Kamis, 03 Mei 2012

Farming on the top of an ocean-side cliff.

Ballycastle, Ballintoy;
Farming on the top of an ocean-side cliff.
like ancient ghosts, I start to feel the visceral power of nature that fuelled these legends and makes them still tangible today. The next leg of the journey hugs the Sea of Moyle from Ballycastle to Ballintoy, just beyond the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, erected by salmon fishermen to span a 100ft-deep chasm off the limestone headland. It’s now protected by the National Trust.

The area is associated with the legend of the Children of Lir – twins Fiachra and Conn, Fionnuala and Aodh – who were turned into beautiful white swans by their wicked stepmother, Aoife. They were condemned to spend 300 years adrift on the Sea of Moyle, their cries carried on the breeze, but the curse was broken by the peal of the first Christian bell.

Today the ruins of a friary, located just off the road at Ballycastle among golf links, mark the site of the early Christian church. I can imagine the bells ringing out in praise in ancient times as I look across to Rathlin Island, a nature reserve with a community of nesting seabirds. The stories are coming to life as I explore. The coastal route winds onwards, ultimately twisting through coasthugging curves past the misty stronghold\ of Dunluce Castle, clinging dramatically to the clifftop just east of Portrush, and Mussenden Temple, the 18thcentury folly near Castlerock.

But it’s the Giant’s Causeway, the Unesco–listed World Heritage Site and domain of Northern Ireland’s favourite giant, Finn McCool, which is the highlight of my trip. Northern Ireland’s best-known folk legend explains that local giant Finn built the rock causeway to Scotland to fight his arch-rival, the Scottish giant Benandonner. But Finn ran away when he realised his rival was bigger than him and was saved by his cunning wife, who disguised Finn as a baby as Benandonner approached.

The Scottish giant took flight, ripping up the causeway in his wake, believing that an 18ft baby must have the world’s biggest giant as a father. A mural of Finn is to be found on the fa├žade of a property in the nearby village of Bushmills.

‘As I set out along the old Antrim coast road… fables of rural Northern Ireland appear to me etched into the stone-forged, purple heather scenery’

The Causeway’s distinctive hexagonal basalt columns, some 40,000 of them forged by cooling lava more than 60 million years ago, still point an accusatory finger towards Benandonner’s domain. I walk down to the stones from the site of the new Giant’s Causeway Visitor Experience, which has new walking trails leading off around the headland, to catch the afternoon sun illuminating the rocks.

There’s a restored, two-mile-long steam railway here, too, between Bushmills and the landmark. In years gone by, old crones would sit among the stones, regaling visitors with folk yarns in return for a few coins. They’re gone now, but the sense of being in tune with ancient folk traditions still leaves me humbled. By the end of the drive, scenic and history-rich, I feel the route has also brought me closer to understanding this more rural and remote side of Northern Ireland awayfrom the city lights.

During July of this year, artist Deborah Warner will add further context, staging a coastal installation at twolocations along the Causeway Coast. Hundreds of tents will recount the folk legends and present the love poetry associated with the region. It proves that the best legends never die – they are simply reinvented for new generations.

Travel and Country

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