Irish Eclectic

Northern Ireland Odyssey: Take Two (Post-COVID, Post-Brexit)

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Irish EclecticBy Brian McGowan

Like a thief in the night, COVID-19 swept down in the waning days of winter 2020 and hasn’t left us yet. Hoping it will soon abate, we turn our sights back to upended plans and delayed dreams.

For my wife and I, and two close friends, that involves a foray into the North of Ireland, where adventures await.

I have roots all over Ireland, and the north is not to be neglected. With Down, Fermanagh and Donegal ancestors, I’m going home, regardless of borders, Brexit, COVID or whatever flag flies on the masts of municipal buildings – Union Jack, Tricolor or the Red Hand of Ulster. It’s all Ireland to me, no matter what.

There are four Irelands. You can call them provinces – Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster – or use the compass, as I prefer, the East, the South, the West and the North. Each one has a different flavor, a different sense. In their use of Ireland’s native Gaelic, each has its own dialect. And when speaking English, it is far easier to understand a resident of Dublin (the East), than a Galway man or woman (the West).

On an earlier trip to Ireland, I touched on sections of each region, save the North. And on this trip, my aim is to correct that.

And so, confident that Europe will once again open its doors to American travelers in 2022, we will!

We’ll begin – and end – our journey in Dublin’s fair city, spending the first two days there. On our list are some standards, such as the National Museum, Trinity College, Grafton Street, St. Stephen’s Green, the Ha’penny Bridge, the Guinness Brewery, Dublin Castle and the General Post Office, site of the Easter Rising of 1916. Less traveled spots are on tap as well – Iveagh Gardens and the Dublin Writer’s Museum.

From there, on a jaunt of 119 miles to Belfast, we’ll enter the United Kingdom, on the way driving through the Mountains of Mourne, and stopping for a visit to St. Patrick’s grave in Downpatrick.

We’ll skirt the North Channel Coast, where Scotland lies a scant 13 miles over the water. A tour of Belfast promises 23 sites, including Titanic Belfast, where the RMS Titanic was built and launched, only to sink on her maiden voyage in 1912. Belfast City Hall and the Falls Memorial Garden are also on deck. No “Game of Thrones” on this trip!

Then it’s on to Derry – or Londonderry – depending upon which view of Ireland one holds. On the way, we’ll tour the nine Glens of Antrim, the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge and perhaps a stop at the Old Bushmills Distillery. In Derry proper, we’ll visit the Tower Museum, the Guildhall Museum and the iconic City Walls.

Then we leave the United Kingdom, entering Donegal, one of the nine counties of Ulster, three of which are in the Republic of Ireland. We’ll visit Glenveagh Castle and Glenveagh National Park. With Sligo as our goal for Day Five, we’ll skirt the Slieve League Mountains, see Yeats’ grave, pass Ben Bulben, and tour the Belleek China factory. 

Leaving Sligo, on Day Six we’ll push through Mayo and the Connemara region, and stop at Westport, billed as the most attractive town in County Mayo. Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holiest mountain, will loom its massive height before us, and some of us hope to brave the three-hour climb up and back. Killary Harbor and the Maamturk Mountains promise some spectacular sights, before ending the day at Clifden.

Day Seven takes us to Galway Town, where we’ll visit Eyre Square, the Salmon Weir Bridge and the Spanish Arch. Then we’re off to County Clare, where we’ll see the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and Poulnabrone dolmen, one of the most ancient and haunting burial tombs in Ireland. A night spent in Ennis promises some great Irish traditional music. 

Then it’s a long journey back to Dublin, and a return flight to the good old U. S. of A. All this next year, COVID-allowing!

Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the Bronx and is a second-, third- and fifth-generation Irish-American/Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed several paths to the New World. Reach him at or on Twitter (@Bmcgowan52M). He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon,” about the battle of Waterloo, and “Love, Son John,” about World War II. Both are available at

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