So we arrived in Belfast, Northern Island as part of the back end of our Iceland cruise. Jill had arranged a day trip out to see the Giant’s Causeway, so we had an early morning pick up from the ship. As luck would have it, Belfast is pretty small and we had the opportunity to do a town tour before we headed out.
The first thing that struck us was the absolute fascination and obsession with the Titanic. Belfast is the site where the Titanic was designed and built and is now the home of the Titanic Museum and visitors centre.
In recent years the docklands area has become home to major TV and film productions. In fact, the area around the docks is known as the Titanic Quarter. This was the second thing that struck us about Belfast. The Quarters.
Common knowledge and even the most basic understanding of mathematics would indicate that there are four quarters. Apparently this is not the case in Belfast, where they clearly needed seven. Modern-day Belfast is divided into seven and not the usual four quarters. These include:
- Cathedral Quarter – takes its name from St. Anne’s Cathedral and is the city’s main cultural area
- Titanic Quarter – is a 75 hectare area of reclaimed land near the harbour, that includes the entertainment arena, Titanic Museum and major trendy housing developments.
- Gaeltacht Quarter – Its the Irish area of town.
- Smithfield Market and Library Quarter – centres on Smithfield Market (a 19th century shopping area) and contains many of Belfast’s major historic sites.
- Linen Quarter – was the former home of the linen industry and now houses the Ulster Hall and Grand Opera House, along with a large number of hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes.
- Market Quarter – The area once had 14 markets, but today only St George’s Market, built between 1890 and 1896, remains.
- Queen’s Quarter – is the University area and is home to Queen’s Unicersity, the Botanic Gardens and the Ulster Museum.
Having headed out of Belfast we headed to the town of Portrush, a popular holiday destination in the North of Island. From here we got to take in the amazing coastline all while being surrounded by sheep and cattle farms. The traditional hedgerows was a fantastic sight that sadly we do not get to see back home. From here we headed around to Dunluce Castle which is one of the most picturesque and romantic of Irish Castles. The present castle ruins date from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Giant’s Causeway lay just around the corner, at the foot of the basalt cliff,s along the coast. The area is known as the Antrim plateau and the causeway is made up of around 40,000 massive black basalt columns that stick out of the sea. There are two main explanations for the Giant’s causeway. The first is the geological one which is both sensible and logical, the other is the myth.
Looking into the myth, the story changes depending upon which text you read. So rather than give the definitive version, I will provide the story as it was told to us by the tour guide.
As legend has it, Northern Ireland was once home to a giant named Finn McCool (also called Fionn Mac Cumhaill). Ireland was being threatened by another giant from across the Irish Sea in Scotland (Benandonner). To put an end to the threats, Finn built a bridge (the Giant’s causeway) across to Scotland by pulling out the earth from the centre of island (creating a hollow that is now Lough Neagh). Once the bridge was built he headed over to confront Benandonner, but when he got there he saw that Benandonner was a massive giant, much bigger than Finn.
So he headed back to Ireland and told his wife. At the same time Benandonner had noticed the bridge and crossed over to confront Finn. Finn’s wife told him to dress as a baby and pretend to sleep. When Benandonner arrived he was told that Finn was out working in the fields, but that Benandonner should be quiet as their child (the full grown Finn) was asleep.
Benandonner saw Finn disguised as a baby and realised that if the baby is that big, the father must be far larger and rushed back to Scotland, tearing away as much of the Causeway (destroying the bridge) as he could.
And of course, this was the first time that I set foot in Ireland (albeit Northern Island) so I had to sample a pint of Guinness. As Jill is not a huge fan of the darker beers she had the Italian Birra Moretti, a long time sip of choice.