Chilling out on the Cooley - an east coast treat


Carlingford is a real east coast treat, perfect for a short break or weekend getaway and there's far more to this historic heritage town than meets the eye.

When I mentioned to a few people that I was planning on a visit to Carlingford they tried to warn me off.

‘Nothing but stag and hen parties’, ‘Gets rough at the weekends’, ‘Mobbed with crowds coming down from the North’ was the cautionary advice.

It’s true that Carlingford is popular with young people, which makes it busy, especially in the summer months and it is a favourite haunt for stags and hens for their pre-nuptial revelry.

However, when we used it as an overnight staging post for a fortnight foray into the Causeway Coastal route, I liked the feel of the place and determined to return. We have returned on a couple of further occasions since and confirmed that our first impressions were correct - Carlingford on the Cooley peninsula is an east coast treat. It’s ideal for a day trip, a weekend away or a short break.

What’s more, while there is a scattering of No Overnight Parking signs about the place, it is largely motorhome friendly, with plenty of park-up options.

It’s also family friendly. We found the locals full of chat and banter and contrary to any apprehensions the security staff at the town’s taverns were the most helpful and reassuring I have ever encountered. Sure, there was the high jinx of stags and hens about the place with an assortment of blow-up paraphernalia - none of them tents or camping mattresses!! - but they were good humoured and largely kept to themselves.

Carlingford has plenty to offer the solo traveller, couples, or families in its own right and it’s a joy to stroll around. It also is a great base in which to explore the Cooley peninsula and further afield.

There are a few different park up options at the marina which is at the trailhead forthe greenway and only a short walk into the town.

While there is no formal campsite in Carlingford the local marina is a great base and provides a safe and secure Aire type facility for motorhomes. The cost is €15 per night and in addition to the waste disposal facilities there’s access to the bar and restaurant (Rabelo wine bar & café). There’s also access to the showers and toilets facilities at the marina, which is conducting an ongoing survey on motorhome visitors and their contribution to the local tourism sector. There’s a pleasant atmosphere around the marina and it offers an added advantage of being the trailhead for the greenway which runs along the coastline to neighbouring Omeath about 7km away.

We didn’t stay overnight at the marina as I’m personally not a fan of the tight line-up parking it offers. But we were happy enough to pay a tenner for use of the services and park up for the day while we cycled the greenway… and our cassette capacity was maxed out! Make sure to get your token to exit the marina at the office as that’s the only way to leave. Otherwise, you will have to pay the car parking rate again in coins at the exit barrier.

Recently another aire style facility opened at the Shalom B&B premises on the Ghan Road which was also very convenient and fetched good reviews. However, the owner notified this week that this motorhome park facility is closed until further notice.

Other than that, despite numerous no overnight parking signs, particularly at the Castle and the harbour pier, there are plenty of other park-up options available and easily spotted with a small bit of reconnaissance. On our recent three visits the town was buzzing and lots of motorhomes about, but you can see how easy it is to annoy a community with the occasional vehicle blocking access, jutting across footpaths, and parking along yellow box exit routes. Enough of that.

Back to the greenway. I really like it, because it’s easy, all level, all along the coast, no hardship. There are bike hire options in Carlingford including, On Yer Bike based at the marina at the start of the greenway. It’s a delightful, doable, and family friendly trip to Omeath, which has its own charms and refreshment options. Among them is Mena’s chipper, established in 1978 and when Mena is not knocking out the best locally sourced fish‘n’chips in these parts you might catch him knocking out some tunes in the taverns of Carlingford with the Rambling String Band. Fresh hake and chips €8.50, just the job before heading back to Carlingford on the bikes.

The Carlingford to Omeath greenway is no hardship and comfortable walk or cycle for families with stunning scenery and nature on show.

Carlingford is a heritage town, steeped in history and lore going right back to the legend of The Táin, the Vikings, Normans and a clatter of other kings who fancied the area as their fortress. It’s a previous winner of the national tidy towns title and you can easily see the sense of pride of place with its well-kept public spaces and restored old town features. Carlingford is a charming medieval walled town hemmed in by Slieve Foye on the Cooley Mountains and Carlingford Lough. Its ancient gaelic name is Cuan Snamh Aigneach, the bay of the horse swimming.

There’s an abundance of water activity options, sailing of course, cruise tours of the lough, kayaking or paddle boarding and if you want to venture further afield this hinterland has craft breweries, oyster farms, ice cream parlours and a short ferry crossing from nearby Greenore will take you across to Greencastle and onto the wonderful Rostrevor, the County Down village which is getting rave reviews. You can clearly see this beautiful hamlet at the foot of the Mourne Mountains across on the opposite shores of the lough, with Kilbroney Forest Park and its amenities, including a campsite close by.

Right smack bang in the middle of Carlingford town is a public park, ideal for a picnic or chilling out (with public toilets nearby, albeit that they are well overdue a renovation); there are tennis courts, a biodiversity garden full of all sorts of plants and little creatures and along the Ghan Road the hilarious and intriguing Leprechaun Park nestled along the shoreline. The kids love it.

I also spotted some serious hikers who had all the gear as they congregated to embark on trekking the mountains which form a stunning backdrop to this heritage town. And I'm reliably informed by some great local knowledge that Anam Tours do a variety of hikes for adults and children as well as guided walks around the town with a mix of history and stories from these parts. That's something I'll definitely check out next time.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that one of the things that brought us back to Carlingford was PJ O’Hares Oyster Bar. This tavern on Tholsel Street, the Liberties of Carlingford they say, is popular for good reason. Not only is the food superb - and they specialise in oysters, crab rolls, crab claws and chowder as well as scrumptious desserts - but the setup, service and staff were all wonderful, making for a most enjoyable experience, including the friendly and helpful doorman.  This well-run establishment is worth making the trip to Carlingford alone.

So, there’s far more to Carlingford than stags and hens. I was pleasantly taken by how well preserved the public spaces were maintained and just how family friendly was the entire experience.

We’ll be back for sure as I already have a hankering for those grilled oysters! What a treat and Carlingford is a real eye opener of an east coast treat for sure.

Next up, we’re heading to West Cork and Sexton’s in Timoleague, and the good news is they have just announced they’re staying open until the end of October.

SEE ALSO: Goosey Island - a real gem on the Ring of Kerry