Northern Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway

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.

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Great Britain didn’t want to give money or resources to the starving Irish, in fear that they would use it to buy weapons and revolt

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 ThronesDSC_6447Untitled

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countryside crop land surrounding the Dark Hedges

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! DSC_6585

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! DSC_6479From 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. 😮DSC_6489After the castle, we made our way to the Giant’s Causeway.DSC_6525The Giant’s Causeway consists of over 40,000 basalt columns, leading from the foot of a cliff and disappearing into the sea.DSC_6537DSC_6523Was 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. 37140822514_0f4252486b_oRegardless 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. UntitledWhen visiting the causeway it’s important to note that it’s around a 15-minute walk along a coastal path to the site. DSC_6509There is a shuttle bus from the visitor centre, but then you’d miss out on all these stunning views! 😍DSC_6541I 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! 😜

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Do as I say, not as I do. 👢For me, fashion > function 😜

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.
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sheep (the natural lawnmower) 😛

Apparently they do offer tasting tours, if you have the time. UntitledAs 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.

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path to the rope bridge
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the used to use a boat to get to the island, but the bridge is much more time-efficient

The walk to the bridge takes about 20 minutes, but you pass beautiful sea views and farmland along the way. DSC_6563DSC_6561The shaky little bridge only allows 8 passengers at once.
DSC_6573Apparently they lose at least 10 phones off the bridge per year! Look out little fishies! Don’t want to get hit with an iPhone! 🐟 📱 UntitledBut really though, it wasn’t scary, and felt like a very secure way to get to the scenic island.
UntitledFrom there, we took a scenic drive through the Glens of Antrim, whose green valleys offer some of the most striking natural views in Europe.
DSC_6597DSC_6596After the drive, we stopped in the small town of Cushendun, where we saw a cave that was another filming location for Game of Thrones.

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Cushendun
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quaint house in Cushendun

Although I’ve only seen two episodes of show, and couldn’t be considered a hardcore follower, I still found the cave impressive.

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cave entrance
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rocks along the seaside leading to the cave

Finally, before returning to Dublin, we made one last stop in the city of Belfast.

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Belfast City Hall

This is the capital of Northern Ireland, and one of the only cities affected by the Industrial Revolution, which makes it much more modern.

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Hotel in Belfast
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unique gazebo in Belfast

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!DSC_6623

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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.

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historical street art

DSC_6625Cost: 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.

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Fun fact: Tayto is a unique brand in Northern Ireland, and these chips are actually manufactured in a 500-year-old castle! 😮

Anyway, that wraps up my three-day holiday in Ireland. Stay tuned for the next adventure! Until then! 😀

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