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A Bit Of Irish History

Ride Date 18 September 2020

By Sharon Parker

Yesterday's rest did me good. I have little pain today and I am ready to ride my own bike, wahoo! Once again I make a picnic to take with us. Hmmm maybe now I have Tour-A-Plank one should invest in a posh wicker hamper with champagne glasses. For now a rather battered plastic box gets stuffed into the Kriega bag.

First port of call is Donaghadee which is situated on the Ards peninsula on the Irish Sea coast. Scotland, which is only 20 miles away by sea, can be seen on a clear day from here. I suspect this harbour town once upon a time had a busy working harbour. Narrow railway tracks lead from the harbour until disappearing under the modern tarmacked road. I can well imagine truck loads of fish being pushed along these tracks to a warehouse in the village where the women of the town waited to begin the gutting process. 
Doing some research I find out that the town boasts a long seagoing history. For centuries, it has been a haven for ships and the harbour has been there from at least the 17th century.

A Sir Hugh Montgomery built a large stone quay to accommodate vessels ferrying between Scotland and Ireland from 1616 onwards. At one stage Donaghadee was the province’s principal port before Belfast became the major city and much of the town’s development resulted from ships and shipping. Trade with the mainland was based on the Packet Service and in 1626 a harbour was built to service the boats that worked between Donaghadee and Portpatrick in Wigtownshire.   

Donaghadee is the nearest port to Scotland and at one time was the main landing point in Northern Ireland for travellers from the British mainland. The majority of Ulster-Scots settling in Ireland would have travelled through Donaghadee. Donaghadee harbour was also used in the 1759–1826 period by couples going to Portpatrick in Scotland to marry, they would have crossed the sea on one of the daily packet boats. Portpatrick was known as the "Gretna Green" for Ireland at this time.  

The big swooping curve of the harbour with the houses and buildings
Donaghadee town today.

The Harbour that we strolled around today was built in 1820's. The initial plans and surveys for this ambitious undertaking were made by John Rennie (the elder), the celebrated engineer whose works included Waterloo, Southwark and London Bridges over the Thames. He died within two months of the work beginning and was succeeded by his son Sir John Rennie. Sir John Rennie worked with fellow Scot, the seasoned marine builder, David Logan. 

The foundation stone of the new harbour was laid by the Marquess of Downshire on 1st August 1821. The construction of the massive walls and lighthouse of Donaghadee Harbour required an enormous amount of rock. Rock was blasted from the sea bed within the harbour area and further south in what became known as the Quarry Hole at Meetinghouse Point. 

This local dark ‘greywacke’ stone was used to form the outer slopes of the two piers. The harbour’s inner faces were made from limestone taken from the Moelfre quarries of Anglesey, in North Wales, known as Anglesey marble. This explains the fossils I saw myself within the rocks of the harbour wall. So if you do visit here you can go fossil hunting too. On the end of the harbour is Donaghadee's impressive lighthouse, which was built in 1836 and was the first lighthouse in Ireland to be lit by electricity. Unfortunately you can not go inside so we just walk around it.

The stout bright white lighthouse on the entrance to the large sturdy harbour wall
Harbour with a lot of history.

In time it apparently became clear that Portpatrick was exposed to westerly gales so another route was opened between Larne and Stranraer and although longer provided the safe harbours that was needed. Donaghadee is therefore much quieter today than in its heyday but is still popular with anglers like those we encountered on our walk along the harbour and those who simply like to be beside the coast like ourselves. 

The end of the harbour is festooned with an array of rocks and pebbles displaying various artwork. These include paintings giving thanks to the NHS workers and various other designs such as snake head asking for more pebbles to be added to make his body and tail. The pebbles are a far more lovely and civilised way to say I was here than graffiti on these lovely harbour walls. 

We continue along the coast and once again small little hamlets of bungalows are nestled between farmland where cows amble across green fields that stretch right to the seashore. It is not awe inspiring but it makes me smile, it is just all rather nice. 

We decide to stretch our legs again when arriving at the village of Ballywalter. I take to Ballywalter straight away. Yes the beach is pretty and the sea blue but there is nothing special about in particular. Despite this for some reason I really like it. I feel at home here, I could well imagine myself taking a morning or evening stroll along the beach before retiring to one of the bungalows flanking the coastal road. It felt off the main tourist route and I appreciated that. 

