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Continuing my Irish journey (to read my earlier story go to www.mcintoshtravel.co.nz/ourstories) we travelled from the Giants Causeway to Londonderry, or Derry as it is known. The story of Derry is a long and tumultuous one. Set on a hill on the banks of the Foyle estuary, strategically close to the open sea, it came under siege and attack for over a thousand years. You can walk along the great 17th-century walls, about a mile round and 18 feet thick, which withstood several sieges and even today are unbroken and complete, with old cannon still pointing their black noses over the ramparts. We joined Martin McCrossan's tour of the Derry city walls which was fascinating due to his first hand knowledge of the sectarian Troubles from the 1960s till today from the special point of view of a Catholic man married to a Protestant woman. A tour well worth considering.

Lunch was at Molly’s Café, Derry City, where everything on the menu is homemade and served up with fresh soda bread then it was off to Magilligan for a short car ferry to the Inishowen Peninsula. By this stage we were running short of time so after a brief visit to the Inishowen Maritime Museum it was back on the road to Letterkenny. We had a fabulous four course dinner at the Lemon Tree Restaurant, a family run restaurant where their philosophy is contemporary Irish cooking inspired by classic french roots. It was amazing. All their meats are Irish sourced, fresh fish is a special feature and - unusually these days - everything is made freshly on site, including all breads, pastries, pastas and desserts.

Standing at the viewing point on Slieve League in Donegal there is an amazing sea vista and landscape. The wind was absolutely howling but we could see across Donegal Bay to counties Letrim, Sligo and Mayo, out to the west is the Atlantic ocean as far as the eye can see and right here is the magnificent cliffs of Slieve League. Rising almost 2000 ft / 598 m from the Atlantic, they are one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe and twice as high as the cliffs of Mohar. The Slieve League Cliffs Centre is run by husband and wife team Paddy and Siobhan Clarke. Paddy was a deep sea fisherman for twenty years but now has a masters in archaeology and Failte Ireland tour guide, heritage & Hiking guide. In between looking after coach tours and hiking groups, Paddy is the resident barista in the cafe Ti Linn. Artist and chef Siobhan is the artisan baker serving up homemade scones, cakes, cookies and deserts. With her eye for colours, Siobhan looks after the craft shop choosing Irish made knitwear, and crafts. From the centre you can arrange a hiking experience with a difference, a Heritage Tour, Archaeological day, Boat trip under the cliffs or Kayaking round the coast. Unfortunately all we could do was try not to be blown off the cliffs!

Driving through North Mayo, we stopped at the Céide Fields, (pronounced kay ja) the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world, consisting of field systems, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs. The stone walled fields, extending over thousands of acres are almost 6,000 years old, the oldest known in the world. They are covered by a natural blanket bog with its own unique vegetation and wildlife. It has an award winning Visitor Centre that is located beside some of the most spectacular cliffs and rock formations in Ireland and a viewing platform is positioned on the edge of the 110m high cliff.
The discovery of the Céide Fields originally began in the 1930s when a local man, schoolteacher Patrick Caulfield, noticed piles of stones which were uncovered as he cut away peat for fuel. In these piles he saw a design that could not have been haphazard; Caulfield noted that the stones must have been placed there by people, because their configuration was clearly unnatural and deliberate. Furthermore, the stones were positioned below the bog, which meant they were there before the bog developed, implying a very ancient origin. In order to preserve the site a simple method was used to explore the fields. This involved the location and mapping of these hidden walls by probing with an iron rod. The ensuing excavation of habitation sites and tombs reveals the way of life of people living 200 generations ago. It was discovered that these people arrived in a land with a substantial forest canopy. This was cleared to provide access to arable land and to provide building material and firewood.

We had lunch at Belmullet, the capital of the Erris Peninsula and drove out to the coast for more magnificent views. Watersports and water based activities play a large part in the attractions of Belmullet and the Erris region. If you are always hoping to catch the 'big one', sea-angling in Erris could do the trick, with over 39 varieties of fish known to inhabit the waters here. The crystal clear waters of the Atlantic ocean around the Belmullet and Blacksod Peninsula offer spectacular diving opportunities.

Ireland’s lush green countryside and hedges interspersed with white hawthorn was a spectacular contrast and so easy on the eye. Plus long daylight hours stretching from 4:15 am to 11 pm is a blessing for self touring visitors and outdoor adventurers during the summer months. Call Ann, Louise or Izzy for great Irish deals.

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