Tag Archives: Giants Causeway

Bushmills, Dunluce and Donegal, Ireland

Our day started with Kinbane, then Carrick-a-Rede, Giants Causeway and somehow we went on to Bushmills (the town & factory) for a tour. Why? I don’t care for whiskey (Scotch is different), my sister’s a celiac and can’t touch any wheat product. A momentary leave of senses perhaps?

Although Bushmills has been making whiskey since 1675 and it was interesting on how they use bourbon, port and errr, one other type of barrel to age the stuff, and although we got a shot at the end of the tour (I also got my sister’s) it was still kind of a waste of time. There really was nothing to take a picture of unless I wanted to do an article on whiskey making (and maybe I should have taken more). But I took no pictures and had my sister shoot this only picture (and bad one) of me in Ireland with the mega bottle of booze.

Ireland 2007–Bushmills, Dunluce Castle and Donegal

So we did the tour, and then it was getting late in the day, about 4:00 and we found our way to Dunluce Castle… to see them locking it up. It was perhaps our biggest regret. If we’d missed the Bushmills tour that we weren’t that enthused about we would have had time to explore the castle. And this castle had a cave. How cool is that? Alas we could only peer from the locked gates.

Dunluce castle was held by the MacDonnells of Ballymargy fame and was destroyed by a fire in 1641. There was a cave beneath the castle besides the passage under the bridge. I would have loved to explore that are.

Our last stop was driving on to Donegal town. The pictures of Donegal and the castle are actually from the next day as we arrived with enough time to do our usual. We popped into the Reel Inn, had a drink and asked the bartender to suggest some B&Bs. It also turned out they had live music that night. So we crossed the bridge right outside the door and not believing everything was so close, continued driving up the road, to realize we’d gone too far. We turned around and then found several B&Bs just down the road. We stayed at the Bridges.

These B&Bs are nothing fancy on the outside but quite large houses inside with usually 3-5 bedrooms and a large dining room. Bernie, our host, had two cute little kids (never met the husband) and there was only a common bathroom though many B&Bs have ensuites. My sister and I each had our own room, which gave me a reprieve from her snoring. (It’s funny that whenever I had to wake her in the middle of the night to try and get her to stop snoring, the first thing out of her mouth, even half asleep, was “I am not.” Like I had nothing better to do in the dark of night.)Bernie also washed our clothes for a few Euros each. A very nice place to stay.

So that night we went off to find dinner (quiet on a Monday). Many pubs have dining rooms upstairs. We began to notice that service in Ireland is different than Canada. They’ll serve you but never come back and you have to hunt down the waiter to get your bill or they’ll literally let you sit forever. I don’t remember the name of the place but I had a mediocre chicken curry with not a speck of vegetables. but true to form it was a huge portion on rice. I ate it all and then they brought me a megasize bowl of French fries! I didn’t eat any, being quite full. But there was that Irish thing for potatoes again.

We then wandered back to the Reel Inn for the music though we never got farther than a few feet inside the door. I won’t relate the tale here again as you’ll find it if you go back to the Oct. 2 entry. We staggered into bed, a short walk of a couple minutes from pub to B&B, at 3 am.

The next day we went off to Donegal castle. We couldn’t find it at first and our biggest problem was getting in the car. Being used to larges cities and maps of BC, we tended to misinterpret distances in Ireland. We drove back and forth trying to find the castle, expecting something like Dunluce. Donegal castle was comparatively small, tucked behind a store that sold garden ornaments  and a parking lot. In fact the parking lot was on one side of the Eske River, which is not very wide but I presume was a lot wider during medieval times. From our B&B it was no more than a five-minute walk to the castle.

Originally built in the 1500s by the O’Donnells (probably related to the MacDonnells) they partially destroyed it when they left (were routed?) so that it couldn’t be used against the Gaelic clans. Then the flight of the earls happened and a British captain was given the castle. Basil Brooke added the Jacobean wing which are the kitchen and hall. Some of these castles were so small it was hard to imagine them being seats of power. We’re used to these Hollywood movies that show massive grounds yet we drove by the castle three times without realizing that’s what it was.

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Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

Giants Causeway was just west of Carrick-a-Rede. This is all in the county of Antrim, in Northern Ireland. There were tons of people here and like most of the ruins throughout Ireland, there is a cost to see them. The money often goes back to the upkeep of the places. That I even managed pictures without anyone in them is something. They have buses that are loaded up and drive people down the hill for those who don’t want the walk down or the hike up. But it’s less than 30 minutes to walk one way (down). It’s a slow incline but an incline nonetheless, and a good sweat on the way up. This was my third hike of the day after Kinbane (the hardest) and Carrick-a-Rede. I can say my muscles were a bit sore the next day.

