Where to stay, rent and buy in Carlingford
Home for the holidays: Co Louth gem with mythic past and beautiful views has lots to offer
This little corner of Co Louth is a secret gem. The Cooley Peninsula borders counties Louth and Down and is fabled in An Táin, which tells the story of Queen Medb of Connacht, who with her husband Ailill try to steal Donn Cuailnge, the scared pedigree bull, from Ulster’s Dáire mac Fiachna. In it much of the action surrounds Cúchullain’s efforts to oppose the queen’s warriors.
Once a two-hour drive from Dublin, the journey time has been shortened to a very manageable 75 minutes. Carlingford Lough, or Costa del Carlingford as it’s called by some locally, boasts a trinity of holiday towns – Warrenpoint and Rostrevor in Co Down on its north shore, where the kingdom of Mourne inspired CS Lewis’s Narnia, and Carlingford on the Cooley Peninsula, on the southern entrance to the lough in Co Louth.
It may be the “weeist” of the three resorts but it is a beauty spot beyond compare and unlike anything you expect, especially if you’ve been used to holidaying on the west coast. The medieval town is surrounded by lush green land and sheltered by mountain ranges, with the Mournes sweeping down to the sea.
The scenery is beyond painterly; deep purples and slate blues of the mountains bleed into multiple shades from grass-green fields to wheaten mown meadows all drawing the eye down to the water’s edge, itself a precious collection of jewel shades, green tourmaline on a good day; deep sapphire blue on days that are overcast.
On the peninsula there are passage graves and portal tombs aplenty and in the well-preserved medieval town of Carlingford stand the ruins of John, the Magna Carta king’s great castle. And there are activities to keep the most ardent fitness fanatic happy.
There is also a sense of fun and mischief. Rumoured to be the home of the last leprechauns of Ireland you can hear more from Kevin Woods, the local leprechaun whisperer. He tells a tale that the late PJ O’Hare, a county councillor, publican and estate agent whose pub is still under his name in the town, heard a faint cry while half way up the slopes of Slieve Foy showing a property to an American.
When he investigated it he came across what Woods believes to be “authentic artefacts of a leprechaun in Ireland”. They include a leprechaun suit and bones along with four gold coins. In Carlingford, leprechauns are protected under a EU directive, according to a local sign, although an annual leprechaun hunt is held each May.
In 2015, when Fáilte Ireland first launched its Ireland’s Ancient East campaign, this corner of Ireland didn’t make it on to its map. While some considered this a serious oversight, many locals breathed a sigh of relief.
Where can I stay?
Ghan House is a gorgeous Georgian property where you could easily spend an entire weekend. As the region’s best-known Blue Book property it is booked out this August save for some mid-week accommodation when one-night dinner B&B costs €120 per person sharing. Come September a two-night B&B stay plus one evening meal costs €210 per person sharing.
Belvedere House is another place for gourmands. A double room on a B&B basis costs €99 at weekends and €89 mid-week. With just seven rooms and capable of accommodating up to 17 guests it makes a lovely location for a family get-together or to mark a special birthday with friends. Its restaurant The Bay Tree also has two private dining rooms, one that can accommodate up to 14, the other 30 and is often used for small weddings but they politely decline stag and hen groups.
The website Visit Carlingford lists all the accommodation available which makes comparing and contrasting much easier than it is in other resorts. You can also call to get a steer on whether the accommodation is suited to the needs of your group.
Couples should check out Castle Hill apartments, €180, or Courtyard Cottages, €250, for a two-night weekend stay between now and the end of September.
Sea Esta, a three-bedroom property in the town centre, costs €650 for a two-night weekend; Annesley House, another three-bedroom property, costs €450 for a two-night weekend stay and Marina apartments, which can accommodate five each, cost €300 each for a two-night weekend stay. Large groups can book several apartments.
For groups of 10 or more try Templetown House, Catherine’s Grove or Coast Guard Cottage. The latter sleeps 15 and costs €1,000 for a two-night weekend stay.
And if you fall in love and want to make it your home?
The weekend business is particularly strong here. One local agent estimates that if you buy something centrally located you could rent it for as much as €500 per week or weekend for 30-35 weeks of the year.
Number 10 Cul a Balla is a three-bed, one bathroom, mid-terrace house just 60m from the heart of the town. For sale through agent Owen Woods it is asking €175,000. Number two Harbour Cottages, Ghan Road, is another property that will let well as it is situated beside the town’s adventure centre and some of these properties are leased by the centre. The three-bed, three-bathroom, mid-terrace property is asking €225,000 through Sherry FitzGerald Carroll. Carraig Dún, Mullatee is a four-bed, four-bathroom detached stone-front property on about half an acre asking €425,000 from DNG Duffy.
