Dublin to Skerries – day trips from Dublin
The temperature slides many notches below zero as I get onto the bus for a road trip in Dublin. The trees are shaking and shrieking like wailing banshees, under the onslaught of the cold winds. The mood is sombre, the skies are grey, the sea is angry, but am all excited as I have just stumbled upon an eerie ghost story inside an old mansion that looks straight out of the popular show, Downtown Abbey. We are on a road trip from Dublin to Skerries but out first halt is a country house.
A ghost story at Ardigillan Castle
I am inside a 300 year old Ardigillan Castle, located between Balbriggan and Skerries , outside Dublin. Surrounded by the Irish Sea and the Morne Mountains, the castle is known for its beautiful gardens. However today, everything is wrapped in a sea of white, as the mist creeps in.
As I take a tour of the castle, I see a framed photograph which shows a blurry reflection of a woman in white. And that is when the guide tells us about “Lady’s Stairs,” a bridge that connects the railway line between Dublin and Belfast near the Irish Sea. It is believed to be one of the tourist haunts to do some train spotting but it is apparently haunted as well. Stories say, that one of the guests of the castle was swimming there but she was caught in the strong currents and drowned. Even today the spirit hovers around the Lady’s Stairs and sometimes visits the castle as well. “It is her reflection in the photograph,” says our tour guide as I shiver in the cold . However the mood changes as cakes and scones are offered as we sit down for tea and enjoy the hospitality of the Irish.
Skerries or sharp rocks
The winds continue to rage as the sea is all excited and we are driving along the coast from Dublin to Skerries, which is barely 20 kms away. There are many options for day trips from Dublin but our destination is this windswept town located along the craggy coastline. No wonder the Vikings who were beckoned here by the harbour had named this town “Sciers” or sharp rocks.
The first thing that you see in Skerries is the quaint fishing port. Boats lie anchored to the shores but the town is silent. Skerries’ 8000 year old history goes back to the 4th century and it was essentially a fishing port initially before it evolved into a centre of trade. As passengers started sailing from Dublin to Skerries, the steam ships needed a dock and a pier was built. It is a cold and lazy afternoon- the entire town seems to be in a siesta with boars bobbing around the shore. Even today, travellers travel from Dublin to Skerries by boat.
Pottering around the town I see the Skerries Monument – a towering obelisk . Our guide takes us around to see the churches, especially St Patrick’s is the first that I see on Church Street. There is the ornate Holmpatrick Church of Ireland but what fascinates me are the ruins of an another church, probably older that stands near by.
The symbol of Skerries
It gets cold as the winds lash through the town. And I am huddled along with the other travellers inside one of the oldest mills in the town, where flour has apparently been milled here since the 12th century.
However what really catches our attention are two windmills, one of them is a five sail windmill called the Great Windmill of Skerries that is now the symbol of the town. The two restores windmills go back to the 16th and 18th centuries, while you can also see a water mill. We warm ourselves in the bakery, digging into delicious delicacies before heading towards the oceans.
The mist surrounds us. An angry sea spews out foam as the waves hit the craggy cliffs. I can barely see the outlines of several small islands, one of them is Shennick which is the largest of them all and is a tidal island. As I look through the haze, my guide tells us that the British were paranoid that the French Emperor Napoleon would invade them that they built several coastal fortresses called Martellos during the 19th century.
While one of them is in Shennick island also called Fox Island because of the seals, the other is Red Island. There are two more islands here – Rockabill, which is a haunt of roseate terns and the other is Lambay. But we are headed towards a mystical experience at Red Island.
As we walk along the cliff, the guide tells us that it is not an island but a part of the mainland. It owed its name to the freshly painted red sails that used to dot the coast. Apparently the hues were mixed with the soil, giving the entire island a reddish tinge. But there is another interesting story waiting to be told in Red Island, one of the many reasons that bring many travellers from Dublin to Skerries.
Following St Patricks footsteps
It gets windy as we walk along the cliff. I am almost blown away as the sea gulls surround me. It starts drizzling a bit. Our tryst however is with Ireland’s patron saint, St Patrick who had been to this island more than 1000 years ago, in the 7th century. His first port of halt is the island now called St Patricks Island which houses an old monastery in ruins besides some churches. However, he had been to other islands such as Red and Colt as well.
According to the legends, St Patrick had a loyal companion – a goat when he first entered the island. However it was killed by the locals. When the saint asked the people, they lied, denying the act. An angry St Patrick apparently just leapt across the islands, with one foot on Colt and another on Red. And we are now gazing at the small footprint of the saint at Red Island, which us filled with water. The rocks are slippery as thorny shrubs surround it. The sea gazes back at us as the Irish believe that if you place a shamrock here and make a wish, it may just come true. The winds start howling as I wait for my turn to be blessed by St Patrick himself. And I am not going to tell you what I wished for, but you can go ahead and make a guess. Finally, its time to go indoors and warm myself and have a strong cup of Irish coffee before heading back to Dublin.
Also read – More road trips in Ireland