As our merry crew continued along the Wild Atlantic Way of Ireland's north-western coast, we rounded a curve and came upon this unexpected and beautiful scenery-the only fjord in Ireland. In the town of Westport, our AirBnB accommodation was a large private room in a modern house. It was sparse on furnishings and could have used a few more creature comforts to combat the soggy weather. But it was beautiful and airy with lovely guests, and right on the sea. We had an incredible dinner of local fare at Sheebeen's and explored the town, capping the night off with live music at Matt Malloy's pub. The star of the show was a 90-something year old man who had a harmonica solo, banged away on the bodhran, and had his beer too! In Northern Ireland, UK, our first stop was the city of Derry (Londonderry), which felt like a stark contrast to cheerful and cozy Westport. Derry is an old city, fairly large, and has medieval city walls that you can walk on, which we didn't because it was raining and deserted. When we arrived, it was early evening on a Sunday, so the city was quiet and many shops closed. We walked through the Bogside neighborhood with our umbrellas, taking in the murals that memorialize lives lost and freedoms won during The Troubles, such as the Hunger Strikes and Bloody Sunday. We had a coffee in a posh Indian restaurant, and then found a pub.
On the Antrim Coast, the northernmost part of Ireland, we made it to our BnB, The Causeway Smithy, late at night, and then snuck out early to scamper around the Giant's Causeway before all the other tourists got there. We parked at an inn near the site and walked a little ways to get to the causeway, which also allowed us to go for free. The naturally formed geometric rock formations that make up Giant's Causeway are like something from another planet. Local folklore says they were formed by an Irish giant smashing up the coastline in a feud with a Scottish giant, but science says it was something to do with volcanic lava. Whatever their origin, I felt like I was in the stories of old, and that it wouldn't be too shocking to see a giant rise up out of one of those mossy green hills.
We couldn't leave Ireland without visiting a distillery, so Bushmills was it. John somehow convinced the young bartender in the tasting room to give him a sample of some rare reserve stuff. Typical. I was satisfied with a sip o' the honey whiskey. A simple farmer's road lined with twisty trees near Balleymoney, the Dark Hedges is now a tourist attraction, thanks in part to Game of Thrones filming on this very path. We sauntered along the fairytale Dark Hedges, avoiding mud puddles and imagining we were somewhere in Middle Earth. Belfast was mostly a pitstop for our friend to get some paperwork, but we took advantage and found chocolatier Co Couture, who makes the most delectable chocolate covered candied lemon peel, ate lunch at Molly's Yard, a quaint brew pub where we sampled some locally brewed beer, and explored a bit of Queen's University, including the CS Lewis reading room and the Hogwarts-esque great hall, complete with professorial portraits. The red hand of Ulster, pictured in the floor tiles, is a Gaelic-Irish symbol, and one of the few that crosses sectarian and political divides in the North and throughout Ireland.
We fell in love with this country, with its wild winds, its unpolished charm, its mysterious beauty, and its hearty gracious people. I feel in my bones that we will go back to the Emerald Isle, so until next time Ireland, we think of you fondly. Sláinte!