When a place is outstanding you can understand why it appeals but some places for reasons that are harder to discern just stir something within your soul and you just think "oh I like it here". Ballywalter is such a place for me. 

BallyWalter Beach.

As Ren and I take a stroll along the beach a local stops us and asks us what we are doing to her wall. I am most confused. "Well errr", she then points over to said wall and says again what are you all doing to it. The wall in question is covered with workmen doing well "something" to it. 

Ahhh, now the penny drops, the workmen are all wearing high viz jackets, we are wearing high viz jackets, yep she thinks we are construction workers. We explain that no we are mere bikers passing through and she nods and disappears off towards the workmen to demand to know what they are doing to her wall. It makes me smile, there is obviously a sense of community ownership here. 

Ren stands in his bike gear with the wind and sun on his face at the beach in Ballywalter
Would you trust this man to build your wall?

The riding is lovely today and I feel comfortable on my bike as there is no traffic bothering me, well there isn't until we get to Portaferry. Never being here before in our lives we are going carefully while looking for signs to the ferry. The convertible car behind me, driven by flash Harry in his obligatory sunglasses, clearly does not appreciate this. Well there is only one outcome when someone wants to become my pillion. The closer you come the slower I go. I can practically hear him grinding his teeth and the first opportunity he has he overtakes and is gone, good riddance.  

We find the ferry port, we can see the ferry, we just can't figure out how to actually get on it. Arms waving and finger pointing by the crew shows us the way. The kindly crew was obviously waiting for us because we depart as soon as we are onboard. We find ourselves parked right behind Flash Harry, haa no wonder he was in such a rush, he did not want to miss his ferry. How sad after all that rushing he still had to wait for us dithering around getting onboard, hee hee.

A wave on the waves.

Once off the ferry we decide to continue riding along the coast because it is still too early to head for home and the weather is far too nice to waste indoors. We are in no hurry and have a jolly good bimble stopping off at yet another village for more exploring. 

Ardglass has a rather nice Marina with moorings for both local and visiting yachts. The fishing harbour is separated from the Marina by an outcrop of rock.

A tall thistle with a red flower in the foreground, the marina and boat of ardgalss
Ardglass Marina.  

I go in search of ice cream but I find instead a little Sharon sized castle to play in. Yes I know I have yet to grow up both in stature and mentality. I discover later that my new play house is in fact a folly with a purpose. This folly was a Victorian bathing house built in the 1830s and used as a ladies changing facility. It is the only surviving part of a range of spa facilities built to draw visitors to the seaside destination in the summer months. The bathing house was deemed in danger of collapse due to strong spring tides and was therefore restored in 2015. 

Sharon waves from within the round stone bathing house that looks more like a tiny castle
More a biker chic than a bathing belle.

We come home via Belfast city. Neither Ren nor I have any real interest in cities so we just pass through as quickly as city centre traffic allows. As usual cities are confusing and unless one is a local, bewildering as to which lane one should be in. Ren needs to swap lanes last minute on a couple of occasions and I am well practised at keeping close and being able to switch with him. We make it out together and back home for teatime.

The Ards peninsula provided us with a most delightful and enjoyable day of riding and still not a drop of rain. Shush Sharon in case any Irish rain pixies hear your thoughts. 

If you've a two wheeled tale to share, click here.

