We dedicated one day in Northern Ireland to a bus tour of the Causeway Coastal Route and Glens, including a visit to Carrickfergus Castle, a drive along the Nine Glens of Antrim, a walk along the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, lunch at The Old Bushmill’s Distillery, a visit to the World Heritage Site known as Giant’s Causeway, and an end of the day photo op at the Dunluce Castle.
Carrickfergus Castle was built by the Normans in 1177 and remains a well preserved example of Norman architecture in Ireland. It is located 11 miles north of Belfast along the coastal route and is open for public tours. Our tour focused solely on getting some photos outside. The castle was captured by the Protestant King William of Orange (King William III of England), the first step in his eventual defeat of Catholic King James II in the Battle of the Boyne. Louis XIV of France had supported King James in the battle. Interestingly, the Pope (Alexander VIII) supported the Protestants as part of an alliance (The League of Augsberg), a multi-national alliance opposing the aggression of Louis XIV in Europe. The victory for the Protestants assured continued Protestant and English control of Ireland. The Battle is still celebrated as a holiday called “The Twelfth” since the battle was won on July 12, 1690. Due to a change in the calendar, it is celebrated on July 23rd. The holiday sometimes inflames the continuing conflict between Royalists and Republicans.
Other facts about Carrickfergus: A ship moored nearby Carrickfergus was once attacked by John Paul Jones. Also, US President Andrew Jackson’s father was born in 1738 in the village nearby the castle.
Up the road from Carrickfergus is the town of Larne and a significant industrial area that includes the Caterpillar Tractor headquarters for Northern Ireland, where they are a major employer. My interest in Caterpillar is because I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, which is their world headquarters and my dad worked there as an engineer for over 30 years.
The road then travels from Larne along the coast line between the sea and high cliffs formed from volcanic lava flows 60 million years ago. It took us through nine Glens, steep green valleys that run from the highlands to the sea. The Glens were formed by glaciers in the last ice age , and each coveys a particular story from Irish Mythology.
Later along the road we stopped at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which was first built by salmon fishermen many years ago to take advantage of the heavy salmon migration between the small island of Carrick-a-Rede and the shore. Walking 90 feet above the heavy winter waves along the swaying 60 foot span made for an exciting experience. Hang on to your hat and don’t drop the camera!
Then it was on to lunch at the old Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey Plant. They sell some blends there that one cannot buy anywhere else. We had lunch with a girl, perhaps 18, from the Melbourne Australia area where Brenda lived in the ’70s. She was taking a year off to travel around the world by herself, and she had already been across the entire US.
The last major attraction of the day was a visit to Giant’s Causeway. The causeway consists of an extraordinary formation of crystals of basalt rock, thousands of colums of which protrude into the sea along the coast. Legend has it that an Irish giant, Finn McCool, built the causeway by placing these rocks across the water to nearby Scotland, only to flee back home after he discovered an even larger giant living there. The Scottish giant crossed the causeway in pursuit of Finn, but Finn’s clever wife disguised Finn as a baby before inviting the Scottish giant into their home. When the huge Scottish giant saw how large the baby was, he was terrified at the thought of how large the baby’s Irish father must be. He fled back to Scotland, destroying the causeway along the way. All that remains today are the rocks protruding out into the water from Ireland.
A museum at the site shows how the action of glaciers and volcanic rock combined to form the unusual crystal formations. We were not as amazed as some perhaps, since we have about ten of the basalt crystal formations as landscaping features in our yard in Poulsbo. They are common in Eastern Washington. Still, Giant’s Causeway was truly amazing!
On our way home we stopped by Dunluce Castle, another old Norman castle, part of which has fallen into the sea. It provided an ancient backdrop to the setting sun at the end of the day.
See a photo tour here.