“Amazing,” “awesome,” “incredible.” These three superlatives are used so frequently that I feel they can’t really encapsulate what the Irish countryside is. But truly, places like Giant’s Causeway, the Cliffs of Moher, and others are awe-inspiring, and they did amaze me.
My first two days in Ireland were split between the two different countries: Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland. I won’t get into the political history that involved the split or the bloody battles that were fought even up until a few years ago over the matter, but you should know that the history of Ireland is a tumultuous one, and it has shaped the way Ireland’s economy, society, and politics work today.
The first day – Halloween, actually – was in Northern Ireland. The itinerary of the day included such highlights as Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, Dunluce Castle, and Belfast. After getting an early start in Dublin, we made a quick stop in the Dark Hedges. This area has been called one of the most beautiful tree tunnels in all the world, and it was featured on Game of Thrones as “the King’s Road.” It definitely has an ominous and other-worldly look. Do you know why the trees lean in though? It’s actually the weight of the road on top of the trees’ roots. That’s why both sets of trees lean in towards the road.
We carried on straight to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a bridge I’ve heard about since I was old enough to know what a honeymoon is because it was one of the stops my parents took on their post-wedding trip to Ireland. I’m not sure why my mom was scared because it was plenty safe and not at all high off the ground! I crossed and then came back again, and we were off to our next stop: Giant’s Causeway.
The Irish tell a fairytale about how Giant’s Causeway – a formation of octagonal cylinders near the coast – came to be. In it, Finn MacCool, a friendly giant, has a fight with a Scottish giant across the sea. One night, in anger over hearing curses thrown at him all day, Finn creates the Giant’s Causeway to span from Ireland to Scotland and challenges the other giant can come over (the rocks are octagonal because he formed them in his fists). When the Scottish giant crosses, Finn freaks out because he realizes that he is much bigger than Finn. Like the Irishman he is, he runs home and drinks – telling his much smarter wife that they’re done for. Finn’s wife, however, puts a sleeping draught in his “strong tea,” and dresses him up as a baby. When the Scottish giant comes to fight Finn, he finds his wife and asks where he is. She replies “In the fields – he must have completely forgotten about the challenge. You can see how much it mattered to him. You can wait for him if you like, just don’t wake the baby!” The Scottish giant agrees, but peeks in the crib and sees the bearded, gigantic Finn. At this point he nearly spits out his beer: “If Finn could create a baby this large, he must be huge!” he thinks. He ran all the way back to Scotland, destroying the middle of the causeway as he went so he would never have to face Finn.
After playing on the rocks, we made a quick stop at Dunluce Castle for pictures, and then carried on towards Belfast, a city that experienced a lot of trauma between the late 1960s and the late 90s during “The Troubles.” This was a violent time in Northern Ireland’s history, when Catholics and Protestants were fighting one another with bombs, guns, rocks, and segregation. Belfast is now a much safer place to visit.
I spent the evening walking around with my Argentinian grandmothers, who I met early in the morning when I realized they did not speak English. I was able to translate the most essential parts of the tour (what time to be back, etc.), and then my head was flipping back and forth between the two languages all day – pretty tiring!
Tuesday we headed out to the Cliffs of Moher. First we started at the “Barack Obama Plaza” (which, in a fast Irish accent sounds like “Rockefeller Plaza,” by the way) for breakfast. Apparently President Barack Obama has Irish routes in a small town called Moneygall. No one knew about the town before, but now Obama’s eighth cousin comes to stay at the White House every year at St. Patrick’s Day.
We had absolutely gorgeous weather on our visit to Western Ireland. As you can see in the pictures, the sky was an incredible blue and the sea an unbelievably dark teal. I walked as long as I could down the Northern side of the cliffs, away from the ruins, which was not long enough for my taste. I could have walked for hours!
Despite being so high off the ground, I was able to get pretty close to the edge.
After the cliffs, we walked to the Burren – a cracked limestone beach by the sea – and then drove along the Wild Atlantic Way. This is a very popular highway along the Galway Bay and Atlantic Ocean that takes passengers through small Irish villages and the countryside.
Our last stop of the day was in Galway, and it only made me miss the cliffs and the seaside all the more. I was not overawed with this small town, despite it being called the “most Irish town in Ireland.” It was a comfortable way to end the evening and provided a nice break in the drive, however.
It only took two days, but I’m now in a very serious, committed, and long-distance relationship with the Irish countryside.