Greencastle was the emotional heart of this journey for me. It was the center of my grandfather’s stories of growing up in Ireland. It is the place of family legends. Grandpa took me there in 1961 when I was 14. I took Suzi there on our honeymoon, we took the boys there in 1985 and we took my mom there for her 80th birthday year. This time we came to show our grandkids a part of their heritage.
Greencastle is a village of about 1,000 people. It has changed a lot since our first visit, when it was a small fishing town with a coastguard base. It is near Inishowen head, the narrow entry to Lough Foyle and the port of Derry. It has tricky currents and is a port of refuge for sailors rounding the north coast of Ireland. The Inishowen Peninsula is where at least one ship from the Spanish Armada wrecked after a fortunate (for the English) storm scattered the fleet. That ship was carrying survivors from another ship (between 24 and 28 Armada ships are believed wrecked along the northern and western coast of Ireland.) I am the dark haired one in a family of fair haired (or bald) men and there was always the joke of a Spaniard in my background.
There is a maritime memorial, and while the Spaniards are not mentioned, one of the plaques describes the Saturday in 1771 when the whole local fleet was destroyed in a storm off the head, with loss of 100 lives and the leaving of 66 widows. There was only one survivor.
The Greencastle coastguard base has moved and expanded.
The old base is now a maritime museum and one of the exhibits is on Armada wrecks. I didn’t get to see it this time because we were in Greencastle during their annual regatta festival, reason to return.
There are three fish processors in town, two are co-ops, a net making factory and the National Marine Fisheries School. Greencastle has the largest whitefish landing value in Ireland.
But the biggest change in Greencastle is that it has become a holiday destination. Brian Friel, the Irish playwright settled here and that attracted attention, people, and an upscale seafood restaurant where a pub important in family lore used to be. Greencastle has become a destination for fresh seafood cuisine. There are hiking trails and it has become a cruise ship port of call. History is also an important reason to come, not only are there the Northburg castle ruins but a Martelo Tower fort built to fend off Napolean sits just north of the castle. It is now a gated community of townhouses and some vacation rentals.
Because of the currents in Lough Foyle, it is easier for ships to anchor off Greencastle than to navigate the currents and tides needed to tie up in Derry. Depending on the tides that can take up to 5 hours. Tourists can stay and enjoy the village or bus into Derry City, about 20 miles to the south. A ferry across the lough from the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland makes Greencastle more accessible to motor traffic.
For this Sitkan, Greencastle is comfortable, and not only for the seafaring tradition. The reforestation of Ireland, both in the Republic and across the Lough in Northern Ireland is mainly Sitka Spruce. Our tree grows well in Ireland’s damp mild climate. It’s estimated that more than half the trees on the island are now Sitka Spruce. When we visited in 1985 we saw whole forests of young Sitka spruce. Thirty-eight years later the trees are tall. They are now promoted by Ireland as a natural carbon sink. Perhaps Sitka and Greencastle should become sister cities.
This is the first of several posts from Greencastle. I will look at St. Finnian’s Church, The Castle, the road to Stroove,