Tuesday, June 29, 2010

European Vacation Travelogue: Day 6, Giants Causeway, Rope Bridge Dunluce Catle

Both BioMom and I had been to Ireland in past lives, but neither of us had been to Northern Ireland.

About ten years ago, just before I was really ready to be on the job market, I went to the University of Ireland-Galway to interview for an instructorship position. Ultimately I both didn't get it and I chickened out. I had heard that if you accept a position overseas it is really difficult to get back to the states, so to speak. At the time, I was just not ready to make such a permanent decision.

All of this is to say that we had never been to any major city in the North (Belfast or Derry, for example) or any major tourist attraction, so we welcomed the trip to Giant's Causeway.

According to Wikipedia: The Giant's Causeway (Irish: Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFómharach)[1] is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is located in County Antrim, on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about two miles (3 km) north of the town of Bushmills. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, and a National Nature Reserve in 1987 by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, the Giant's Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (36 ft) high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres thick in places.

These facts are not nearly as interesting as the legends created around the causeway:
Legend has it that the Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner. One version of the legend tells that Fionn fell asleep before he got to Scotland. When he did not arrive, the much larger Benandonner crossed the bridge looking for him. To protect Fionn, his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him so he could pretend that he was actually their baby son. In a variation, Fionn fled after seeing Benandonner's great bulk, and asked his wife to disguise him as the baby. In both versions, when Benandonner saw the size of the 'infant', he assumed the alleged father, Fionn, must be gigantic indeed. Therefore, Benandonner fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway in case he was followed by Fionn.[citation needed]

Another variation is that Oonagh painted a rock shaped like a steak and gave it to Benandonner, whilst giving the baby (Fionn) a normal steak. When Benandonner saw that the baby was able to eat it so easily, he ran away, tearing up the causeway.[citation needed]

Another version of the legend was that Fionn had spent many days and nights trying to create a bridge to Scotland because he was challenged by another giant. A fellow boatsman told him that the opponent was much larger than he. Fionn told his wife and she came up with an ingenious plan to dress Fionn like a baby. They spent many nights creating a costume and bed. When the opponent came to Fionn's house; Fionn's wife told him that Fionn was out woodcutting and the opponent would have to wait for him to return. Then Fionn's wife showed him her baby and when the opponent saw him he was terrified at the thought of how huge Fionn would be. He ran back to Scotland and threw random stones from the causeway into the waters bellow.

The "causeway" legend corresponds with geological history in as much as there are similar basalt formations (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at the site of Fingal's Cave on the isle of Staffa in Scotland.

Here are a few pictures of us exploring the amazing rocks. This tourist attraction was the first of many that BioMom and I noted the degree to which the Irish Government does not restrict access in order to (attempt) to keep tourists safe. You could literally walk out to the edge of the sea which could come up over the rocks forcefully and unexpectantly, perhaps surprising an unsuspecting tourist who could then slip into the icy waters. There were signs of warning, but no restrictions whatsoever.

After the causeway, we had a quick lunch (fish and chips, Guinness and a bit of the World Cup) at The Nook, and then it was on to the Carrick-a-rede-rope bridge (which was thankfully closed) and then to the Dunluce Castle.

The rope bridge is a rope suspension bridge near Ballintoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick Island. It spans twenty metres and is thirty metres above the rocks below.

Dunluce Castle was one of the most intact and ancient castles I've ever seen. Although it was closed by the time we got there, Ten and I went below the castle and explored the watery dungeons.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Looks like a great trip! I loved Giants Causeway. And, I was not as lucky as you, the rope bridge was open when I was there and I actually crossed it. I remember just breaking into a semi-run at some point just to get over the thing because, as you point out, safety is not a high priority at many of these sites! Elizabeth and I still joke about how people could easily walk off the edge of the Cliffs of Mohr, but that they did erect a small barricade to keep the sheep back. Love the priorities... :-)