Bundoran, the fossilised town (circa: l950s) on the Co. Donegal coast, always makes me think of the person in the office who suffers from a bad case of BO: you don’t totally dislike them but you fervently wish they’d do something.
Bundoran is – and this, you understand, is my feeling (misguided say those who absolutely love the place) – tacky, full of uninteresting slot-machine establishments and shops selling cheap trinkets. In short, for all the dramatic crashing of the wild Atlantic waves on sandy beaches, I’m not Bundoran’s greatest fan.
But, like I say, plenty of the 37 souls on what is Ulsterbus Daytours’ longest run seemed to enjoy the town, were actually looking forward to it.
This, otherwise, is an absolutely wonderful trip that takes in nine counties – Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo and Cavan – and some of the most spectacular scenery they each have to offer.
Delightfully, it takes in some interesting small towns and villages – the sort you have either never been to before or have not been to for years – like Ballygawley, Cabrah, Fireagh, Lack, Ederney, Kesh, Belleek, Ballyshannon, Sligo. And the glorious Lakeland around Boa and Lusty Beg Islands, well-known, as Davy McGaughey, our trusty driver, pointed out, to many airmen during WW2.
Davy and I have shared several memorable UlsterBus Tours trips. Davy is a font of information on just about every building, lake, street, blade of grass along the way… a patter that informs and educates us constantly.
I didn’t know that just along the M1 from Casement Park, on the right, there still stands the home of the manager of the Ulster Canal, or that within a couple of minutes you can glimpse the ancestral homes of Stonewall Jackson and President Grant: one a Confederate and the other a Yankee, enemies in the American Civil War.
There is a quicker way to get to Bundoran – just fly along the Motorway to Enniskillen and over the border and you’re there – but this trip offers us a colourful diversion, with a comfort stop at the excellent Suitor Galleryat the Ballygawley Roundabout – the flower display at the Roundabout, by the way, is sponsored by Ulsterbus – a friendly, family-run establishment that serves delicious scones and buns and offers a wide range of quality arts and crafts.
Suitably refreshed, we were off again from Ballygawley – it’s reckoned to be the exact centre of Northern Ireland, 50 miles from everywhere else – along tree-lined roads, through the little villages and soon crossing onto Lusty Beg Island, the Lough Erne lapping gently on its shores … a very appropriate sentiment since we were later to stop at the grave of, and pay homage to, Ireland’s national poet, William Butler Yeats, he of the lake water lapping with low sounds.
The highlight was, of course, our stop at the world-famous Belleek Pottery for a look around the museum, a lunch in the café… and some serious shopping. The delicate ceramic pieces have been made in Belleek since l849, when John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited the Castlecaldwell estate and the town. A keen geologist he discovered that the raw materials needed to make the now world-famous pottery lay all around and he used the water from the River Erne to power the plant.
From Bundoran – OK, OK, it’s just me!! – we headed along the Donegal and Leitrim coast – in the latter case such as it is since Davy informed us the county has the shortest coastline of all the seacoast Irish counties – with Benbulben shrouded in a mysterious gray mist on our left.
And now we are well and truly in Yeats Country for he loved Sligo (I spotted a football ground, used by Yeats United). He was born in l865 and died in l939, buried in the Church of Ireland cemetery at Drumcliffe under the epitaph taken from his poem Under Benbulben: ‘Cast a cold Eye/On Life, on Death/Horseman, pass by.’
His most famous poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, is associated with the small island in Lough Gill, just a few miles from Sligo towards Manorhamilton.
There is a café and art and craft shop across from the Parish Church, with a wide range of books on his life and works.
Sligo town is a bustling, vibrant place – though still a nightmare to get through because of the narrow streets and complicated traffic system – that’s well worth visiting. Ulsterbus Daytours stops off at the quite excellent, ultra-modern, riverside hotel, The Glasshouse, right in the town centre. It’s a ‘must-see’ hotel that offers top-class food from a friendly staff and brightly-coloured retro rooms with panoramic views of the streets and buildings below.
The homeward run takes in some more spectacular scenery, running along the top of the sweeping valley containing Glencar Lake, all the way to Manorhamilton, through Blacklion and Belcoo to Enniskillen and a final comfort stop at the Killymaddy café.
This has got to be one of the gems of the Ulsterbus Daytours programme, so treat yourself to a great experience. Depart Europa Buscentre, Glengall St, Belfast at 08:30 and back for 21:15.
Ulsterbus also runs many other Day Tours from some of its other depots as well as Family Days Out, Events, Cruises and Shopping Trips. Visit their website or call the Travel Centre on 028 9033 7004.