Today the A2 is a major road in Northern Ireland, a large section of which is more commonly known as “The Antrim Coast Road “ because it follows the scenic coastline of County Antrim. This winding, sometimes isolated , (mostly) two-lane highway has been part of some of the darkest events in Irish history. It was planned immediately after the 1798 Rebellion, an event which led directly to the 1801 Act of Union, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland under one government in London. The road was built in the 1830s, but in 1845 its completion was overshadowed by the devastating disaster of the Great Irish Potato Famine. The road became an escape route for a starving population emigrating from this part of Co. Antrim.
Mostly regarded as a typical Irish “country” road, it actually follows the majority of the coastline of Northern Ireland beginning in the city of Newry, County Down and heading north-east through the fishing towns of Warrenpoint, Rostrevor and Kilkeel. Continuing via Ardglass to Strangford, it weaves it way through Portavogie, Ballyhalbert, Millisle and Donaghadee to Bangor, County Down.
After a suburban stretch through Jordanstown, Carrickfergus and Whitehead, it enters open countryside en route to the town of Larne, which really is the beginning of the most notable section of the road. This drive has been compared to Australia's Great Ocean Road and Big Sur in California. It is regarded as one of Ireland's most scenic drives. The road here is not a primary route and is narrow but lightly used. This section of the road closely follows the coast through the villages of Ballygalley, Glenarm, Carnlough, Waterfoot and Cushendall before leaving the coast,and working its way through the Glens of Antrim after which it eases closer to the ocean again at Ballycastle.
It then continues along the coast to Portrush and continues on into County Londonderry through Coleraine and Derry to the border with the Republic of Ireland, heading mostly in the direction of Donegal. Due to its length and the fact that it follows the coast, the road passes a large number of Northern Ireland's tourist attractions. These include:
* The Mourne Mountains.
* Carrickfergus Castle, a Norman castle built in 1177.
* The Glens of Antrim, a series of steep coastal valleys and hills with spectacular scenery.
* Ballycastle, site of the 400 year old Ould Lammas Fair.
* Bushmills, site of the Old Bushmills Distillery which was founded in 1608.
* Dunluce Castle, dating from the 13th century and battered by the Atlantic Ocean.
* Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, a rope bridge to the tiny Carrick Island.
* Portrush, and the nearby Giant's Causeway.
* Derry, and its Walled City.
The Antrim Coast Road is one scenic route that brings back many happy memories to an exiled Ulsterman.Many a Sunday drive was enjoyed,leaving Belfast and heading towards Larne to "pick up" the coast road. Two adults and four or five kids crammed into an old 50's Ford Prefect(anyone remember those??); stopping along the side of the road for a picnic ---after all, the drive from Larne up to Portrush was over 60 miles and with the winding road, and the sights and the "cuppas" with a sandwich ----man, such a trip took hours and hours!!
If you ever get to the North of Ireland-----don't leave without "doing" the Coast Road. It will be a highlight of your trip to Ireland.