Discovering Carlingford: A Guide to Ireland’s Hidden Gem

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Carlingford is a charming town located in County Louth, on the East Coast of Ireland. With its medieval lanes, cobbled streets, and smart boutiques, Carlingford boasts a unique blend of old-world charm and modern amenities.

Nestled on the banks of Carlingford Lough, the Carlingford town offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the Cooley Mountains (often called Carlingford Mountain) and the Mourne Mountains.

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an action-packed adventure, Carlingford has something for everyone.

Key Takeaways

  • Carlingford is a charming town located in County Louth, Ireland, offering a unique blend of old-world charm and modern amenities.
  • The area is rich in history, with a fascinating past that spans from the Celtic legends to the Normans and Edward the Bruce, right through to the ages of Royal Agency, rebellion, and more.
  • Nestled on the banks of Carlingford Lough, the town offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the Cooley Mountains and the Mourne Mountains.

Geographical Overview

Carlingford is a picturesque coastal town nestled between the Cooley Peninsula and the Mourne Mountains, which are located in Northern Ireland. The town is situated on the southern shore of Carlingford Lough, a glacial fjord that is surrounded by stunning natural beauty.

The town’s unique location offers visitors breathtaking views of the Irish Sea, the Cooley Mountains, and the Slieve Foye Mountain. The Slieve Foye Mountain is the highest peak in the Cooley Mountains, and it offers hikers and nature enthusiasts a challenging climb with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Carlingford Lough is also a popular spot for water sports enthusiasts, with opportunities for sailing, kayaking, and fishing. The lough is home to a variety of marine life, including seals, dolphins, and porpoises, making it a popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

Historical Background

Carlingford is a village that is full of character and history. It is one of the best-preserved medieval villages in Ireland, with its narrow medieval streets, lanes that lead to the harbor, majestic Slieve Foye mountain, and the famous mountains of Mourne across the Lough all combine to make Carlingford unique in Ireland. In this section, we will explore Carlingford’s historical background, including its origins and historical landmarks.

Carlingford’s story starts almost 12,000 years ago when the Ice Age gripped the whole world. The village was defined first by the glacial lough into which 9th century Vikings and then 12th century Normans sailed. The Vikings invaded Ireland in the 9th Century, and historical records tell us that they occupied Carlingford Lough. The very name Carlingford is Scandinavian, translating into ‘Fjord of Carlinn.’

Historical Landmarks

Historical Landmarks in CarlingfordDescriptionCarlingford Castle (King John’s Castle)A commanding presence on the harbor, King John’s Castle dates back to the late 12th century and is named after King John who visited Carlingford in 1210.The MintThis is a fortified three-story townhouse from the 15th century that gets its name from a legend that it was once a mint.The TholselAn old toll gate on the medieval streets of Carlingford, the Tholsel is a well-preserved piece of architecture with its arched entrance serving as a gateway to the town.Taaffe’s CastleBuilt in the 16th century, Taaffe’s Castle is a fortified tower house that belonged to a prominent merchant family.Dominican FriaryThe ruins of the Dominican Friary founded in 1305 still stand in Carlingford, with remnants of the church, cloister, and domestic buildings. carlingford heritage centre Located in a restored medieval church, the Holy Trinity Heritage Centre provides insight into the rich history of Carlingford.Ghan HouseA Georgian house built in 1727, now serving as a hotel, offering stunning views of the town and Carlingford Lough.The Foy CentreNamed after the Foy family who were prominent in Carlingford’s history, this centre showcases local history.

The Tholsel

One of the most prominent historical landmarks in Carlingford is the Tholsel. The Tholsel is a 15th-century building that served as a town gate, a courthouse, and a tax collection center.

Situated in the heart of the medieval town of Carlingford, Ireland, stands The Tholsel, a piece of architectural history that has been preserved remarkably well. This impressive structure served as the main town gate in the past, acting as a significant toll point for goods entering Carlingford. Its imposing stone arch provided a tangible symbol of the town’s commercial stature and its ability to regulate trade effectively.

Constructed in the 15th century, The Tholsel has stood the test of time, bearing witness to the town’s growth, decline, and resurgence over the centuries. Despite its humble size, this building played a pivotal role in Carlingford’s economic development. Its upper floor was traditionally used as a town hall, acting as a hub for civic decisions that shaped the town’s trajectory.

King John’s Castle

Hugh de Lacy, a Norman knight, laid the foundation stone for a castle on a strategic outcrop of rock in the 12th century. The castle was later taken over by the English Crown in the 16th century and was used as a prison until the 18th century.

