Day 1 – Belfast City
Your overnight in Belfast (Beal Feirste), is one which will set your, rightfully lofty, expectations for the elite standards of hospitality and luxury that await you over the course of this personal and intimate touring experience. This is a night that promises style, comfort and, most importantly, bubbling excitement about your forthcoming adventure.
Awaken, rejuvenated after your revitalising night in Belfast and enjoy a hearty breakfast, full Irish breakfasts will be available alongside continental fare, although personally we feel that we have to recommend the full Irish!! After you have sated yourself Arthur Ward, historian, photographer and your personal guide for the trip will introduce himself.
Arthur Ward is a renowned historian whose extensive knowledge of the Causeway Coast is rivalled by none. His intense passion for his homeland is vividly evident and he is a fountain of knowledge who can impart all of the folklore, history, culture and stories of this land. Over the course of your exploits, as you meander along rugged cliff faces, pass authentic, traditional Irish villages and encounter the world famous Irish people, Art, as he is affectionately known, will weave for you a fascinating and absorbing tapestry of the vibrant lands you pass through.
Preparing to commence your voyage you will now meet your driver for the tour. The medium via which you will be travelling is a luxury private coach, courtesy of Martin Shields’ Midi Coaches. An authentic family run Irish business itself, Martin Shields and his staff are all brilliant raconteurs, fountains of knowledge about Ireland, and most importantly exquisite drivers who will serve you brilliantly over the course of your tour.
To kick things off we will not stray far from your lavish accommodation, remaining in Northern Ireland’s bustling first city for an immersion in Irish city life. You will have the opportunity to indulge in the myriad of culture, history and everything else this renaissance city has to offer!
Your adventures in Belfast will begin to delve into the intricate and often fragile political past of Belfast City, serving to highlight the disparity between the chaotic city of bygone years and the hub of tourism and culture that exists today. Once a greatly troubled city, suffering much from the vicious and relentless violence during The Troubles, Belfast has rejuvenated, rising like a phoenix from the ashes since the welcome peace now enjoyed by the country has resumed, and claimed its position as a revered commercial and cultural hub in Ireland. The memories of this divisive period are still evident, their lingering influence has acted as a muse to many, helping form the artistic and cultural city known in contemporary times.
To immerse ourselves in the fascinating political past of the city, Art Ward can whisk you away on one of Belfast’s renowned Mural Tours. The famed Belfast murals are the world’s largest outdoor art gallery and they deftly tell the captivating story of political turmoil suffered in Northern Ireland during the world-renowned ‘Troubles.’ Once a bitter sign of division and resentment, Art Ward will highlight the ways in which they have transformed, for the most part, to signify solidarity and unity in the city.
This is a raw and humbling experience which contains a strong moral thread of the power of unity and harmony to vanquish the resentment so often present in bleak and desolate times. Being considered as one of the most enlightening and provoking experiences available on this Island is a great boon for any attraction and one that is well deserved in this instance.
The Titanic Experience, named the world’s leading tourist attraction in 2016 is a part of our voyage whose worth cannot be overstated. Providing a vivid insight into the story of the world’s most famous ship journey, this interactive tour will be the perfect opportunity for Art Ward to showcase his photography talents, providing you with memories to last a lifetime.
Enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea in the glamorous Titanic Suite. With the backdrop of the spectacular replica of the iconic staircase from the ship, this exquisite tea is incomparable to any you will have experienced before now and is the ideal way to spend some of your afternoon.
It is now time to depart Belfast and begin our journey along the Causeway Coastal Route. The first location we will visit is Whiteabbey, a small locality with its famous White House being of great heritage value, being older than any building to found in nearby Belfast.
Amidst the beauty of your stunning coastal drive, we shall encounter the majestic Carrickfergus Castle and discover its profound impact on the area’s history. Built in the 12th century, the castle has been a base of power for Scots, Irish, English, and French at different stages throughout history, withstanding a great many sieges and assaults during its day.Art Ward will regale you with stories of its former glory that will be matched only by its current spectacular appearance.
The castle is critical to our own McDonnell tale as this seemingly impregnable fortress was once stormed by the clan in retribution for the bloody massacre of 700 of their children and women on Rathlin Island. Conquering the castle was a mighty stroke that solidifies the legacy of the McDonnells as gifted soldiers. Despite this tapestry of violence, the castle has remained a bastion of strength and is undoubtedly one of the best preserved and most impressive medieval structures in Ireland.
