This past weekend, IES was kind enough to arrange a trip for the Dublin Studies and Internship programs to visit Northern Ireland. In three days, our plan was to cover Belfast's oldest pub, Crumlin Road Gaol, the Rope Bridge, the Giant's Causeway, Dunlace Castle, a hike over waterfalls, and an unofficial visit to a local karaoke bar. We started with an overcast day, leaving bright and early for lunch in Belfast.
We didn't really have time to stay and explore. Immediately after lunch we had to make our way to Belfast's historic Crumlin Road Gaol, home to prisoners and activists from as recently as 1996. The trip included a trip through the process of being jailed, from seeing where their mugshots were taken to exploring padded rooms and seeing the gallows.
Included on that dreary backdrop, however, were other experiences the prisoners might have had. We learned about the suffragettes and their hunger strike, the lashings and punishments doled out to disobedient prisoners, and even an art program the prisoners might have been enrolled in. Their murals decorated the walls of one of the double-cells, still completely intact. (I'm reasonably sure one of them even painted the Statue of Liberty.)
The final part of the tour was visiting a tunnel that connected the old abandoned courthouse to the prison. According to our tour guide, one of the wardens from the prison had fallen ill and died in the tunnel; it was one of the most haunted places in Ireland, and visitors frequently found images in their photos they couldn't explain. Unfortunately, all of my photos somehow ended up blurry and unfocused! You can't see much of anything at all. I'm not entirely sure how it happened...
And that marked the end of our time in Belfast. We made our way to Portrush, a lovely coastal city that would be our home for the next few days. Our hotel was near the harbor, providing a lovely view at any time of day.
The first night was dedicated, of course, to exploring the coastline. My friends and I found surfers, collected seashells, and dipped our toes in the Irish Sea. The tide was rough and the waves were high; parts of the beach that had been clearly visible when we drove into town that afternoon were completely underwater when we found them again. We decided to aim for the nearby cliffs instead.
On our journeys, we ran into two fishermen on the dock. My friends and I kept them company for a little while, mostly because of a curious artifact in their possession - a baby shark! They'd caught it about an hour before we came along. My new friend Morgan was delighted, and dubbed him "Frederick." Our fishy friend seemed to like the name; whenever she petted him, his tail would move and he would start to turn over.
We gave Frederick a flower and thanked the fishermen for their time before making our way back to the hotel and promptly collapsing onto our beds. The entire group had to be up and ready to leave by 9:45 the next morning, to begin another day of adventure and exploration. Our first destination was the iconic rope bridge, a wonderful tourist attraction sitting 80 feet above the water and stretching a gap of 60 feet between two land masses.
Once crossed, the paths could lead you to cliffs and climbing rocks, as well as flower patches and seagull nests. The group roamed about at their individual paces, some hanging over the edge for the perfect selfie, and others hanging back to admire the view of Scotland in the distance.
Next, we took a trip to the Giant's Causeway. The natural formation is famous for its curiously hexagonal rocks, which form a series of stepping stones and hills that are easy for almost anyone to climb. Better than the rocks, though, are the mountains that surround them; most of the group - myself included - spent the time climbing up to the highest points we could find for the very best view of the causeway.
We had plenty of time to see the area, but I'm sure anyone could devote an entire day to the causeway alone. There are hiking trails that move around the entire perimeter of the area, and plenty of nooks and crannies to tuck yourself away in if you'd rather read a book or write in a journal. The sound of the ocean provides a lovely soundtrack for any number of activities.
Our day was neatly wrapped up at around five o'clock in the evening, giving us ample time to grab dinner, take much-needed naps, and visit a karaoke bar we'd been told was an absolute must-see. (I would say that, if given the choice, I would prefer climbing the cliffs to visiting the bar on any given night, but that one might just be personal preference!)
Again, we couldn't stay out too late; we had to be ready for another full day of adventures at the same time the next day. Our first visit was Dunlace Castle, old ruins on a cliff just outside of Portrush. The castle is beautiful if only for its location, but there's plenty more to it than that.
My personal favorite was where the plants had grown to fill in the gaps in the architecture; where there once had been rocks or bricks, you could occasionally find daises and daffodils blooming. The structure is in the process of being reclaimed by nature, try as we might to preserve it. I could analyze that, but I'll leave it to your imagination!
We finished up our visit to the castle with a group photo and a trip down below to see a cave hidden in its foundation. The entrance to the cave was lined with "Do Not Enter" signs, which, when translated into College Student, roughly means "get as close as you can without actually getting in trouble." Following the stone steps down near the mouth of the cave proved an adventure for nearly every single one of us; before long, there was an entire group gathered on a ledge just above the mouth of the cave.
That's something I wouldn't recommend; it's easy enough to go down towards the cave, but it's nearly impossible to climb back up!
Following the castle, we had one more item on the itinerary. The group was headed to a natural park to hike a trail over rivers and around waterfalls. Unfortunately, it started to rain on our way to the park, so I don't have many photos of it! The path was slippery and steep, and I didn't want to risk breaking my camera.
Overall, though, the trip was wonderful and well worth the time it required of me. I would strongly recommend that anyone who finds an opportuninty to visit Northern Ireland hops right on it; if the scenery isn't enough to convince you, the food is definitely worth the trip!
More Blogs From This Author
<p>Hi! My name is Taylor Haggerty. I'm twenty years old and currently go to school in Bloomington, Indiana, for magazine design and poetry. This summer I'll be studying English and history in Dublin, Ireland!</p>