If you like coffee, you may wish to take a pass on coffee in Ireland, as they seem to lean toward a strong, almost instant coffee version. No, the best is a good "cuppa" tea. The rule is to ask for “tea for one" or "tea for two" and the appropriate sized teapot will be mustered. One should allow it to steep and must have cream and sugar with it to make it properly. If one is making it at home, one actually takes hot water and swirls it around in the teapot first, thus warming it up and allowing the teabags to steep in the proper temperature, etc. One also makes sure the tea is consumed in China cups. For whatever reason, tea tastes best when poured in Chinaware.
Our destination today was the beautiful walled city of Derry and then onward to the Giants Causeway. Derry is located in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is comprised of the six counties that chose to remain with United Kingdom when Ireland became a republic. The decision to remain in the United Kingdom caused a great deal of political turmoil, which today is thankfully being settled by peaceful means. Derry is one of the few cities in Europe that still has its original wall around it. When one visits Derry, a walk around the wall is both historical and beautiful at the same time. Throughout the centuries, the city has endured fighting among tribes, and outright warfare between neighborhoods. Describing such fighting as between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods is to paint what happened here with a very broad brush. One could actually spend an entire tour just exploring this town and its many facets and history. As a friend of mine would say "it's complicated." What is worth seeing is the area called the "Boside." There are some stunning murals that decorate the buildings that commemorate some of the more recent history in the struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland. This of course was more than Civil rights, but a bid to reunite Ireland under one flag, the Tricolor. Of course that vision isn't a unanimous vision, even among the Nationalists, and so one sees banners for a "United Socialist Ireland" along many other visions. The Unionists also have their artists and celebrate the 14th of July, when the Jacobite forces were routed by William of Orange, thus giving rise to the partition of Ireland, and perhaps not as well known, the origin of the word "Hillbilly" in the United States. But that is a story for another blog.
One of the highlights of Derry was visiting St. Augustine's church. The small church is located right off the wall and sits on some very historic and ancient land. The church-site is located on what is a sixth century monastic site. Those that built the monastic site were followers of St. Column, or better known in the Irish as St. Columbcille. Together with Brigid and Patrick, he makes up the "holy trinity" of Irish Saints. Columbcille has many stories associated with him, including being the inspiration for the Book of Kells, the founder of the monastery on Iona and a plaintiff in one of the earliest cases of copyright infringement. On the grounds of the church stand several ancient gravestones, including one that dates back to a knight of Elizabeth the first of England, who died and was buried in the church yard. According to the remnant of the tombstone that is left, this knight descended from the true High King of Wales. He could have been a tourist himself, and happened to rest eternally in the famous walled city.
An hour and a bit later, we were on our way to the famous Giants Causeway. Our coach, with Dave, our driver, took off first but somehow proceeded to get turned about 10 minutes behind the bus driven by Mick, who must know a few of the back roads. No worries, for we ended up driving along a beautiful scenic route that entertained us with a rainbow that followed us for nearly five miles through the countryside. We were blessed to have a fantastic day with displays of showers and bold stretches of sunshine that heightened contrast of light and dark over the crazy-quilt patchwork of the green farmland. Both coaches met up at the famous Dunluce Castle that sits precariously on the edge of the sea. There, the rain stopped as on cue for Brian and I to pull out the mandolin and sing the Irish ballad "Red is the Rose" while our fans looked over the sweeping view of the Atlantic.
Red is the rose
In yonder garden grows,
And fair is the Lilly of the valley,
Clear is the water that flows from the Boyne,
But my love is fairer than any
The song is an old air about the leaving of Ireland, and our hope was that the fans would be able to connect the loneliness of the seascape with the sadness the singer has for his "Bonnie Irish Lass." We gathered everyone together for a group picture and then made our way to the new visitor center that is now the entrance to the Giants Causeway.
I have to say that the National Trust did a wonderful job creating a very welcoming visitor center. A movie told the tale of the creation of the Causeway. The mythological story is of course much more entertaining than the scientific one. The Irish hero Finn McCool saw a Scottish giant across the 11 mile stretch of water that separates Scotland from Ireland. Finn decides to build a "causeway" over to this giant and challenge him to battle. Working feverishly through the night, he proceeds to build right over to the Scottish shore. There, he pulls himself up over a ledge and realizes that the Scottish giant is way bigger than he is. What happens next is a tribute to the fact that women, (in this case Finn's wife) are far more clever than men and giants. Watch the story for yourself by clicking here!
The area is enchantingly beautiful. The weather cooperated with us, and we were able to explore the outcroppings and look at formations resembling organ pipes and even an odd shape of rock reputed to be the shoe Finn McCool lost outrunning the giant.
All the beauty made us a bit hungry and by the time we returned to Ballybofey, we headed off to dinner of grass fed Irish sirloin, plaice and shanks of lamb, all served with generous helpings of candied carrots and turnip, potatoes. We raised a glass and toasted a beautiful day well spent. Brian invoked an old Irish toast.
May the roof above us never fall in
And may those below it never fall out
Click here to read Day 3