By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
If you’ve been to Ireland but haven’t visited Northern Ireland, another trip should definitely be on your agenda.
We recently visited the glorious Antrim Coast and stayed at a charming hotel – Beech Hill Country House Hotel - near Londonderry. There is so much to see and experience in the North that two nights there was not nearly enough.
Probably the best-known attraction on the north coast is The Giant’s Causeway, managed by the National Trust, which also maintains some 200 buildings and outdoor places and supports the economy by employing hundreds of local residents.
The Causeway - chosen as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO In 1986 – consists of about 40,000 interlocking basalt rock columns resulting from volcanic eruptions many centuries ago. Most of the columns are six-sided, although some have four, five, seven, and eight sides. The tallest columns are about 39 feet and solid lava in the cliffs can be as thick as 92 feet in some places. This area, like the Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare, is a known haven for a wide variety of seabirds.
According to one of many fanciful legends, the rock columns are all that remain from a causeway built by the Irish giant Finn MacCool so he could meet and fight the Scottish giant Benandonner. The legend probably began because there are identical volcanic rock columns (assumed to be part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish island of Staffa across the North Channel.
“Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry” from 1888 reported that, as time passed, “pagan gods of Ireland...grew smaller and smaller in the popular imagination, until they turned into the fairies; the pagan heroes grew bigger and bigger, until they turned into the giants.”
We parked in a spacious lot at the Causeway, entered the visitor center, paid the entry fee (Northern Ireland currency is in pounds sterling) and walked out to a waiting bus that takes you half a mile down the hill. The energetic visitor is welcome to walk down and back up the steep incline but we chose to pay 4 pounds extra and get a lift.
If you’re a fan of people watching, this is the place for you. We can’t imagine that there was any nationality not represented somewhere on the walkway or in the outstanding gift shop or café. This was April and not the busiest time in Ireland or Northern Ireland, but there were visitors aplenty.
The spacious and modern visitor center was opened in 2012 after the previous center burned in 1986. The variety and quality of offerings in the gift shop at this visitor center is extraordinary. It is, in fact, one of the best gift shops we visited this year.
The National Trust, according to its brochure, “supports and showcases a wide range of creative talent and handcrafts in the visitor center…from jewelry, textiles, ceramics and confectionery to fine art and photographic prints.” And, what a boon to an artist to be invited to display at the Giant’s Causeway shop, which several million visitors pass through every year!
We especially enjoyed framed scenes that Anita Morrison of Co. Down made from beach pebbles and driftwood and depicting sheep and other subjects, textile art by sisters Stephanie Hazelton and Sheila Oldcroft from Co. Tyrone, who call their business Daslee, and small, ceramic sheep statues by Trevor Woods of Mt. Ida Pottery Studio in Co. Down. Those were just some of my personal favorites, but no doubt others who visit will love other art works by other artists.
Some years ago, while traveling with my husband and sons, we visited Ballintoy Harbor on this Northern Ireland coast. There’s a lovely white church on the approach and a winding road that passes cliff-side houses on the way down to the harbor.
This year, I decided to visit again, remembering that I had a nice lunch at a small café in the harbor. When a friend and I arrived at the harbor, we noticed a small bus parked against the edge of the parking lot and a group of teens in costumes role-playing various characters from Game of Thrones, some of which has been filmed in the area and has reportedly brought in tourists and millions of pounds sterling.
There was quite a crowd at the harbor, so we moved on to the town of Bushmills and had a most delicious lunch at The Bushmills Inn there. I had stayed at the Inn some years ago and recommended to friends that they stay there this year on their way through the North. My friend said that her initial email to the Inn was received in a warm and gracious manner and then, after they arrived and had dinner, she wrote, “Wow! Just great!” She described their meals –filet steaks with mushrooms and champ - and added, “Just awesome.”
I was so glad to be able to recommend a place I enjoyed so much and to have such a positive response from friends who clearly had the same excellent experience. The Inn’s brochure says it is “the perfect retreat for those who crave the unconventional, yet still expect exceptional service. The welcome is warm and the fire always lit.” See bushmillsinn.com for more information.
While you’re in that region, be sure to also visit the Bushmill’s Whiskey Distillery and nearby Dunluce Castle.
DOOLEY CAR RENTALS
We have rented from and been a fan of Dooley Car Rentals for many years. Their cars (I always request a Skoda) are top-notch and customer service has always been superb.
Recently, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Ireland announced the acquisition of the car rental division of the Dan Dooley Group.
George O’Connor, managing director of Enterprise Rent-A-Car Ireland, said, “I’ve always admired the Dooley brand, which, like Enterprise, has a culture that’s built upon excellent customer service. Both are family-owned, entrepreneurial and performance-driven, which makes this such an excellent fit. We are both proud of our history in Ireland. Dooley Car Rentals has been serving customers for more than 50 years, while Enterprise, which began in the United States 60 years ago, celebrates its 20th anniversary in Ireland this year.”
“Completion of the acquisition means Dooley Car Rentals is now part of the world’s largest car rental company, Enterprise Holdings, which operates Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent-A-Car in more than 85 countries.” We will miss the Dooley brand but look forward to working with Enterprise.
Antarctic explorer Thomas “Tom” Crean (1877–1938) has been chosen as the first “Irish tail fin hero” for Norwegian Air’s new Boeing 737MAX aircraft that will fly from Ireland to the US this summer. Crean, from Annascaul, Co. Kerry, was an Irish seaman and member of three major expeditions to Antarctica during the Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Captain Scott’s 1911-13 Terra Nova Expedition.
When Norwegian’s first 737-300s took to the skies in 2002, the company challenged airline monopolies. The decision was made to adorn aircraft tails with personalities who also pushed boundaries, challenged the establishment, and inspired others.
Norwegian was founded in 1993 but began operating as a low-cost carrier with Boeing 737s in 2002 and is now the sixth-largest low-cost airline with about 6,000 employees.
The airline offers almost 450 routes to more than 150 destinations in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Thailand, the Caribbean and the US, including Boston, Orlando, Los Angeles and JFK. See Norwegian.com for more information.
Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever and wherever you go. There’s lots going on all over the country from walking festivals (the ninth annual Leenane Walking Festival is held over the May Bank Holiday weekend, April 28-May 1) to special foodie events (The Gourmet Greenway Showcase Dinner 2017, May 5 at 7 p.m. in the Mulranny Park Hotel, Mulranny, Co. Mayo, which features a seven-course tasting menu accompanied by fine wines.)