Passing less than a mile from Carrickfergus to the picturesque townland of Boneybefore, we will view the ancestral home of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States of America. This area also features other homages to our American brethren, with links to lauded author Mark Twain and the famous Sam Houston, who brought Texas into the United States. With Ireland’s unmistakable connection to the United States, this is a place of great importance for many Irish Americans.
After passing through the thriving port town of Larne we shall arrive at Glenarm Village for a tour of the village and Glenarm Castle’s grounds. Once a mighty and important port in Ireland, Glenarm now enjoys a much slower and more tranquil pace of life. The village is still home to the McDonnell family, once known as the mighty and savage McDonnell clan who ruled these lands, who inhabit the castle and surrounding estate to this day.
Here you will enjoy a guided tour of this quaint village and its harbour and marina, with a visit to the Castle, its grounds and gardens. The Right Honourable Hector McDonnell, youngest son of the 13th Earl of Antrim, world famous realist painter and historian, an aristocratic and intellectual character who grew up inside Glenarm Castle can be your guide for the day to truly make this visit one to transcend anything you’ve seen before.
Part of our exploration of Glenarm will be a cherished visit to Steensons Jewellers, one of Irelands most prestigious Gold & Silversmiths; Steensons is an Économusée, or working museum, that provides a brilliant opportunity to witness these artisan craftsmen at their intricate work. Steensons are the official jewellers used in the HBO series Game of Thrones and crafted such items as Joffrey’s Crown and Margaery’s necklace. Watch these stunning creations as they are made before continuing back into Glenarm to witness the resplendent beauty that provided the muse for such masterful artwork.
After enjoying the tranquillity of Glenarm we will move on for our final stop of the evening, arriving at the Ballygally Castle Hotel, a stunning old castle which overlooks the golden sands of Ballygally Bay. This 400-year-old castle is the only 17th-century building still used as a residence in the North of Ireland today. The 4-star Hasting Group Hotel is considered the finest hotel on the Causeway Coastal Route and is the model of comfort and sophistication in one of the most scenic coastal settings imaginable.
Day 2 – Glens of Antrim
Our first stop today is the absolutely stunning Glenarrife Waterfalls in the heart of, what is commonly regarded as, the most beautiful of the Green Glens of Antrim. These waterfalls are a hidden gem in our countryside and the enrapturing view of the cascading water against the glamorous backdrop of the Glens has often proved to be the highlight of many a trip to Ireland for those travellers fortunate enough to experience it first-hand.
We will pass through Waterfoot, making our way for the coastal village of Cushendall, passing Nanny’s Caves, once used as a Hedge School, and admiring the stately ruins of Red Bay Castle–one of Sorley Boy McDonnell’s earliest keeps.
On our departure from the glens we shall pass through Glenann, or the glen of the colt’s foot. This deep and winding valley, carved out of the rolling Antrim hills is your scenic route, passing by a Neolithic mine used to collect stone for axes many, many thousands of years ago.
As the Glens begin to fade, replaced by more verdant flat pastures and farmland, our next port of call is The Scenic Inn, and lunch before our to visit Sheans Horse Farm and Riding Center, home to the dynamic Causeway Coast Discovery Center.
The Causeway Coast Discovery Centre is a 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 Irish Tourism Award-winning history and heritage centre. Your visit to this centre will enhance your onward journey around the beautiful Causeway Coast and bring this fascinating area to life through exciting stories and hands-on, cultural experiences unique to this beautiful area.
The visit will help you understand some of the history and the people you will encounter on the Route, while discovering the locations of our myriad of castles, glens and rugged coastlines. The McDonnell story shall be invoked to its fullest here, with vista views over 5 counties of Ireland and, notably, that of Sorely Boy McDonnell’s final battle. The vibrant, interactive experience here will touch on the meaning of the term Scots-Irish, highlighting this areas close connection with Scotland and our brethren over the water.
Here, in the lush green fields of the County Antrim countryside, those who wish have the opportunity for a horse riding experience like no other are in for a treat. They will walk, trot and canter in a fabulous countryside setting, exploring the expansive trails of this picturesque Irish hill farm.
