The Land of Castles, Legends &
Beverly Cohn Abroad
1, which covered Days 1 and 2 of this amazing
journey through Northern Ireland, we explored Carrickfergus
Castle; had a fabulous meal at the beautiful French Rooms
at Bushmills; visited Glenarm Castle, and had a fun tour
with Andrew Morrow, the head gardener, whose father was the resident
chauffeur for 50 years. We explored the ancient Giant's Causeway
with its scientific, as well as mythological, explanations of its formation;
wandered through the ruins of Dunluce Castle, ending Day 2
with a gourmet dinner at Deanes Meat Locker. Could Days 3
and 4 get any better? Read on and you'll see.
The sprawling Hillsborough Castle boasts elegantly
appointed State Rooms available for receptions and dinners.
The next historic castle on our tour was Hillsborough
Castle, located in County Down. Nestled on 96 acres
of beautifully landscaped gardens, this Georgian mansion was
originally built in the 1770s and was renovated in the 19th
and early 20th centuries. The castle boasts several elegantly
appointed State Rooms, available for receptions and dinners
with a seating capacity ranging from 50 to 400.
Hillsborough Castle has the distinction of being
designated the official Northern Ireland residence of Queen Elizabeth
II and Prince Philip, Duke of EdInburgh. Courtesy Photo
Former world leaders President George W. Bush and
British Prime Minister Tony Blair have an informal meeting in the Hillsborough
Castle gardens. Courtesy Photo
Prince William and his wife, The Duchess of
are among the royals who have visited Hillsborough
Castle. Courtesy Photo
Queens, princes, princesses, and heads of government
have walked these luscious grounds. One special area is the Granville
Garden, the site of the largest rhododendron collection in Europe.
It was created by Queen Elizabeth II's aunt, who was married
to the Earl of Granville. Hillsborough Castle also has
the distinction of being designated the official Northern Ireland
residence of the Royal Family, as well as the Secretary of
State of Northern Ireland, who is appointed by the British
monarch and reports to the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
There is an elegantly appointed Throne Room with an imposing
throne. However, the Queen prefers to sit in a chair directly
in front of the throne to receive guests. A guest book is placed on
a nearby table and we all took the opportunity to leave a note for the
The opening series of HBO's Game of Thrones
was filmed at Castle Ward.
Still on a high from our visit to this historic castle,
we piled back into the van and headed for Castle Ward, a National
Trust* property. This is the castle in which the opening series
of "Game of Thrones" was filmed. We actually stood
in the courtyard where the young prince was tossed out of the window
by that nasty queen in one of the earliest episodes.
The Temple Water garden
is considered the largest ornamental garden in Ireland, and dates
back to the 18th century. Photo: Beverly Cohn
In looking at this 18th century house, situated
on 820 acres, overlooking the iconic Strangford Lough,
it is evident that there are two distinctly different the styles of
architecture. As the legend goes, it seems that the Ward men
married women of great wealth. One such couple could not agree on the
style; she wanted Gothic, he wanted Classical. Hence,
they compromised and the home was constructed and furnished to accommodate
their specific preferences. A word about Strangford Lough: With
its over 120 islands rich in wildfowl and marine life, it is
considered Europe's most significant wildlife sanctuaries.
As was mentioned in Part
1, gardening is in the DNA of the Irish people
as evidenced once again by Castle Ward's sprawling magnificent
gardens. One particularly enchanting section is Temple Water,
which is said to be the largest ornamental garden in Ireland,
spanning from the early 18th century. Its beauty and tranquility
is something to behold.
A pioneer scientist, Mary Ward was the first
to use the giant telescope belonging to her cousin, the Earl of
Rosse. Courtesy Photo
One ancestor of note is the extraordinary Mary Ward,
who lived in the 19th century. She was a naturalist, astronomer,
scientific pioneer, artist, and mother of eight children. Encouraged
by her parents, she was the first woman to use the giant telescope owned
by her cousin, the Earl of Rosse, at Birr Castle.** As
a teenager, she possessed an advanced microscope, which she used with
slides she made herself from slivers of ivory, as glass was difficult
to access. A very accomplished woman, she earned respect from other
scientists. Her book, "The World of Wonders," contains
drawings of microscopic organisms as uncovered through the microscope.
It became a coveted reference book, as did her multiple articles. Sadly,
in what is thought to be the world's first traffic accident, while visiting
her cousin, Mary fell out of a steam engine car and was crushed
by the wheels.
