Tag Archives: stones

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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Body Adornment

The other half to yesterday’s blog on camouflaging the true shape of our bodies is one of adornment. People are like crows. We have always been attracted to shiny and colorful objects. Ever since Grog the caveman noticed the bright blue stone, we’ve been collecting these things. The best way to store such objects, if you were an itinerant caveman, was to wear it. And look, that blue stone brought the sky back again or slowed the mammoth down so we could kill it.

Body adornment covers jewellery made of glass, metal, clay, wood, stone, feathers, bone, etc. strung or worn in many ways across different parts of the body. As well it has been stuck through and pierced into whatever piece of flesh could be pierced. From lip and nose discs to rings on fingers, toes, nipples, to pieces of wood or stone or metal punctured through chests, backs, arms and other fleshy bits–if it could be done, someone has done it.

Jewellery has as many uses as clothing does. In many cases such adornment started out as a ritualistic aspect with Grog, perhaps a dedication to a belief or god or path. As well, certain body markings indicated tribal/familial affiliations or ranks of authority. A pope would wear an amethyst ring that the faithful would kiss. A particular group in the jungle may have their noses pierced while their neighbors had their eyebrows be-ringed. Whether a fashion trend in that area or a mark of community, these regional differences served the purpose of identifying one group from another.

Facial and body makeup also came along, where applications may have been used for special occasions, rituals, power or to enhance characteristics, such as outlining the eyes to make them look bigger; but also the kohl liners worked to reduce sun-glare into the eyes. There have been practical applications for some body makeup and painting, such as coatings to keep sun off, or insects from biting.

Tattoos and scarification are other ways in which the body has been marked for centuries. Piercings can be temporary, as in the sundance done by some plains nations in North America, where the man’s chest is pierced for the (up to) four-day sundance. But permanent marks are part of identification, authority or belonging to a particular group. Scarring the skin with ridges and whorls, along with embedding items under the skin have been done in some areas for quite a while. Sailors were long known to pick up tattoos on their travels. I’m not sure of the reason why and that would take a bit more research. Some I believe had to do with visiting foreign countries where some of these practices were more common.

Tattoos are big now in parts of modern tribal culture as well as the resurgence of the burlesque dance style. Dancers often have designs that are reminiscent of the 50’s and the earliest North American white tattoos (I say white because I’m not sure if any First Nation groups did tattooing like the Maori have done). Maori tattoos served several purposes including looking fierce in battle, along with the facial gurning.

But last and probably the most popular reason for adorning one’s body, whether with rings, earrings, necklaces, piercings, makeup, tattoos or scarification is for the sheer enjoyment of decoration. We have not traveled that far since Grog started smearing red clay handprints onto his chest, tying a blue stone about his neck and piercing his ears. Though he may have decorated some for superstitious reasons or protection from spiritual or real elements, there came a time that it was just cool and fun to decorate himself. And let’s not forget the status symbol of having the brightest colored rocks or the largest gems in the whole tribe. That hasn’t changed much. If it had, we wouldn’t pay through the nose (does that term come from jewellery?) for precious gems and gold. As long as there are humans we will be given to adorning ourselves and structures around us. If you don’t like a particular fashion of body decoration, be assured that within a hundred years it will change again.

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Dublin or Bust!

Here’s another Ireland installment, first written on Oct. 7, 2007 while I was in Ireland. I’ll be soon posting some of the blog pieces with pictures or you can go over to my blogspot blog, link listed on the sidebar.
We’re in Kilkenny, which turns out to be a hopping college town, or at least where all the young people gather to party. Yeegods, we almost didn’t get a B&B but lucked out on try 3 with a very nice place and very nice people.

There’s been so much and not enough time to even find internet cafes which some of the small towns don’t have. We got into the habit of sometimes eating the breakfast–a full breakfast will come with two cooked tomatoes, sausages, ham (bacon but it’s like back bacon), toast, eggs, cereal and fruit, maybe potatoes and black and white pudding. Who could eat all that? We were down to ham and toast and tomato and skipping it some days as it’s too much and eggs over more than 2 days don’t sit well with me.

We would skip lunch as we were always running about trying to fit in the most by the end of the day. Some castles and sites close at the beginning of Oct. Boo! Most disappointing site–Ormonde Castle, a mostly Victorian manor house, closed off completely. Not exciting by architectural standards and why it was in the guide book, I don’t know. Nicest castles–Bunratty, and errr…another I can’t remember right now.

We’ve been eating dinners that are around 15-20€ and a pint of cider and a rum and coke have cost lowest at 7€ for both in Dungarvan, to 15€ in Dublin. Not cheap but the food portions have been substantial and quality mostly very good. My celiac sister hasn’t had any problem getting food adapted and it turns out Ireland is only second to Italy in number of celiacs.

We stopped at Blarney castle, which is mostly a shell but I didn’t kiss the stone. Rather, while snooping down some dark, tunnelly passage, I saw light and stairs to my left, and went to cautiously look down. I ran my nose right into a ridge of stone and nearly broke it. It’s still bruised but feels okay. Reminds me of Lorna’s year of the broken nose.

I have many many photos and I’m always into architectural details and the small stuff. I’ve taken pictures of some very old tiles from some cathedrals and castles as well as some gothic and earlier carvings. Much in stonework, not as much in wood, of course.

We’ve come to want to avoid the bigger cities like Limerick (though we went to the castle there) and Cork where we spent an hour going a few blocks. We’ve just done Kilkenny castle, restored by the Irish gov’t and once owned by the very rich Butlers for over 500 years. No photos inside were allowed and most of it is done now in 18th century style as it went through several changes over the centuries.

I also realize that I’ve been trying to live up to being Irish and I’ve drank cider every day since I’ve been here. This could be a personal record. Last night we met some gents from the North who had been down for the races. One was a Belfast cop and we ended up drinking more than we would have. Then got lost in the fog going back to our B&B.

We’re about to head up to Dublin and flight out godawful early tomorrow to Glasgow. Then it’s, sob** home on Wednesday. We’ve lucked into great weather except for one rainy day in Carrowmore and when driving out of Dublin. That’s made it much nicer. Ireland is truly beautiful and kinda laid back about driving even if the speed limit is 100km on winding country roads built for carriages originally. I’ve come to love the inherent use of and living with stone of the Irish. Stone plots in cemeteries, stone castles and homes, the wonderful stone walls everywhere and the megalith tombs and dolmens. Oddly enough it’s the stones I will miss most.

And now it’s time to drive off to Dublin.

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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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