, which joins the 'Linear Walk' along the River Nore to Kilkenny Castle. In the gardens (entry free) we read that the castle is on the site of the 12thC Norman fort of Strongbow the Invader, whose son-in-law (Sir William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke) built a stone castle and fortified the city walls. It became the seat of the Butler family, who remodelled the castle in Victorian times. You can pay for a guided tour.

We continue along the Medieval Mile that links the castle with the cathedral. With a warren 1._Kilkenny_1_(1).JPGof narrow alleys such as the 'Butter Slip' (site of the old butter market), it's the compact heart of the walled town that became the medieval capital of Ireland complete with Parliament. It even held Europe's first witchcraft trials in the 14thC after the Black Death. An area of character and characters!

Barry,1._Kilkenny_1_(4).JPG buying a splendid Donegal Tweed cap made by the Hatman of Ireland, learns that some of the townsfolk are not best pleased about the imminent royal visit (Charles III): 'Such a waste of money, painting all the grid covers and lamp posts along the route. The roads will be closed and they are not even staying in the town'.

There is a wealth of historic buildings; we pass the 1._Kilkenny_1_(5).JPGTourist Office in the Alms House (founded by Sir Richard Shee in 1582), the Tholsel (town hall, in the guildhall and customs house of 1761), the 16thC 'Hole in the Wall' tavern (still serving), Court House (1210) and Smithwicks Brewery (tours available), which is over 300 years old.

And so we come1._Kilkenny_1_(6).JPG to the Black Abbey, just outside the old walls through Black Ferens Gate. Quite by chance we meet Friar Tom Jordan, who lives in the adjacent Priory, and we are privileged to be given a most informative tour of the Abbey. Founded in 1225 by Sir William Marshall for the Dominican Friars (known as Black Friars), it has some magnificent original windows as well as medieval monumental slabs and stone coffins. Friar Tom shows us one of the church's treasures, a pre-Reformation statue of St Dominic carved from oak. Its survival is remarkable, as the features were scarred by the bayonets of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers, who cut the arms off at the shoulder.

The abbey was confiscated by Henry VIII in 1543, then in 1603 the citizens1._Kilkenny_1_(7).JPG seized it and returned it to the Dominicans, only to see it sacked by Cromwell's troops in 1650. But this is no longer a roofless ruin. Lovingly restored in the 19thC, it remains a place of public worship, a functioning Catholic church that is freely open almost 800 years after it was built.

The nearby1._Kilkenny_1_(8).JPG 9thC Round Tower and its adjacent 13thC Cathedral of St Canice (Kilkenny's patron saint) are busy with tourists and entry fees. The tower is one of only two in Ireland that can be climbed, though not by me! As it is turning chilly, we return to the town centre, pleased to have found the quiet and peace of the Black Abbey.

The Delhi Indian Restaurant on the High Street is our final stop, enjoying their 'Early Bird Special Menu' before walking back to camp along the river.


See more Pictures at
http://www.magbazpictures.com/kilkenny.html

Kilkenny to O'Brien's Cashel Lodge & Camping Park, Cashel, South Tipperary - 51 miles

Open 1 April-1 Oct.  www.cashel-lodge.com  €25 inc elec, free showers, free WiFi only inside Common Room.  N 52.520234  W 7.896413

2._Kells_1.JPGLeaving Kilkenny on R697 we drive some 10 miles south to the tiny village of Kells to visit Kells Priory (not to be confused with the Abbey of Kells in County Meath, home to the Book of Kells which is now kept at Trinity College, Dublin). Entry and parking at the Priory are free, though we find the car park blocked by a height barrier. Making a difficult U-turn in the narrow lane, we backtrack 0.5 km to the village and park at the roadside. It is worth the walk back!