Under the terms of National Trust ownership,
Castle Ward is a hotbed of events open to the public including:
Mother's Day; St. Patrick's Day; Spring Guided Walk; Craft Demonstrations;
Pet Nose Day; Historical Cream Tea; Dog Agility; Jazz in the Gardens;
Summer Garden Fete; and Pirates Picnic. There is also Clear
Sky Kids Summer Activity Camp, and the Full Moon Twilight Boat
By the way, in case you ever wondered about the origin
of the phrase "upper crust," our guide explained that when
bread was toasted, servants scraped off the bottom burnt part, with
the unburned portion reserved for the royals. So from now on when you
hear the phrase "upper crust," think bread.
The awesome Titanic Exhibit building houses the
worlds largest collection of everything "Titanic." Photo:
The Titanic Exhibit is an emotional retelling of
the most profound sea disaster in history. Courtesy Photo
A replica of the great ship's iconic stairway, as
recreated in James Cameron's classic film, "Titanic." Photo:
No trip to Northern Ireland would be complete
without a visit to the very imposing Titanic Exhibit, which houses
the world's largest collection of everything Titanic.
From 1909-1912, Harland & Wolf Shipyard employed
over 3,000 men to build the ship. Courtesy Photo
It is located in the exact slipway where she was built
in Belfast at the Harland & Wolf Shipyard from 1909-1912.
The company employed over 3,000 men to build the ship, which
was hailed as "the new wonder of the world." With a crowd
of 100,000 people watching, this mighty, but doomed vessel set
sail on April 10, 1912 from the Thompson Graving Dock
the largest in the world. The launch took only 62 seconds.
Approximately 11 stories high, 882 feet, 8 inches
in length, and weighing over 45,000 tons,Titanic disappeared into the
freezing sea in an agonizing 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The Titanic Exhibit is an emotional retelling
of the most profound sea disaster in history. Its story is told through
the Exhibit's nine galleries, which contain photos, talking heads
of people from that time, films, re-creations of the different staterooms,
and interactive touch screens that take you to the bottom of the ocean.
You can hear a voice say: "We are stopped and surrounded by ice."
The massive ship hit the iceberg at 11:40 pm on April 14,
1912. Approximately 11 stories high, 882 feet, 8
inches in length, and weighing over 45,000 tons, Titanic
disappeared into the freezing sea in 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Each gallery will give you a visceral, emotional experience
related to specific events. The nine galleries are: Boomtown Belfast;
The Shipyard Ride; The Launch of Titanic; The Fit-Out; Maiden Voyage;
The Sinking; The Aftermath; Myths & Realty; Visit & Explore
the Wreck. The Titanic Exhibit is a moving experience; so
do allow lots of time to explore each of the galleries.
Lord & Lady Dunleath greeted us in front of
their breathtaking Ballywalter Park estate. Photo: Beverly
Fortified with a traditional Irish breakfast
served in the restaurant of the Malmaison Hotel, we once more
climbed into our comfortable van. Since we are creatures of habit, it's
no surprise that each journalist sat in the same seat every day. After
the haunting Titantic experience, we were especially looking
forward to being hosted for lunch by Lord and Lady Dunleath
(Vibse) in their extraordinary Ballywalter Park home.
We were warmly greeted by the royal couple and were immediately treated
to a welcoming glass of champagne, after which they gave us a walking
tour of their stately home.
With twelve bedrooms and bathrooms, the castle also
serves as a hotel and is used for conferences as well. The fees range
from 280£ for a double room, to 150£ for a
single, while a five-course dinner costs 140£. However,
they are not set up for weddings at the moment. As in Hillsborough
Castle, famous people have visited this beautifully restored mansion
including: the British Royal Family, the Danish Crown Prince,
and Jeremy Irons. The Dunleaths have one live-in housekeeper,
and hire additional help as needed. The major source of their income,
which sustains the home, comes from their dairy farm, which houses 450
The lavish Ballywalter dining room where we
were treated like royalty and for a few hours, basked in the beauty
of this opulent setting. Photo: Beverly Cohn
As we were being shown around the castle, I had the
opportunity to talk to Lady Dunleath who was "not to the
manor born." I asked her how they met. It seems that she was a
food historian specializing in the evolution of food, specifically as
it pertained to the history of bread, starting with medieval times.