Northern Ireland - A Covid Prologue The lead-up to this journey seems to have been a bewildered shambles. So how did The Dynamic Muppets manage to rescue their trip from the tangled mess of 2020?
It's A Bumpy Lumpy Ride Sharon's life is never simple. While getting ready for maybe, possibly, perhaps going to Northern Ireland she takes a moment to explain why she's been so quiet on here.
An Easy Ride To Carlisle It's an easy, lazy and relaxed start to this holiday with a handful of miles to cover and the weather behaving itself for once.
Space Sharon's luggage situation has improved but it's going to take a while for her to unwind, chill out and settle into today's journey. Aaaaaaand relax.
A Ferry And Hint Of Northern Ireland Ren is doing what Ren does best - flapping.
A Dip Into Irish Waters Today's lesson - don't place yourself behind angry small mythical critters.
Causeway And Coast Getting into The Giant's Causeway poses a challenge for a miser like Ren, can he avoid his wallet seeing the light of day? The Causeway Coastal Route and Torr Head Scenic Route may ease the shock for him.
Giants And Hobbits Sharon enjoys a rather wonderful day exploring more of the Causeway Coastal Route. Languishing in luxury on the back of Ren's bike while he does all the hard work. Sort of.
Ards Peninsula, Wonderfully Modest Today it's the turn of Ards Peninsula to be explored. Throw in the regular dose of disorganised nonsense and some fair weather, it might be a good day!
A Bit Of Irish History A history lesson and tomfoolery by The Queen Of Rain. Thing is, it's not raining. Something is wrong here, very wrong.
Lough Neagh And Money The Dynamic Muppets circumnavigate the largest lake in the British Isles. Is this the sort of place where a prudent miser like Ren would fit in?
Reflections Another watery day in Northern Ireland and still no rain on the horizon. Sharon contemplates the many and varied lives we get to live.
Ferry, Friends And Mostly Scotland In a remarkable twist Ren is not flapping! Nor is he ready to go home. But alas and alack 'tis time for this all-too-brief inspection of Northern Ireland to end. Take comfort in Scotland Ren.
North Pennines And Epilogue It's the end of the journey for the dynamic muppets yet there's still time for a little detour, or two. What did Ren make of Northern Ireland?

Reader's Comments

Upt'North said :-
As always Sharon, most enjoyable.
Your thoughts on growing up reminded me of a conversation I had the other day concerning the change in just that and whether the Internet is to blame/thank?
I think (?) there used to be a clear distinction between children and adults. But now, maybe not quite so, for instance adults and children used to dress very differently but now the kids (sorry if that term offends anybody, it does apparently) are just little me's of the parents and vice versa.
I did try becoming a grown up myself, didn't end well.

10/11/2020 13:15:52 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional.......

Interested in Sharon's comments re a folly with a purpose. Surely the only purpose of a folly is to have none?

But another great report reminding us of travels past and to come.
10/11/2020 16:23:34 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Mow Cop castle is a nice Folly, worth the walk up if only for the views over the Cheshire Plain.
10/11/2020 17:57:58 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Yes Ian, a folly with a purpose is a contradiction. Well spotted that man.

We've been to Mow Cop Upt'. Didn't see too much of the views over the Cheshire Plain though as it was, er, shall we say, very wet indeed?
Posted Image
11/11/2020 10:33:27 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Was he wearing those shorts for a bet? He won.....
13/11/2020 16:12:31 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
We didn't ask Upt'. When it's raining hard like it was that day and a chap is wearing shorts, experience tells me it's best not to ask. Keep ya trap shut, ya head down and don't ask questions you don't want the answer to.
14/11/2020 10:54:59 UTC
nab301 said :-
Interesting re a folly with a purpose although as always with this blog I tend to go down a wikipedia rabbit hole.. While follies may not have a purpose per se , the construction of famine follies had a purpose in creating employment.
14/11/2020 15:21:39 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Never heard of them, thanks Nigel.
14/11/2020 15:24:30 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
McCaig's Tower in Oban is an example of building something to give the locals extra work and support the economy.
15/11/2020 11:16:44 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Is that the one overlooking the town that looks a bit like the Coliseum?
15/11/2020 15:52:46 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
That's the one Ian.
15/11/2020 17:02:35 UTC
Sharon said :-
Re -A folly with a purpose

I beg to differ that my term is a contradiction.

A folly is "generally" a non functional building built in the form of a castle, temple, etc.
However the word folly does not deem that building to have never had purpose at all. Although generally not habitable a folly can have a purpose eg a water tower etc. In English, the term began as "a popular name for any costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder". The term folly is usually applied to a building that either appears to have no practical purpose or the purpose of which appears less important than its striking and unusual design. The term is ultimately subjective, so a precise definition is not possible.

Therefore I stand by my term as a folly with a purpose. The bathing house had a purpose but was not habitable and was built in the design of a mini castle hence me calling it a folly. 
24/11/2020 15:03:53 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Re a folly with a porpoise.
I concur.
Mow Cop was mentioned earlier and it is a fine example of a folly, I think it was Wilbraham who built it, was he from Rode Hall. I digress.
But it is called a folly and it was I believe built as a folly, however said Wilbraham of Rode parish used it as a summerhouse and I believe his descendants did too.
Nuff said, any more would be folly.
24/11/2020 16:36:05 UTC

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