For summer 2019, we are partnering with theJournal.ie to bring you 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.
This week, Paul Wilson heads for Louth, taking in the thrills of Carlingford Lough and awe-inspiring views along the Cooley Peninsula.
- Name: The Cooley Peninsula Scenic Drive. Find a map of our suggested route here, and see a full map of the region here.
- Where: County Louth, or ‘the wee county’, small but rich in every way.
- The route: Start at Dundalk on the N52 for the Hill of Faughart, to Proleek, then Cooley Distillery and Templetown Beach, skirting Carlingford Lough to Carlingford town.
- What makes it one of Ireland’s Greatest Drives? Isolated and beautiful, short and sweet, through country and coast.
- Journey time: 2 hrs, approx.
- Photo opportunities: Take out your camera for a family selfie at Carlingford Lough, a glacial fjord surrounded by rolling hills and mountains.
- Hidden gems: Make some lifetime memories with a kayaking trip in Carlingford, plus a pancake stack at Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms to reward hungry bellies.
- If you’re feeling courageous: Navigate through Ravensdale Forest to the summit of Black Mountain, winding through forest roads and tracks.
TODAY, you’re exploring the land south of the lough though, where the Cooley Mountains stretch along the peninsula to the Irish Sea, offering views of bright green landscapes.
One way to approach the Cooley Peninsula is from Dundalk. You’re in Louth, or the ‘wee county’ (for it’s the smallest in Ireland). The Cooley Peninsula is a short drive, beautifully remote, making it a great family road trip – with the chance for some adventure in Carlingford at the end.
Head north from Byrne’s Folly at Dun Dealgan Motte, said to be the birthplace of Cú Chulainn, the ancient Gaelic warrior whose story will thrill passengers of all ages.
St Brigid’s Well is at the The Hill of Faughart, where an iron-age fort lies close to an ancient graveyard. Louth County Council’s Heritage Officer, Brendan McSherry, says it’s ‘one of the most important heritage sites in Louth.’
About 20 minutes further along the peninsula, the wooded hilly landscape winds its way to the Blue Flag Templetown Beach. Sheltered by rocky promontories, this is the perfect spot for a picnic, and a family stroll along pristine sand and gently lapping waves.
Templetown Beach on a blue-sky day. Source: Shutterstock/Sarah McAdam
Continuing along the route, the sweeping views of Carlingford Lough will begin to open up before you. This spectacular glacial fjord forms part of the border between the North and South.
Carlingford Lough. Source: Shutterstock/Jason Ruddy
The water is rich with oysters, and oyster beds mark the way. Premium, hand-selected Louët-Feisser oysters can be found at the famous Carlingford oyster company, Mulatee.
For younger tastebuds, a trip to Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms for a sausage sambo or a pancake stack with mixed berries might be more appealing.
Carlingford, a medieval village on the east coast, is the heart of the peninsula. For families with a love of the outdoors, this is an incredible spot to spend a few hours, or even a few days.
Try kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, canoeing and zip-lining with Carlingford Adventure Centre. Book in for a shared day of activities for €48pp, or for longer stays, families can book into the centre’s 4* holiday homes for five or seven nights.
Carlingford is also a place of hill walks, considered some of the most scenic in Ireland. The National Way-marked trail, The Tain Way, loops from and back to Carlingford, while the Black Mountain Cairn Walk starts in the archaeology-rich Ravensdale Forest to the summit of Black Mountain.
From Carlingford you can travel back on yourself to Dundalk, or continue north, briefly crossing the border past Omeath (a Co Louth village), and coming back via Slieve Foy, the highest of the Cooley Mountains.