The Causeway stones are basalt and due to an ancient (65 million years ago) lava flow as well as hot and humid conditions interspersed with colder air, caused the geometric fracturing of the stones. I believe there is one area like this in Scotland too, but other than that a very unique configuration. The stones are all six sided and broken into layers. Some have tumbled down to form a mosaic of  stone. Others still stand in precarious looking columns.

Ireland 2007–Giants Causeway

The pictures are pretty much self-explanatory. Amazing to look at but we didn’t do the long hike around to the Chimney and the Organ. It would have been a couple of more hours and we had many places to hit. In the afternoon now, there were fewer clouds but a haze had developed.

The Causeway stones are grayish to red where the water has not hit them. But wherever the sea water has licked the stones they take on a black hue. This gives some interesting gradations of color. Signs posted said to stay off the black rocks as the waves could sweep you away. After a similar incident on BC’s coast the year before where people where swept off of rocks, I paid attention. The sea is very wild along here .

Some of the Causeway stones are pitted and eroded by wind, rain and sea. They had been dished by the elements and began to remind me of ancient vertebrae. One of my favorite pictures of Ireland is the one of the Causeways stones (ocean behind me) with the pitted rocks leading up to a hill.

Maybe next time I’ll do some hikes through this area. It’s pastoral and rolling and the variations in green are picturesque. Giants Causeway is definitely worth seeing and seeing again.

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Carrick-a-Rede, Ireland

Today I’ve been felled by the dreaded cold so here is another piece from my trip to Ireland in 2007. All photos on this site are copyrighted.

Still on Oct. 1, travelling west along the north coast of Ireland, we went next to Carrick-a-Rede, which means something like big rock. Carrick is the name of the island and it’s tiny. It has a rope bridge suspended over a churning passage of water. Really, the bridge is twisted tensile metal strands and very sturdy. I think it was updated in 2000.

Ireland 2007–Carrick a Rede

Used by fisherman since the 16th century, it was once just a rope with some wood slats. Down one side, just before the rope bridge is the husk of a building used for the salmon fishery. I believe this closed down in the 80s or 90s as fisheries all over the world have met similar demises. Fishing by boat was somewhat treacherous so the fishermen used Carrick island to fish from. The northern coast is tumultuous, with crashing waves and no matter how alluring the waters look I bet they’re freezing cold.

I’m not sure if they trawled as there does seem to be some evidence of pulleys and such but in any case, Carrick like Kinbane, no longer has a fishing industry.

The walk to Carrick was beautiful. We had great weather and although there in the morning it warmed up quite a bit, especially with the stairs on the return visit. The ocean here was absolutely amazing. The colors in the pictures are quite accurate and it reminded me of the water around the Bahamas, but wilder and colder. The white cliffs are limestone and the rest is basalt I believe. On Carrick island the beginnings of the fractured basalt that makes up Giants Causeway could be seen.

They ask for a donation or fee to cross the bridge, which you pay earlier. I actually had left my pay stub with my sister but had paid it so they did let me cross. My sister, afraid of heights and swaying bridges, stayed behind and waited up the hill. There is a sway to the bridge, which is about thirty feet across. There were two teens with their father crossing in front of me and they decided to bounce the bridge. I waited, not because of fear but because I wanted to take pictures.

This was hike two, after Kinbane but really took only about 45 minutes in all to get to the island and back. The island itself was very hummocky and spongy. They have signs requesting that you protect the environment, which I presumed meant, walk lightly (as there were many people and would be more in the afternoon) and don’t pick anything. There was no set trail and you could walk from one side to the other in probably a minute; it’s that small. All along the way to and from the island is a trail that would make a great hike off the coast.

From Carrick-a-rede you can see the larger rock that they named Sheep Island, I imagine because of its color and shape, and across the water is Rathlin, a much larger island. It’s a rugged coast and I can see any landing, on a storm tossed night probably claimed its share of ships.

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Donegal and Slieve League

FIrst posted on 10/02/07 on Blogspot.
Yesterday was big hike day. We went to Kinbane Castle, a ruin, down many steps to a crag and a rock in the ocean. It was fine gong down but definitely a sweaty hike up the steep steps. My sister couldn’t make it so stayed above.

Then we drove (driving is fine now…mostly, except those traffic circles, which are literally every five blocks when you drive through a city. Very confusing when there are five names on each sign and you’re trying to find one.) to the Carrick a Rede rope bridge. Randi is afraid of heights so I went on and over the bridge (short) to the hummocky island. It’s like it’s covered with peat and then grasses and little field flowers here and there. A beautiful view of the North Sea in its blues and turquoises with the white cliffs, the black rocks and the little green sharp cliffed islands called Carrick Island (where the rope bridge leads to) and Sheep Island. That trip to the bridge was the second, easier hike but with some steep steps to climb back up.

