Hidden Irish travel gems: A journey through the north and northwest


Day Four (North West: County Tyrone)

About an hour’s drive from Fermanagh is the Ulster-American Folk Park. Give yourself a few hours to appreciate a living history experience; the installations and reenactments tell of the formidable contribution that generations of Scots-Irish made to American frontier history. Costumed performers carry out everyday tasks in the traditional manner in Old World and New World buildings.

From Omagh, drive through the glorious Sperrin Mountains, which span Counties Tyrone and Londonderry. Learn how many of the Scottish settlers became engaged in the production of linen. Enjoy shopping at Moygashel. Drive through Tyrone to Cookstown and the Wellbrook Beetling Mill. The Springhill Costume Collection is one of the foremost exhibits of 19th and early 20th century Irish costume and textile history. Stop in Dungannon, with its exquisite Tyrone Crystal; here the art of crystal making has been going strong since the 18th century.

Day Five (The Medieval Walled City of Derry)

Few places can boast a greater sweep of history and culture than ancient Londonderry City (also known as Derry), one of the few completely walled cities still standing in Europe. Dating from 1618, the walls were built by the city’s residents as a defense against native Irish chieftains. Stroll the magnificently engineered walls, and marvel at the intact watchtowers, cannons and gates. Visit Saint Colum’s Cathedral and the Apprentice Boys Hall.

At the heart of the city is beautiful Guildhall, a popular venue for concerts, plays and exhibitions. A visit to the Craft Village will take you back as far as the sixteenth century. Nature lovers will enjoy the parks around Derry; At Ness Park visit Brackfield Bawn and Ballykelly Bawn. Beachgoers will seek out Benone Strand and Magilligan Strand, two of Europe’s finest.

Day Six (Nearby East County Donegal)

Derry is a stone’s throw from picturesque County Donegal. The northernmost county in Ireland, Donegal is bounded by 120 miles of Atlantic coastline and the most beautiful golden beaches in Ireland. Northeast Donegal was a stronghold of the Scottish Presbyterians who migrated into Ulster. The founder of the first Presbyterian congregation in America, located in Maryland, was Francis Makemie from County Donegal. U.S. President James Knox Polk, Frontiersman Davy Crockett and Edmund McIlhenny of the Tabasco fortune are just some descendants of the many Scots-Irish families who emigrated from these parts.

To learn more about the Scots-Irish of Donegal visit the Monreagh Ulster Scots Heritage Centre and meet the members of the East Donegal Ulster Scots Society. The date 1644 is proudly displayed above the local church door. For more information visit www.eastdonegalulsterscots.com.

Day Seven (North West: County Antrim)

Leave via the Causeway Coastal Route, rated as one of the world’s Top Five Road Trips. The Giant’s Causeway is a World Heritage Site and draws as many as 600,000 visitors each year. The Causeway’s hexagonal columns were formed by volcanic activity over 60 million years ago.

Continue to Belfast through the Nine Glens of Antrim. Enjoy afternoon tea at 18th century Glenarm Castle and learn about the McDonnells and the migration of earlier Scots into the Glens. Ballygally Castle was built by Shaw of Greenock in the Scottish Baronial style. Admire stunning views across to Scotland and learn about the history of the area from the time of the Plantation of Ulster. Just down the coast is the Londonderry Arms, once owned by Sir Winston Churchill and now a popular seafood restaurant. Continue the drive to Andrew Jackson Centre and Carrickfergus Castle on your way into Belfast.

Try to schedule a half-day trip to Rathlin, home of the spider story of Robert the Bruce. On the Bushmills Distillery tour learn how whiskey was made hundreds of years ago (and today). Walk down to Dunseverick before returning to Belfast or heading to the airport for your journey home.