May 24, 2012

Northern Ireland

Did you realize that Northern Ireland is its own country? We didn’t. Even though there’s no distinguishable border, it’s a completely separate country from the Republic of Ireland and is a part of the United Kingdom. One moment we were paying in Euros and the next we were paying in Pounds. Honestly, all of this UK/Great Britain/Ireland/Scotland land grab sort of stuff is really confusing, so we just ignore it and enjoy the sites.

From Ashford Castle we drove north, crossing into Northern Ireland where the landscape started to change. Ireland’s endless stone walls disappeared and the green farmlands got bigger.

Our first stop was the Belleek factory, where Ireland’s famous pottery is made. Every piece is perfectly crafted by hand, and the porcelain is so thin that you can shine a light through it.

From there it was onto a famous Irish golf course on the Antrum Coast called Royal Portrush. We played a fun evening round on their par-3 course along the sea.

Collectively, one of our very favorite stops in Ireland was the Causeway Coast where there’s an incredible natural formation called Giant’s Causeway. This area is made up of the most unbelievable collection of hexagonal shaped stones.

Mythology attributes the creation of Giant’s Causeway to an Irish giant named Finn McCool. To prove his superior strength and status, Finn decided to fight against a rival Scottish giant named Bernandonner. Since there was no boat large enough to carry huge Finn across the sea to confront Bernandonner, he built his own pathway of stepping stones from Ireland to Scotland. He then was able to walk across the sea without getting his feet wet.

When he crossed the sea, however, Finn saw just how large Bernandonner was. He ran back to Ireland before Bernandonner saw him, but the causeway was already built and Bernandonner came to fight. Finn crawled into a crib and when Bernandonner came to the door to fight him, his wife told Bernandonner not wake the baby. Seeing just how large Finn’s “baby” was, Bernandonner grew afraid and ran back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway as he went to prevent Finn following him.

Once again on this trip, we felt like Super Mario hopping along from one stone to the next. 

It may not be as vast as something like the Grand Canyon, but I think that Giant’s Causeway should be named a natural wonder of the world. It truly leaves you feeling wonderstruck.

Not too far from Giant’s Causeway was the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, which seriously tested my fear of heights.

Also along the Causeway Coast was beautiful Dunlace Castle, set on a cliff teetering over the sea. 

It’s believed that during one night in this castle’s history, a terrible storm caused the cliff under the kitchen to collapse into the ocean. Only one of the kitchen staff survived.

The most unbelievable thing about Dunlace Castle, is the family who built it used actual stones from Giant’s Causeway! That’s like having granite countertops made out of Half Dome or hardwood floors made out of Giant Sequoias! It was very easy to spot the precious hexagonal stones throughout the castle walls.

Our final stop in Northern Ireland was Belfast – a city known for its deadly violence between Catholics and Protestants up until the late 1990s, but whose revival really surprised us. It’s a lively city with a good mix of old and new.

Belfast is also where the Titanic was designed and built. A month ago was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so we had a nice visit to the new Titanic Belfast museum right along the old shipyard.

In all we logged about 1,050 miles through Ireland. Our weather the last few days was sunny and spectacular…very unusual. Here’s hoping it holds out for our next stop...Scotland!

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