Ireland's Magic Road
by Ian Middleton
“Have you been to the road where things go backwards?" asked Eilish, as I sat having breakfast in a Carlow hostel.
“The what?" I replied.
“The road where things go backwards. It’s up near Dundalk, in County Louth. Daddy took some Americans there last year. There’s a section of road that goes downhill and if you stop the car at the bottom and release the brake, the car will roll backwards up the hill."
Weeks later I found myself heading to Dundalk in my little camper van to check out this phenomenon. I’d mentioned this story to others and found out that it was, in fact, true. When it was first discovered, RTE filmed it, scientists studied it and people swarmed to experience it. Those who’ve studied the phenomenon say it an illusion, but a very convincing one. Apparently the funny angle of the hill means that it looks like you’re rolling up the hill when you are actually rolling down.
My travelling companion Nika and I headed north from Dundalk and took the Carlingford road, which takes you along the stunningly beautiful Cooley Peninsula, awash with low green mountains and ocean views. It was such a lovely drive that I missed the turn off, and was soon pulling into the town of Carlingford.
I pulled over to the side of the road and asked an old man digging his front garden.
“Ah, you’re the second person to ask me about that today. You’ve gone past it. Go back out to the Dundalk road and drive for about five miles and you’ll see McCrystals food store and a big petrol station. The turning is directly opposite."
After some searching around, we stopped at McCrystals Food Store for a drink and an ice cream. “I’m looking for the road where things go backwards," I said, as I was handed my ice cream.
“Ah, Magic Road."
“Is that what you call it then?"
“That’s right. If you go left from here to the end of the road you’ll come to a T-Junction, take a right and then an immediate left. Follow the road to the top of the hill, then down into a dip where you’ll see a big mushroom. Stop there, put the car in neutral and release the brake. You’ll roll backwards up the hill."
The Giant Mushroom
We were now on the Táin Trail, a 40-kilometre route consisting of surfaced roads, forest trails and green paths that makes a circuit of the peninsula through the Cooley Mountains. The road led up a long, straight and steep incline and then at the brow of the hill went down into a dip. At the bottom I spotted a large, brown, circular storage hut. If you imagined hard enough, it could have been a giant mushroom. Immediately I slammed on the brakes.
We were at the very base of the hill, so I put the van in neutral and took my foot off the brake.
"Bloody hell!" I cried. “We’re rolling uphill!"
It was amazing. The road slanted upwards slightly, becoming steeper halfway. We picked up speed, finally reaching the brow of the hill. I braked, put the van in gear and drove down again. Once again we rolled back up the hill. I felt like a child who’d just watched a magician for the first time. I rode up and down that hill for the next half an hour, as traffic passed cautiously. The local people watched with amusement, while tourists looked with bewilderment at this deranged man driving up and down the hill.
I got out and walked up the hill, and it felt like I was walking downhill. I walked downhill, and felt like I was walking uphill. So it was definitely an illusion -- an absolutely perfect one. Best of all, there was no queue of tourists waiting to try it. There wasn’t even a sign to indicate what it was. It was just a piece of country road with an odd secret. I liked that most of all.
Eventually I managed to tear myself away. We decided to continue up the road to the Long Woman’s Grave (the legendary resting place of a Spanish woman brought to this area by an Irish lord) before heading back down to spend the night in Carlingford. On the way, we passed a man building a wall we’d seem the way to the hill. He waved at is and then burst out laughing. I guess this was a familiar sight for him.
Directions to Magic Hill
Leave Dundalk and take the R173 to Carlingford. Halfway along you will spot a Texaco Petrol Station. Take the first left after this, where you’ll see a sign for McCrystals Food Store, and signs for the Táin Trail and Oriel Trail; there is no sign for the Long Woman’s Grave. Follow the road around and past McCrystals until you reach a T-Junction. Turn right and immediately left on the other side, again following signs for the Táin and Oriel Trails. Follow the road straight to the brow of the hill, go down into a dip and stop immediately next to the big mushroom. Then watch in amazement as your car rolls back up the hill.
Ian Middleton, travel writer, photographer and author of Mysterious World: Ireland, your ultimate travel guide to Ireland’s ancient historical past, and Hot Footing Around the Emerald Isle, a comical travelogue of his personal journeys around Ireland.
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