So the legend of the Giant’s Causeway includes folklore about the giant Finn McCool and the many roles he played in Irish mythical history. Where there are Giant’s there will always be tall tales. Where there are tall tales someone will bring out a measuring stick. For me the Giant’s Causeway has been a measuring stick in my life in more than one way.
My image of the unspoiled nature of the Causeway took a bit of a hit when we pulled up on Friday night to see a quite “Giant” visitors center and tour bus park built in front of the old Causeway Hotel. Twelve years ago the whole site was remote. At that point only recently had any American tourists begun to brave travel to the North after the former troubles in Northern Ireland. That morning twelve years ago I slapped on an old pair of running shoes and a singlet and I ran the causeway from end to end in perfect July temperatures. Back then the whole path was a gravel rock path. This time around a road had been paved that allowed for a tram bus to shuttle folks from the top to bottom for one pound sterling each way. At first I was saddened by the change but then when I got a chance to see a large group of 70+ year old folks wandering around at the bottom and marveling at the sites I had to remind myself that everyone has a right to see these things. Why should it require the ability to hike 2 miles up a steep grade. This argument will always be a double edged sword of course…nature vs. man enhanced progress. Neither side of the argument is right or wrong. They are just different.
For me the measuring sticks come in a few different shapes. On my last visit to Ireland I was 38 years of age, running triathlons and probably in the best physical shape of my life. I had been married to my first wife Anne for twelve years at that point. The trip was organized by my buddy Dan’s father John Flavin who had living relatives in Westmeath, Ireland and had visited every summer for most of his adult life. John died this past winter on Christmas Day. I’m married for one year almost to the day to Christiana. In July I turned 50 and am starting to show a few signs of wear and tear, the body now bikes and swims despite recent failed attempts at running. The really good news is that I feel like I’m in the best mental shape of my life. Twelve years later my priorities are quite different.
On Friday night when we arrived at the Causeway Hotel I remember thinking, “It looks smaller than I remember” in a way that you respond when you see the bedroom in the house you grew up in after many years. Smaller wasn’t necessarily better or worse though. Just different.
So in the end Christiana and I had a special experience together. I got to bring my new bride to a place that held a special place in my own personal memories. When it was over and done we had created our new memories that included a measure of the past and a cup of the future. We had a hard time pulling ourselves away so we could check out by the 11:00 am deadline. In fact we didn’t check out in time…and I didn’t even care. Now if you think I am boasting about my defiance of the law I am not. I am only noting that for a guy that has to be on schedule to the minute almost all the time, to surrender to being a few minutes late is a good sign that this trip and this country is starting to slow me down a bit.
As we pulled out of the Causeway Hotel parking lot I was anxious to start our drive up the Antrim coast and then to the Bushmills distillery. But I was also hungry. At the foot of the hill at the end of the car park there is a place called The Nook. On the surface it’s a coffee shop. In it’s history it’s a schoolhouse that was built in 1850. Not ready to leave the Causeway are you yet Jim? Well what say we don’t just push on then? What say we stop and have a cup of tea, a bowl of stew or a half pint of Guinness? On Saturday morning, thankfully I said, “Don’t mind if I do.”
A great vacation is often measured by whether or not it gets you completely out of your own head. This measuring stick called the Giant’s Causeway definitely did.
Now on to Donegal City to cheer for the Green and Yellow in the all-Ireland gaelic football finals. If you don’t know what that means let’s just say it’s akin to accidentally pulling into Green Bay the night before the Super Bowl when Aaron and the boys are getting ready to play. More about that story later…