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Kinbane Castle

Ireland 2007–Kinbane Castle

First published on my Blogspot blog in Nov. 2007. All pictures are copyrighted.

On Monday October 1, we left Ballycastle. At our B&B were a family from Seattle. They’d been driving about for two weeks and were on their third week. They said, stop at Kinbane on the way. It’s not very far. And it wasn’t, traveling west near the coast.

 The weather was perfect. A few clouds, sunshine and the turquoise depths of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean made the northern coast of Ireland beautiful. Along the shorelines, wherever the ocean licks the stones, the rocks become stained and black. Farther back from the shore they may white or brown. Craggy and rugged, the northern coast is wild, and whitecaps and booming waves are common.

Kinbane, which means White Headland, was down a long hill. They really didn’t want people to go to the castle anymore. There were bars across the path but easy to straddle. As I moved around the hill, there was a second barricade just before the beach. I squeezed past that one, and it was obvious many had. Along the northern coast are the remains of stone huts used in the fishing industry, which was closed in the 80’s. This is a sad statement on what the world is doing to the fish populations.

I loved the look of this castle, built in 1544 by Colla MacDonnell (of Balymargy Friary fame). It was shot at and partially destroyed at one point, but one of the MacDonnells lived there till the end of his days. Mostly what is left is one of the towers. It couldn’t have been a very big castle but I can see how this would have been a great fortification. Rugged stony cliffs to the sea and steep steps up to the castle by land.

This castle gave me a great appreciation for the hardiness of those people of centuries past. To hike up and down that hill would definitely make one fit. Even though it was a bit breezy, I was quite warm by the time I pantingly reached the top.

The castle and rock itself are now made unapproachable, the way securely barricaded. The structure was originally besieged and with time it has become highly unstable. I loved many of the castles for different reasons but Kinbane had the true sense of a fortification of the most austere type. This was only the first of our stops on Monday, and the first of a few hikes.

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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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