24 September 2010

land of eire--north and thereabouts

After a lovely weekend with Megs and Paul, we headed north. Our gracious friends Paul and Sean dropped us off at the airport to pick up our rental car, and then we started our road trip.
We took a slight detour to the west into County Meath and looked at Newgrange, part of the Brú na Bóinne Unesco World Heritage Site. Newgrange is a megalithic passage tomb, one of around 150 Neolithic Irish passage tombs that survive today. It is estimated to have been built in 3100-2900 BC. That makes it older than the pyramids and Stonehenge! They believe that it was used as a burial site, as well as having religious significance, as it was constructed so that during winter solstice light fills the tomb through the small entrance tunnel.

Then we went through the Mourne Mtns in County Down, which includes Slieve Donard, which is Northern Ireland's highest peak at about 2700 ft. We stopped in the Silent Valley area and found ducks to feed! One of our favorite pastimes...

Pretty insects...

This is Silent Valley is a mountain park with a big ole dam. So back in the early 1900s, Belfast had low water supplies due to an increase in population and increase in industries. The Mourne Mts were identified as a good source for clean water. The plans included building a stone wall to surround a 9000 acre catchment area, as well as several reservoir areas. It took 18 years to build the stone wall, which is up to 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and stretches for 22 miles, going over the highest peaks of the Mourne Mts.

Here you can see that little line running up the mountain--part of the stone wall.

This is the Carrickfergus Castle (in Carrickfergus) which is on the coast heading towards Belfast. It was initially built in 1177 but had many additions up until the 17th century.

You can tour some of the castle and this is part of the renovated areas. Josh is going to be a chess piece.

We stayed on Belfast at a very nice B&B and continued our drive up the northern coast. This is a little church along the way that Meg took a fancy to.

We drove in and past the Glens of Antrim which is a area in County Antrim where glaciers formed these fabulous valleys back in the Ice Ages. There are nine glens (valleys) that radiate from the Antrim Plateau to the coastline. The glens are known as 'gentle' or supernatural places. This is where lots of the wee folk live. Mischievous creatures at the best of times, the fairies are said to take devastating revenge on anyone rash enough to cut down a fairy thorn.
William Allingham’s poem, ‘The Fairy Folk:'

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;

I only found one fairy.
We went for a hike in Glenariff which means "the glen of arable land," or "ploughman's glen"--they have several different translations of the names. Glenariff is also called the Queen of the Glens because it is super pretty. Or at least that's why I think it's called that.

It has a bunch of hiking trails which was fun. The first twenty minutes of our hike was along the waterfall loop. Beautiful spots!

Say cheese!

This is a view looking out from the valley to the sea--if you try really hard you can see the sea to the left of the trees. The trails had spectacular views. We had stopped by a fence and were looking at the sheep in the paddock when a farmer came driving in on the other side to let two sheep out. We watched him work, and waved, and he shouted over to us, "Would ye like to buy a sheep?" If only! we thought, and yelled back that the airline folk may not appreciate the animal.

Beautiful trails.

Had to get a close up of the shamrock.

And look at this guy! Isn't he cute?

We had some gorgeous blue skies, which complemented the green green land quite well. Ireland isn't called the Emerald Isle for nothing!

We stayed in another lovely B&B (Josh is getting spoiled with all the meat for breakfast!) and then headed to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It is in an absolutely gorgeous place--if the day is clear you can see Scotland, and the water is so clear you can see right to the bottom.

You get a very pretty walk to the bridge itself, with lots of great views of the land and coast and water and sheep, of course.

The bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick Island. A rope bridge used to be constructed here every year by salmon fishermen, but the area hasn't been used for fishing in over 10 years due to the decrease in fish (or increase in big boat fishing!). However, they constructed a new bridge for all the tourists in 2008, and charge you for it as well! Though the bridge was high, it was very stable and not at all scary. Unless you had a fear of heights, then I suppose you might have a problem. The bridge spans twenty meters and is thirty metres high.

The water was beautiful--when the sun was shining it looked like we should have been in the Caribbean.

And looking in the other direction you can see the cool cliffs.

And continuing on our coastal journey, we next got to Giant's Causeway. See the dark clouds gathering? It POURED on us! Our wet shoes were super stinky in the car after that. :)
This is a bird's eye view of the Giant's Causeway area. From up here, it looked quite small, but then when you get down on the rocks it was quite a bit of the beach area that was all columnar steps.
Giant's Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 36 ft high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is about 60 ft thick in places.

So the legend has it that the Irish warrior Finn McCool built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner. One version of the legend tells that Finn fell asleep before he got to Scotland. When he did not arrive, the much larger Benandonner crossed the bridge looking for him. To protect Finn, his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him so he could pretend that he was actually their baby son. When Benandonner saw the size of the 'infant', he assumed the alleged father, Finn, must be gigantic indeed. Therefore, Benandonner fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway in case he was followed by Finn.

Dunluce Castle--first built in the 13th century. In the 1600s, part of the kitchen on the cliff face collapsed into the sea, and took all the cooks with it.

The Mussenden Temple was built in 1785 and forms part of the estate of Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol. The temple was built as a summer library and its architecture was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, near Rome.

We stayed the night in Derry, which has seen it's fair share of 'Troubles' just like Belfast, and also has the building murals.
This is the most recent, a dove for peace.

And one of the more disturbing ones...
Derry was the location of Bloody Sunday, where on Sunday January 30, 1972, 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march in the Bogside area. Another 13 were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds.

Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and 'one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe.' You can walk on the top of the wall, and it's actually wide enough that it would fit about three cars side by side. It was crazy!
Derry by night from on top of the wall...

We then headed over to the west coast, in County Donegal. These are 600m sea cliffs--Meg was here back during her semester in Ireland, and it was as windy and beautiful as it was then!

Lots and lots and lots of wind.

The sun came out! (Though just in spots.)

Stopped in Belleek at the factory, but missed the tour. Sad. This lovely lady is work about $60,000, and there was a newspaper article about how she was stolen and then recovered from a bumbling criminal. All very interesting. She's called Prisoner of Love, created by Italian sculptor Giovanni Fontana, the statue' depicts a young woman in classical style, sitting deep in thought and bound by chains of flowers. The figurine portrays the sentiment of unrequited love which inexplicably holds one captive.'

In Yeats' country! We made it to County Sligo, where the poet W.B. Yeats spent lots of his time and the surrounding land--lakes, hills, vales, etc--was subject of many of his works.

Toast to Arthur! We missed the actual time (5.59) but celebrated nonetheless. Way to go, Guinness! What a marketing tool!

We stayed at a hotel in Sligo called the Glasshouse. It has a very interesting color scheme--the floors are wither bright green or bright orange--everything from the carpet to the walls to the artwork. I almost needed sunglasses!

Off to Louisburgh next!

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