On Monday we met an Australian friend at the airport who was coming to stay just three days with us here in Ireland. It’s a short time to explore an entire country so we came up with a few ideas for some day trips that we might take from Wexford to show off the best of the region. As we head south on the motorway that night toward Wexford, we asked our friend (who had briefly visited Ireland before) if there was anything that she’d really like to see during her short stay… “The Giant’s Causeway” was her response. Um, OK, we live in the far south, and that is about as far north as you can travel in Ireland, AND there is a snow storm forecast, but sure, why not? Let’s have an adventure!
Setting off early the next morning, we were back on the motorway, this time heading for ‘The North’. We whizzed around Dublin with some loose plans to try and lunch in Belfast, three and a half hours away, before going on to The Giant’s Causeway. We made it as far as a small village, Dunleer, which is still in the Republic of Ireland for a morning tea stop when the snow started. The kids (and adults) loved the sight of fluffy white snow flakes falling, and since it wasn’t too heavy, or settling yet on the road, we decided to push on north.
Back on the motorway, the snow thinned out, but exhilarated by the weather forecast for more, we made our way to Belfast. Our morning tea stop had filled a hole in our tummies, and given us courage to do a quick lap around Belfast instead of stopping for lunch. Since it was already 1.30pm, we figured that to explore Belfast properly, we would need to return at a later date without our friend. So we just did a quick drive along Shankill Road to check out the famous murals from the time of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland. The sky was getting darker, and this time sleet was falling, so we pushed on north in case the weather worsened and stopped our progress.
On the way to The Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim, we took a slight detour for a photo opportunity of The Dark Hedges, otherwise known as ‘The Kings Road’ on the popular television series, Game of Thrones. This picturesque 18th century avenue of Beech Trees, has been used in many films. It can be found just off the A44 Drones Road near the Gracehill Golf Course, use your GPS to find it, as it is a little off the beaten track.
We didn’t arrive at The Giant’s Causeway visitor centre until nearly half past three, but that was enough time to make our way down to the ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site before closing time at 5pm. The snow had held out for us, and there was still daylight, but the air was FREEZING! We picked up some of the free audio tours which told us about 60 million years of history that has formed the 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns rising from the coastline. The coast of Antrim was once subject to intense volcanic activity, that’s when highly fluid molten rock was forced up through fissures in the chalk bed to form an extensive lava plateau in the unique pattern that we see today. The geology of the area is fascinating, and whilst there are other places around the world where similar volcanic activity has occurred, The Giant’s Causeway is also steeped in local legend.
Every Irish girl and boy learns the story of Finn McCool, the giant who built the causeway. As the story goes, once upon a time there were two giants, one Finn McCool in Ireland, the other, the much larger Benandonner in Scotland. The giants used to taunt each other across the sea, until one day Finn McCool decided to throw the stone columns into the sea, building a causeway all the way to Scotland. This took him 7 days with no rest, until exhausted he fell asleep on the Irish side. Finn’s wife Oonagh heard the Scottish giant approaching, and seeing how much larger than her husband he was, she covered Finn, and disguised him with a bonnet to look like a baby. Benandonner came roaring across the causeway, until Oonagh told him to be quiet, lest he should wake the baby. Seeing the size of the sleeping ‘baby,’ Benandonner was frightened that Finn McCool must be so much bigger than himself. And, with that, he ran back along the causeway to Scotland, breaking the causeway as he went.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to The Giant’s Causeway. Entry to the visitor centre cost 21 UK Pounds Sterling for a family, and in the very cold air, an hour and a half was long enough to explore and have a coffee to warm up, but that’s not to say that you couldn’t plan to spend longer there, and along the amazing coastline. By the time we emerged out to the carpark, night had fallen, and so was the snow – heavily! This time it was settling on the road, so we very carefully made our way to Londonderry through intermittent falls. Driving in and out of the city was relatively easy as the evening traffic was keeping the roads clear of snow, and so we decided to push on to a hotel near Letterkenny we had phoned ahead to reserve a room at.
Letterkenny is a pretty town in the north of Ireland, but still in the Republic of Ireland. It looked even prettier blanketed in snow, but given the later time of our arrival, there was less traffic on the road than there had been in Londonderry, and driving was getting treacherous. It was half past 8, and we decided to call it a night, the beautiful snow had become too much for our tiny hired VW Polo to handle, and we took another hotel room in the main street of Letterkenny instead of continuing on the the room we had reserved a further 20km out of town! The staff at The Gallagher Hotel were extremely accommodating and friendly, and despite the hour of our arrival the kitchen staff warmed us up with a wonderful meal.
I’m sure that the residents in the northern counties of Ireland are familiar with snow, and that it is probably quite annoying to them as they try to go about their business. But, for visiting Australians, the winter landscape was just breathtakingly beautiful, a stunning winter wonderland, which made for an awesome adventure. We continued on the next day after the roads had been cleared, passing through gorgeous Donegal, then along the coast down to Galway. Half of Ireland had been covered in snow the night before, making our drive back to Wexford a long but very pretty one. One thing is for sure though, our quick little jaunt around the country has added many more beautiful Irish towns and cities to add to our ‘must see’ list for a later date.