On my third full day in Ireland, Becky and I took a drive up to Carlington, a town close to the Northern Ireland border. We didn’t have much of a plan other than that we wanted to see a castle called King John’s Castle, but our random explorations yielded some very pleasant surprises.
Like so many other Irish towns and villages, Carlingford is quiet and very colorful. I love the multicolored houses, but I think the vibrant doors are my favorite. Without these colors, the houses would be pretty difficult to distinguish from one another. In fact, legend has it that one night, an Irishman who’d had a few too many pints of Guinness stumbled into the wrong house and the wrong bed. The very next morning, all the wives in town went out and painted their doors different colors so their husbands could find their way home.
The village sits on the banks of a large lough (lake) that marks the border between the People’s Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The picture at the top of this post is a village called Warrenpoint, which is just past the border. We weren’t sure whether we could take the rental car into Northern Ireland, but it was fun to look across the water and see another country.
Carlingford actually has two castles. King John’s Castle (also called Carlingford Castle) sits on a bluff overlooking the lough. A sign by the castle says,
It was built by the Normans to consolidate their hold on the country after the invasion in 1169. King John is credited with building a castle at almost every place he visited in Ireland, but often he had very little to do with them—Carlingford was probably built sometime around 1200 by Hugh de Lacy, although John did stay here for three days in 1210.
The second castle, Taaffe’s Castle, sits in the middle of town, surrounded by all those colorful houses and shops. Like King John’s Castle, Taaffe was originally on the shoreline. Apparently, it is “a fine example of an urban fortified residence of a wealthy, late-medieval, merchant family.”
Both castles were locked up so we couldn’t go inside, but we had fun hiking around them for a bit before buying some ice cream at a truck in the village park. While enjoying our vanilla cones with 99p Flake bars sticking out of the tops, we noticed a sign for an underground leprechaun and fairy cavern. We followed the sign and tried to find it, but we couldn’t figure out where it was. Becky suggested it’s because fairies and leprechauns don’t exist, so neither does their underground cavern, but I refuse to believe that—I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!
And apparently, it does exist! You can read the whole story here, but basically, a man named McCoillte (or possibly Kevin Woods, as he is referred to here) was a skeptic until he met a leprechaun at the top of Foy mountain. Like Tinker Bell in Peter Pan, Leprechauns can only survive if humans believe in them, so McCoillte/Woods—the “last Leprechaun Whisperer in Ireland”—has made it his life mission to convince people they exist.
And—I’m not making this up—in 2009, McCoillte got Leprechauns “protected by the EU under a habitats directive.” I actually saw signs to that effect at in multiple places, so it must be true.
We drove a bit further north just for the fun of it and stumbled upon a trail head for a path that runs along the shore of Carlingford Lough. The lovely weather and the cool breeze off the water enticed us, so we walked almost all the way back to town on that path. We saw some horses, found some cool shells on the beach, and wondered about the history of the abandoned and burned hotel locked behind tall fences.
And then we discovered Slieve Foye, a forest that is most definitely home to a leprechaun or two. I mean, look at that place! Waterfalls, ferns, and shamrocks? It’s like a page right out of a Leprechaun Land brochure. We didn’t happen to meet any, but I’m a believer Mr. McCoillte/Woods.
Do you believe in leprechauns?
 From a plaque on the castle wall.
 If you don’t know what this is referring to, you must watch this. I promise you won’t regret it.
 Discover Ireland