Christmas in Northern Ireland

I didn’t want to spend Christmas alone, nor did I want to spend it at home. The state of the world meant that going overseas for a European Christmas would be that much harder with the varying rules for different countries, but I still wanted to go ‘abroad’.

Enter Northern Ireland.

Still technically abroad as we crossed the Irish Sea, but without the hassle of having to figure out the covid requirements and exchanging to local currency. I asked my cousin Michael who lives in London and my friend Lizzy, who lives in Amsterdam if they were up for it and they were (sorry for giving you the hassle of the covid requirements Liz!)

I found a lovely airbnb lodge in the Irish countryside that had a hot tub! Bliss! Luckily it was available for the dates over Christmas. It was a spacious 2 bedroom guest house, one room with a super king and the other with twin singles. Our lovely host Dorothy had also decorated it with Christmas bits and a tree!

Michael and I went across on the 3.30am ferry and pulled into Belfast around 6am. After a leisurely morning coffee, we explored the city. It was the last day of the Christmas markets so we wandered around that at City Hall, I got 4 French soaps for a tenner – bargain!

We tried to find the Titanic museum but ended up getting a bit lost taking the scenic route through south Belfast. We did find a river path to walk along though and found the Beacon of Hope and a fish.

We had time to waste as we were taking advantage of the £6 5 hour parking discount at Castle Court shopping centre so we went clothes shopping for Mike. I was able to resist the temptation – mostly – and only spent a tenner in one of the charity shops.

In the afternoon we picked Lizzy up from Belfast International Airport and then made are way to the airbnb. Ballygawley is about an hour west of Belfast and it was pretty much one road the whole way.

Dorothy had mentioned one of the local pubs for dinner so we booked at The Tailors House in Dungannon. Lizzy and I shared our starters as they were both gluten free and we all had a steak for main. The servings were huge so there was no room for dessert.

We made a quick stop to Asda in Omagh for food and drink. For a superstore it was a bit disappointing. We’re all big fans of a Christmas Eve cheese board but all they had was cheddar! Lots and lots of cheddar! We should have went to Tesco! Luckily we stopped into a Lidl the next day and they sorted us right.

Christmas Eve day we decided to go castle hunting. A Google Maps search pulled up a few decent ruins for us and we had our day sorted.

We thought we Augher Castle as it was the closest. Turns out it’s still a private house and not open to the public (that we could see).

We made our way over Enniskillen way and came across a sign for Castle Coole, so of course we had to make a detour!

Castle Coole is a beautiful neo-classical mansion set in a 1200 acre woodland estate. They had a lovely little Christmas set up on the porch, a real Christmas tree and hand carved reindeer.

Our next stop was Enniskillen Castle. Unfortunately the museum was closed so we could only walk around the outside, but we did find the Heart of Enniskillen on the Broadmeadow – perfect for an impromptu photo shoot!

Michael showing off his climbing abilities.

It was only a 5 minute drive to our next castle stop – Portora Castle.

Portora Castle was built in the 17th Century and originally had 3 stories and 4 circular defence towers. It withstood two different sieges in that century, but fell to the boys of nearby Portora School who were playing around with homemade explosives in 1859. The castle was further damaged by the great gale of 1894.

Next we trekked to Monea Castle, however it was closed. Next on our list was Tully Castle, on the southern shore of Lower Loch Erne.

The castle was built between 1611 and 1613 for Sir John Hume, a Scottish planter.

Tully Castle hasn’t been lived in since 1641 when it was attacked and burned and the inhabitants massacred on that Christmas Eve by Rory Maguire, who was looking to recapture his family’s lands.

Lady Hume surrendered on the agreement that all would be spared once the castle and all arms had been given up. Unfortunately, the Irish didn’t play ball, and once the Hume family had left, the remaining people – mainly women and children – were locked in the cellar and burned on Christmas Day.

Our next stop was Castle Caldwell. Set in 200 hectares of the Castle Caldwell Forest Park, the building has since fallen into ruins. The ruins have been fenced off due to the dangerous nature of them, but there are many signposted walks in the park.

the ruins have been taken back by nature

Our last castle stop of the day was Old Castle Archdale. Another castle set in a forest the old castle was also built for one of the Planters, this one for John Archdale, from Suffolk.

Like Tully Castle, Archdale was captured by Rory Maguire in 1641 in an attempt to retake his lands during the Irish Rebellion. The Archdales were all killed, except for one of the children who was thrown from a window by his nurse to a servant. The castle was retaken by Crown forces and returned to the Archdales who repaired it and lived in the castle until 1689 when it was abandoned.

After a big day of castle hunting, Lizzy and Michael were able to have a nap in the car on the way back while I drove back. We came back through Dungannon so stopped in Lidl where we were able to stock up on our Christmas Eve and lunch food.

Our Christmas Eve meal consisted of a starter of beetroot, feta and walnuts and a rice and sweet chilli prawn ball.

Of course, no Christmas Eve is complete without a cheese board, complete with fondue!

Our Christmas Day was spent lazing about in our new matching shorts and stuffing ourselves with even more food, this time the Christmas Day roast.

It was a relaxing few days and would definitely recommend Dorothy’s lodge in Ballygawley.

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