Visiting the small village of Carlingford in County Louth is like opening the door to the wardrobe in Narnia and setting foot inside a magical land that enchants you from the very first moment you step foot inside of it. Carlingford is special. There is an aura to the place, an uplifting atmosphere that sets the butterflies swirling in the stomach as soon as you enter into its magical arms.
One of the first things that strikes you as you drive into the village is the sea waves lapping to the shore beneath the stunning backdrop of the Mourne Mountains. Straight ahead and towering over the village stands the impressive Slieve Foye mountain which looks over this ancient village-like an ever watching parent. And perched on top of a rocky outcrop on the shores of Lough you’ll set your eyes on the 12th century Saint Johns Castle.
Carlingford makes an impact on you from the very first moment you set your eyes upon it.
There is something about it that sets the place apart from anywhere else you’ve visited. With its medieval castles, ancient archways, fine bars, sea air, mountains, history, adventure centres, and much more. It’s a place that’s full of possibility, full of hope.
As you walk into the atmospheric little village you’ll be greeted by a number of little shops, restaurants, and bars that are all painted in vibrant eye-catching colours. Right at the entrance to the village stands Taaffes Castle, a tower house that was built by Theobald Taaffe in the 16th century. Nowadays, parts of the original structure is converted into a cosy little bar and restaurant. During the week the village itself has a relaxed and calm atmosphere but suddenly to spike you out your slumber Slieve Foye Mountain stands there with its chest puffed out daring you to its summit. If you’re fit and ready, It would be rude not to answer the call.
The first section of the hike includes an old stone path which is enclosed on either side with large stone walls. You are met by the noise of a stream which trickles down towards the mouth of the Lough. The stone walls and overhanging trees and bushes that make up the path act to form something akin to a hidden passage way that adds to the anticipation of the hike. Once you clear the stone wall you walk across steps which lead you out onto the open green expanse of the mountain itself.
Even at only a quarter of a way to the summit the views that welcome you are breathtaking. Whatever thoughts that might have ailed you before you started your hike slowly begin to recede into oblivion as the mind soaks in the jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape before it. As you hike towards the summit the mountain gradually begins to reveal her bounty of secrets. Out of nowhere a patch of the mountain is covered in bright purple heather. Nature is full of surprises.The golden-green landscape and seas surrounding Slieve Foye take on a startling array of rapidly changing colours, almost as if, in front of your very eyes, the canvas is being painted by the hand of god himself.
Down below at sea level you can see the waves of the ocean shimmering and beating along the shoreline. Without warning a sudden ray of sunshine beams down from the heavens, illuminating this ancient land of Cuchulainn and Finn McCool. Boats dart and sail across the Lough. Right across the Lough the jagged rolling edges of the Mourne Mountains stare across at you.
Little houses dot the landscape and one can’t but help think of the owners inside watching some mundane mind-numbing drivel on their flat screens and mobile phones. If they would only cast their gaze a little further to the skys they might discover that a whole new world lies within their grasp. Up here amidst the mountains is real living.
As you reach the top of the mountain for a brief moment, out of 128,000 people living in County Louth, not a single soul is standing higher. You’re the king of Louth. All of the little human dots you see moving around below appear as insignificant as ants.
An added bonus is that Slieve Foye mountain isn’t a place that’s overspoilt by masses of tourists (the same cant be said for village at the weekends). If you decide to hike the mountain during the week you’ll practically have the place all to yourself. The treck down the mountain allows you to stop and savour some scenery that you may have missed on the way up and if you like a cold beer after a hike maybe the thoughts of this will put a spring in your step as you’re descending.
When you reach the ground level the lively little village usually will have a stream of enthusiastic tourists exploring all the nooks of crannies that this vibrant place has to offer. For me, one of the great pleasures in life is having a pint of beer and looking up at the 1961 foot mountain you’ve just summited. Slieve Foye stands there looking at you like a trophy that you temporarily held in your arms.The smooth creamy head of Guinness has an added touch of magic to it as it flows down your welcoming throat. The euphoric feeling is practically unmatched. Pints normally go down well in Carlingford but when you add in Slieve Foye into the mix you’ll be on the receiving end of an intoxicating and euphoric mix of nature, history, scenery.
But there’s much more to Carlingford than pints and mountains with an action-packed adventure centre which includes paintballing, abseiling, canoeing, and much more. Once here the whole day lies ahead of you full of infinite possibilities.
Right at the shores of Carlingford lough stands King Johns Castle which was built in the 12th century by the anglo-norman Hugh de Lacy. The Castle was named King Johns Castle when King John of England stayed at the location for a number of nights in 1210. The King had come across from England with a large army intent on engaging in battle with Hugh de Lacy because Hugh hadn’t given the King an adequate share of the plunder and wealth he had gained when he conquered parts of Ulster. The castle has had a suitably dramatic history with a number of armies surrounding and laying siege to it. During the battle of the boyne, the castle was used as a Williamite hospital.
One of the most fascinating sites in and around the Carlingford area is a place called the Famine Village. The village consists of Stone built houses standing roofless and falling into natures suffocating hold. The place is an abandoned village which some people believe was deserted due to the great Irish famine which caused millions of people to die of starvation and millions more to leave the shores of Ireland in the hope of a better life abroad. Local archives provide evidence that a number of families resided at the locations around the 1850’s but other evidence suggests that the houses are much older.
Another bizarre feature to this strange village is that it contains what is believed to be a medieval sweat bath, which predates much of the ruins by nearly 1,000 years. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is fascinating to think that only 4 or 5 generations ago that people lived in this little village, that there hopes, dreams, trials and tribulations all resided in this little picturesque corner of the universe but that now all that is left is some stones crumbling into the Cooley Mountains.
Another place that is synonymous with the Carlingford area is the Long woman’s grave. The long woman’s grave, as the place name suggests, is a tall tale indeed. She was said to have been a very tall Spanish lady who fell in love with an Irishman. The Irishman in an effort to win the Spainish ladys heart had pledged that he owned a nice patch of land back in Ireland. The Spanish lady agreed to marry the wily Paddy but when she came over from Spain to look at her new house she instantly dropped dead of a heart attack when she saw the rocky windswept land that she would now be inhabiting.
It seems that the long womans love only extended so far as whatever plush surroundings she thought she would be living in. Now it is said by locals that the ghost of the long woman still roams the hills of Carlingford. Legend has it that, sometimes she can be heard wailing and shouting at night in lament that her husband’s wallet wasn’t as long as her legs.
The medieval Dominican abbey in Carlinford is another place well worth a visit. The Abbey was founded by Richard de Burgh around the year 1305, with its erection dedicated to Saint Malachy. Over the years the ownership of the Abbey has changed into the hands of many an infamous owner.
Not far away in Greennore you cant take the ferry across the Lough to Greencastle in Co Down but beware of Ghost ships as apparently these ghost ships are spotted every few years in the Carlingford area. The origins of this local myth began In 1833 when a 200 tonne ship which embarked from nearby Warrenpoint to Liverpool sank with nearly 100 souls on board. A sighting of this ghost ship is said to herald a coming disaster in the local Louth area.
Overall, Carlingford is a place that is not only worth a visit but is a place that is worth many visits. Carlingford has everything scenery, castles, history, mountains, good food, sea air, and an unrivalled atmosphere that will keep you coming back again and again.