So having done with five days exploring Dublin, I realize now that there is so much more to see. So we move on to Belfast which is 2hours North by train on Irish Rail.
We were accompanied by a guide and we travelled to Belfast and to the Giant Causeway, which is a totally natural rock formation surrounded by myth and fantastical stories.
The last time Will was in Ulster to visit his family was 1969. The ”troubles” were on and he had to travel through military check points and witnesses riots and much disturbance.
Belfast today is completely different, it has become a tourism hot spot and currently 15 hotels are under construction to accommodate all the tour packages, conferences, trade shows, etc. You would be hard pressed today to say where the troubles took place.
Will still has lots of relatives in Belfast but we did not visit them. We only had the day to see a lot of things again time was at a premium. I was somewhat nervous about going to Ulster, all I knew about the place was memories of news broadcast on the CBC about sectarian violence. I also had little understanding of why there was so much hatred and deep division, it just did not make sense to me as a Canadian.
The train trip North was uneventful and you cross the border near Drogheda. If it is not pointed out to you, you would miss it completely. Though once in Belfast the Union Jack and the Ulster flags are everywhere. I am told that the Irish Protestant think of themselves as being British not Irish. This is a real puzzle to me, I just don’t get it.
The day was rainy and grey, but nonetheless quite pleasant. Our first stop was Carrick Fergus, a castle with a statue of William III. Moving along to Larne and Drains Bay in county Antrim you can see Islay, Scotland on the other side of the Irish Sea.
We travelled to Bushmill which is a village and a distillery for the Irish Whisky of the same name. The food in the visitor cafeteria of Bushmill was terrible, the whole place was very poorly organized and the push was to make you buy a bottle of Whisky. I did try the Bushmill 10 years old, not bad but I would not write home about it nor would I buy a bottle.
The main attraction for us was the Giant Causeway, I did not know the story or legend behind it.
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is also known as Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFomhórach in Irish and tha Giant’s Causey in Ulster-Scots.
It is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles (4.8 km) northeast of the town of Bushmills. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (39 ft) high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres (92 ft) thick in places.
Much of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site is today owned and managed by the National Trust. Who built a tourist centre and charge 9 British pounds to enter the site. But you do not have to pay, there is a tunnel side entrance and you can avoid payment. I do recommend the hotel next door to the tourist centre, very good food, nice bar and toilets. There is also an old lady, Tommy’s mother who runs a very good ice cream shop called Mc Conaghy.
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.
Though it rained during our visit, it was well worth it to see the Giant Causeway, a wonderful site.
Of this day in Ulster, I would like to return to see Belfast again and explore the city. Though I have to say I did not feel the same carefree attitude found in the rest of Ireland.
We also purchased Irish Pounds which is the currency in Ulster, only to find on our arrival in London that this currency is not recognized outside of Northern Ireland. I was able to get rid of it but it was not easy. If you go to Northern Ireland you can use British Pounds or Euros, don’t bother with Irish Pounds issued by the Bank of Northern Ireland they have no legal tender outside of Ulster.