Well, this past weekend was a blast. The Ifsa-Bulter group of students from around Ireland had a weekend arranged for us to travel to Northern Ireland and stay in Belfast and tour the North for the weekend. This post will be about the first two days of the trip.
We left Galway at noon on Thursday the 15th, and our bus ride took us around 4.5 hours to get to Belfast. We had dinner in the hotel and afterwards a group of us decided to head out and explore around town. We walked from our hotel a few blocks to the Belfast City Hall. There was a giant Christmas tree, as well as a Christmas market that was being set up that opened on Saturday. We continued on past City Hall, and we reached the Victoria Square Mall, the mall is huge but it is open to the outside. After our walk we went back to the hotel because we had to be up early the next morning for a bus tour along the coast to a rope bridge, Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway.
We left Belfast at 8.30 in the morning and we drove along the Antrim Coast Road, towards our first stop of the day a rope bridge from the coast out to a small rocky outcrop just off shore. The rope bridge was originally used by fishermen would built the bridge so that they could access the island in order to set drift nets off the far side of the island to catch Atlantic Salmon. After a 1km hike from the carpark, up and down alongside the cliff, we reached the rope bridge. The bridge was about 3 feet wide and had a 1 foot wide plank surface to walk across. The ropes that made a railing were about 4 feet tall. Walking across the bridge I could feel it bouncing and jostling from the people, myself included who were crossing the bridge at the same time. Once I made it to the other side of the bridge, I found myself on a small outcrop of rock that provided excellent views of both the ocean as well as the cliffs on the mainland and a few other outcrops in the area. The wind was quite strong once we had made it onto the island and the weather had changed from being partly sunny to overcast and light rain. The views looking at the waves were amazing. From the island, the waves didn’t look too big, but watching them hit the shoreline, you could hear and even feel the power behind the crashing waves. After we spent about half an hour out on the island we made the hike back to the carpark to re-board our bus to take us to our next stop. Continuing our drive along the coast road, we could see the large waves that were rolling ashore, and I even saw quite a few people out surfing in the cold. We then reached the town of Ballycastle where we were going to have lunch. For lunch I had rice with a chicken curry, and lasagna, for desert I had apple pie. After lunch we got back on the bus for the ride to Dunluce Castle.
Dunluce Castle was first constructed in around 1500 AD, by the MacQuillans. After being occupied by several different owners the castle fell into disrepair by 1665, when the MacDonnells moved from the castle to a nearby town. The remains of the castle consist of an outer section and an inner section located on a rock outcrop reached from the outer section by a stone arch bridge. The outer section of the castle located on the mainland, had stables and lodgings built for travelers and visitors to the castle. In the inner section was where the manor house and the kitchens, as well as two corner towers where private quarters were located. The manor house was built in 1620. I was able to climb the stair up into one of the towers and see the view from the tower and how the location of the castle on an outcrop provided it with excellent set of natural defenses from any possible attack. The bridge was protected by a gatehouse located on the mainland side of the bridge. We spent about an hour touring the remains of the castle and then we were back on the bus heading to our last stop of the tour, the Giant’s Causeway.
The Giant’s Causeway is a natural geologic formation that is steeped in Irish Mythology. An Irish myth about how the causeway was formed, was that the giant Finn McCool built the causeway so that he could travel back and forth to Scotland to visit another giant who lived in Scotland, but that after seeing how big the other giant was, Finn McCool broke the causeway apart in order to prevent the other giant from coming over to Ireland. Geologically the causeway is the remains of lava flows that cooled and shrank into the distinctive hexagonal basalt columns. We had to hike along a path from the visitor’s center to reach the causeway. My first impression of the causeway was that it looked like someone had had a giant cookie cutter of interlocking hexagon shapes and had pressed it into the rock creating the distinctive shape of the rocks. I was able to climb around the causeway and get a lot of neat photos. The rain had continued from earlier in the day and so the stones were quite slick to walk on and I had to be careful to watch my step so that I didn’t slip and fall from the tall columns of rock. I also got a great view of the waves crashing against the shore and was able to watch them crash against the causeway and shoreline. Getting to see the Giant’s causeway was an amazing experience.
We returned to the visitor’s center and I got a cup of Irish breakfast tea to warm up. The tea definitely helped to warm me up from the relative cold. We all got back on the buses for the trip back to Belfast and our hotel. Once we got back to Belfast we were on our own for the rest of the evening. A group of five of us went out to search for a place to eat, as well as to experience Belfast.
Now for the photos!
Next time I will cover the rest of the weekend trip to Belfast and Northern Ireland.