Jaysus, what weather. Sunny. Warm. It’s like this year round, right Ireland?
‘Jaysus.’ That’s one of those good Irish words. Jaaaysus. ‘Yer man,’ that’s another great one. Everyone is ‘yer man’ in Ireland. That guy? Yer man. The soccer player on TV? Yer man. You can’t know yer man. That’s what makes him yer man. ‘Craic’ is another one. Oh, and fer feck’s sake, can’t forget ‘feck,’ the polite way to swear.
Within a week, the Irish accent was creeping back in me. There’s a vowel shift, especially with the o and the a. And the th- totally disappears. TANX! Monkey hear, monkey say: I spent six month mimicking everyone I heard. How quickly it goes. But how quickly it comes back.
But Jaysus, that weather. I followed the sun up the coast to the northern reaches of Northern Ireland. There’s a stark beauty to the island. A rugged, isolated beauty. It’s not so much peaks and valleys, but expanses. Expanses of cliffs and seas and rolling hills and, if you get the right day, contrasts of blues and greens. Today was one of those days.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
I imagined I’d feel like Indiana Jones crossing the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge would sway in the Irish winds as I crossed over the 80 foot chasm, heart in my throat. Once across, I’d look back from the tiny fishing island with a sense of exhilarated isolation.
In reality, I patiently waited in line to pay my five pound fee. Then stood in another line and was shepherded across the bridge with a group of about 30 other people.
Life is all about managing expectations.
Having suffered through tourist mobs at the rope bridge, I was determined to personalize my time at the Giant’s Causeway. The geological marvel of solidified magma and erosion was a bucket-lister: let’s do it right! I parked my car 3-4 miles away from the crowded tourist center and set out on a hike along the 200 foot cliffs. Castle ruins and a well worn path were the only human encounters I had. The grazing sheep and cattle couldn’t even be bothered to watch me marvel at their every-day.
Around a bend, the Causeway appeared. From the distance, it didn’t look much different then any of the other bays along the coast. I started noticing those distinct geometric shapes as I got closer. Columns not yet fully eroded pushed against the ocean. Soon I was clattering over rocks of such design and beauty that certainly they were man-made, right? Or, as the story goes, made by giant’s.
Another couple miles down the road, a little further off the path, was Dunseverick Castle, or what was left of it. Perched on a cliff stood the magnificent ruins of the MacDonnell clan. Waves continued to pound against the castle’s foundations, just as they had for over 1000 years. I ventured into a cave below the castle that led out to the sea. This gap in the rocks was once one of the major “ports” on the northern part of the island. Today it was little more than an echo chamber for my footsteps and the gently lapping waves.
I pulled in to the Bushmills Distillery just after the last tour had already left. A bit of wandering though, led me to the real highlight of the estate: the tasting room. I walk up to the bar and your man says, “want to try something?” Before I could answer, a glass of Bushmills 12 was sitting in front of me. Not bad for a proddy.
I wafted. I sipped. I enjoyed my whiskey for the day.
A commotion built from the back of the tasting room. My first thought, terrible as it sounds, was “Americans.” Boy was I wrong. Not long after, a school for the mentally retarded walked by. They were on a field trip to the distillery. I tipped my glass to them and kicked back the rest of my drink. Oh Ireland.