King John’s Castle, a grandiose fortress nestled in the historic town of Carlingford, offers a captivating glimpse into Ireland’s medieval past. Named after King John of England, who visited Carlingford in 1210, the castle is an outstanding example of Anglo-Norman military architecture, showcasing the design principles prevalent during the 12th and 13th centuries.

The castle, originally designed as a robust stronghold, features a large rectangular keep, which was a staple of Norman architecture. This keep, with its thick stone walls, served as the primary residence and provided a last line of defense during a siege. Overlooking the serene Carlingford Lough, the castle not only offered strategic advantages but also embodied the wealth and power of its patrons.

The Mint

This 15th-century fortified townhouse, named as it had a licence to mint coinage by the Earl of Ulster, radiates an ambiance of medieval charm, drawing visitors into the depths of Carlingford’s rich history.

Unusually slender and compact, The Mint stands four stories high and embodies the architectural characteristics of a fortified residence. The building features a base-batter, a distinctive defensive mechanism that flares outward at the base, making it difficult for attackers to undermine the structure. A machicolation— an opening through which defenders could drop hot liquids or stones on attackers— is another intriguing feature, showcasing the defensive intent behind the building’s design.

Taaffe’s Castle

Is a fortified townhouse, thought to have been built for the wealthy merchant family – the Taaffe family in the 16th century, who later gained the title of Earls of Carlingford.

Despite its title, Taaffe’s Castle more closely resembles a robust, fortified residence than a traditional castle. Its design mirrors the defensive architecture of the time, featuring a distinct ‘flanker tower’ structure which added extra protection from potential invaders. With its five floors, it offered panoramic views of Carlingford, providing an advantageous lookout point.

Dominican Friary

The Dominican Friary of Carlingford, known locally as “Carlingford Abbey,” is a time-worn testament to the town’s rich religious history. Founded in 1305 by Richard de Burgh, the Earl of Ulster, the friary played a pivotal role in the spiritual life of the community for centuries.

From the outside, the Dominican Friary appears a quaint and unassuming structure, but the remnants of its past grandeur are evident within. The ruins boast several architectural features, such as lancet windows, a bell tower, and a beautiful east window, indicative of the early English Gothic style. The Friary, with its austere stone walls and cloistered interiors, paints a vivid picture of monastic life during medieval times.

The Friary is notable for its resilience, having survived the turbulent dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. Although it was abandoned for a time, it was later partially restored by the Dominicans, who continued to use it until the 18th century.

Táin Bó Cúailnge

Carlingford is also steeped in folklore, with many tales of leprechauns, fairies, and banshees. One of the most famous tales is the story of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, which is an ancient Irish epic that tells the story of the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Táin Bó Cúailnge, often translated as “The Cattle Raid of Cooley” or “The Táin,” is one of the most famous tales from the rich tapestry of Irish mythology. It forms the centerpiece of the Ulster Cycle, a collection of Old Irish narratives composed between the 7th and 12th centuries.

The epic recounts the tale of Queen Medb of Connacht, who sets out to steal the stud bull Donn Cúailnge from the kingdom of Ulster to match her own wealth with her husband’s. The hero of the tale, the teenage demigod Cúchulainn, single-handedly defends Ulster while its warriors are incapacitated by a curse.

Cúchulainn’s heroic defense is immortalized in a series of grueling combats against Medb’s champions, showcasing his superhuman prowess and the tragic, often brutal nature of heroic life in ancient Ireland. His stand at the ford against his foster brother, Ferdiad, is one of the most poignant moments in the tale.

Táin Bó Cúailnge is not just a story of cattle raiding and heroic feats. It reflects the social and political realities of the time, offering deep insights into the culture, values, and worldviews of early medieval Ireland.

Leprechauns

The small coastal town of Carlingford, nestled between the waters of Carlingford Lough and the mountainous landscapes of Cooley Peninsula, holds a whimsical secret. This picturesque hamlet is known as the “Home of the Leprechaun,” and the tales of these mischievous beings are deeply woven into the local lore.

Carlingford’s enchantment with leprechauns began in 1989 when a local publican claimed to have found a leprechaun suit and bones on a nearby mountain. This sparked a renewed interest in the diminutive, mythical creatures, leading to the creation of the Carlingford Leprechaun Hunt, an annual event that draws crowds of hopefuls eager to capture their own pot of gold.

In 2009, Carlingford gained legal protection for its leprechauns as a result of a community initiative. The European Habitats Directive recognizes the 236 surviving leprechauns as a protected species, residing in the Slieve Foy Mountain, a designated area of the Cooley Peninsula.

Visitors can experience the enchanting world of leprechauns at the “Last Leprechaun Whisperer” Cavern, where the history, stories, and folklore associated with these magical creatures are brought to life. The Leprechaun and Fairy Underground Cavern is another highlight, offering a journey into a captivating, magical world that continues to charm visitors of all ages.

