Although it’s been five weeks since I’ve been back I still can’t get over the fact that I have been to Ireland. It’s only hitting me now that I have been to a country that has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, it almost feels like a dream. Ireland has always had a special place in my heart as my mum has weaved me stories about my family who have come from there. Although my Mums side of the family is a mystery, we at least know we have Irish heritage.
The end of last blog post saw Emily and I falling into our hostel beds after a drunken night out. The next morning we woke up in a haze, we were pretty sure there was alcohol still swimming in our bloodstream but we got dressed in a matter of minutes and met everyone on the bus who greeted us with smiles and a chorus of “good mornings” which is one of the nicest ways to wake up. Teirnan informed us that our day was going to be jam packed. Although we had a rough itinerary for the trip, each day was still a surprise as to where we were going and what we were going to do.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Our first stop was Carrick-a-Rede, which is a famous rope bridge in Northern Ireland. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede and has some of the most amazing views that I have ever seen. No one really knows the purpose behind the bridge being built but it is thought it was built by salmon fishermen to connect them to the main land to make their jobs easier.
I have never seen grass so lush and water so mesmerising as I stood out on the edge of one of the cliffs, photos simply do not do it justice. As I absorbed the suns rays, the wind and looked over the rolling hills in the distance it was easy to forget all of the useless rubbish that you hold onto in your day to day life. My trip to Ireland was one of the most soul cleansing and eye opening experiences of my life, I learnt more about myself than I ever have before. I was definitely having an Eat, Pray, Love moment.
Our next stop was Giants Causeway. As we drove through Ireland’s beautiful countryside Teirnan filled us in on the legend behind its formation as all of us on the bus nodded in and out of sleep, making up for our lack of shut eye from the night before.
It was a truly magical experience as we weaved in and out of the emerald green hills with the glittering sun shining down on us as we were told the story of Fionn McCool who, according to legend, is the creature that built the causeway of which the columns are the remains. There are different variations of the legend being passed on through families and fables but Teirnan shared with us the version that his grandfather had told him.
Finn was the last single giant left in Ireland as all other giants in the country were shacked up. He had heard about the most beautiful giant in Scotland named Oonagh who was also single due to the fact that all other men were intimidated by how gorgeous she was. Fionn was so lonely and so desperate that he built a causeway across the North Channel from Ireland to Scotland so that he could meet her. The other giants were right – she was stunning. After some procastination he finally asked her out and soon they were living in Ireland together. Oonagh would often get homesick so Finn left the path there for her so she could visit Scotland whenever she needed.
It soon came about that the reason Oonagh was still single was because she was promised to the largest Giant known to man – Benandonner. Not only was Benandonner the largest giant in existence, he was also the most feared because of how terrifying he was. He’d been away fighting other giants in Europe and was expecting Oonagh to be waiting for him when he got back. When he finds out that she’s run off to marry another giant he challenges Finn to fight him for her hand in marriage.
Finn readily accepts the challenge before realising that his foe is much larger than him. He considers cancelling the fight and running away when Oonagh has an idea. She tells Finn to not worry as she will take care of it as long as he collects the largest rocks he can find and give them to her. The day of the fight arrives and Benandonner knocks at the front door.
“Oh hello Benandonner! Finn’s just gone out for a run around Ireland, he should only be about 20 minutes”.
“A run… around all of Ireland in just 20 minutes?” he asks in shock, he couldn’t believe it!
He must have the longest legs if he can do that in that short a time! He thought to himself.
“I’ve just made scones if you want to sit down and eat some?” Oonagh offered.
Benandonner sat down and bit into a scone, almost breaking his teeth as he did so.
“I’m sorry if they’re too hard, Finn just loves it when I cook them like that!”
He must be super strong if he can bite into one of these! He thought again as panic began to rise.
“What’s that?” Benandonner asked as he heard something that sounded like short cries.
“That’s Finn and my baby in the nursery! Would you care to meet him?”
They walk into the nursery so Benandonner could lay eyes on the baby and lying in a crib is none other than Finn himself dressed up as a baby!
Benandonner takes one hard look at him, If the baby is the size of your average Giant then Finn must be a Giant amongst Giants!!
“Are you ok? You don’t look so good,” Oonagh asks with a mischevous twinkle in her eye.
“Look, I can see you’re very happy here, don’t worry about the fight and tell Finn not to worry either!”
With that being the last thing he says he runs out of the house and flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Finn could not follow.
Although this is the story I would like to believe, the Giant’s Causeway resulted from a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. It is the aftermath of volcanic crashing, burning and cooling with over 40,000 interlocked basalt column and is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland. Whatever the truth, the Causeway is our portal into Earth’s most ancient past.
Arriving at the Giants Causeway you are met with a golf-course green canyon wall that slopes into a set of volcanic rock formations that are completely surreal: near-perfect hexagon tubes are stacked next to each other like puzzle pieces. It has to be seen to be believed.
There are four stunning trails at the Giant’s Causeway suited to every ability, but Emily and I only had time for two – the easy and relaxed red route and then the serious hike which was the blue route which saw us sweating in a matter of seconds.
After our time at the Giants Causeway and adding to the intensity of Belfast, we drove into the city Derry, which has had a long history of sectarian tension and violence. We were met on the bus by a Scotsman who was larger than life who was to take us on a tour of the city. With a strong accent, a large pot belly and a glistening gold cross around his neck he marched us through the city, with many people stopping and chatting to him as we did so. He is apparently a well known figure in Derry as he works in theatre, radio and helps with many community projects and his knowledge on the history of Derry is endless.
Derry is a beautiful little city but it has a dark past as our tour guide told us about the massacres in its history. In the late 1960s the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional discrimination. The city had very high unemployment levels and very poor housing and overcrowding in nationalist areas was widely blamed on the political agenda of the unionist government.
Civil rights demonstrations were declared illegal and then violently suppressed and Catholics were regularly attacked. On Sunday January 30, 1972, 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march. Another 13 were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as Bloody Sunday. The violence in Derry eased towards the end of the Troubles in the 1990s, even though street riots were still frequent, the violence gradually moved to Belfast which I briefly spoke about here.
We later learnt that our tour guide was actually originally from Ireland but his dad moved him to Scotland because he didn’t want him to get caught up in the violence that was overtaking the city that could result in him losing his life. Hearing our tour guide talk about the friends and family the people of Derry had lost so recently brought tears to all of our eyes. I can’t believe that before this trip I hadn’t realised that it is all still so fresh in their history.
As beautiful as Derry is it is also a little bit rougher than other areas that we’d been to. On top of that, we were so exhausted from the day that we had that we decided to wander the town to pick up take away and spend the night in with a lovely Canadian girl that we met in the hostel.
Again, thank you so much if you’ve made it this far! The next blog post will be about the time I spent in Galway which quickly became one of my favourite cities that I’ve ever been to!