Day 43 – Thursday, 1st June, 2006

As expected, I had a great night’s sleep and woke up feeling half way human, even if I sounded worse. Russ is now miserable! Dad is very fragile this morning, but will continue to soldier on.

Today we make our way from Sligo into Northern Ireland. Along the way we visited the Belleek Pottery Factory and were given a guided tour of the facility. Belleek is renowned for its exquisite cream coloured Parian china. This was very interesting as we saw the craftspeople at work at their stations. Some draw the object that they hope will be approved for creation. The next in line is the making of the moulds. After this they cast the objects and send them for firing.

Once the object has been through the first firing they undergo a quality inspection to make sure there are no flaws. Any flawed object is destroyed as the factory has a policy of no seconds. If approved by the quality people the objects are then sent to the artists who highlight and paint the raised sections of the object. Once this has dried they are then fired again. This brings to life the painting as well as imprinting the artist’s initials and the company watermark on the bottom of each object.

After this the articles are ready to be placed in the shop for people to buy. The majority of the articles are actually exported to America, and the rest of them are distributed amongst the other countries of the world.

Finally, we came to the obligatory shop, but only the work of the Belleek Pottery and its sister companies is on sale here. Even so, many a person bought more luggage than they had previously had onto the coach.

We lunched at Derry (Londonderry – the name changed to Londonderry by the English when they settled people in the area to overwhelm the rebellious Irish inhabitants) and were taken on a guided tour of the city walls, – yes, despite the bombings it is still standing in a circle around the old town centre – St Columb’s Cathedral and the Guildhall (city council building) by a local guide.

As it happens, our guide was Ronan – his Dad is Irish, his Mum is Tibetan, and he is a Buddhist who also happens to teach at the local university in political science – and it was Ronan who gave the tour of Derry to mum and Dad eight years ago. He insists that he has less hair and more weight now than he did in those days.

Whatever, he was most informative and very entertaining along the way. He left us at the city hall and directed us where we could find some lunch before re-boarding the coach for the next part of our journey.

We passed Dunluce Castle, a romantic ruin clinging to the cliff top. Ian told the story of the last owner of the castle, who enquired of his staff why dinner had not been served. He was informed that they no longer had a cook or a kitchen to cook anything in because it had fallen into the sea at the bottom of the cliffs at some time during the afternoon.

We finally arrived at the Giant’s Causeway, composed of thousands of strangely symmetrical basalt columns jutting out to sea. This area has only just recently featured on Getaway in Australia.

A story about the legendary giant who built the Causeway has been told for generations.

The giant was Finn MacCool. This is the anglicized version of his Irish name Finn mac Cumail. Although he is now part of the Causeway creation myth, Finn features as the leader of a band of warriors called the Fianna in Irish stories that may date as far back as the third century A.D.

Legend tells of Finn MacCool wanting to do battle with a rival giant in Scotland known as Benandonner. The two giants had never met, so Finn built enormous stepping-stones across the sea so that the Scottish giant could cross to Ireland to face the challenge. The story takes a humorous twist when Finn, seeing the great bulk of Benandonner approaching, flees home in fear and asks his wife, Oonagh, to hide him. Oonagh is said to have disguised Finn as a baby, and put him in a huge cradle. When Benandonner saw the size of the “infant”, he assumed the father must be gigantic indeed, and fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway in case he was followed.

This is the reason, the tale concludes, that the Giant’s Causeway exists in north Antrim, with similar columns at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish island of Staffa to the north – the two surviving ends of the Causeway built by Finn MacCool.

As part of the variation on the theme of the story, it is also suggested that the Isle of Man was created by Finn having thrown a large rock of earth at Benandonner, and badly missing the Scottish giant.

Ian told us we could walk down to the causeway as it was just around the corner down below. Being wiser after seven weeks touring, we declined to walk the distance, a decision that proved wise when we spoke with the others who did walk down.

We waited for the bus to take us down – believe it or not, there is only one bus making the journey up and down throughout the entire day, hundreds of tourists and it has a limit of 26 people. This explains why Russ and I were denied entrance back on the bus with the rest of the Globus contingent, and why we were late leaving the Giant’s Causeway. It was a beautiful day with a cool breeze blowing, and Russ and I both had cameras whose batteries were running very low. We did manage to get our photos.

We then continued along the Antrim coast road until we came to Belfast. Ian commented that it had changed dramatically in the years since the cease fire. There is now a stability and vibrancy that was sadly lacking in former uncertain times.

However, the politicians are in danger of having there standing renounced if they cannot come to some decision on the future in the next few months. Mind you, these people have been elected for almost two years, and nothing has been achieved as yet, but they are collecting salaries around the £200,000 mark. The longest all these people have managed to stay and talk in the same room with each other has been 14 minutes.

Importantly, the people are adjusting to the social changes that have been implemented by the government during the transition period and want it to stay this way. The government has made it mandatory for industry to employ half catholic and half protestant work forces, and half of the work force has to be female. The population is reaping the benefits of an extended period of peace.

Even the schools are now integrated, and the children play sports in mixed groups so are learning new ways to interact with people who were previously hated.

We finally arrived fairly late at the Radisson SAS (Skandinavian Air Services) in Belfast. Russ chose to have dinner delivered by room service tonight, but Mum, Dad and I went down to the restaurant. Dad was very hungry. However, he needed to leave the table shortly after he started his salad. Mum and I finished our meal, which we did not enjoy very much, and then went upstairs to check on the men folk.