If you’re looking for rooms with views, Mountain Park is a four-bedroom, three-bathroom, detached house, on an elevated site of about half an acre that boasts a viewing gallery at dormer level with views of the lough across to Warrenpoint. It is asking €450,000 through Property Partners Laurence Gunne. South Commons is a three-bedroom, detached house on an elevated site with distant views of the sea asking €275,000 through agents REA Gunne Property.
Where to eat, where to have a coffee, ice cream etc?
The region is home to Carlingford oyster, a sweet and nutty bivalve, thanks to the large fresh flows of water in and out of the lough. At fine dining establishment The Bay Tree restaurant they’re served as a starter, natural or Asian style, with grilled garlic or grilled chorizo and herb butter, for €9.
Non-residents can enjoy more fine food at Ghan House, where they use the produce from their own gardens: herbs, fruit and vegetables in their chutneys, jams, breads and ice-cream. Mid-week, a seven-course tasting menu costs €42.50 per person. At the weekend a four-course menu costs €45 per person.
For a bowl of warming soup after a windswept walk sample the chowder at PJ O’Hare’s where you can view the aforementioned leprechaun artefacts and digest the story over a couple of bottles of Tholsel Blonde or King’s John’s stout from Carlingford Brewing Company.
For something sweet try afternoon tea, €25.90 for two, at Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms, where they also serve a full-Irish at under a tenner.
You can pick up essentials for a picnic at McAteer’s The Food House. Carnivores should try the Brown Bull sandwich, €4.95, which features roast Cooley beef and is served with caramelised onion and Graham’s horseradish from the Boyne Valley. The deli does a roaring trade in takeout lunch boxes – ideal for hill walkers and cyclists. It includes a sandwich of the day served with homemade soup and a bottle of water, all for €5.95.
You can keep the kids happy with a trip to Sweet Sundaes, an ice-cream parlour that serves locally-produced gelato, crepes, milkshakes and smoothies as well as roasted coffee.
Mourne Textiles is one of the most exciting producers of hand-woven rustic fabrics, throws and cushions on the island of Ireland. The workshop is situated on the outskirts of Rostrevor. Its textural tweeds caught the eye of Robin Day and Sybil Connolly but in recent years it took a buyer from Margaret Howell to get the brand back into the public’s eye. While not open to the public some access can be arranged by prior appointment. Buy a blanket, €265.50, colourful Mourne Mist cushions cost from €83, or a tweed Monochrome scarf, €161, and keep an eye out on Facebook for details of the studio’s sale days.
There is an impressive number of activities on offer, all within walking distance of the town. Sea kayaking, stand-up paddling, canoeing, zip-lining and rock climbing can all be done through Carlingford Adventure Centre, which draws tourists from across Europe. It was set up by Tom and Mary McCarthy more than 25 years ago. Its skytreks take you across treetops; zip-lines whizz down quarries where there are also rock faces to climb as well as watersports galore from their second base on the pier.
There is also accommodation and during the summer months kids can do a two-night, €199, or five-night, €329, residential camp for ages six and upwards. Rent a three-bedroom house at Harbour Cottages, situated beside the centre, and the kids can walk across to attend the daily camp, €150 for five days. There are also daily and half-day rates for adults and kids.
At Carlingford Sail Training Centre at Carlingford Sailing Club adults, even complete novices, can sign up for a three-hour session, €50, with Ivan Slater, a Kilkenny man who learned to sail while on summer holidays in Dunmore East, Co Waterford. Second-homers should know that kids can sign up to sailing lessons that run every Saturday from May to August, inclusive, from 10am-1pm with a barbecue after for the sum total of €90.
Carlingford has also developed a reputation as a stag and hen destination. There’s a whole website dedicated to group activities for the soon-to-be-married. “For the most part they’re pretty well-behaved although it can get messy late at night,” says one local.
The Táin Way is a circular walk and cycle route that loops around Carlingford Mountain ascending to Clermont cairn, a Bronze Age cairn at the top of Black Mountain. Travel quiet roads, forestry tracks, and open mountain paths. On a good day, the views from the high points are spectacular. You can see north across Carlingford Lough to the Mournes, and south all the way down the east coast. You might even see as far as the Isle of Man.
A recent addition to the area is the Greenore to Greencastle car ferry. Situated just a five-minute drive from Carlingford the service opens up the entire coastal route, north and south, to residents and visitors alike.
Where you might catch someone’s eye and what to say to them
You’ll have to be so careful catching anyone’s eye here. All the hen and stag parties are looking for a story to bring home so only look up if you’re up for it.
Souvenirs to bring home
Carlingford Design House is run by jeweller Garrett Mallon, whose own sterling silver creations on display include a necklace inspired by the local shore, €115. There is also a wide selection of wall art and ceramics by local makers.