Maureen McAuley of the Glenarm Buildings Preservation Trust & Visitor Center recently gave me a personal tour of the charming and picturesque village of Glenarm.
Glenarm lies along the Causeway Coast Route in Northern Ireland and means “valley of the army”. Situated north of the town Larne and the village of Ballygally and south of the village Carnlough, Glenarm is nestled at the foot of the Glenarm Glen, the first of the nine Glens of Antrim. Throughout its long history, Glenarm has been a Norman stronghold, the power base for Irish warlords and one of the most important ports in Ireland. Today the village enjoys a slower pace of life and is filled with rich heritage and nature.
Glenarm’s story goes back to the dawn of recorded Irish history. From the 5th A.D., it lay within the ancient Gaelic kingdom of Dal Riada and by the medieval period, a settlement had developed around an old castle at the mouth of the Glenarm River. Tradition has it that about 1200 A.D., King John of England granted Glenarm a “municipal charter”, which if true, makes it one of the oldest towns in Ireland.
Dating back to Norman times, the village is the seat of the MacDonnell family, who once occupied Dunluce Castle on County Antrim’s north coast. Glenarm is now a conservation area with it’s main street (Altmore Street) leading directly to Glenarm Forest from which Glenarm Castle, the ancestral home of the Earls of Antrim, can be seen. In 1636, Glenarm castle was built by Sir Randal MacDonnel, the 1st Earl of Antrim and is currently owned by Lord Randal, Viscount Dunluce and the beautiful Lady Aurora Dunluce, whom I had the honor of briefly meeting on our stroll through the village.
Glenarm Castle is one of Northern Ireland’s most magnificent estates and the castle is open for occasional guided tours throughout the year. The breathtaking Walled Garden is one of Ireland’s oldest, dating from the 18th century, was originally created to supply the estate with fruit and vegetables. Today, the Walled Garden is filled with impressive flowers and specimen plants to interest the keenest garden enthusiast. This hidden delight is a treasure trove of horticulture gems--exciting herbaceous borders, beautiful water features, wonderful orchards and floral displays. A stroll around the immaculately kept gardens is the perfect precursor for afternoon tea in the Glenarm Castle Tea Room. The Tea Room offers a daily traditional afternoon tea (or cream tea in some circles): scones with jam & fresh cream, savory sandwiches and pastries. For lunch, the tea room offers homemade soups and freshly made sandwiches like Glenarm Organic Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese with Black Pepper and Lemon or Homemade Ham, Cheddar Cheese with Caramelized Onion Chutney! The Castle Tea Room is open 10am – 5pm throughout spring & summer—Opening 2016: March 17.
Visitors looking for unique accommodations near Glenarm Castle can stay in the “The Barbican” a miniature castle designed William Vitruvius Morrison in 1825, at the entrance gate of the castle grounds. With a romantic appearance & setting, this unique accommodation sleeps two (1 bedroom, 1 bath) and is a perfect base when exploring the Glens of Antrim. Approached by a bridge over the Glenarm River, the Barbican Gate is made from rubble basalt with sandstone dressing. It comprises of a three-story main block with a turret staircase that leads to a rooftop sitting area. From here, guests can enjoy panoramic views of the town and countryside. Its setting and surroundings make The Barbican an ideal romantic retreat.
Walking enthusiasts can explore Glenarm Forest via a waymarked trail. Rich in a variety of plants and trees, Glenarm Forest is also one of Northern Ireland’s last strongholds of the charismatic red squirrel. The forest is small but has a wide variety of tree species such as oak, ash, beech, sycamore, Japanese larch and Sitka spruce. Covering the forest floor are plants such as bluebells, primroses, dog’s mercury and ground ivy.
For those in search of a perfect memento should visit The Steensons. Owned by Ireland’s leading contemporary goldsmiths, Dan & Brona Spencer, The Steensons have been handcrafting fine jewelry for two generations. Visitors can watch the highly skilled craftsman at work (économusée) whilst browsing the various designs on display throughout the showroom. Fans of HBO’s, “The Game of Thrones” can peruse the collection commissioned by the hit series--pieces such as Margaery Tyrell and Joffrey Baratheons wedding crowns--are a few of the items on display for visitors to enjoy.
Immaculately preserved Georgian streets paved with history, a pristine river that’s teeming with wild salmon and walks with stunning panoramas of the Glen and the coast of Scotland make up the charming and picturesque village of Glenarm--A true gem along the Causeway Coastal route that should not be missed!