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The north

There are few more dramatic natural landscape in Western Europe than the Giant's Causeways on Ireland's north coast.

This geological curiosity was formed by the cooling of lava as it burst through the earth's crust over an area extending to Scotland when the earth was young. But Irish legend has it that two giants had argument once during which they flung great stones at each other and Causeway is the living proof of this brief if ferocious unpleasantness.

The Causeway is about 60 miles east of the tip of County Donegal which adjoins Sligo on Ireland's north-west corner. The contrast is startling. Donegal of the rugged mountains, deep passes and towering fells on which graze the sheep that produce wool for the area's famous tweed and where the traditional music of Ireland has the true ring of it in turf-fired public houses that tempt a longer stay.

Along this exposed coast the battered remnants of Spain's vaunted Armada fought vainly to defy a watery grave. A few years ago on Derry's wild Atlantic coast a single gold ring from the Armada wreck was declaring sadly " I have nothing more to give thee". Historic Londonderry, with its mile-long walls and gates, Guildhall and twin cathedrals, lies at the tip of Lough Foyle. The coastal drive from Portrush to Ballycastle on the north-east coast is arguably the most concentrated 15 miles of quality visitor interest in all Ireland.

Near Portrush the dramatic ruins of Dunluce Castle teeter on the edge of a windy cliff. Local legend has it that centuries ago during a great banquet in the castle the section housing the kitchen suddenly collapsed into the sea below and had a very dampening affect on the whole proceedings.

Visitors driving on the Causeway Coast have plenty of reason for wanting to stop at Bushmills. This is the oldest distillery in the world and there are few Irish folk who will not agree that their Bushmills Black Label is not the best trop ( note pronunciation ) made in Ireland.

From Ballycastle and the swinging Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge to Carlingford Lough, near where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea on the coast, its just under 100 miles, with Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, about mid-way. Visitors are often amazed by how much there is to see and do in Belfast. Its Opera House is a delightful building and its Crown Liquor Saloon, a gem of Victorian architecture much admired by English poet John Betjeman.

There are also museums, art galleries, fine theatres and art centres, a brilliantly transformed waterfront that hosted the Tall Ship Race, excellent city shopping, restaurants and night life. Just outside the city is the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Here is a living image of country life long ago, with terraces of actual 19th century buildings and rural schools, forges and even opportunities to watch horse ploughing and roof thatching in living time capsule. Armagh, 30 miles away has been the spiritual capital of Ireland for over 1500 years and the seat of both Protestant and Catholic Archbishops. Close at hand is Navan Fort, stronghold of Kings of Ulster from 700BC. Downpatrick, 20 miles from the capital is the burial place of St. Patrick, Ireland's national saint and first occupant of the seat of Armagh.

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