My last day in Ireland, I took a full-day tour to Northern Ireland with Finn McCool tours.
Brief History of Northern Ireland
This area has a gruesome and troubled past. As I mentioned in the last post, St. Patrick converted the people of Ireland to Catholicism back in the 400s. Later, in the 12th century, British Protestants began to colonize and control land here, oppressing and killing Catholics in their path. Eventually, in the 1800s, they took full control and made Ireland part of the United Kingdom. This could not have come at a worse time, as this coincided with a potato famine, where, due to crop failure, over 1.5 million people starved to death and another million were forced to emigrate to the U.S. Here’s one of the pitiful famine houses during that time, which is said to have housed 12 people in one room.
After this disaster, the Irish Parliament rep vowed to regain Ireland’s independence, so that they could stop the suffering of their people. Finally, after many failed attempts, Ireland regained partial independence in 1921. That is, except for Northern Ireland, which is largely protestant and wanted to remain connected to the UK. This separation is the main cause of violence and tensions in Northern Ireland today. The Catholics there want the whole of Ireland to become independent, while the Protestants there are committed to staying connected with the United Kingdom.
One of the most violent periods there was called The Troubles, in the 1960s, when violent riots and low-level warfare took place in Northern Ireland. Bombings and mass killings, mostly of Catholics, were a reality, and even one form of punishment called knee-capping took place, where the victim received a gunshot to the knee pit with a handgun. Now-a-days, Northern Ireland actually has some of the best knee surgeons in the world, since they got so much surgical practice during this time period. 😮
Anyway, after many years of violence, a cease fire was declared, and it was decided that Northern Ireland shall remain separate from the Republic of Ireland until the majority of its citizens agree to reunite.
When traveling to Northern Ireland on my tour bus, we passed through a soft border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I did not have to show my passport at the time. As well, for travelers, it’s important to note that they use the British Pound and not the Euro in this region.
Anyway, on a lighter note, our first stop of the day was to the Dark Hedges, a gorgeous tree-lined street, which was made famous after appearing in the popular TV show, Game of Thrones.
Fun fact: there are numerous Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland, and the television show actually employs more people here than the civil service!
As well, the Dark Hedges were actually named one of the most picturesque roads in the world, and some of these beautiful beech trees are over 200-years-old! From there we visited Dunluce Castle, a ruined medieval castle built along the Antrim Coast. It’s been said that during the 17th century, the royal owners of this castle heard a scream during dinner one stormy night, only to find that the kitchen had broken off from the castle, plunged into the water, and all of their staff was floating in the sea. 😮After the castle, we made our way to the Giant’s Causeway.The Giant’s Causeway consists of over 40,000 basalt columns, leading from the foot of a cliff and disappearing into the sea.Was the causeway built by science or giants?
There are two theories behind the the origin of the causeway. One is that these hexagonal columns were formed after an ancient volcanic eruption, and another is that a giant named Finn McCool built the causeway in order to fight a giant in Scotland. Regardless of what you believe, the causeway is surely impressive, enough to make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the #1 attraction in Northern Ireland. When visiting the causeway it’s important to note that it’s around a 15-minute walk along a coastal path to the site. There is a shuttle bus from the visitor centre, but then you’d miss out on all these stunning views! 😍I suggest wearing comfortable shoes with a grip, as the causeway can get slippery. I wore high heels boots of course, but when do I ever wear appropriate footwear for the occasion? Hah! 😜
Side note: the causeway visitor centre charges admission, but it’s not essential to visit the site.
Upon leaving the causeway, we passed by a scenic sheep farm in Bushmills and the local whiskey distillery.
Apparently they do offer tasting tours, if you have the time. As for our group, we had a jam packed itinerary, and next up was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Ballintoy, which links the mainland of Ireland to the tiny island of Carrickarede, off the Atlantic Coast.
The walk to the bridge takes about 20 minutes, but you pass beautiful sea views and farmland along the way. The shaky little bridge only allows 8 passengers at once.
Apparently they lose at least 10 phones off the bridge per year! Look out little fishies! Don’t want to get hit with an iPhone! 🐟 📱 But really though, it wasn’t scary, and felt like a very secure way to get to the scenic island.
From there, we took a scenic drive through the Glens of Antrim, whose green valleys offer some of the most striking natural views in Europe.
After the drive, we stopped in the small town of Cushendun, where we saw a cave that was another filming location for Game of Thrones.
Although I’ve only seen two episodes of show, and couldn’t be considered a hardcore follower, I still found the cave impressive.
Finally, before returning to Dublin, we made one last stop in the city of Belfast.
This is the capital of Northern Ireland, and one of the only cities affected by the Industrial Revolution, which makes it much more modern.
Their claim to fame, although it did have a tragic end, is their construction of the Titanic. In their defense they say, the Irish built it, but the British sank it. 😬
Anyway, while in Belfast, I moseyed around town with a French girl on my tour, who had been living in Dublin as an au pair. I tried to help her to find the Harry Potter book in Irish. Although we weren’t so lucky with that feat, we were able to spot some gorgeous street art along the way!
Personally, after hearing so much about the violence in Northern Ireland, and after viewing street art in many cities around the world that also have a violent past (i.e. Berlin, Krakow, Bethlehem, and Cape Town), I really appreciate how I once again saw art as a medium to reflect upon the past and even as a method of political resistance.
Cost: the full-day tour of Northern Ireland was 50 Euro, which included round-trip transportation, guide, and entrance fees. This didn’t include food, but they did stop at a food court, which had everything from conventional Subway sandwiches to traditional fish n’chips.
Anyway, that wraps up my three-day holiday in Ireland. Stay tuned for the next adventure! Until then! 😀