Ireland 2023 – The Boys are Back in Town

It felt good to be on the quayside in Liverpool alongside a couple of old friends, waiting to board the overnight ferry to Belfast. Eight days of biking adventures lay ahead once we had crossed the Irish Sea to start our lap of the Emerald Isle

Days One and Two

However, as is so often the case with a touring trip before the pleasure first must come the pain. The traffic in the UK has been getting steadily worse. On a busy Friday afternoon, a perfect storm of stifling hot weather, dense traffic and pothole strewn roads did their level best to strip me of any feeling of euphoria as I escaped the shackles of everyday life for a few days. However, as soon as we all met up at the charming Horse and Jockey on the A41 near Whitchurch for food and the all-important first pint of the trip, my troubles soon began to melt away.

The all important first pint

Under a Blood Red Sky

Once on our ferry we dumped our stuff in our cabin, bickered over who went in what bunk and then made our way out on deck. We watched the sun set over Liverpool with a gentle red glow that lent the scene the air of a Sci-Fi film.

An almost surreal sky for our departure

Our cabin was surprisingly comfortable, and this allowed us to grab a little sleep as the ferry chugged serenely across an uncharacteristically flat-calm Irish Sea. Groggily we rose when the tanoy announcement boomed out telling us to make our way back to the bikes. Before I knew it, we were spat out onto the streets of Belfast.

Waiting Game

First port of call was, of all places, a McDonalds. Not the most glamorous start to visit to the land of my forebears, but we had two hours to kill before our main target for the day (The Titanic Museum), opened its doors.

Not the most glamorous of starts for our adventure

What can there be to display?

I was a little concerned that the exhibition might be a little lacking in meaningful exhibits, what with the (White) star of the show, inconveniently, being 12,000 feet under the North Atlantic! Thankfully, the whole set-up is excellent: From the state-of-the-art building that houses the museum to the thoughtfully displayed exhibits.

The museum is housed in a cutting edge piece of architecture

We spent 3 hours in there and could well have taken much longer. From the insight into the development of Belfast to the history of Harland & Wolf and The White Star Line, to the heart wrenching stories of the passenger and crew. Both those that survived and those that sadly did not. Odd things got to me; The violin played by one of the ship’s musicians, a deck chair recovered from the sea…

Poignant relic 

All beautifully done

The list of victims displayed on a huge sweeping wall, had people transfixed, me included. For me one of the most intriguing displays was the full scan of the wreck beneath a glass floor you can walk across. The scan sweeps over the wreck and it almost feels that you are in a submersible observing the real thing.

You could almost be at the wreck site

The actual slipways on which Titanic and Olympic were built are still there.  It is also worth checking out SS Nomadic. This was a ‘tender’ ship to the Titanic used to ferry passengers to it. Beautifully restored after an eventful service life spanning many decades and two world wars. It gives an interesting perspective on ships of that era.

The slipway that hosted the Titanic

The same slipway in 1911

SS Nomadic

We headed away from the museum highly impressed, but completely out of time to check out HMS Caroline which is also displayed nearby. This is a World War One era warship, one of very few remaining. One for another day.

HMS Caroline

The famous H&W shipyard crane. A Belfast landmark

Down to the trip proper

Now we got down to the serious riding. Briefly halting at Larne, another port, and a spot I remember from when I visited the area in the early 1970’s as a child. It’s weird what pops back into consciousness with the right trigger. The main attraction is the ‘The Causeway Coastal Route’. This is a superb road that hugs the northern coastline of County Antrim. The views across some beautiful, near deserted beaches is, at times, breathtaking. Highlights include rock archways over the roads, the golden sands and while they could be ridden at pace and would be great fun, riding in a more measured style seemed the appropriate way to go. Waft along and just take it in. This was to become a running theme for the weeks riding.


Every time we stopped to take it all in, people approached us for a chat. They are so friendly and pro-bike. It makes a refreshing change from what we have become used to back home. We even rode along parts of the NW200 circuit or got close to it. Including the so called ‘Magic Roundabout’ at Ballysally. There are loads of places called Ballysomething. I found this area of NI very reminiscent of the Isle of Man. Both in appearance and general atmosphere.

