Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Ireland Day 6: Giant's Causeway, Dunluce, Derry

Tuesday started out as a reasonably nice day weatherwise, and went downhill from there. We took the long drive from Belfast out to the Giant's Causeway, stopping in Carlough along the Antrim coast for a break in between. The whole coastal road looks like something out of a public television mystery--misty, quaint, antiquated. It took almost 3 hours to get to the Giant's Causeway, and when we arrived, it was pouring rain, cold, and extremely windy. The Giant's Causeway is a series of volcanic rock formations that are alleged to be the handiwork of Finn MacCool, a giant hero who used the rocks to make a road to Scotland to confront another giant. By the time we took the bus out to the Causeway, we immediately wanted to go back. Even those who were well equipped with raincoats and waterproof gear found the weather to be intolerable. Certainly it was too dangerous to go out onto the rocks.

We went to have lunch in a hotel next door, where service was incredibly slow. We ended up having something light, and heading back to the bus. There were an insane amount of people at the Causeway for such a nasty day. Of course, we were among the insane, but when you've come that far, you might as well stay.

Just down the road from the Giant's Causeway is Dunluce Castle, which is built on a cliff. This was the seat of the O'Donnell and MacQuinlan families. It was eventually abandoned when an entire section of the castle fell into the North Atlantic below. The family moved out and into a nearby country house. When the last O'Donnell was pursued and arrested, his wife, the very wealthy Katherine Manners, loaded as many things as she could onto two ships and fled back to England. The armies of the king came and took what she left behind, leaving the place a ruin. The views from the ruined castle are spectacular. The rain had stopped at this point, and we left to head on to the town of Derry, also known as Londonderry to the Protestant/Loyalist faction of town. Our bus driver noted that the song we know as "Danny Boy" is also Derry Air, or Londonderry Air. Our tour guide Bill said that anyone who called it Londonderry Air was not invited to his St. Patrick's Day party. When it was noted that the shorter title invoked thoughts of another word, Bill said, "I don't invite anyone who speaks French, either."

We had a walking tour of Derry with a guide named Ronan, who was a Chinese Irishman. He noted that Derry is 70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, "and has one Buddhist". He gave an excellent tour of the area, pointing out the 4 gates of the city that have never been overcome by an army. The area is known for violence from the Troubles; he showed us a statue of Queen Victoria in the Guildhall that was missing parts of her hands, and had the head re-attached after being blown off. There was a major bank robbery next door at the Deutsche Bank, and the robbers were never apprehended. Derry is also the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972. We visited the memorial to those who died in the Bloody Sunday event, and the area is surrounded by wall murals, just as it is in the Shankill and Falls Road area of Belfast. Most of the murals depict those who died in the conflicts, or the major players in Northern Ireland's civil rights movement, like Bernadette Devlin. There is a sign in the Catholic part of town that says "Now entering the Derry Free State". On the Protestant side, there is another mural that suggests persecution of loyalists, saying "never surrender". There are still "peace walls" all over the city, even though the populations mostly get along. When surveyed, most residents said the walls probably weren't ready to come down. When asked when they would be ready, they said, "about 10 years from now." Ronan noted that the question of union with Great Britain versus become part of Ireland was not really a Catholic/Protestant question anymore, it was an economic one. The Irish Republic is broke, while the Great Britain economy is still stable, at least by comparison. Great Britain no longer wants Northern Ireland, but keeps it almost as a tradition. Many services now available would not be available under Irish rule, because there is no money.

From Derry we finally headed out to Bundoran. Even Ronan had asked, "Why are you going there?" Usually it is considered a destination for surfers, as it is near the waterfront. At least one person I know said the town was gorgeous. So, upon arrival, I would have to say that I agree it is a gorgeous town. One travel guide described it as the "Las Vegas of Ireland", and that is a gross overstatement. We met up with Niamh again, and met her husband. He runs a restaurant in town, where we had our welcome dinner. The food was wonderful, as was the ambience. Everyone went to the pub, where we were supposed to learn to pull a pint, but Bill said that would wait until another night. I was finished with drinking, so I went back to my room, which is a very nice suite that I still share with my roommate Deb. The only problem is that we have one key between us. Apparently the family staying here before us walked off with two room keys, and will be mailing them back, but it's unknown when that will be. In the meantime--it will be 4 days here, which will be good--no dragging luggage out of the room every morning.

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