We then went to the Giants Causeway where there were hundreds of people. This is where the land coughed up great hexagonal (six sided) columns of stone everywhere to the water. These columns form natural seats and steps and are very cool. Managed to get some good pics but the haze stopped me from getting good ones of the chimneys farther out and I was a bit tired to walk that far.

We went on to the Bushmills whiskey factory. Why we did this tour I’m not sure. It wasn’t on our itinerary (made up daily) and it wasn’t very exciting or interesting. No old architecture, a bit on the making of whiskey(which was kinda interesting). Bushmills is named for the old Bush river from which they pump the water and the milling of the barley. But because we did this we missed getting into Dunluce castle. October hours means many things close at 5 instead of 6. It would have been the most impressive castle with a bridge, large environs and a cave beneath the castle. All these castles today were coastal castles. All we could do was take pics from the gates.

We then drove and drove through many a roundabout, through Portrush and Portstewart, Strabane, various little towns to Donegal. We stopped in a pub, the Reel Inn, had a drink and got some idea for B&Bs. This was a nice change. A small town center and our B&B just over the bridge, less than five minutes from the town. The pub is just one side of the little bridge. We ate in some restaurant which was okay. I had chicken curry (13.50€) which was only chicken, no veggies. Lots of chicken and rice though and then I was given a huge bowl of fries, which I didn’t even touch. The Irish do love their taters.

We went back to the Reel Inn which was supposed to have live music. We barely set foot in the door when we were mobbed by drunk Irish men. There was a very drunk, bleary eyed, mostly incoherent Liam and his friend who we called Harry Potter, of barely legal drinking age. Enda was a nice guy who looked like he used to play rugby (on the TVs everywhere here) who had his own pub but goes for drinks with the boys on Mondays because one of them is banned from his pub. The banned one, the older Liam (40-ish) with a front tooth missing, regaled us with many a story of his fishing forays, true or not. Liam McGurdy holds the world record for fish whacking and gutting. Supposedly this is true though some of the other tales were not (though we googled this and found no mention of famous fish whackers–more blarney). There was an equally drunk, red-haired Eric. They were all bleary-eyed when we arrived and just stayed the same.

Randi and I had been told that the men buy your drinks everywhere. We hadn’t found this yet or even that people talked to you that much. But it was true here. They all wanted to shake or hold our hands but we never bought a drink all night. Each guy would try to up the other in blarney.

There was also a Pete or Finnbar but it was hard to tell as he was not always on the up and up either, who kept telling me I was a fine woman and asked, if I was there alone would I fancy him. I didn’t want to say outright no and offend him, but I did say no and he asked why. I said because I like to get to know people there and that the gold wedding claddagh (Irish ring with two hands holding a heart) with the hands turned in told me he had a wife. “Oh you know too much,” he said when I caught him at his blarney.

A younger Pete came in and all the guys in the bar started calling old Pete “Daddy.” Younger Pete, Pete Cannon was kind of like a leprechaun, not that tall, pretty eyes, lots of character in his face and brown hair with blond and light red streaks. Turns out he’s a musician and he also contributed to the blarney in his way. But overall the lads were friendly and harmless, if half of them completely inebriated. I got to try Adam’s cider which came in a larger 1.5 pint bottle.

Now we’re off to Slieve League and the western coast. More as the internet allows.

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The Stones of Ireland: II

Continued from the previous day’s post.

Kinbane CastleWe travelled to the Cliffs of Moher in northwestern Ireland, the tallest in Europe. Rugged and impressive, they remained formidable to drive up and to look down. The sheer audacity of Kinbane castle in Northern Ireland built down a very steep hill right on the promontory of the North Sea kept it impenetrable for years. Out near Kinvara and in the Burren were the Ailwee Caves, great underground caverns carved millennia ago by a subterranean river, fossils and minerals sparkling like the realm of Hades. Cool, pitch black except when they turned on the lights, and a den for extinct European brown bears, their might was in their endurance and solidity.

The Burren was as impressive in its way as the Giants Causeway. At some point in the ancient past a mountain or volcano erupted, spewing tons of flowing mud down mountain and hill. Eventually it solidified into grey rock but still has that look of a mud flow. Smooth in spots, rippled in others, there are dips that are treacherous to walk over but where wind and rain have blown deposits of soil over the centuries. There in those protected trenches are a myriad of plant life, some uniqe to that area.

The Burren

The Burren butts up to a rugged shoreline near Kinvara, but on the higher hills it is barren stone, short shrubs and the tiny plants that grow in their coves. Everywhere through this area are stone walls and hill forts that were stacked by hand centuries ago. In fact the stone walls are abundant throughout Ireland but rule supreme in the Burren. The stones might be stacked on their edges, resting against each other, placed flat on top of each other, or made with their widest sides facing out. Some are mortared, and they are ageless. They could have been built a week ago or a thousand years ago. They were used as natural boundaries, pens for cattle and sheep and as fortifications. I’ve been told that they now work at protecting species of flora and fauna throughout the emerald isle, working as borders where invasive species don’t encroach.