The im2._Kells_2.JPGpressive and peaceful remains of the Augustinian Priory form the largest medieval monument in Ireland. A curtain wall with towers at strategic intervals encloses 3 acres, half of which is covered with the ruins of monastic buildings, the rest forming the grassy Burgess Court. It dates back to 1193 when a Norman knight, Geoffrey Fitzrobert de Marisco (brother-in-law to Strongbow the Invader), was granted the barony of Kells. Geoffrey invited four Augustinian Canons from Bodmin in Cornwall to found the Priory, which became the wealthiest monastic house in County Kilkenny by the time of its dissolution by order of Henry VIII in 1540. Geoffrey himself died in 1211 in Hereford Castle, a hostage in the bitter quarrel between King John of England and Sir William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke (Strongbow the Invader's son-in-law). Relations between the English Crown and Ireland have always been complicated.

There is an older Christian site just 1 km away – a Round Tower built around 840 AD, near Kilree Church and its High Cross – though the lane is barely wide enough for a car.

Strolling through the Priory ruins, a helpful local woman walking her dog directs us back to Kells village on the path alongside Kings River, past the old watermill. The name derives from king Niall Caille who drowned trying to save his servant from the water. The servant survived, while the pagan king is commemorated by the Celtic Cross outside the church grounds at Kilree.

See more Pictures athttp://www.magbazpictures.com/kells-priory.html

We round off the morning with a superb lunch in Shirley's Pub in Kells. The fish & chips followed by apple pie beat anything we tried in France and we wonder why we are dining alone on a fine Saturday, the last weekend of April.

Thence to Callan (via R697 and R699), where we stop at Aldi to stock up on Irish bacon and sausage, and buy two beautiful Easter eggs reduced to clear! Finally we take R692 to Cashel, where it's slow going through the centre, with music playing and suicidal charity-collectors blocking the road. A mile out on the Dundrum road (R505) we find O'Brien's sheep farm, with a small campsite behind the B&B hostel. Poised between the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey, it has a splendid view of both.

In the evening Irish television shows the 1999 feature film 'Agnes Browne', which was much better than the spin-off TV series 'Mrs Browne's Boys'. We do enjoy watching the Irish news and weather programmes, if only for the wonderful use of English.       

At Cashel

3._Cashel_Rock_1.JPG3._Cashel_Rock_1.JPGMrs O'Brien had kindly given us free tickets to visit the Rock of Cashel, supplied by Cashel Chamber of Commerce for those supporting Cashel businesses by spending at least €15 in the town. So after the morning rain subsides we walk up to St Patrick's Rock, the iconic limestone outcrop that overlooks the rolling pastureland and the town. The High Kings of Munster, who ruled for centuries until the 12thC Norman invasion, were crowned here, supposedly on the site where St Patrick converted the first of them to Christianity.  

Saving the entry fee of €6 each (Senior rate), we look round3._Cashel_Rock_2.JPG the surprisingly small area. Outside stand a late Round Tower built in 1100 AD, the ruins of a 13thC Gothic cathedral, a graveyard and a Romanesque Church – the whole forming one of the most visited and probably least understood tourist attractions in Ireland! Indoors, in the much restored 15thC Vicars Choral, a 20-minute film is about to be shown, in Italian with no subtitles! We are told to come back at 3.30 pm for the English language version. But be warned - there are no toilets on-site, the nearest being down the hill at the car park and tourist office! Having walked down to find them, coffee and cake in Granny's Café beats climbing back up to the Rock for the film.


See more Pictures athttp://www.magbazpictures.com/cashel-rock.html

Then we wander on through the town, with encircling medieval walls and a Georgian quarter, before returning to camp to cook Irish sausages and mash. An evening stroll to look at Hore Abbey is postponed to next morning, as a cold wind has brought more rain.

