This is the second part of our 4 day trip to Ireland in May 2017. The first 2 days we stayed in Dublin exploring it and on our 3rd day we got a bus tour for Northern Ireland as I did not want to drive in Ireland.
An early wake-up and rain greeted us the next morning as we walked to the meeting point for our bus tour. We were off to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway. What a great decision to go on the tour! Our bus driver told us interesting facts as we left the city and drove north, first about Dublin and then about Belfast. Although Belfast is not the same hotbed it was 30 years ago (when the only hotel in the city was bombed or attacked almost daily), it still has an uneasy air to it. Catholics still cannot go into a Protestant’s house or might find themselves injured the next day. A wall exists between the 2 sides and the gate gets closed each evening. It seemed a little unreal to me!
Here we are at the Wall of Peace
On our arrival in Belfast we stopped at the dock where the Titanic was designed, built and launched – and the original H&W cranes are still there. We were directed toward a Black Cab and got in it and spent the next 90 minutes driving around Belfast on a “Political Tour”, stopping at all the significant places from the “troubles”, seeing all the wall murals, and eventually ending up at the Wall of Peace. Our cabbie told us many stories from the time of the “troubles” – about the IRA and Bobby Sands (a 27-year-old member of the Irish Republican Army (catholic) who was voted a Member of Parliament while in jail. In 1981, he staged a hunger strike and starved himself to death 66 days later.) And, by the way, calling it the time of “troubles” seems a little understated!
After signing our names on the Peace wall, we returned to the docks, got back on the bus and headed for the Giants Causeway. But before we got there we stopped to see the ruins of Cair Paravel – otherwise known as Dunluce Castle (#4) – spectacular beauty on the shore of Northern Ireland!
Giants Causeway, located on the very northern part of Ireland is a world Heritage site and a fascinating natural wonder. It looks like lots of stepping stones placed on the shore, some rising high and others more like pavers – most of them are six-sided basalt columns of different heights.
Legend has it that it is the remains of the causeway built by the Irish giant Fionn. A Scottish giant Benandonner was threatening Ireland. Furious about this threat, Fionn throws chunks of the coast into the sea which forms a path for him to go over to Scotland to oust his enemy Benandonner. But when he saw Benandonner from a distance he realized his enemy was bigger than he had thought so he quickly retreated home. Unfortunately, Benandonner saw the causeway and came after him. But Fionn’s wife, thinking quickly, told him to strip and put on a nappy (diaper), making him appear to be a huge baby. When Benandonner arrived she told him she didn’t know where Fionn was but to be quiet because the baby had just fallen asleep. Benandonner took one look at the large baby and decided that if the baby was that big, the daddy must be huge so he returned to Scotland. Fionn then dismantled the causeway, just leaving a few stones on the shore. Another possibility for the stones is volcanic activity and lava a long time ago and when the lava cooled it formed these stones. I don’t know – which one do you think sounds better???
What a picturesque place! We loved climbing on the stones and walking the area – it really was fascinating! But wait … there’s more! We then went on to Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a small rope bridge going across a 66-foot-wide chasm, 98 feet above the rocks and sea, originally built for the salmon fishermen. (And I just found out that just a week after we visited it the bridge was vandalized and closed for a period of time until it could be repaired!)
Having safely crossed both ways on the bridge, we returned to the bus and in due time to Dublin. There we ate dinner at a lovely Greek restaurant before crashing at our little apartment!
Up early the next morning, we once again got on a bus – this time heading for Cork and the Blarney Castle! Our guide wasn’t as talkative as the one the day before which was a bummer – and ironic because of our destination – but the stops were fabulous! Stopping first at Cashel, sometimes known as the Rock of Cashel or even as St. Patrick’s Rock, we were able to see the site where supposedly Aenghus, the King of Munster converted because of St. Patrick in the 5th century AD.
It was the seat for the Kings of Munster for years but then was given to the church. So it is both a castle (#5) and a church but unfortunately the whole thing is in ruins but still amazing to look at and wander around. The sheep like grazing there too!
Next stop was a couple of hours in the city of Cork. There we wandered the main street, walked through the English Market, shopped, saw some churches, and eagerly anticipated our next stop – The Blarney Castle (#6). From The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,
“The blarney stone is a triangular stone on the very top of an ancient castle of that name in the county of Cork in Ireland, extremely difficult to access; so that to have ascended to it, was considered as a proof of perseverance, courage, and agility, whereof many are supposed to claim the honour, who never achieved the adventure: and to tip the blarney, is figuratively used telling a marvelous story, or falsity’ and also sometimes to express flattery.” And, from Monsignor Fulton Sheen, “There is a world of difference between ‘Blarney’ and ‘baloney’. Baloney is flattery laid on with a trowel. Blarney is flattery laid on with the lips; that is why you have to kiss a stone to get it.”
Actually, the castle and its grounds are beautiful! And they have the most interesting garden – a poison garden containing all sorts of poisonous plants – Wolfsbane, Mandrake, Ricin, Opium and Cannabis to name just a few. But, the reason for stopping at this particular castle is yes – to kiss the Blarney stone.
And, it is quite the climb up narrow, steep steps to the top where you wait in a line before lying down on your back over an opening in the wall, then lean back, way back, and kiss the stone. It is quite the production for the men on the wall as they tell you to “lie down, grab the rails, lean back, lean back, kiss, kiss, kiss, come on up now, love.”
Some people expressed fear and weren’t sure they would be able to do it but once you start the process you don’t think much about it because your orders were just barked out to you and the whole process took maybe 10 seconds! So Kate and I both kissed the Stone of Eloquence – and bought the pictures to prove it!!!! With a little bit of time left before we needed to be back on the bus we did some souvenir shopping at the conveniently located shops by the castle, boarded the bus and returned to Dublin. We still had a little time to wander the city, revisiting Trinity College and seeing St. Patrick’s Cathedral before grabbing some dinner at a fish and chips shop right next to our apartment.
Once again, early in the morning we left the apartment and caught a public transportation bus to the airport. Our guide two days earlier had told us we needed to be at the airport 3 hours early – he didn’t say why but fortunately we listened! Dublin has you go through American customs and immigration there – which takes extra time! Once through that line we relaxed at our gate and then were thrilled to get to ride back to Virginia in First Class!
What a fabulous trip! Castles and tea, Battenberg cakes and wool hats! And lots and lots of walking – about 90,000 steps in 4 days! No, we didn’t get to the Cliffs of Moher – we went north and south and east but not west – maybe another time?!?! So, what’s on your bucket list – where would you want to go if time and money weren’t an issue??? I’d love to know – just leave a comment below!