Travels through Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway Tour

This tour was designed to get us up to Giant’s Causeway (pictured above), but it turned out to be a wonderful journey along the northern coast.

Our first stop was Carrickfergus Castle – where William the Orange is said to have landed.

We then traveled along the Coastal Road, a long coastal road that has some spectacular views. It was envisioned by William Bald, and in many places the road was built by simply blasting the sides of cliffs, creating dramatic drops down to the road and then down to the sea. It also passes through several Gleann, the Gaelic word for  valley – many of which are glacial valleys formed at the end of the Last Ice Age.

Along this coastal road we saw several salmon farms, fairly close to the shore. Our tour guide told us that a couple years ago, one of the salmon farms was ‘attacked’ by a swarm of jellyfish typically native to Portugal. They destroyed the fish farm, and it took the farm several years to recover from the loss.

Our next stop was Giant’s Causeway – a massive series of basalt columns formed as the result of a massive volcanic eruption approximately 60 million years ago. It is a World Heritage Site – and very deservingly so. Legend says that the Irish giant Finn MacCool wished to challenge a Scottish counterpart, Benandonner, and so he built a causeway connecting the two islands. But when Finn MacCool saw how big Benandonner was he realized he made a mistake and ran back to his wife. Now his wife being very clever dressed Finn MacCool up in baby clothes and told him to wait on the causeway. When Benandonner crossed he saw the ‘infant’ and realized he made a mistake for if that was the size of the baby – imagine how big the father would be! And so Benandonner ran back across the causeway, tearing it up behind him.

In reality these basalt columns formed from a relatively fast cool lava flow. As lava cools it shrinks, which is easy to accommodate in the vertical direction but less so in the horizontal direction and so a series of fractures form – and depending on the rate of cooling the columns will be different sizes. And while there are examples around the world, these are perhaps the most famous – they are said to be the most geometrical, giving them the most “man-made” appearance.

Our next stop was Dunluce Castle. At that location there has been a castle since the 13th century, the last owners where the MacDonnell clan who alternated the decorations of the castle between English and Irish depending on how favored by were by the various royal families. They moved away from the castle after a great coastal storm wiped out the kitchen, killing 12 servants.

Our final stop was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which was once a bridge used to fish salmon. But as Atlantic salmon populations declined it was no longer profitable, so the fisherman abandoned the operation but the rope bridge remains. It is fairly narrow, but with tons of wiring and a reported 2 million people crossing each year – not as scary as I thought it would be. The rope bridge is surrounded by impressive coastline, with towering cliffs.


One response

  1. Ana Leahy

    very neat!

    May 24, 2011 at 5:09 am

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