See more Pictures athttp://www.magbazpictures.com/cashel-town.html

Cashel to The Hideaway Camping & Caravan Park, Skibbereen, Co Cork - 109 miles

Open 13 April-18 Sept.  www.camping-ireland.ie/parks/cork/hideaway-camping-caravan-park  €24 inc elec, showers €1, free WiFi throughout site, (discount for one week plus).  N 51.54168  W 9.25972

5._Cashel_Hore_Abbey.JPGNext day (May Day) it's a very short walk across to Hore Abbey, to take photographs in full sunshine. Despite free entry, we have the atmospheric ruins of the former Benedictine Abbey, given to the Cistercians in 1272, to ourselves – a marked contrast with the hordes up at the Rock of Cashel. As at Kells Priory, it seems to be of interest only to us and the glossy black Rooks - or Crows? As we can't determine whether they have shaggy leggings (rooks) or heavier beaks (crows), let's call them Crooks for simplicity. Wheeling and cawing above us, they nest in every crevice atop the old stone walls.

See more Pictures athttp://www.magbazpictures.com/cashel-hore-abbey.html

Leaving, we drive 2 miles south round Cashel bypass to join M8 southbound for Cork. There is only one toll point along the way, between exits 16 and 17 at 44 miles, costing just €1.90 (motorhomes and caravans are rated the same as a car – how civilised!) At the end of the M8 at Cork, the N40 continues through the short Jack Lynch Tunnel under the River Lee to join the South Ring Road. We follow this westwards until the exit onto N71 for Skibbereen. The roads are busy with holiday traffic returning from southwest Cork after the Spring Bank weekend.

After 72 miles we park in Inishannon for lunch, then on past Bandon and Clonakilty to Skibbereen. At the Lidl roundabout, it's left along the Castletownshend road for half a km to the quiet campsite, opposite a primary school. We are welcomed back by Stephen and Helen, with the good news that they have a new fast broadband system, giving WiFi to most of the site.

Just ten minutes later our old friend John, who lives near Castletownshend, calls in on his way home from buying four beanpoles at the garden centre! (more about John on his own website). Arrangements for longer meetings are made before he goes off to plant them and we walk back to Lidl for supplies. The next surprise is a free box of teabags plus packet of chocolate digestives at the store, a gift for those who spend over €30 and have a loyalty ticket. 'But we don't have a ticket.'  'Never mind, we've run out of them, but you are very welcome'! How we love this country – and the cherry or sultana scones only seen in Irish Lidl.  

Hiding Away at Skibbereen – and a Special Birthday

Day 1: Cork Airport - Next morning dawns dry and warm, ideal for hanging a washer-load on the line before John arrives. A very kind and willing chauffeur, he drives us 50 miles to Cork airport to collect the Renault Clio car we have booked from Enterprise Rentals for 7 days. Hard to believe that the airport is Skibbereen's nearest car hire depot!

Kinsale - Returning in convoy with John, we park by the water in Kinsale for a stroll, with lunch in a delightful café. Then we follow our guide on a scenic route, round the coast road via Timoleague, Clonakilty, Ross Carberry, Glandore and Union Hall – very narrow lanes (unsuitable for motorhomes) that bypass Skibbereen and return us all to the campsite for more conversation and music over a pot of tea, planning where we will take the car and how to celebrate a special birthday for Barry. We even open the box of Spanish biscote saved from Christmas!

6._Leap_Fairies.JPGDay2: Leap Waterfall – About 7 miles east of Skibbereen along N71 lies the village of Leap. The pub sign shows the legendary Chieftain O'Donovan leaping across a ravine on horseback to escape pursuit by English soldiers. There is a local saying 'Beyond the Leap, Beyond the Law' referring to the lawless land west of Leap! We stop at the car park for the 'Historic Waterfall and Fairy Village' (free entry, donations welcome) to investigate. It's a very short walk to see the natural waterfall and the idiosyncratic fairy houses and bridge that have been added in the glen below. There is also a horse-drawn Romany caravan and some historical information.

7._Timoleague.JPGTimoleague Abbey – From Leap we drive another 20 miles to Timoleague, where the ruins of a Franciscan Abbey, destroyed by Oliver Cromwell's men, stand at the head of a bay. We brave the fierce wind to look round the Abbey, its graveyard and the low-key village before taking shelter in the car with a flask of coffee and scones.    

