Tollymore: Forest Secrets In Northern Ireland

Tollymore: the name may not be familiar. You may have seen parts of it, though, as a location for film or as a lovely image on a calendar of Ireland, or heard of its connection to the Titanic.

tollymore river shimsa northern ireland

When travel is safe, Tollymore is worth exploring for yourself.

At present travel to and within Northern Ireland is under restriction. Travel to and within in the Republic of Ireland to the south is also under restriction.

Where is it?
Tollymore Forest Park is in County Down, in Northern Ireland. I’ve taken you on a drive in a nearby part of Down, which ended up in Kilkeel. Head a bit north of Kilkeel to the seaside resort town of Newcastle, head inland and a bit northwest, and you are at Tollymore.

What’s to see and do there?
Quite a bit: trees, water, unexpected fairytale like architecture, bridges, walks, views, archaeology, picnics…

It is officially called Tollymore Forest Park and it is, indeed, a forest, with a mix of old growth and more recently planted woods. Recently as in the last several centuries, that is. There was a house here at one time, but rather than make formal gardens as you find with many great houses, the families who lived here in recent centuries preferred to manage woodlands for income and to create wilder landscapes for enjoyment.

tollymore confluence of waters northern ireland

People had been living here long before it became the home to the Earls of Clanbrassil and Roden in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, though.

Discoveries of flints and other tools say that people came to this place in the eastern foothills of the Mourne Mountains in prehistoric times. Some finds have been dated to the late Mesolithic and the Bronze Ages. In addition, King’s Grave is a megalithic cairn in the western part of the park, and there are remnant of a fort in the west of the park that’s been dated to the first millennium CE.

tollymore kings grave cairn

More recent owners of the land, the Earls of Clanbrassil and Earls of Roden, left their own marks. The Gothic revival style gate through which you enter the park is one such; there are bridges, arches, and other structures remaining too.

Tollymore gate northern ireland ejones

Many of these are what’s known as follies, architectural amusements, so to speak, with which families of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries decorated their landholdings. Thomas Wright of Durham, who lived from 1711 to 1786, designed many of the Gothic looking features you will come across.

Tollymore is a forest park, though, and it is about trees, and water, and the landscape in which they are set.

The name Tollymore comes from from Tulaigh Mhór, Irish for big mound or hill. There are two main ones in the park, from which you can catch glimpses of the Irish Sea in one direction and the Mournes in the other.

The Shimsa River runs through Tollymore. A walk along it will bring you to rocks, outcrops, caves, swirling waters, bridges. There are marked walking trails for other excursions too, from short and easy to longer and more challenging.

tollymore mist autumn

Larch, fir, ash, willow, and Scots pine are among the trees through which you will walk. Some of those are legacy of the eighteenth century work of second Earl of Clanbrassill, who was recognized for his interest in woodlands and planting.

Oak, which has a long history as a tree of thresholds in Celtic mythology. is native to these woodlands also. The managed forests of Tollymore produced oak which was preferred by the White Star Line for interiors of its ships constructed at Belfast, among them the Titanic.

Among the trees, you may see red squirrels. Tollymore is also a likely place to look out for the elusive pine marten. Fallow deer are present, and you could see foxes as well.

red squirrel  by nadia tighe

You could, on occasion, come across film crews. The most well known project which has used Tollymore as a backdrop is Game of Thrones. It appeared in the first episode, and sometimes features in Game of Thrones tours of Northern Ireland.

Tollymore Forest Park was Northern Ireland’s first designated state park, established in 1955. As you’ve read above Tollymore’s 630 hectares /1,600 acres have a long history and intriguing nature to explore.

Whether you are after a quiet stroll, a vigorous walk, or a lively family picnic, Tollymore Forest park could be your place, when it is time to travel again.

Photographs by Eric Jones, Rossographer, Albert Bridge, and Nadia Tighe Thank you for respecting copyright.

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