One reason why I always enjoy visiting Ireland is that I never know what I’m going to discover. For what is admittedly not a large country, no two trips have ever been the same for me and on every visit I make innocent discoveries that turn out to be travel highlights. One of those discoveries from my most recent foray around the Emerald Isle was a small coastal community near the Northern Ireland border that instantly won me over – Carlingford.
GPS doesn’t like Carlingford, of that I was certain. As soon as I arrived into town I found myself navigating by instinct more than turn by turn directions, but that’s just the nature of the town. Ancient places like Carlingford generally don’t get along well with modern technology, but luckily the small town only has a few streets, making my arrival not nearly as confusing as it could have been. And as soon as I was forced to concentrate more on my surroundings, my eyes were opened to the inherent beauty of this remarkable town.
Located on the shores of Carlingford Lough with the mountains behind it, this medieval town looks as if it was plucked from a movie set. Settled in the 12th century, the town has long been an important port as well as a center for fishing, most notably oysters. Its narrow laneways and alleys though didn’t mesh with the industrialization of the 19th century, which largely bypassed Carlingford. That was lucky though for modern tourists, since these ancient streets still exist and form the basis for any visit to the town.
I hadn’t really given Carlingford a lot of thought when I was reviewing my agenda for my most recent trip. It was well positioned to be a nice place to spend the night before driving up to Northern Ireland, and I just saw it as a place to sleep. Thankfully I arrived in the mid-afternoon, and had plenty of time to enjoy the sunny spring day and explore the tiny town.
My home base while in Carlingford was the historic Ghan House, located in the middle of town. Originally built in 1727, the Ghan House is a lovingly restored Georgian house with private walled gardens and an award-wining restaurant. In what I think is a cross between a hotel and a B&B, the hospitality I enjoyed at the Ghan was exceptional and the food offerings even better. It is literally adjacent to the old medieval part of town, making this the ideal spot to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
The oldest part of Carlingford is relegated to just a few streets, making maps totally unnecessary. I started my afternoon by walking along the waterfront though, meandering my way to the ancient King John’s Castle before doubling back and exploring the town itself.
Thankfully a lot of the medieval town has been preserved and while there are walking tours available, it’s just as easy to navigate on your own. The Watch House, the Market Square, the Mint, the Friary – what were all once commonplace parts of daily life now take on new meaning as one wonders what life was really like 600 or 700 years ago in this small Irish outpost. I finished my afternoon by admiring the panoramic views of the town from the Holy Trinity Church, which stands on a small hill. The light was just right and there really was no denying the beauty of the place. It also once again reminded me of why I love Ireland so very much, for serene and unexpected moments like that one.
Carlingford has long been a popular weekend getaway though, for all of these reasons and so many more. Nearby there’s also an activities center with zip lining and other hair raising adventures, and day hikes in the valleys and hills of the region are popular in the warm summer months. I didn’t have time for all of that, but I did make a promise to one day return and further enjoy this unassuming part of the country.
The next morning I boarded the ferry to take me across the lough to Northern Ireland and to continue my trip. It wasn’t without a small amount of sadness though that I left, wondering what else Carlingford has to share with curious visitors like myself.