After our perspective lesson on Belfast, we headed to the Antrim Coast and the Gaint's Causeway, a more fun part of the day...
Paddy was extremely excited to take us to Ballycastle, a seaside town on the Causeway because his family has a vacation caravan in one of the caravan parks near the harbor. He knew the area very well, telling us some family stories and sharing legends and folklore.
Padddy pointed out to us the mountain cliff to the right(see in the non-pano). That is called Fairhair. It got its name from a story about a woman who had gorgeous, beautiful fair hair. She was in love with two men, one who lived on the island and the other who lived in Ballycastle. Both men wanted to marry her, but she couldn't choose, so one of the men took her and was going to push her off the cliff, but in when he went to kill her, the other man went to save her, but ended up tumbling into the ocean off of the cliff with her, thus the name Fairhair.
As we climbed further and further up the mountains, Paddy kept asking us if we were ok, and I assured him that my silence was just because I was in awe of the beauty surrounding us.
We finally got to our first stop, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. If you have ever looked up pictures or googled the Giant's Causeway, this place usually comes up.
The bridge is owned and operated by the National Trust, much like a lot of heritage sites in Northern Ireland. It is thought to have once been a bridge used by salmon fisherman in the North Atlantic over 350 years ago. Over the years, the bridge has been fixed and replaced for visitors to cross over for a small fee and continue on their hikes across the ocean path.
The bridge goes 66 feet across and is 98 feet high above the ocean and rocks below. On high wind days, the bridge is closed to visitors, however, some fisherman are said to still use the bridge, as evidence by several boats anchored on the rocks and sides of the cliffs.
Before reaching the bridge, you have to walk 2 miles along the cliff path, which to me was just a big anticipation builder. Since I am terrified of heights, I wasn't even sure I could cross.
Then finally, we reached the bridge. It isn't a straight shot across the bridge, ohhh no. There is an incredibly steep set of steps that lead down to the bridge first, about 60 steps, along a steep cliff, 100 feet above the ocean. The attendant at the gate told us to look straight ahead and focus on the other side. And that is what I did.
I was impressed with myself that I had made it across and not freaked out. The bridge is definitely not for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights. It did sway a few times, not going to lie, and about half way across I watched some people taking selfies(WHY)...but, it was a cool experience and I was glad I did it.
Another cool fact Paddy shared with us was that several scenes for Game of Thrones had been filmed along the side of the pathway. For about 8 weeks the crew set up a mock camp for a battle scene. Several spots along the Giant's Causeway have been used in the show, some spots even have markers for all of the fanatics who come to see the places it was filmed.
Next Paddy took us to the smallest church in Ireland. Don't ask me how to get there, it was down a twisty, turny road...
The man who built the church, also built a house. The windows on the side were leftover portholes that were not used on the Titanic. Paddy was just full of fun facts. Paddy also took some pictures of us on our camera. Then he took us to Giant's Causeway.
If you know anything about Irish culture, even if they are Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, they love their stories and folklore. How Giant's Causeway formed is one of those stories. To hear the story of Fin McCool is one thing, but to hear an Irishman tell you the story, well that is another. There is nothing like it.
Giant's Causeway is located in County Antrim and is part of the United Kingdom, like all of Northern Ireland. It is 3 miles away from the town of Bushmills, where the famous whiskey was from. There are over 40,000 interlocking, hexagonal besalt columns all over the coastline.
Now, if you believe science, you would learn that the columns were formed by volcanic eruptions. If you are Irish, then you believe the myth and legend of Finn McCool. However, there are two different versions, depending on who you talk to.
Paddy's version went like this, "The story about Finn McCool and Giant's Causeway is a funny thing really, because there are two stories, and depending on how you look at them can be a little political. But I will tell you what I believe. Finn McCool was a mighty giant who had been threatened to a fight another giant, Brendadonner. But, when Finn found out that Brendadonner was much bigger than he, Finn didn't want to put up a fight, so he had his wife Oona dress him up like a baby and he he layed in a cradle. When Brendadonner arrived at the house to fight him, Oona answered the door and told him that Finn went to work in the fields and mountains. Brendadonner asked who that was then in the cradle and Oona replied that it is her son with Finn McCool. Brendadonner says well, if that is the size of Finn McCool's son, than what is the size of Finn McCool, and flees, running across the ocean to Scotland, breaking up the rocks and making the Causeway."(Irish are very long winded).