Alternatively, visit Scullion Hurls, a bona fide European Économusée and crafter of the finest traditional Irish hurling sticks. Watch a local craftsman create these beautiful artefacts and learn of the history of the fastest field sport in the world. Over 3000 years old, hurling is beloved in Ireland and honestly one of the greatest and most fascinating sports in the world. Think we’re just biased? You will be able to have a go at hurling and see for yourself?
After leaving the jovial atmosphere and camaraderie of the McKinley family farm the next stop is at the nearby Dark Hedges. This 300 year old avenue of ancient Beech trees has recently gained great Game of Thrones fame as the fabled Kingsroad from HBO’s incredible flagship series. This is one of Ireland’s, and the show’s, most iconic locations. This twisted demesne of Beech trees creates an ethereal atmosphere that fans and non-fans alike will be sure to enjoy, this is emphatically one of the greatest photo opportunities in all of Ireland and the feeling of unity with nature one feels in this
As this fantastic day winds to an end we make our way towards Derry City in time for a sumptuous dinner and an evening’s entertainment.
Ensconced in your luxurious accommodation, you are primed for a relaxing evening and will have the opportunity to either explore Derry’s vibrant and dynamic nightlife and music scene or simply unwind and enjoy the atmosphere of your comfortable accommodation.
Day 3 – Derry City and the Causeway Coastal Route
You will awaken, fortunate enough to be in, what is rightfully acknowledged as the cultural centre of the Causeway Coastal Route; self-proclaimed as Arthur Ward’s favourite location to guide in, we expect that you will be equally entranced by the charm and mystique of the inaugural UK City of Culture.
Derry (Doire), has 1,500 years of history and culture enclosed within Ireland’s only completely walled city. Named the inaugural UK City of Culture, no visit to Ireland is considered complete without a visit to this vibrant, lively city. With Art Ward’s passion for this city palpable you shall be immersed in the tales of this city’s battle torn past. You can partake in a tour of Derry’s Walls or of the famous Bogside or the People’s Gallery Murals and will be in for a cultural & historical treat in Derry.
Our next port of call is the ominously looming Dunluce Castle, a fascinating ruin mired in a wealth of fascinating history and intrigue. Here we will begin to weave the web of the McDonnell story which permeates these bricks as much as it does this tour. Enjoy your experience of what is possibly Ireland’s most iconic castle, with renowned, spectacular views, this will be a fantastic place for some photos of the group and a chance to explore the castle grounds while hearing some of the tales it has to offer. This will be the perfect opportunity to exploit the photography skills of your guide; Art Ward’s prodigious talents with the lens will ensure that you will leave this experience with spectacular photographs to last a lifetime.
No visit to Northern Ireland would be complete without a visit to our only UNESCO world heritage site, The Giant’s Causeway. Spend your time exploring these remarkable, unique rock formations and the stories that surround them. Art Ward will regale you with the diverse and fascinating folklores and history of this area.
The 40,000 unique and iconic black basalt columns protruding from the sea have ensured that the Giants Causeway is included on the UNESCO world heritage list, however it is the walk across the stones, the spray of the ocean and views of Scotland on the horizon that will truly bring this remarkable landmark alive as you immerse yourself in the legends and folklore of the area from a local man’s perspective.
You will enjoy a hearty lunch along the coast before proceeding on a few minutes along the coast to arrive at the Carrick-a-Rede Ropebridge; a top tourist attraction here in Ireland, this old swaying bridge connecting the mainland to the small fishing island of Carrick is invigorating to cross despite the fact that it is completely safe. The views earned from the Island are spectacular and are well worth the crossing, again let Art Ward capture this moment for you perfectly as he entrances you with the history of this idyllic bridge and island.
It is time for the lazy and relaxing return leg of your journey, we begin to venture back towards Belfast now, reminiscing over the delights that Ireland has offered so far as we savour the final leg of our travels.
Now we continue to hug the cliff face as we follow the winding coastline towards the beautiful coastal town of Ballycastle; named the best place to live in the North of Ireland in 2017, the picturesque town offers stunning views of Scotland and of Rathlin Island, small but influential to our McDonnell story. Here Art Ward will enthral you with the gripping and devastating tales of what happened here, in perhaps the most tragic and harrowing part of the McDonnell sage before we continue onwards to the conclusion of our intrepid journey.
Finally, in Belfast (or Dublin) you say your fond farewells to Art Ward, to your driver and to the best tour of your life, preparing to depart Ireland or continue your onwards Journey on the Emerald Isle.