Larne is a port, historically in County Antrim in Northern Ireland. These counties have been abolished so since 2015 Larne has been part of Mid and East Antrim Borough. The main reason to come is for the ferry link from Scotland, but the town is close to the Antrim Glens.
Latharna means "the descendants of Lathar", a pre-Christian dynasty who may have been real or just legend. Flints found in this area date to 6000 BC, the Middle Stone Age, among the earliest traces of human settlement in Ireland. Later came Celts, Vikings, Normans, Tudors - and absolutely none of this can be seen in the grubby industrial town that Larne has become. Until the 19th century it was one of many small ports lining Belfast Lough. Then the Victorians, especially James Chaine, built up the port facilities and trade links to Scotland which remain its chief livelihood. Larne, which in 2011 had a population of 18,755, is for most visitors just the drab place you encounter off the ferry and leave behind as smartly as possible.
However there's a surprising collection of sights right on the doorstep of town. Just south is Islandmagee, where The Gobbins is Ulster's answer to the Italian via ferrata. All around are glens where streams roar out of the Antrim hills over waterfalls and cascades. The best known are to the north, the nine Antrim Glens; those closest are described on this page. Take the time to explore them and don't just hurry down the well-worn track to Giant's Causeway.
The TIC is at 96b Main Street. It's open M-F 09:00-17:00, Sa 10:00-16:00, Su 11:00-15:00.
Trains run every two hours from Belfast Great Victoria St and other city stations via Carrickfergus to Larne, taking an hour. They come first into 1 Larne Town south of the centre, then continue to 2 Larne Harbour.
Goldline Bus 256 runs every two hours from Belfast Europa Station and Bridge St, taking an hour to Larne.
Ulsterbus 130 runs three times M-Sa from Ballymena, taking 45 min to Larne.
Larne 3 bus station and P&R is south side of town by the A8 junction.
By car the direct route from Belfast is M2 onto A8. The coastal route is A2 through Carrickfergus.
Bus 162 runs north along the coast to Ballygalley, Glenarm and Carnlough, with five M-Sa.
Bus 170b runs twice M-Sa south along the lough shore to Glynn, Glenoe (for waterfall), Duff's Corner and Ballycarry - the turnoff from main road is a mile west of The Gobbins.
The trains to Belfast stop at Glynn, Magheramorne, Ballycarry (for The Gobbins), Whitehead and three stations in Carrickfergus.
The ferry across Larne harbour to Ballylumford on Islandmagee has been suspended since 2013 as the pier there has collapsed, so it's a bit of a drive round the lough to reach the peninsula. Refurbishment was supposed to start in 2020 but nothing's happened.
- 1 Chaine Memorial, 28 m tall, is a replica of an Irish Round Tower, a slim stone pencil with a conical top. It was completed in 1888 as a memorial to James Chaine (1841-1885), the shipping entrepreneur who established the modern port of Larne, and fostered its railway connections and trade link with Scotland. He was MP from 1874 until his early death. The Tower informally served as a day-mark, and in 1899 it was adopted as a lighthouse and fitted with a light, to help shipping steer clear of Hunter's Rock. (Five miles out in Belfast Lough, this rock is 4 m clear at low tide but submerged at high tide; it's marked with a buoy, but in 1878 the State of Louisiana was wrecked when the buoy became dislodged. The wreck is now a popular dive site, in 15-25 m depth.) Chaine himself was buried (and later joined by his family) in a fenced mound at the north end of the town park: the mound is so he could be buried upright facing the sea.
- 2 Olderfleet Castle is just one wall of a tower-house built in 1612. There are no signs that it was a dwelling place, so it may have been simply a fortified warehouse and watchtower.
- 3 Larne Museum and Arts Centre, 2 Victoria Rd BT40 1RN, ☏ . M-F 10:00-16:30. Housed in the former library, opened in 1906 with funding from Andrew Carnegie - that library has moved 100 yards along the street. The museum displays the agricultural, industrial, military and maritime history of the area, while the John Clifford Gallery has rotating exhibitions. Free.
- 4 Carnfunnock Country Park, Coast Rd BT40 2QZ (2 miles north of town), ☏ . M-Th 10:00-18:00, F 10:00-21:00, Sa Su 10:00-19:00. Park with walled garden, adventure playground, golf driving range and a maze. It's open all year but some attractions are seasonal.
- Linn Falls along Killyglen Rd are on private land and inaccessible in 2021. Killyglen Fort is just a double mound seen from Ballymullock Rd.
- 5 Gleno Waterfalls (pictured at head of this page) are in a deep wooded gorge. The land is owned by the National Trust: it's free to stroll but you pay for the car park. The village itself is picturesque.
- 6 Templecorran Church in Ballycarry village is a ruined medieval church. Its graveyard holds many of the first Scots Ulster plantation settlers.
- 7 Whitehead is a village at the entrance to Belfast Lough that developed as a seaside resort in the 1890s. Not much has happened here since so it retains its period atmosphere, and it's an access point for The Gobbins and Islandmagee. Whitehead or Chichester Castle is a turret from 1603 by the railway station. Old Castle Road is closed to traffic and you walk along it to Blackhead Lighthouse.