The only picture I took, doesn’t do this route justice at all

They will have some great wedding pictures hopefully

On one rest halt, overlooking a spectacular inlet down a steep cliff a bride and groom suddenly appeared in full regalia! They proceeded to gingerly make their way down to the water’s edge, accompanied by their photographer! I hope the pictures came out ok and didn’t have three crusty bikers in the background!

No tents for us

We rolled up to our digs in Coleraine, a very comfortable and well-appointed bungalow in residential cul-de-sac. Our arrival, on three BMW R1200s seemed to cause a bit of fuss and neighbours were soon out and saying hello.

Comfortable digs

Has to be done

Motorcycle touring in this way can get expensive. Camping is significantly cheaper, but it is a lot of hassle and there is so much kit to drag about. Where you can save money is by going self-catering where possible. So, two of us popped out and came back with supplies. A couple of frozen pizzas, some snacks and a few bottles of cold beer saw that the evening was sorted, and costs kept reasonable. It had been a baking hot day and the cool beers were particularly welcome!

In a strange coincidence as we settled down to enjoy a cooling pint and stuck the TV on, the first thing that came on was the 1998 Titanic film. Life plays odd tricks like that sometimes.

Day Three – In the Footsteps of Giants

One of main reasons for being in Northern Ireland was to check out the internationally renowned ‘Giant’s Causeway’. The causeway is, in fact a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is natural formation of interlocking basalt columns, in a regular hexagonal form. Local legend has it that the columns are the remnants of path build and used by a giant Fionn mac Cumhall (pronounced Fin MacCool) to allow him to get over to Scotland to take on their giant, Benadonner. The outcome is disputed, depending on whether you have Irish or Scottish heritage. As a proud ‘Plastic-Paddy’ my money is on our man!

Either way it is a peculiar sight to see these hexagonal columns. It’s a bit of a trek to get down to them from the car park, but we had left our bike gear with the helpful car-park attendant. There is a shuttle bus if you’re feeling lazy! Naughtily, as a fellow tourist videoed the scene, I mentioned loudly that the columns are all numbered and stored in a warehouse over winter to reduce erosion! I wonder if they believed that tall tale. I hope so, but somehow doubt it.

We all enjoyed scrambling over the causeway and really does look man-made. Is the place a ‘must- see’? Yes, but not quite as mind blowing as I had been expecting somehow.

The Causeway

Adopting the traditional ‘Boys on Tour’ stance

A bit of mountain goatary

From North to South

Back to the BMWs and we moved on. Heading around the stunning coastal route, passing the ruins of castles as we rode. We skirted the town of Derry, or Londonderry depending on your point of view. In the dark days when ‘The Troubles’ were at their peak, this was a real flashpoint.

The whole section was a joy to ride and to behold. We crossed seamlessly over into The Republic Ireland. Somehow with the aftereffects of Brexit I had expected something like a passport control point, but nope. One minute the road signs where in miles the next there were in kilometres. The villages and small towns we passed through suddenly took on a different character. The north had a feel more akin to Scotland or the IoM, whereas here it seemed subtlety more rural, and the pace of life felt like it had been turned down a notch. I like that.

The pictures speak for themselves really, this is just a small selection

Ireland’s Route 66

We generally stuck to the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’, a well signposted route that takes you along the edge of the coast. Sort of Ireland’s answer to Route 66! Those of you wanting a thrilling ride, go elsewhere. However, if you just want to take it and feel the vibe, you are very much in the right place.

We skirted the outer edges of Glenveagh National Park, we mainly stuck on the N56 and some the ‘R’ roads that branched off it.

Things did speed up a little as hit the last section of the road, the N15, from Donegal to Grange on the road to Sligo. But after a long day of riding, it felt good to pull up on the frontage of Moran’s Bar, our digs for the evening.

We quickly unpacked our gear, sorted our rooms and met up at the on site take-away for some food before heading off into the busy bar for a couple of well-earned pints. We all took to a bitter called Smithwick’s. The local’s and staff were super friendly, and we got chatting to a few interesting folks in the bar.

My first pint of the ‘Black Stuff’ in my ancestral homeland 

The perfect way to round off a superb day of riding.

Words: Tony Donnelly

Pictures: Tony Donnelly & Andy Preece