Destination Report: Cooley Peninsula, County Louth

Cooley Peninsula in County Louth is full of exciting sights and activities, steeped in Irish history and folklore – and is even home to the family of President Biden.

Bringing further recognition to Cooley, British journalist, broadcaster and former politician Michael Portillo recently visited the peninsula. He was filming a new BBC documentary celebrating the area’s famous regional oysters.

Michael Portillo and Crew on the Pier at Carlingford. Photo by Carlingford Lough and the Carlingford Peninsula.

This week, we’re exploring the peninsula to find out what it is exactly that enticed Portillo in the first place. Here are our highlights, so you can make the most of your visit to County Louth’s lovely coastline:

What to See

Carlingford

The medieval walled town of Carlingford was built by the Normans in the 12th century, and rests on the shoreline of Carlingford Lough. Home to King John’s Castle (also known as Carlingford Castle) and Carlingford Heritage Centre, there are plenty of spots for history lovers to enjoy.

The town is characterised its medieval walls, with King John’s Castle taking centre stage. The castle is shadowed by Slieve Foy, a mountain known for its significance in Irish folklore. The mountain is where Fionn mac Cumhaill is said to have defeated a wild boar, which he then cooked on the smouldering volcano.

Carlingford Castle. Image by Heritage Ireland.

Enjoy a guided tour at Carlingford Heritage Centre and discover Ireland’s medieval past. The guides will take you on a tour of the historic remains, including Carlingford Castle. You’ll be met at the Station House and begin the tour at the castle, standing guard majestically on a rocky outcrop over the town.

Carlingford Oysters

The Carlingford Oyster is farmed by the family-run Carlingford Oyster Company. The oysters come from the heart of Carlingford Lough, where they have thrived for centuries.

Well-loved and treasured for its unique sweet taste and high meat content, the Carlingford Oyster has made its way into dishes at many of the top restaurants throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Carlingford Oysters

Sea Louth

Sea Louth’s Scenic Seafood Trail captures the finest scenery and tastiest seafood that County Louth’s coastline has to offer.

Explore the lesser known trails of the area and meet local seafood producers. Visitors will be provided with their own Sea Louth passport, which will guide you to 14 different coastal viewpoints along the trail. Each viewpoint has a unique illustrated stamp to be collected from shops and outlets along the way.

Great Eastern Greenway from Carlingford to Omeath, Co. Louth

The Great Eastern Greenway

Explore the 7km greenway along the shoreline from Carlingford to Omeath, which leads along the old railway line. The greenway is perfect for walkers or cyclists who want to take in the sights along the coast, rich in geology, flora and fauna.

Carlingford Lough and the Mountains of Mourne

Omeath

The picturesque village of Omeath sits where the Cooley Mountains meet the sea and is another area closely linked with Irish folklore. Its seafront promenade is the perfect spot to look out across Carlingford Lough, over to the Mourne Mountains and the port town of Warrenpoint, Co. Down.

As part of the Carlingford Lough Greenway, there are plenty of gorgeous areas to explore.

Flag Staff Viewpoint, Warrenpoint

Gyles Quay

The harbour of Gyles Quay lies at the foot of the Cooley Mountains. The tranquility of the harbour makes it the perfect spot to slow down and take in the surrounding scenery and views of Dundalk Bay during your visit. The nearby Gyles Quay Caravan Park is a hotspot for holiday-makers in the area, overlooking the bay.

Gyles Quay Caravan Park

The Cooley Peninsula in Irish Mythology

Storytelling is deeply rooted in Irish culture, with folklore playing a massive role in defining our country’s identity. The Cooley Peninsula has many honourable mentions in traditional Irish tales – the most notable being the story of Queen Méabh and the Brown Bull of Cooley.

Donn Cúailnge (the Brown Bull of Cooley) was the largest, strongest and most fierce bull in the land. The bull was at the centre of one of Irish mythology’s most famous battles, the Táin Bó Cúailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley).

As the legend goes, the cattle raid took place after a jealous argument broke out between Queen Méabh of Connacht and her husband, King Ailill mac Máta. Méabh decided to take the Brown Bull from Ulster to fight against Ailill’s prized White Horned Bull, Fionnbennach.

The Brown Bull of Cooley. Image by Visit Carlingford.

The legendary Cuchulainn single-handedly took on Méabh’s army to protect the Brown Bull, but failed in doing so. Méabh stole Donn Cúailgne and brought him back to Connacht to challenge Fionnbennach – a battle that the Brown Bull ultimately won.

Despite emerging victorious from the fight, the enraged Donn Cúailgne rampaged through the kingdom and traveled across Ireland back to Cooley. The bull’s rage eventually got the better of him and his heart burst, killing him.

The spirit of the magnificent Brown Bull still lives on in Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula today.

Where to Stay

Ghan House

Stay at the four-star Ghan House, situated right next to the seashore and just a short walk from Carlingford village. The fully restored, family-run Georgian house is a fantastic, picturesque spot to relax during your visit. It featured in the recent movie Finding You with Rose Reid and Jedidiah Goodacre.

Sample the flavours of Carlingford at the double AA Rosette winning Ghan House restaurant, serving locally sourced herbs, meat and seafood, including the world-renowned Carlingford Oyster.

Four Seasons Hotel

Treat yourself to a break at the Four Seasons Hotel, Spa and Leisure Club. Situated between the Cooley Mountains, Carlingford village and the lough, it’s the perfect spot to rest between activities.

With a variety of spa and wellbeing treatments available, the hotel’s wellness centre offers the ideal opportunity to wind down after a long day of exploring. Treatment facilities include the Himalayan Salt Sauna, Hydro Suite and the Light Therapy Sun Meadows.

Carlingford House

Stop off at the endearing four-star Carlingford House to recuperate in style during your trip. Combining the charm of a traditional country home and the glamour of a modern hotel, it’s the perfect cosy spot to stay, nestled away in close proximity to all of the area’s attractions.

Cooley Peninsula has a lot to offer its visitors, whether you’re in search of a break enveloped in Irish history and heritage or an adventurous getaway with an array of scenic walking routes.

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