County Down -> County Antrim -> County Derry
Drove through the beautiful coastal countryside on our way to the Giant’s Causeway in the windiest part of Ireland. The cliff face was both outrageous and beautiful and the rocks were both treacherous and impressive. We had perfect weather most of the time, but we did get hit by a brief rainstorm. During the worst part, the wind was so strong that a bird got stuck hovering in midair because he wasn’t strong enough to fly into the wind.
I had expected giant rocks to be going out further than they were after hearing the tales of Finn MacCool, but it was an adventure dragging my lazy butt up the shepherd’s steps to the top and looking down on the Causeway. Dad, braver than both of his daughters, was climbing where he shouldn’t and got both yelled at (according to him) and chased by employees (according to my exasperated mother).
We took a brief photo stop at Dunluce Castle, which was abandoned after the entire kitchen fell into the sea. On our drive, Brendan explained that they drive on the left side of the road because back in the day you would want your sword hand out if you came across a troublemaker. “Just bring a gun!” shouted an American woman. “That’s why they call that seat shotgun,” she added conspiratorially. All of the Americans laughed. Then it was on to the charmingly European city of Londonderry, or Derry, depending on whether you ask the Protestants or the Catholics. They had a marathon that day so it was packed.
We went on a tour with Ronan McNamara, a half-Chinese, half-Irish father of three and self-proclaimed only Buddhist in Derry. He may be the most eloquent man I’ve ever encountered. He told us about the Troubles via murals and his own experiences, and he took us across the city walls and through city hall, all while explaining history and current politics.
After dinner at the City Hotel we went to a pub called the Grand Central Bar which was wonderfully full of Irishmen and had a man playing an instrument I can only describe by saying it required the use of his forearm, palm, and all ten fingers. Mom and I sat down at the booth side of a table, and the man sitting next to us saw Ithaca and Dad go to the bra. He didn’t realize we had an extra stool under the table, so he took one from under his friend’s feet to offer to us. I was floored.
“That’s for my feet, you bring it right back,” said Grumpy Friend. I thanked Polite Guy heartily and let him know we didn’t need it, so he gave it back to Grumpy Friend and apologized by insisting that Grumpy was not even originally from Derry, and that he shouldn’t change our opinion of the city because “we’re really very hospitable.”
Grumpy said he just noticed we had enough stools and wanted it for his feet since all three of them were in the marathon earlier. “My God,” I told them. “I wouldn’t be drinking, I would be literally dead.”
“That’s why we’re drinking,” said the third man, the squinty one.
Dad and Erika returned with drinks and I laughed because no matter where we went to drink, all of the draughts were served in a glass with its logo on it. I looked to my right and saw that Squinty was sitting alone. “Did your friends leave because you got a better time than they did?” I asked. He chuckled and said “Probably.” And we talked about our bus tour and he told me how beautiful Westport is and how much fun we would have at Bunratty Castle.
I really can’t say enough how welcoming the Irish are. Though if Squinty really thought I was going to climb the Croagh Patrick, he was drunker than he looked.