Mountains of Mourne

But for all his great powers he’s wishful like me / To be back where the dark Mournes sweep down to the sea…”

Sometime before my first trip to Ireland back in 2011, I remember stumbling upon Celtic Thunder’s version of “Mountains of Mourne.”  Like many other songs, the words captured my imagination and even inspired my senior quote in high school.  I became overjoyed, then, when our tour guide told us we’d skirt them on our way south from Belfast, quoting the song with a grin in my direction.

Unfortunately, we did exactly that – we skirted the mountains, avoiding the more scenic routes in order to make good time.  So when my mother and I visited again this summer, we made a point to see the Mournes up close.


Situated in County Down, the granite mountain range provides beautiful views of both the sea and forest protected by The National Trust.  Many hiking trails exist, some gentle enough for a relaxed afternoon stroll versus a more grueling endeavor.  Its tallest peak, Slieve Donard, stands at 850 meters (2,789 feet), making it the tallest point in Northern Ireland and the 19th highest peak on the island.

The Mournes have also served as inspiration for writers for centuries, ranging from Percy French’s song to the well known Narnia series by CS Lewis.


With time getting away from my mother and me on our second visit, we ended up taking the costal route rather than a road through the mountains themselves.  Shortly after leaving Ballynoe for our bed and breakfast in Carlingford, we found ourselves sandwiched between the Irish Sea to the left and the mountains to the right.  Even when the sea gave way to Carlingford Lough, the mountains remained, dominating the landscape as we drove around their base.

And looking across the lough, at the southern arm of the mountain range, it was impossible to conjure any description better than that first penned so many years ago. 


Additional Links & Resources:

Discover Northern Ireland

Down District Council:  Scenic Drives

The Golden Book:  Ireland, pages 123-124  The Mourne Mountains

Ballynoe Stone Circle

Anyone who’s followed my blog for a while has probably noticed my mother and I visited a fair number of megaliths on our most recent trip to Ireland. There’s just something about these ancient sites that mystifies me, whether it’s Loughcrew and Carrowmore’s cairns or the portal tombs at Proleek and Browneshill. But in large part due to GPS trouble we only made it to one stone circle, tucked away in Ballynoe.


Like many other sites, Ballynoe was almost impossible to find. By this time in our trip, we’d learned to question every suggestion our GPS made and were quick to follow road signs, hopeful they’d see us through. Unfortunately, we were wrong – the signs led us in the right direction for a while, but disappeared without warning right when we needed them most. Left with only our GPS’s suggestion to drive through a fence and the field beyond to reach the stone circle, we decided to instead find the nearest house and ask for direction.

A kind woman quickly pointed us in the right direction, and then a man helped us again further down the road when he realized we were lost. He didn’t seem surprised at all, asking with a laugh if we were looking for the stone circle before we could say a word. Still seeming quite amused, he pointed to a small gap in the hedges and told us we’d made it.

Somewhat cautious, we pulled into the drive he’d indicated and sat for a few moments before climbing out, careful to avoid the rampant stinging nettles. It didn’t look like anyone had been through in quite some time, but when we finally found a sign stating this really was the place, we started up a small hill and entered the first field.


The walk to the ring was an interesting experience all its own – rather than cut directly across the pasture, the path led to a sunken track through a tree tunnel. Evening light filtered in, glinting off of bells and wind chimes left tangled in the canopy. But other than the buzzing of gnats and other insects, all was silent. The path made a sharp turn and we followed, a sense of giddiness hitting me when another sign came into view at the field’s edge.


Though the ring was somewhat obscured by uncut grass, its size still left my mother and I standing in awe for several moments.  We walked to the circle’s center for a better look, and more of the sixty-some stones became visible, peaking out from lower spots in the periphery.

My mom remarked that she felt this site was special just because it was untouched and left simply as it was – gigantic stones standing in the open, without explanation.  To stand and wonder how they’d got there, why they’d been arranged so carefully…  That was more enjoyable in some ways than listening to even the most knowledgeable guide at other sights could have been.


We lingered in the ring for a while, soaking in the view and silence before turning back to the tree tunnel and our waiting car.  Our bed and breakfast back in the Republic was still quite a drive away, on the other side of the Mourne Mountains, but the quick break at Ballynoe was certainly worth the time spent searching for it.