Then it's round to John's, for a stroll to the local shore and a meal in his kitchen. It is wonderful just being here, walking and talking together.  

Day 3: Sheep's Head Peninsula – John proves to be a great SatNav, travelling with us on a drive round the Sheep's Head, a rugged peninsula that juts out for over 20 miles into the Atlantic Ocean on the south side of Bantry Bay (www.thesheepsheadway.ie).  His navigation isn't set on Fastest or Shortest route, but on Narrowest! Having made it to the café at the end of the Peninsula, we enjoy the tea and cakes but decide against the 2-km footpath to the lighthouse at the tip, owing to strong winds and dangerous cliffs if we need an excuse. On our return to Skibbereen we try the chippy, between the Lidl roundabout and the campsite. Excellent local fish – and a free KitKat each with the pot of tea! 

11._Birthday_Lunch.JPGDay 4: Ballydehob – In anticipation of Barry's Birthday, John takes us out for lunch at Budd's pub/restaurant in Ballydehob, a lovely little harbour on the Wild Atlantic Way about 10 miles west of Skib, famed for its annual Jazz Festival. Irish Lamb Stew for the menfolk, Curry of the Day for me, drinks, coffee, cakes – and best of all, the Craic (fun, enjoyment, gossip, conversation) in a typical Irish bar. Barry is presented with a copy of W G Sebald's strange and moving book 'The Rings of Saturn', to mark completion of yet another peregrination around the sun. Thanks to John for this introduction, and for so much else. (We later buy some other Sebald titles. Translated from the original German, the poetic prose is unique; perhaps reminiscent of Proust.)

Day 5: Skibbereen Market – Saturday is Market Day in Skibbereen, with a wonderful array of local produce, catering, arts and crafts, accompanied by two young women playing Irish harps. I walk into the town alone, ostensibly to look round the market (and secretly search out a suitable card and gifts for Birthday Barry). We had previously visited the Heritage Centre at the Old Gasworks Building, with its extremely informative exhibition about the Great Famine of the 1840s (entry €6, Seniors €4.50). Skibbereen was one of the worst affected areas, evidenced by mass graves with almost 10,000 burials. www.skibbheritage.com

Drombeg Stone Circle – In the afternoon we drive out to Drombeg, off the road8._Domberg_Circle.JPG between Glandore and Ross Carberry. A short walk leads to a Late Bronze Age site (about 1000 BC) with an impressive stone circle, as well as some hut pits and a cooking basin. There is a height barrier at the car park, with space for 2 or 3 higher vehicles before the entrance, and no charges to visit this beautiful windswept enclosure.

On the way back to Skibbereen we circle inland across open country, through Dunmanway and Drimoleague - working towns that are less touristy away from the popular West Cork coast.

Day 6: Baltimore Fiddle Fair – Sunday is the last day of the 25th annual Fiddle Fair (3-7 May) in the port of Baltimore, some 10 miles southwest of Skibbereen. With John, we stroll round to experience the atmosphere and the crowds. There are ticket events in the evenings but daytime musicians are playing freely in the streets and bars. The cold wind of the last few days has dropped and it's delightful to sit in the sunshine outside Bushe's pub overlooking the harbour, with fresh crab sandwiches, salad and a pot of tea, being entertained by an al fresco group of fiddlers, guitars and harmonica. Truly memorable! www.fiddlefair.com

We return on a network of back roads past the saltwater lake Lough Hyne, out to Toe Head for a short walk, through Rineen Forest to Reen on the far side of the Castle Haven inlet, and so to Skibbereen for tea & biscuits in the motorhome. We provide another musical interlude, thanks to our DVD of Transatlantic Sessions that includes the Shetland fiddler Aly Bain, one of this year's performers at Baltimore.