Upon the Burren with its hard, alien looking surface, unable to really support any crop, somehow people eked out a life, for centuries. And topping it was Poulnabrone Dolmen, a passage tomb made of four giant slabs of stone with a fifth resting atop them like a table. You can look through beneath the table stone, from one world perhaps to the next. It has stood for over 5,000 years, a part of every person’s life who lived upon the Burren.

All lands have stone in one form or another. Rock is the foundation of our world from its magma core to the volcanic eruptions and tectonic shifts that show our planet is alive. From sand and pebble to rock and boulder, stones have always been there to support and shelter. The Irish reuse the stones from any old building torn down, reworking it into something new.

The strong sense of the history of the stones, from the monasteries and castles to the cemetery tombs and headstones, to the walls and hill forts, they all spoke of a true Irish intimacy with stone. There is history, life and death. There is art, utilitarian purpose and mystery. And most of all, there is community; thousand of years of life with each person using what had come before, the ruins or the dead not forgotten but integrated into continuing family rituals. Ireland truly taught me the endurance of time and of stories shown in its stone, its very foundation. stone walls

The picture at the top of my blog is taken from the top of Blarney castle. All pictures are copyrighted.

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The Stones of Ireland: I

Giants Causeway In October, 2007 I travelled to Ireland, a place I had wanted to visit for years. I’m not sure why exactly as there is no Irish in my blood and other countries have more and bigger castles. It was more the sense of rolling green hills and the land of faery, a romantic notion perhaps.

We circumnavigated Ireland in two weeks, going north, then west, then south and east, starting and ending in Dublin. There were some key sites we wanted to see but then let ourselves be guided by road signs and guide books.

This was a mostly outdoor expedition involving trips to old castles and monasteries and some cemeteries, as well as driving through the changing landscape. The history of the architecture and how it had changed over time was fascinating, small enclosures and Viking settlements built over with increasingly sophisticated fortifications or ecclesiastical buildings.

Newgrange and Knowth were amazing in that these structures were built over 5,000 years ago and are older than the pyramids of Egypt. Some of the passage tombs fell apart or were scavenged for stones for other buildings and roads. Many of these barrows have a corridor or an interior built with slabs of stone, then dirt is mounded over. Newgrange’s corbeled stone roof has never leaked in 5,000 years. The hummocked hills gave rise to the tales of the homes of the sidhe and the Tuatha de Danan.

Knowth BarrowsOther barrows were built over with time, dirt being added, and villages or cattle settling upon them. Some of their original use is a mystery but some contain bones or human ashes. Others may have been ceremonial or religious structures. Newgrange is the most impressive as it was built upon a hill and the outer wall lined with white quartz (this was rebuilt in more recent times and there is argument as to how it may actually have been placed), which would be striking in the bright sun and visible for miles around.

Giants Causeway on the north coat of Northern Ireland was a natural structure of basalt rock that had been rapidly heated and cooled millennia ago causing large octagonal pillars to form. They break apart in slabs, maintaining their structure and can be walked over like steps. Some form natural seats or chairs. There is a section called the organ because it looks like a giant pipe organ in the hill. There seems to only be that one area in Ireland that has such unique stones.

The castles and monasteries abounded as well as the very old cemetery of Monasterboice with the millennium old tower (imagine Rapunzel) that they believe was used for storage, sanctuary and to watch for marauders. Some of the carvings on pillars still showed wonderful detail; leaves, faces both animal and human, various designs. Some of the blocks of stone seemed to have been placed with a sense of tone, dark and light stones alternating, or smaller pebbles placed in the mortar between larger stones.

Over the centuries many of these castles and churches fell into ruin but they were not abandoned. Tombs and graves pepper every place. The oldest monastery floors are nothing but tomb after tomb. There is nothing to do but walk over the bones of the past. Even walls have been taken over, a person interred into the very foundation and a plaque sealing them in. The oldest readable stones go to the 1700s. Older than that, the words become too worn away, by feet and weather. There are graves dating over a thousand years in some cases, right up to months of the current date.

Some graveyards have been held by the ruling families or clans and there might be dozens of McDonnells buried in one area such as Ballycastle. Other graves are family plots and in the more modern ones, configured by a low fence, a bar, about six inches from the ground. These more modern plots have pebbled glass or stone in different combinations of color, and some flowers, real or not. Some are very individual. Headstones often denote many generations entombed in the plot, going back a century or more. At one Benedictine monastery there was a family of four cleaning and smoothing the stones of their family’s plot on a sunny day.

Continued tomorrow

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