Last Friday we, along with a bunch of Eric’s college students, boarded a bus to Belfast. Crossing the border into Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and not politically part of Ireland, is somewhat underwhelming and mostly notable for the road signs changing into miles instead of kilometers. We made a few stops to check out sights along the way.
First stop was the Dark Hedges. Beech trees twist and arc overhead to create two colonnades along a small patch of road, an arboreal tunnel to welcome you to the Stuart estate. Charles Stuart first planted the trees in the 18th century for this reason, simply to impress visitors to his manse. It’s better known now as the escape route Arya Stark takes from King’s Landing on Game of Thrones. When backlit, the trees form an ethereal walkway, and I half expected to see fairies meandering past.
Next stop was Carrick a Rede rope bridge. A tiny island sits just off the coast of mainland Ireland at the edge of a bay. Shoals of salmon used to swim by, and a small rope bridge allowed fishermen access the island so they could set their nets. Nowadays, salmon populations have plummeted and the bridge is no longer used for fishing, but solely for tourism. Walking across what is now a relatively stable wood slat bridge with secure ropes and netting on either side of you is harrowing enough, especially if you look down to see the surf crashing on the rocks. I can only imagine the fortitude of fisherman of yore, who used to scramble across a swaying bridge which had only one rope handrail, the other side a steep drop to the ocean, guiderope held in one hand and the other clutching their nets and lines. Many tourists have made it across but have found themselves unable to stomach the return journey, needing rescue by dinghy.
The last tourist stop was the Giant’s Causeway. The tour bus spit us out at the top of a cliff overlooking the beach. We walked a paved pathway that curved downwards, and saw … more cliffs and craggy beach. Pretty, sure, but hardly unique. What was the big deal?
Walking further down, though, we soon saw the landscape change into well demarcated hexagonal columns that rose into hills as they came inland and then seemed to disappear into the surf. The kids took off to scamper among the formations, while I cautiously stepped around them because those things were slippery. Now, I could tell you that the geological origin is from ancient volcanic activity that breathed out the basalt columns, but where’s the fun in that?
Irish legend tells a much different story. Fionn McCumaill (p. Finn McCool) is a mythic giant of the North Coast. Scotland is just across the water here, and the Scottish giant Benandonner threatened to attack Ireland. Fionn swore to protect his land, and threw chunks of the coast into the water to create a road, or causeway, to Scotland where he intended to fight Benandonner and save Ireland. On his way over though, he caught a glimpse of Benandonner, realized he is truly massive and Fionn hightailed it back to his house in Ireland. Benandonner meanwhie is still up for the challenge and followed Fionn back along the new road and headed to his house, asking to see him for the fight. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, has realized what’s about to happen and cleverly dressed up Fionn as a baby. She greeted Benandonner at the door, and told him Fionn is currently out but would you mind holding his beautiful baby. Benandonner took one look at the “baby,” and thought in fright of how large the father must be to sire a baby of this size, and fled back to Scotland. As he ran back, he destroyed much of the causeway so that Fionn couldn’t chase him home.