10._Mizen_Head_2.JPGDay 7: Mizen Head – Our final day out in the Renault Clio, taking John with us via Ballydehob and Skull to Mizen Head, Ireland's most southwesterly point, at the end of the peninsula to the south of the Sheep's Head (www.mizenhead.ie). Before Barley Cove we take a side trip to Crookhaven, to sit outside the pub by the harbour with a pot of coffee and scones, looking across to the lighthouse at Spanish Point in warm sunshine.

At Mizen Head there is a large free car park (no height barriers)9._Mizen_Head_1.JPG, café and gift shop. We buy tickets (€7.50 or €6 for us Seniors) for a 20-minute walk out to the Head on an amazing pathway incorporating flights of steps and a spectacular footbridge to reach the cliff top eyrie that was the site of Marconi's radio masts. It is well worth it for the fantastic seascape but there is also an exhibition and film about Marconi in the old signal station, as well as a replica of the keeper's quarters at the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse, clearly visible out at sea. Much to fire the imagination here: the solitude, the winter gales, the shipwrecks, the passing whales and dolphins. Exhilarated, not to say a little breathless, we return to the café for a round of fish & chips before leaving.   


See more Pictures athttp://www.magbazpictures.com/mizen-head1.html

12._Birthday_Card.JPGDay 8: Cork – It's the day for Barry to open presents and cards, including an e-card from Paddington Bear and a surprise box of chocolate Brazil nuts from our campsite hosts. How did they know, he asks? Answer: Helen found me wrapping things in the camp common room the evening before!

Returning the car to Cork Airport for the noon deadline, we then board the shuttle bus into the city centre bus station. We have already booked tickets on-line for the Cork-Skibbereen bus but discover that these do not guarantee a seat for the 2-hour journey! Advised to come at 2.15 for the 2.30 pm departure, there is just time to find a café for a light lunch before joining the queue. (The next bus would be 4.30 pm.) After a smooth journey to Skibbereen, we have a quiet evening meal together at Annie May's: good plain pub fare and plenty of it! I am served all the Irish beef stew I can eat, full of tender steak, potatoes and carrots, while Barry chooses roast chicken and ham with root veg and cabbage, not to mention a bowl full of jacket spuds and butter. All for €20 including drinks!    

People_(16)[1].jpgDay 9: A short cycle ride and a sad farewell – Our last morning at Skibbereen is spent catching up with laundry and emails. After lunch we cycle 5 miles over to John's place. Not far but it's uphill with a head wind and the tea and biscuits are very welcome! We amble round the extensive garden and scramble through the bluebell woods that are the backdrop to John's world. Leaving him a DVD we have enjoyed ('Mr Turner' with Timothy Spall as the artist), we part with great sadness. The return ride is easy, downhill with tail wind, and we spend the evening eating burgers and planning our onward itinerary. The Stena Line ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan in Scotland is booked for one week hence.

See more Pictures athttp://www.magbazpictures.com/around-skibbereen.html

Skibbereen to Beech Grove Caravan & Camping Park, Fossa, Killarney, Co Kerry - 72 miles

Open 1 May-30 Sept.  www.campingkillarney.com  ACSI Card rate €19 inc free showers (otherwise €20 plus €1.50 per shower).  Free WiFi on pitches near Common Room.  N 52.07091  W 9.58146

Another farewell, to Stephen and Helen at the Hideaway after our third visit, then away through Skibbereen onto N71 past Ballydehob, Bantry and Glengarriff. At 37 miles, having climbed to above 1,000 ft (310 m), a short tunnel marks the border from Cork into Kerry and the road surface immediately improves. Continuing north on N71, we descend to sea level to cross Kenmare River and on through the busy centre of Kenmare (gateway to the Ring of Kerry). Parking is difficult but we find a layby as we leave town and stop for a lunch break, opposite a small supermarket selling roast chickens.

