By Christina Tognetti and Victoria Rudd
Today, Tuesday, just a little over a week into the trip, was hands down one of my favorite days so far. It was filled with exciting and interesting places to see and visit including Dunluce castle, Giants Causeway, and a quick visit to the beach! Today was filled with visits to the coast and I enjoyed every minute of each destination.
As we loaded our bags onto the bus for our departure towards Derry a bunch of the girls and I ran down onto the beach out in front of our hotel. For some reason a beach in Ireland is so much more exciting then a beach at home. We all ran towards the water yelling, “we are touching the Irish sea!” as if it was the most wonderful thing we had ever done. A few locals were walking by with their dogs and let us play catch with them in the sand and take pictures of how cute they were. We also all wrote our names into the sand and took pictures to remember we left our mark before the waves washed it away. This short amount of time spent on the beach wasn’t on the itinerary yet became a very memorable part of the day.
As we departed Ballygally Castle Hotel, we took a scenic drive along the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. The gorgeous coastline provided us with some “award-winning shots” as Father Tom pointed out on multiple occasions. We eventually arrived at Dunluce Castle, where we first watched an introductory video about the site and then were taken around by our tour guide Patrick. The ruins of this castle, which date back to 1500, allowed us to visualize the architecture of the building, and we learned some interesting facts about those who occupied it over the years.
The first family to inhabit Dunluce was the MacQuillans, who held the power in the area surrounding the castle known as “the Route”. Fifty years later the MacDonnells took control of Dunluce, but during their reign of the land there was a lot of struggle for power. Finally in 1601, the first Earl of Antrim, Randal MacDonnell, fought in the Irish rebellion at the Battle of Kinsale. He was unsuccessful, but able to negotiate with the Queen of England and hold onto the land, slowly bringing in people to settle. When he passed, his son, Randal, became the second Earl of Antrim. He married a wealthy, privileged English woman named Catherine Manners. However, he seemed to follow in his father’s footsteps and became involved in the Irish Rebellion, ultimately losing. Catherine quickly packed up her things and moved back to England, leaving Randal imprisoned. Eventually, when Cromwell came into power, his soldiers sacked Dunluce and what they left behind is what remains today.
After our amazing visit to Dunluce castle we headed to the Giants Causeway. I have never stood anywhere in the world and felt consumed by the beauty and wonder around me but today at the causeway I was in complete awe of my surroundings. No picture or words can explain the beauty I felt all around me as I walked alone down the hill towards what is now my favorite place in the world. The Giants Causeway is an area made up of nearly 40,000 basalt columns that stretch out to the sea.Science explains that it was created by volcanic crashing and burning 60 millions years ago but my handy dandy audio guide that I listened to as I made my way through the walking tour had a more playful story. Jimmy, the comical voice coming out of the hand held audio guide explained that the causeway was the old stomping grounds of a giant named Finn. Finn used the basalt columns to make a pathway from Ireland to Scotland to fight the Scottish giant and that is why they lay in this out stretched formation. One piece of evidence of Finn’s existence is his “shoe” he left behind while running away from the Scottish giant. We all climbed on this shoe shaped rock to take funny pictures. These rock formations and the open, airy, free spirited feeling of the location on the coastline are unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It is very difficult to explain the beauty so take a look at the picture to get a taste of how amazing it truly is.
One interesting fact I learned from a nice young lady that worked in gift shop is that the new visitor center was built to blend in with the landscape. The exterior is made of basalt just like the causeway and the roof is covered in grass. The purpose of this is to echo the beauty of the causeway while not taking away from it. As you stand down at sea level and look up towards where the visitor center would be you cannot find it because it is hidden so well. The center opened in July, so we were the first St. Mary’s class to experience it!Leaving the Causeway we were excited to arrive at the Beech Hill Inn. Philip had told us that this was some of the previous students favorite destination. Unfortunately there was a major car accident that caused us to take a detour, adding an extra hour onto our drive. As we checked into our rooms some of us were apprehensive about the place because it reminded us of an old haunted house. We were waiting for a ghost to walk down the hallway, but after sitting by the fireplace we all seemed to enjoy the quaint, cozy feeling of the place.