There was something magical about seeing these huge octagons made of rock rising out of the ocean. We walked out on them, but had to be careful since many of them were either wet from the ocean or getting worn from the hundreds of visitors who tour the Causeway daily.
After the Giant's Causeway, we headed to Dunluce Castle. A huge castle ruin on a cliff side over looking the ocean. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
In the 13th Century, Richard Og de burg, Earl of Ulster built Dunluce Castle. There. Already was a Viking fort that was built on the cliff side, and Richard added on. Then, according to records, the castle passed into the hands of the McQuillans in 1513. Then the McQuillans who became Lords of the Route, lost the castle in a battle with the MacDonnell clans from Scotland. After pledging his allegiance to the crown, Sorley Boy MacDonnell was made 1st Earl of Antrim by King James I in 1613.
To walk to the main castle, we had to cross a bridge that goes across steep cliffs that plunge into the Atlantic.
Walking to the castle, the winds were whipping and the temperature dropped. I couldn't imagine what it was like in the 1500s. Brr!!
I loved wandering around this place and picturing what it would have looked like when it was grand and mighty towering over the ocean. Sadly, due to erosion, portions of the castle have fallen off into the ocean. Many efforts recently have been put together to try to preserve what is there.
I wasn't sure that Paddy could have made our day any better. He was a wonderful tour guide and every place we went with him, he knew someone and received warm welcomes and hugs from them all. One of the best parts of our tour was when we sat down and had tea and scones with Paddy right before we went to Dunluce Castle at a small little place called Wee Cottage, and Dunluce was right across the road.
The ladies treated us to warm scones cut in half and stuffed with fresh cream and strawberries, while Paddy had a huge cup of tea. We chatted about his life, his work driving taxis, when he met Vince Vaughn, when he met Rihanna, who had been in trouble in Belfast for taking her top off in a field of a very conservative farmer's field for a music video, his love of Game of Thrones, and how there recently have been people trying to use his name to further their own black taxi tours.
In their tours however, Paddy said they pick sides in the Republican/Loyalist desputes and paint unflattering pictures of the opposite side. It makes Paddy sad because it is part of Ireland's history, a history that a 25 year old trying to take a person to the murals in Belfast has no idea the depth of their stories because they did not live through the Troubles like Paddy and many of his other drivers have.
After wonderful conversation and AMAZING scones, Paddy took us to Bushmills Distillery, where Matt got to taste his favorite whiskey and he bought a bottle of distillery reserve, 12 years aged(not my cup of tea). Then it was home by way of the Dark Hedges.
BEFORE it was used in Game of Thrones, these 200 year old beech trees were planted as part of a driveway for the Stuart family to line their driveway to their country estate Gracehill House. It was intended to shock and impress visitors to the estate. Gracehill is no longer, and the house is used as part of Ballymoney Golf Course as their club house.
Paddy told us that it saddens him to see how much the hedges have changed over the years. Many trees have been cut down or branches have snapped, leaving gaps in what were once full and lush, twisting over the roads. Paddy also said a few years ago, he was doing a tour and his taxi started up the road and came upon Game of Thrones being filmed. In the shot, Paddy's taxi got caught on camera, and they had to refilm the whole scene. They sent Paddy a picture of his cab in the background, which he showed us chuckling.
All in all, ending our day on the Antrim coast was a wonderful experience. Getting to talk to Paddy was great. It was such a great thing to hear an Irishman's stories and thoughts on joining the Republic of Ireland and what that would mean for the rest of Northern Ireland. It was the best thing we did in Belfast, no question.
When we got back to our hotel, later in the early evening, Paddy have us huge hugs and told us to contact him again and ask for him again should we ever return to Belfast, and if we do, that will be the first thing we do. Thank you, Paddy Campbell for making our Belfast experience so amazing!
Then we had to have a pint at Crown Liqour Saloon, directly across the street from our hotel, so handy!
This concludes our second day in Belfast. Had a wonderful time and met a great man. I hope we cross paths again someday.
Check back tomorrow for blog post about our last Belfast day, Titanic, and more! Cheers!