N71 then climbs up to Moll's Gap at 55 miles, height 865 ft/262 m, twisting and turning on a road that is really too narrow for sharing with the many tourist cars, coaches and cyclists that circle the Ring of Kerry (usually anticlockwise). On through the Killarney National Park, with splendid views across to the Gap of Dunloe to the west, over Upper Lake, Muckross Lake and the larger Lough Leane. Can't stop for photos though, as the panoramic viewpoint car parks are full of cars, buses and 'Jaunting' stops for horse & cart trips.

In Killarney the busy N71 skirts the west side of the tourist centre, before we turn off on N72 towards Killorglin for 3 miles to Fossa. Shortly after the Golden Nugget pub, there is a small campsite on the right before a primary school. The free WiFi in the Common Room only reaches a couple of pitches but luckily we arrive just as the van on Pitch 7 leaves and we get a good connection.

At Killarney

Next day we had planned to ride the woodland/lakeside cycle path from Fossa into Killarney and on to Ross Castle. However a change in the weather brings a cold and persistent Irish drizzle, so we spend the day writing up the journey through France, sending emails and making arrangements. The remains of the roast chicken make a good curry.

Killarney to Lough Ree (East) Caravan & Camping Park, Ballykeeran, Athlone, Co Westmeath – 154 miles

Open 14 April-24 Sept.  www.loughreeeast.wix.com/loughreeeast   ACSI Card rate €17 inc elec, showers €1, free WiFi (good) on most pitches.  N 53.448330  W 7.889170

Still showery as we drive 3 miles back to Killarney, then turn north on N22 at the Lidl roundabout (with no chance of parking on a wet Saturday morning). At Farranfore we take the N23 northeast to Castleisland and continue NE on N21 via Abbeyfeale, looking in vain for somewhere to pull over for lunch.

At 63 miles we join motorway M20 and onto M7 near Limerick 5 miles later. At exit 27 for Birdhill there are spacious services (including Burger King) where we catch a late lunch before continuing in heavy rain to exit 22 at 110 miles. Then it's N62 north round Roscrea. We know that Streamstown Camping Park in Roscrea is closed this week, so drive on via Birr towards Athlone.

We join the Dublin-Galway motorway M6 westbound for just one junction (J8 to J9), then take N55 north for the last couple of miles to Ballykeeran. It's a short drive down a lane on the left to the camp on the shore of Lough Ree. The simple site is popular with anglers and there are a few touring pitches among the permanent caravans and boats.

It is still pouring down as we settle by the waterside, content to watch the fisherfolk from inside.

Athlone to Ballyronan Marina & Caravan Park, Upper Lough Neagh, Co Londonderry, Northern Ireland – 126 miles

Open March-30 Sept.  ballyronan marina & caravan park  £22.50 inc elec, free showers, WiFi free on arrival for first 3 hours, then £2 for 24 continuous hours.  N 54.70910  W 6.52988

Dry and warm again for the drive into Northern Ireland. Along the N55 north to Cavan, we pass village churches in Tang and Ballymahon, their car parks crowded on this Sunday morning. Religion is clearly a major issue all over Ireland, with most schools still denominational. Road signs in two languages are interesting, as we realise that Seamus = James, and so Sean = John. Should have been obvious!

Bypassing Cavan we join N3 briefly, then N54 through Cloverhill village to cross the border imperceptibly at Gannon's Cross at 55 miles. There is no sign at all, no border post, no customs, no problems – both sides are in the EU and should definitely remain so. We take the next left onto B533 to Newtownbutler, noting the prosperity of the town compared with the Republic. Other differences are that the shops observe Sunday closing north of the border, kilometres have become miles and prices are in Sterling rather than Euros.

We continue north on A34 through a rain shower to Maguiresbridge, then it's northwest on A4, parking for lunch at 75 miles in Fivemiletown where Union Jack flags are flying and election posters for the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) adorn the lamp posts. On across the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone until we turn onto A45 round the outskirts of Dungannon, to join A29 north through Cookstown and enter County Londonderry. In Moneymore we turn east on B73, a minor road leading to Ballyronan, a village with a marina and municipal campsite on the northeast corner of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles.

