Heritage trip to Northern Ireland

By Richard Schmelzle
This article appears on page 47 of the August 2013 issue.
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A century ago, two families, one from Belfast and the other from Hilltown, County Down, emigrated from what is now Northern Ireland to Toronto, Canada. Years later, a member of each family met and married. They had four daughters and a son. No one from either side returned to visit their homeland until 2011, when the four sisters and two of their husbands (including me), gathering from their respective homes in Toronto, North Carolina, Nebraska and Arizona, met in Belfast for a 7-day family heritage trip, Sept. 28-Oct. 4.

Four sisters and two husbands at the Giants Causeway. Left to right: Laurine (Richard's wife), Carolynn, Dawne, Richard, Elaine (Wilson's wife) and Wilson. Photo: Maurice Dowle

A tour company was engaged to chauffeur the group, but it became clear that the minivan offered would not hold enough luggage and would be too costly at $1,800 per couple. 

An expat from Northern Ireland enthusiastically recommended Maurice Dowle of Ireland Luxury Tours (140 Sandown Rd., Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT5 6GX, U.K.; phone 00 44 2890 673457). Maurice suggested a 9-passenger vehicle, and his excellent knowledge and confident recommendations brought logic to our itinerary. Maurice ended up being our guide and stayed with us throughout.

For a 6-day private coach tour, the cost was $1,300 per couple, which included vehicle rental, gasoline, insurance and tolls but did not include accommodations and meals. The earlier operator excluded these, so we had booked them on our own; we learned that Maurice could have booked them for much less.

On our first day we visited Hilltown, the birthplace of the four sisters’ father, John “Jack” Perry. We found the location where his family lived, with the view of the mountains of Mourne exactly as described by our aunt, who had been a teenager when the family left for Canada.

Maurice talked to a local couple, who told him of an old church and cemetery nearby. We were thrilled to find graves marked with the Perry family name.

Maurice took us to Dundrum Castle, once home to the lord of the area that included Hilltown. A chance meeting with the grounds-keeper gave us more information about our family history. We continued to Belfast.

The next day, heading to the Giants Causeway, we were totally enthralled with the perfectly laid-out fields of green, hedges trimmed to perfection, quaint houses and the rugged coast — spectacular. We also visited Dunluce Castle, definitely not to be missed. Its surroundings were beautiful, and Maurice shared interesting facts about its history.

In the evening we took a taxi to the address where our maternal grandmother’s family had lived. The house on Acton Street in Belfast was still exactly as it would have been in 1900!

I had told Maurice that C.S. Lewis is a favorite author of mine and that I hoped to see the statue of him in Belfast. Maurice explained that Lewis had attended Campbell College — where Maurice just happens to be a rugby coach. On a tour of the campus in Belfast, he showed us the lamppost from Lewis’ stories and told us anecdotes about Lewis.

Our brother had not been able to join us for this trip — or so we thought until we found him and our nephew waiting for us at Ballyna­hinch Castle. All the arrangements had been managed by Maurice.

We crossed into Ireland and for three days enjoyed the sights: the Connemara Mountains, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, the Ring of Beara, Kinsale and then Dublin, which we explored on our own.

We saw more than that. Still, Maurice had wisely advised us not to try to do too much. By pacing ourselves, we stayed relaxed and rested. Maurice showed us the best restaurants, pubs and shopping. We highly recommend Ireland Luxury Tours.

RICHARD SCHMELZLE

North York, Ontario, Canada

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

A century ago, two families, one from Belfast and the other from Hilltown, County Down, emigrated from what is now Northern Ireland to Toronto, Canada. Years later, a member of each family met and married. They had four daughters and a son. No one from either side returned to visit their homeland until 2011, when the four sisters and two of their husbands (including me), gathering from their respective homes in Toronto, North Carolina, Nebraska and Arizona, met in Belfast for a 7-day family heritage trip, Sept. 28-Oct. 4.

Four sisters and two husbands at the Giants Causeway. Left to right: Laurine (Richard's wife), Carolynn, Dawne, Richard, Elaine (Wilson's wife) and Wilson. Photo: Maurice Dowle

A tour company was engaged to chauffeur the group, but it became clear that the minivan offered would not hold enough luggage and would be too costly at $1,800 per couple. 

An expat from Northern Ireland enthusiastically recommended Maurice Dowle of Ireland Luxury Tours (140 Sandown Rd., Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT5 6GX, U.K.; phone 00 44 2890 673457). Maurice suggested a 9-passenger vehicle, and his excellent knowledge and confident recommendations brought logic to our itinerary. Maurice ended up being our guide and stayed with us throughout.

For a 6-day private coach tour, the cost was $1,300 per couple, which included vehicle rental, gasoline, insurance and tolls but did not include accommodations and meals. The earlier operator excluded these, so we had booked them on our own; we learned that Maurice could have booked them for much less.

On our first day we visited Hilltown, the birthplace of the four sisters’ father, John “Jack” Perry. We found the location where his family lived, with the view of the mountains of Mourne exactly as described by our aunt, who had been a teenager when the family left for Canada.

Maurice talked to a local couple, who told him of an old church and cemetery nearby. We were thrilled to find graves marked with the Perry family name.

Maurice took us to Dundrum Castle, once home to the lord of the area that included Hilltown. A chance meeting with the grounds-keeper gave us more information about our family history. We continued to Belfast.

The next day, heading to the Giants Causeway, we were totally enthralled with the perfectly laid-out fields of green, hedges trimmed to perfection, quaint houses and the rugged coast — spectacular. We also visited Dunluce Castle, definitely not to be missed. Its surroundings were beautiful, and Maurice shared interesting facts about its history.

In the evening we took a taxi to the address where our maternal grandmother’s family had lived. The house on Acton Street in Belfast was still exactly as it would have been in 1900!

I had told Maurice that C.S. Lewis is a favorite author of mine and that I hoped to see the statue of him in Belfast. Maurice explained that Lewis had attended Campbell College — where Maurice just happens to be a rugby coach. On a tour of the campus in Belfast, he showed us the lamppost from Lewis’ stories and told us anecdotes about Lewis.

Our brother had not been able to join us for this trip — or so we thought until we found him and our nephew waiting for us at Ballyna­hinch Castle. All the arrangements had been managed by Maurice.

We crossed into Ireland and for three days enjoyed the sights: the Connemara Mountains, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, the Ring of Beara, Kinsale and then Dublin, which we explored on our own.

We saw more than that. Still, Maurice had wisely advised us not to try to do too much. By pacing ourselves, we stayed relaxed and rested. Maurice showed us the best restaurants, pubs and shopping. We highly recommend Ireland Luxury Tours.

RICHARD SCHMELZLE

North York, Ontario, Canada