Exploring Ulster



The walled City of Derry is a bustling hub of activities for travelers. Its placement near the open seas tucked within the hilly countryside of the county makes the aesthetic of the city truly stirring. Its walls provide visitors and inhabitants with a unique architectural piece of history standing strongly against the foreground of a modern city hum.  Tower Museum guides visitors through the city’s history including the shipwrecks that brought Spaniards in the 16th century. St. Columb’s Cathedral, built in 1628 and consecrated in 1634, was the first Protestant cathedral to be constructed in Europe since the Reformation. The cathedral houses the earliest church bell in Ireland and many relics of the 1688-1689 city siege; the cathedral’s stained glass windows depict scenes from the siege. The Museum of Free Derry is an archive focusing on the civil rights era of the 1960s and the Troubles of the 1970s.


With the stunning backdrop of the Bluestack Mountains and the views of the Atlantic horizon just beyond Donegal Bay, this northwest county is celebrated for its natural beauties and thriving village communities. Donegal is home to the breathtaking Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Ireland. Another environmental draw is the more easily accessible Bluestack Mountain Range, just six miles outside of Donegal town. There are multiple golf courses and nature reserves to explore in Donegal, and the craft-fairs of the local towns are unrivaled in their authentic charm.


One simply cannot thoroughly explore the history of St. Patrick firsthand without visiting County Down. It is home to some of the most famed sites of this saint’s fabled journey, from his landing there to what is believed by many to be his burial site in the walls of the Downpatrick Cathedral. Travelers can also visit the Struells Wells, a series of four wells little over a mile outside of Downpatrick. It is there that, as the story goes, Patrick dipped himself into the icy waters at night singing and praying to build his self-discipline. The wells are still visited frequently today by people seeking healing powers from the flowing waters.

The Mourne Mountains are considered the most picturesque in the country. The site has become a favorite of adventure seekers and those new to hiking alike. The range is home to the highest peak in Ireland, Slieve Donard (the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa hotel is a favorite with tourists) as well as the Hare’s Gap, a sharp mountain pass which serves as a launching point for walking tours and expeditions up the treacherous terrain. Cyclists, horseback riders, hikers and climbers find their way to Mourne to experience this natural playground.


The best new talent in golf, Rory McElroy is the pro at the spectacular Lough Erne Resort and Golf Club in Fermanagh. This county also offers some of the best fishing and watersports in all of Ireland, and situated on the banks of Loch Erne, the county town of Enniskillen is a friendly stop for visitors interested in the heritage sites that are scattered throughout this historically rich county. The Enniskillen Castle houses museums dedicated to telling the story of the castle as a stage for the rebellion efforts of the 16th century. The cultural heart of the town itself beats strongly with the Clinton Centre standing in remembrance of those killed in the Troubles, while the Ardhowen Theatre lodges famous musical acts, opera, ballet and numerous other forms of entertainment.


It could be argued that whoever coined the term “rolling hills” was picturing County Monaghan, which is in many areas a stretching green landscape riddled with market towns and craft-making centers. Hope Castle resting in the countryside of Monaghan is an 18th-century building on the site of what was once Blayney Castle in the town of Blayneycastle. This castle, surrounded by moats and perfectly combed gardens and known for its pink apple blossoms, is a unique site which has visitors flocking to stay in the castle in spring months.

To the west in Monaghan is the unique Annaghmakerrig House in the village of Newbliss. The former home of theatrical producer Tyrone Guthrie has been converted into an estate for writers and artists to complete work. The draw to this place for the bohemian crowd has resulted in the Flat Lake Cultural Festival, usually held the third weekend in August, which is an energetic and eccentric celebration of poetry, music, literature and more.


The name Tyrone is derived from the Irish Tír Eoghain meaning “land of Eoghan.” This Eoghan was son of Niall Noigiallach or “Niall of the Nine Hostages,” the legendary king thus named for leading raids on Britain and the European mainland. Saint Patrick was said to have been kidnapped and brought to Ireland as one of his hostages during his raids. Researchers indicate that there could be as many as three million descendants of Niall alive today. Most of his descendants are concentrated in northwest Ireland, an area where DNA testing has shown that one in every five males has inherited his Y-chromosome.