The site lies by the shore, next to a 5-acre wood and a bird hide. Very pleasant apart from the dense swarms of black flies that keep us indoors. Mayflies, right on time. Luckily, they don't bite but they do invade the motorhome as soon as a door is opened!

At Ballyronan

Just two days left in Ireland before the ferry from Belfast to Scotland.

1-IMG_0073[1].jpgOvernight rain has done little to dampen the ardour of the mayflies, which still swarm menacingly overhead. Intrigued, we check them out on-line, learning that they only live for a couple of days in this adult winged form; just long enough to mate and drop the eggs into the water. They don't bite because they have no mouth and lack any digestive system! Barry photographs a dark cloud of them through the rooflight: a nice image to illustrate the article he circulates about Theresa May. The slogan 'Let June be the end of May' proves almost prophetic.

There is time to catch up on laundry, emails and arrangements, including an appointment for next month's MOT/service at Dick Lane Motorhomes in Bradford, where Kevin will take care of our Carado while we hire a car from the nearby Enterprise depot and visit friends in West Yorkshire. This has become a convenient annual routine.

Next day the flies are all but gone and we take a walk round Ballyronan Woods and along to the marina, on the site of what was once a small port on Lough Neagh. It's also good to talk to the local lads who staff the site office. Explaining our best route to Belfast, one mentions passing George Best Airport and is surprised when I know the name. 'My dad talks about him' says the lad, adding with great admiration 'He got through three livers, you know'! We hope George is also remembered for his footwork.

Ballyronan to Stena Line Ferry Terminal, Belfast, via Carrickfergus – 60 miles

Away after breakfast, it's 5 miles north on B18 to Toome where we cross the famous Bridge between Lough Neagh and Lough Beg, entering County Antrim. We turn east on A6, join M22, then leave it at exit 1 (Antrim) to shop at a convenient Lidl. Back on the motorway for a few miles to exit 4, then northeast on B90 to Carrickfergus, which (like the Bridge of Toome) is best known to us through song: 'I wish I was in Carrickfergus …', such a beautiful and nostalgic tune

We reach the historic town at 38 miles and head straight for the large Harbour Car Park below the castle. This is listed in both 'Camperstop Europe' and 'Britstops Guide' as offering free motorhome parking (with water/dump/electric available for tokens sold at the Harbour Office). Don't believe it! The car park had no room at all, with cars parked all around the service bollard and the area for longer vehicles full of coaches. Luckily, we find space at Sainsbury's car park across the way, glad that we hadn't relied on an overnight here.

After a bite of lunch we walk round the harbour, where one of Ireland's earliest Norman castles guards the northern entrance to Belfast Lough. It is here that England's Protestant King William III (of Orange) landed before his victory over the Stuart Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a critical turning point in Britain's history.

Then we drive 5 miles further along A2 to Whitehead, a tight little harbour town with no parking possibility, before returning south on A2 via Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey to join the M5/M2 into Belfast. This is the first time we've taken a ferry from Belfast (serving Liverpool and Cairnryan) but it proves much easier and more accessible than leaving from Dublin. Exit 1 from the M2 leads straight to Belfast's well-signed ferry port and of course there are no motorway tolls in Northern Ireland.

We're in good time for the Stena Line Superfast Ferry at 3.30 pm, with a smooth crossing to Scotland. See www.stenaline.ie.  

Arriving in Cairnryan before 6 pm we drive straight to Ballantrae, 11 miles north on the busy A77. Here the 'Britstops Guide' recommended King's Arms Hotel (pub/restaurant/B&B) offers free overnight parking for customers, which we've used before. We indulge in steak & ale pie and hot chocolate fudge cake, make good use of the free WiFi in the bar and take an evening stroll by the beach, with a view of the pointed volcanic island of Ailsa Craig. It's been a busy day – the end of our journey through Ireland and the start of the next one, up to the Isle of Skye.