- 8 The Gobbins, Middle Rd, Islandmagee BT40 3SL (Train to Ballycarry), ☏ . Mar-Dec daily 09:30-13:30 (last tour). These are a line of basalt sea-cliffs, traversed by a remarkable metal walkway built in 1902. It was the best of several embellishments by railway engineer Berkeley Deane Wise to boost Whitehead as a holiday destination. Early visitors paid 6d to follow it across chasms, caves, tunnels and a sea-stack. It has suffered repeated storm damage and landslip, and was derelict for many years before reopening in 2015. Winter 2020 / 21 brought further damage, and it's not known when it will re-open. Access is by guided walk in hard hat from the Visitor Centre, from where you're led down a lane to the coast and on to the walkway. It's 5 km there and back, not suitable for anyone with impaired mobility, young children, or dogs. Adult £20, conc or child £14.50.
- 9 Islandmagee is the peninsula enclosing Larne Lough; the south end of the lough is a wetland Ramsar site. The islet of Portmuck off its east coast is also a nature reserve. In medieval times the peninsula was the petty kingdom of Semne within the Ulster kingdom of Uliad, from which derives the surname McNulty.
- 10 Ballymumford alas is what you can't help seeing at the tip of Islandmagee, as a power station looms over the entrance to Larne Lough. Since 1996 the station has been fired by natural gas, which is also piped to Belfast, and the site is the west end of a power cable to Ayrshire which enables electricity to be traded between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic. No tours. On B90 just south of the power station, Ballylumford Dolmen is probably a grave chamber from 2000 BC, but it's next to a modern bungalow and looks like a misguided garden ornament.
- Ballygally is the first village north of Larne: the castle is now a hotel, see Sleep. It has a sandy beach with a "polar bear" (a prominent white rock) but its most scenic feature is the headland just south, a volcanic plug, which aeons of geological processes have sculpted into a golf course. The similar plug seen further north is Scawt Hill. Along the lane two miles west of the village, Linford Barrows are a puzzling set of structures: earthworks of unknown age and antiquity. They don't appear defensive, while Knockdhu just south was obviously a hill fort.
- 11 Glenarm is the village at the start of the nine Glens of Antrim. An elaborate Barbican is the entrance to Glenarm Castle, built from 1636, with an attractive walled garden. It's open mid-Mar to Sept daily 10:00-16:00, adult £6, child £3. Further up the valley is Glenarm Forest Park. A mile southeast of the village, the Madman's Window is a natural window onto the sea created by a heap of glacial boulders.
- 12 Carnlough village stretches along a sandy beach at the foot of Glencloy, the second glen. The railway bridges were for a tramway from quarries to harbour. The Londonderry Arms Hotel was established in 1848 by the great-grandmother of Winston Churchill. Cranny Falls are reached half a mile up a lane helpfully called Waterfall Rd.
- Glencloy carries the main road A42, but it's paralleled by the quiet narrow Slane Road, a better option for scenery.
- See Cushendall for the glens further north, and the coast route to Ballycastle, Carrick-a-Rede Bridge and Giant's Causeway.
The witches of Islandmagee
In 1711 Mary Dunbar claimed she was the victim of demonic attack by eight local women. The eight were tried at Carrickfergus before two magistrates. One urged acquittal, but the other pointed out that some of them smoked or drank, so the jury didn't take long to find them guilty. They were jailed for a year, with spells in the public stocks. Three weeks after the trial, Dunbar herself died: William Sellor husband of one of the eight and father of another was convicted of slaying her by witchcraft and was hanged. The story was almost forgotten until 2015, when a memorial was proposed, to be sited at The Gobbins visitor centre. This was blocked by a Larne TUV councillor as he reckoned the women were guilty, and any such memorial would be a pagan shrine and anti-God.
- Watch soccer at Larne FC, who play in the NIFL (Danske Bank) Premiership, the top tier in Northern Ireland. Their home ground is Inver Park, capacity 2500, along the main road half a mile from the harbour.
- Dalriada Festival is in July. The next is at Glenarm Castle on 17-18 July 2021.
- Asda by the harbour is open M-Sa 07:00-22:00, Su 13:00-18:00.
- Carriages Bistro, 105 Main St BT40 1HJ, ☏ . M-W 17:00-21:00, Th-Sa 17:00-23:00, Su 16:00-21:00. Good filling food.
- There's a cluster of cheap eateries along Main St, with another group by the harbour.
- In town centre are La Bodega and Chekkers Winebar.
- 1 Derrin Guest House, 2 Princes Gardens BT40 1RQ, ☏ . Smart dog-friendly B&B near harbour and town centre. B&B double £70.
- Curran Court Hotel, 6 Redlands Rd BT40 1FD (by harbour), ☏ . Clean welcoming place half a mile from ferry pier. B&B double £80.
- Harbour Inn, 25 Olderfleet Rd BT40 1AS, ☏ . Bright clean place next to harbour railway station. B&B double £70.
- 2 Ballygally Castle Hotel, Coast Rd, Ballygally BT40 2QZ, ☏ . "This is luxury you can afford, by - " but carpet tycoon Cyril Lord (1911-1984) couldn't really afford the upkeep, nor could his firm or even his ghost, one of the few spectres not reputed to haunt these corridors. It's a charming fortified house of 1625 in Scottish baronial style that withstood assault during the rebellion of 1641; it's now a hotel in the Hastings group getting great reviews for comfort, service and ambiance. B&B double £160.
As of Feb 2021, Larne and its approach roads have 4G from Three, O2 and Vodafone, but no signal from EE. 5G has not reached this area.
- Carrickfergus has a fine Norman castle, the best preserved in Ireland.
- Cushendall is the route to the northern Antrim Glens, Ballycastle, Carrick-a-Rede and Giant's Causeway.
- Belfast is a fascinating city that needs several days to explore.
|Routes through Larne|
|END ←||W E||→ Cairnryan|
|END ←||N S||→ Newtownabbey → Belfast|