Lord Dunleah's home was being used to film her television series
so the Danish-born Vibse was at the castle over a long
period of time. I asked her if it was love at first sight and she answered:
"It was business at first sight." Lord Dunleath was
leaving on a trip and asked her if she would look after the estate while
he travelled. She answered, "Yes." "The rest is
history," said Lady Dunleath with a smile. Both were married
once before so the wonderful song by Frank Sinatra "The
Second Time Around" seems quite appropriate.
At the conclusion of our castle tour, where we saw lavishly
furnished rooms filled with historic treasures and paintings going back
generations, we entered the glorious dining room. For a brief moment,
I felt that I could very easily become "Lady of Something."
The lunch was delicious, with the tomatoes fresh from the Ballywalter
garden comprising the Dunleath Vitello Tomato with Walled
Garden Salad. The lunch was crowned with a sinfully delicious chocolate
fudge brownie and homemade coffee ice cream. Life doesn't get much better
than this or, maybe it does. As much as we hated to tear ourselves away
from this magical setting, it was time to move on to our next stop,
which was Mount Stewart.
With 18 unique gardens, Mount Stewart is ranked
as one of the Top 10 Gardens in the World. Photo: Beverly
Restored and also owned by the National Trust,
this splendid property, family home of the Marquesses of Londonderry,
is a dreamland of meandering paths leading to a mosaic of exquisite
gardens originally planted by Edith, Lady Londonderry. Today
these enchanting gardens rank as one of the Top 10 Gardens in the
Neil Porteous, head gardener of this sprawling
property, guided us through a few of the 18 distinctly unique
gardens, commenting that, Gardening is in the Irish DNA."
Photo: Beverly Cohn
Neil Porteous, head gardener of this sprawling
property, guided us through a few of the 18 distinctly unique
gardens recreated from the diaries of Edith, Lady of Londonderry.
Some of these iconic gardens include: Sunken Gardens; Lily
Wood; Italian Garden; Peace Garden; Fountain Walk;
Lake Walk; Walled Garden; Ladies Walk; Temple
of the Woods; and Shamrock Garden. By the way, in case you're
wondering about the origin of the shamrock being an Irish symbol,
it seems that St. Patrick actually created the name and it represents
the Holy Trinity The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost.
Fun activities take place all year long at Mount
Stewart, some of which include: a Rhododendron Ramble and Roast,
Spring Guided Walk, Easter Egg Trail, Greyabbey Bay Walk, Pet Nose Day,
and Jazz in the Gardens. Consult their website for dates and
Head Chef John Paul Leake is responsible for the
extraordinary culinary delights served in the Merchant Hotel's famous
"The Great Room." Photo: Beverly Cohn
What better way to end the final leg of our Northern
Ireland experience than to have an exquisite dinner in The Great
Room, one of the most beautiful restaurants in Belfast. Located
in the Merchant Hotel, this stunning venue is said to be one
of Northern Ireland's most extraordinary restaurants. With its
original Victorian design, its glass cupola is Ireland's
largest chandelier and the food matches the elegance in every way.
In closing, it should be noted that Belfast has
suffered from its former reputation of being violent and dangerous because
of "The Troubles," which spanned decades. However,
today it is stable and a very safe, exciting tourist destination.
The food presentation matched the elegance of this
splendid room as evidenced by this dessert Profiterole Swans
filled vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.
*The National Trust is a UK conservation
charity that protects historic places, such as castles, houses, gardens,
mills, farmland, islands, nature preserves, etc. They hold leases on
about 5,000 properties, which they rent out at a reduced price with
the understanding that the tenant makes the property available to the
public on a regular basis.
**An exclusive interview coming up with the 7th
Earl of Rosse at Birr Castle (Brendan Parsons) who gave me private
tour of his sprawling estate, followed by lunch with him and the Countess.
Also coming up is an interview with the designer of Prince Charles'
garden at Highgrove, a visit to the National Stud Farm,
and my stay at two of the most exclusive hotels in the Republic
Ballyfin and The K Club The Kildare Hotel,
Spa & Country Club.
Co. Down BT26 6AG
Co. Down BT30 7LS
1 Olympic Way
Belfast, Northern Ireland BT3 9EP
Ireland: The Land of Castles, Legends and Myths, Part 1; Magical,
Mystical, Delightful, Enchanting Part 1/Part
to the Emerald Isle; Faces
of Ireland; Aran
of Smiling Irish Eyes; County
Cork, Ireland: Remembering the Famine