Seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

Carlingford is a coastal town in Northern Ireland known for its seaside charm, leprechauns, and history. All our days in Ireland are magical and always surprise us, but our visit to Carlingford provided our favorite memories of Ireland this trip.

Carlingford is on the Cooley Peninsula in northern County Louth, halfway between Dublin and Belfast. We planned to visit the King John castle ruins, Carlingford’s main attraction. This lovely seaside town turned out to be home to much more history than this one Castle ruin.

Only one tour of the Castle is offered each day at 3 pm for a small fee. We purchased our tickets at the Carlingford Heritage Centre early in the day and returned there at 3 pm to meet our terrific guide, Gerry, and learn about the history of this Castle.


Shops in Carlingford

As we waited for our appointed tour time, we wandered through the picturesque streets of this little town full of seaside charm, checking out its shops and restaurants. The city, built after the Castle was in place, still has its original medieval layout.

We sat at a park bench overlooking Carlingford harbor and spent some time being entertained by an adventure kayaking class on the water. These kids had the best time paddling out in the water and whooping and hollering as they jumped from their kayaks into the frigid water—great fun to watch.

Gerry told us that Carlingford’s high tide in January would sometimes break over the seawall. The tide was way out, and we learned that the daily tide change in Carlingford is sometimes as much as 12 feet. This is foreign to us because our tides at home in Texas vary only a foot or two daily.

The town of Carlingford came into being some time after King John’s Castle was completed. Hugh de Lacy’s son-in-law, Bertram de Verdun, is reportedly the developer of the town of Carlingford.


seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

The geocache log is hidden inside this screw!

We have been trying to find geocaches each day of our trip and have not been very successful. On this day, however, we found a reasonably easy one right in the middle of town. Although it was just a logbook, it was cleverly rolled up and hidden in a screw!

Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms

While waiting for our afternoon tour, we continued to take advantage of our free time by wandering through the town’s charming streets. We discovered Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms nearby and enjoyed a fantastic breakfast.

seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

What a magnificent breakfast at Ruby Ellen’s Tea Houses!

My funny story about our delicious breakfast is that I discovered the two “jam” jars on our table were not jam at all. From trial and error, I learned that one pot contained brown sauce to put on bacon, and the “red” jam was ketchup! That brown sauce made my toast taste very unusual.

King John Castle

We met our guide, Gerry, back at the Heritage Centre at the appointed time and walked the short distance to the Castle. King John Castle is not very large and was built to guard the entrance to Carlingford sea Lough.

seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

This is the front of the King John Castle ruin

Gerry is a knowledgeable and gifted storyteller. He brought the history of this Castle to life as he described events that took place here so many years ago. We learned about the Vikings’ invasion of Ireland in the 9th century and their occupation of Carlingford Lough.

Photos are taken from inside King John Castle

North Gate

Carlingford was a walled city at one time, but today, the walls are gone, and only one of four town gates remain. This gate is on Tholsel Street and once was three stories tall. The gate, at one time, had been a toll gate for people entering the town and served as a jail.

seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

Remaining North Gate at Tholsel Street

We learned from Gerry that during Norman rule, native Irish people were not allowed in the town of Carlingford without paying a toll. They also were required to be out of the city by nightfall. What a harsh law for the Irish!

Carlingford Abbey

After touring the Castle, Gerry directed us to the Dominican Abbey, founded around 1305. We walked a short distance uphill to it and discovered that while it was also a ruin, the structure still stands. It’s pretty amazing to me that any part is still standing after such a long time.

Carlingford Abbey Ruins

The last Leprechaun Whisperer

seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

Steve and the charming Leprechaun whisperer. Look at those smiling eyes!

As we were driving away from central Carlingford, we saw a sign for a fairy garden. Of course, we followed the sign and visited a lovely Folklore Park next to Carlingford Lough. A man was crossing the street as we parked our car and stopped to answer our questions about Folklore Park.

The gentleman turned out to be Kevin Woods. The smiling, personable, and well-spoken gentleman greeted us warmly and identified himself as the world’s last Leprechaun Whisperer! What was that again?

These plaques are displayed throughout Folklore Park

We, naturally, asked what a leprechaun whisperer was and, even though it was late in the afternoon and his shop was closed, Mr. Woods invited us inside, where he told us his incredible story about how over 30 years ago he became a Leprechaun Whisperer and built his wonderful Folklore Park and fairy cave.

Mr. Woods is one of the happiest men we’ve ever encountered, and as we sat in his shop listening to his story, we believed every magical word he told us. He is a phenomenal storyteller, but even more than that, he is a top-notch tourism ambassador for his hometown of Carlingford.

We were informed that today only 236 Leprechauns remain in all of Ireland, and they live underground above Carlingford. At one time, there had been millions of Leprechauns, but they began disappearing during the 19th century.

Seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

Another of the plaques in Folklore Park

Today Leprechauns are a protected species under the European Habitats Directive. We were amazed to learn that Mr. Woods was a driving force in obtaining protection for Leprechauns as a species. That protection was granted in 2009 under the European Habitats Directive.

Mr. Woods, known in Carlingford as “McCoillte” and quite an international celebrity, is featured in many news articles, tv news programs, and multiple YouTube videos. Please take a look at Ireland AM’s video in which Woods discusses how he became to be a Leprechaun Whisper.

Leprechaun Whisperer Tells All: Ireland AM

This magical Leprechaun Whisperer was kind enough to give me a copy of his book, The Last Leprechauns of Ireland, which tells the beautiful story of the invisible world of Leprechauns in Ireland from 50 million years ago up to the present day. The book is well-written and tells a beautiful story.

The whimsical Folklore Park and fairy cave across the street from his shop are open and accessible to the public. Mr. Woods conducts tours of the fairy cave once a day on weekends.

Seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

Dogs are welcome here

The tours and Kevin Woods shop are top-rated tourist attractions in Carlingford. We were disappointed to arrive too late in the day for the fairy cave tour. A Leprechaun Hunt is another popular tourist event held each year in Carlingford. Tourists around the world participate in this event.

Hands down, our chance meeting with Kevin Woods led to the most beautiful afternoon we have ever spent in our travels, and I believe we are so fortunate to have had this unusual experience.

As we drove away in the misting rain, a marvelous rainbow appeared over Carlingford Lough. Just a coincidence, or work of the Leprechauns?

Seaside charm, leprechauns, and historySeaside charm, leprechauns, and historySeaside charm, leprechauns, and historySeaside charm, leprechauns, and history

2 thoughts on “Seaside charm, leprechauns, and history

  1. I can sense how fun and exciting this day was for y’all! Neat encounters with the Irish!

    1. This was one of those really fun enjoyable days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *