By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Prior to departure for Belfast, I was warned that full auto insurance coverage was essential. Losing a mirror is a common tourist hazard on roads in Northern Ireland.
A week later, when my left side mirror connected with a van mirror in picturesque Ballycastle in County Antrim, I appreciated the advice.
With characteristically cool Irish courtesy and concern, the van owner, interrupted from whitewashing a village pub, sauntered over. “I wondered about the sound,” he said. “You’re not to worry. We’ll sort it.”
Calling Dan Dooley Car Rentals he patiently explains that our vehicles were minus mirrors, and their client was having a nervous breakdown.
Ballycastle, reminiscent of a KCTS 9 film set, sadly got no more of my attention. Now ‘sorted’, I retreated back to the dramatic, almost deserted (maybe word travels fast in Ireland), Causeway Coast route.
Wild. Blustery. Imposing. The ancient 60,000-year-old rocks and cliffs bring me down to earth. I park, and take my frazzled nerves for a walk. Cold sea air fills my lungs. Reassured by the mystical terrain, I remind myself that one shattered mirror does not an earth-shattering disaster make.
By dinnertime at Bushmills Inn, Michael from Dan Dooley in Belfast (an hour and a half away) arrives to exchange the blue Toyota Corolla for a red Ford Focus (with two mirrors). “It’s smaller,” he says pointedly, handing me a GPS.
The Game of Thrones cast, guests at the Inn during filming at nearby historic Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, glanced over in amusement.
County Antrim is home to Bushmills, Ireland’s oldest working whiskey distillery. Now seems like the perfect time to relax before the fire, and see if the 400-year-old brand lives up to its reputation.
It does, and so does the roast lamb I order for dinner.
Adjourning to the claw-footed tub in room 108, I reflect on the day. A four-poster bed beckons, and I sink gratefully into it.
At check-out the next morning, Matthew assures me, “You can’t get lost in Northern Ireland. It’s all the scenic route.”
Cautiously, with a eye on my new left mirror, I head for Seamus Heaney country.
Magherafelt, in County Londonderry, is about an hour from anywhere in Northern Ireland (unless you’re driving with me).
I’m a big fan of B&Bs, so Laurel Villa in this quaint village is right up my alley.
Owned by Eugene and Geraldine Kielt, Laurel Villa was bought by Eugene’s widowed mother as a revenue property when he was 11. Gradually ensuites were added to the five bedrooms, upgrades implemented, and Eugene’s passion for poetry grew.
My room, The Patrick Kavanagh Room, reminds me of my childhood. Familiar dark wood furniture, copies of Kavanagh’s poetry, and a glimpse of the back garden. Downstairs a sitting room, study, and dining room comfortably invite exploration of books, poets’ pictures, and memorabilia.
Poet Seamus Heaney, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, grew up in the area. Well versed in history and genealogy, Eugene has crafted Heaney tours of the poet’s local haunts.
Armed with Heaney poems, Eugene reads Heaney works to me at locations described in verse – the river, the sports field next to the old cemetery, and a stop at the smithy to meet 95-year-old retired blacksmith Barney Devlin, Heaney’s inspiration for “The Forge”.
Eugene’s admiration and affection for Heaney is clear. “He was a very kind man. I can’t believe he’s gone,” he tells me.
Two American couples also staying at Laurel Villa tell me this is their second Laurel Villa Boutique Guest House “roots” visit. In addition to the warm Magherafelt welcome, they remarked that Northern Ireland was more affordable than the south, and equally worth exploring.
For more information, go to : discovernorthernireland.com ,http://laurel-villa.com and www.bushmillsinn.com