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.

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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.

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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. 

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Additional Links & Resources:

Discover Northern Ireland

Down District Council:  Scenic Drives

The Golden Book:  Ireland, pages 123-124

Ireland.com:  The Mourne Mountains

Lost in Sally Gap

My mother and I quickly learned something about driving in Ireland – don’t trust your GPS to get you where you need to go.  Of course, that’s easier said than done in unfamiliar places, especially when traveling to some fairly remote sites.  Finding ourselves lost in the rural countryside became a fairly common occurrence, but perhaps the most stunning of these misadventures was our drive through Sally Gap.

Until darting in from a sudden shower at Glendalough, I’d never heard of Sally Gap.  We merely assumed the narrow road winding its way through the mountains was the only way to St. Kevin’s Monastery from Dublin.  Imagine our surprise, then, when we learned we’d taken the scenic route and could’ve beaten the rain if we’d gone a different way!

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Sally Gap is one of only two passes running east to west through the Wicklow Mountains, connecting Dublin and Glendalough.  Its views are absolutely stunning, ranging from sheer drop offs to heather-filled bogs and evergreen forests as far as the eye can see.  It’s no wonder the Gap’s also one of Ireland’s most filmed scenic locations, boasting ties to movies such as Braveheart, PS I Love You, and Leap Year.

But the road originally built by the British Army in the late 1700s remains narrow and winding.  There were multiple times during the trip I felt uneasy vertigo grip me, even from my relatively safe place in the passenger’s seat.  Getting out to walk or take pictures left me with feelings of dread, imagining what one false step could lead to.

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“Oh, Rachel! You’ve got to take a picture of this!”  “Ok.”  “No, no!  Come over here closer to the edge to really appreciate how far it goes!”  “No, I’m good.  I like life.”  “Coward.”

Later that evening at dinner with a local friend in Bray, she couldn’t help but laugh hearing about our ride – a 50 minute trip that took nearly three hours. “There’s no cell reception out there!  If you’d broken down, you would’ve had to walk for miles and hope you found a house to get help from!”

Though I know she’s right and wouldn’t want to live that nightmare, I’m glad we found our way to that lonely stretch of road.  The views took our breath away more often than not and made for one last surprise before driving back to the airport the next morning.


If you wish to see more of photos from Sally Gap, please check out my dA account here.


Additional Links & Resources:

Discover Ireland: Sally Gap

Wicklow Tourism: Sally Gap