Outdoor Activities

Of all the amazing things to in Carlingford, the outside activities are a great way to explore carlingford and the lough.

Adventure Centres

Carlingford has a number of adventure centres that offer a range of activities to suit all ages and abilities. These centres offer a variety of activities, including archery, laser combat, raft building, Canadian canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. One of the most popular adventure centres is Carlingford Adventure Centre, which offers activities such as zip lining, kayaking, and rock climbing. Another popular centre is Skypark, which offers a range of activities such as tree-top adventures, laser combat, and zip lining.

Hiking Trails

Carlingford is surrounded by beautiful countryside, making it a great place for hiking. There are a number of hiking trails in the area, ranging from easy walks to more challenging hikes. One of the most popular hikes is the Tain Way, which is a 40-kilometre trail that takes you through the Cooley Mountains. Another popular hike is the Slieve Foye Loop, which is a 9-kilometre loop that takes you up to the summit of Slieve Foye.

The Greenway runs from Carlingford, just behind the castle, all the way along the coast to Omeath, then on towards Newry, following the old Newry Greenore railway line.

Water Sports

Carlingford is also a great place to enjoy water sports. There are a number of water sports activities available in the area, including canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, and boat tours. If you’re interested in fishing, there are also a number of fishing charters available in the area. One of the most popular water sports activities is kayaking, which allows you to explore the beautiful coastline of Carlingford Lough.

Ferry Service

When you visit carlingford, if you have time and its during the summer its well worth taking the ferry across to Greencastle or just doing one of the nightly Ferry rides which go around the lough combined often with music and food.

Dining in Carlingford

There is a wealth of great accommodation and restaurants and pubs in Carlingford. It’s advisable to book in advance into any of the restaurants as during peak season they are often booked out. Personally I would recommend O’Hares pub – their chowder is amazing and the Bay Tree Restaurant never fails to impress!

  1. Ghan House: For an upscale dining experience, Ghan House is a must. Located in a beautifully restored 18th-century Georgian house with castellated walls, the restaurant serves a seasonal menu highlighting local produce and seafood. It also offers sweeping views of Carlingford Lough and the Mourne mountains.
  2. The Bay Tree Restaurant: This award-winning restaurant located in the heart of Carlingford is renowned for its exceptional modern Irish cuisine. Chef Conor Woods uses fresh, locally sourced ingredients to create a unique, contemporary menu. The cozy atmosphere and friendly staff make it a popular choice for locals and tourists alike.
  3. Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms: For those looking for a more relaxed, casual dining experience, Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms is a delightful option. Known for its hearty breakfasts, freshly baked pastries, and homemade soups, it’s a charming spot for a light meal or afternoon tea.
  4. PJ O’Hare’s Pub: This traditional Irish pub offers a variety of hearty dishes, such as fish and chips, Irish stew, and bangers and mash. Its cozy atmosphere, complete with open fireplaces and traditional music, makes it a local favorite.
  5. The Carlingford Arms: Located in the center of Carlingford, this restaurant and bar offers a varied menu with everything from local seafood dishes to succulent steaks. The pub also features live music, making it a great spot for a fun evening out.
  6. Ma Bakers: A family run friendly pub which offers great pub grub.

Surrounding Area

Carlingford is surrounded by amazing places which just add to the beauty of this charming place:

  1. Cooley Peninsula Scenic Drive: For the outdoor enthusiast, take a leisurely drive around the Cooley Peninsula, which boasts dramatic landscapes, rugged hills, and picturesque coastline.
  2. Slieve Foye Mountain: Hike up the Slieve Foye Mountain for a bird’s-eye view of Carlingford, the lough, and the surrounding areas. The mountain is part of the Cooley Mountains range and is a favorite amongst hikers and nature lovers.
  3. Greenore Golf Club: Enjoy a round of golf at Greenore Golf Club, a beautifully situated 18-hole course providing stunning views of the Lough and the Mourne Mountains.
  4. Proleek Dolmen and Ballymascanlon Hotel: Visit the historic Proleek Dolmen located in the picturesque grounds of the Ballymascanlon Hotel. This impressive Neolithic monument dates back to around 3000 BC.
  5. Visit Newry: A short drive from Carlingford, Newry is a vibrant city with a rich history, shopping, and a wide selection of restaurants and pubs.
  6. Mourne Mountains: Just across Carlingford Lough, you’ll find the Mourne Mountains. Renowned for their beauty, they are perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing.
  7. Boyne Valley: Enrich your historical knowledge by visiting the Boyne Valley, which is home to ancient burial sites, battlefields, and Ireland’s oldest bridge.

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