Friday, March 30, 2012
Just wanted to share the link for the 2nd blog post I promised back in An Irish Trifecta. This was posted on the Britannica Blog today, a few paragraphs on the Aran Islands and the wealth of culture to be found there: Ireland's Aran Islands: The Richest Place I Know. Thanks again to the mighty Encyclopaedia Britannica for posting it.
Monday, March 26, 2012
|Landscape by the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Photo by Caomhán Ó Donncha|
So thank heaven for the miracles of the earth itself, right? Because even if human history keeps getting it wrong, at least we can count on Mother Nature to keep doing what's right. Flowers leave us at summer's end but can always be relied upon to come back next spring, and cold and rainy seasons give way to sunny and dry days year after year. That's history repeating itself in the best of ways. Perhaps that's why humans value and seek out the wild places and wide open spaces of this world. When life gets too miserably predictable and unreliable in human society, just go for a walk in the woods or along the seashore or find a clifftop or riverbank to sit upon and watch how the rest of the living creatures and forces of this world pass the time and how they manage to do it with such thrilling unpredictability and yet comforting reliability. All is suddenly better.
|The Giant's Causeway. Photo by Caomhán Ó Donncha|
I feel sorry for the poor souls out there who do not consider wild places as absolutely necessary for the goodness of both humanity and our planet itself. I feel sorry for those who cannot let a remarkable landscape alone, who cannot just enjoy it for what it is and, at most, only interfere so much to protect it from being turned into something else entirely, something very unwild and very predictable. Something unnecessary. Something like another "luxury exclusive gold resort."
There are many things this world is sorely lacking. Another golf course is not one of them. Most definitely not one that charges exorbitant fees just to enter, blocks off much of the general public from enjoying a piece of beautiful landscape, and--in the building of such a course--bulldozes over what made the area so special to begin with. Yet apparently my opinion (and anyone else who agrees with it) is not popular or not in the majority--or just not important. Not when there are little white balls to be hit into holes and folks who will shell out big bucks just to do it.
Fifteen years ago Ireland lost access to a truly lovely piece of itself. In 1997 an exclusive golf club was opened on the Old Head of Kinsale, a headland with remarkable views of the coastline at the southern tip of Ireland in County Cork. Prior to the opening of the golf course, the headland had been owned by farmers and was used mainly for grazing. The public had access to the headland, however, and it was a popular place for walkers, bird-watchers, and picnickers. In fact, there were people picnicking near the historic lighthouse on the Old Head in May of 1915, during World War I, when the British ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine just a few miles off the headland. Over 1,000 civilian lives were lost in the event, which had the effect of prompting the U.S. to throw off their neutrality and enter the war. Apart from these witnesses to history were the many witnesses to beauty on the Old Head over the years. For the headland and its cliffs are home to countless bird species, as well as colonies of seals, turtles, and otters, with dolphins and whales sporting in the waters off the headland. Add to this numerous old ruins of stone forts and former lighthouses, the clouds in the sky above and beyond the headland, the waves, the winds, and the many moods that coastal Ireland is famous for, from the glorious to the grim, and you have one spectacular place to visit and get away from it all, if even just for an afternoon's walk.
|Coastline near the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Photo by Caomhán Ó Donncha|
Or you used to. Today, because of the golf course, much of the headland is inaccessible--except to those who are members of the exclusive golf club, which has turned the ruins of the watchtower and medieval walls on the headland once owned by the de Courcey family into an imposing entrance gate. Yes, visitors and non-members are allowed in to tour the course and clubhouse (and thus get close to the lighthouse and most of the other lovelies the headland has to view)--at the cost of a minimum of 160 to 200 euros ($200 to $270). And that's even if the club is open for the season and not being used for private events. If it's closed, if you don't have the cash, and of course if you don't golf, you're out of luck. Go take a hike...somewhere else, I suppose.
Needless to say, when the golf course was being built and in the first few years of its existence, none of this went down well with many of the locals, who were used to visiting the Old Head and enjoying its beauty pretty much whenever they wanted, without much restriction of where they could go. Numerous protests took place that often involved holding picnics and walks and trying to gain free access to the golf course grounds. During the construction of the course, it's said locals would try to invade the headland at night and disable the trucks and other vehicles that were tearing up and manipulating the Old Head's earth. To no avail, sadly. The golf course is still there, blocking the view. Its website trumpets itself as a "sanctuary" of all things, as if golfers were some rare breed of life form, like the bald eagle or the polar bear, direly in need of protection. A study I found on the Internet (which sorry but I'm not linking to) claims that the environment of the Old Head, its flora and fauna, has not only been unharmed by the building and maintenance of the course but even enhanced by it. While I'm sure the grounds of the golf course are well taken care of and the owners have no doubt introduced some lovely flowers and other plant species, it is difficult to believe that the landscape of the headland (which includes not just the earth but the air and sea and all the life supported by them) is not being harmed once one finds out that, along with all its other luxury amenities, the golf club offers private helicopter and jet transport to the headland. Can that really be good for anything but the ol' rich boys who can afford such indulgence? I'll save time and answer that question. No. No, it can't be.
But here's the really bad news. History is repeating itself, at the very opposite end of the island of Ireland. A golf course has taken over an extraordinary part of Ireland's southern tip--and now plans are under way for another exclusive, luxury golf resort to take over part of its northern tip. Right by that natural wonder of the world known as the Giant's Causeway.
|Naturally formed "steps" at the Giant's Causeway. Photo by Caomhán Ó Donncha|
While you're more likely to have heard of the Giant's Causeway than the Old Head of Kinsale (because the causeway is indeed an internationally recognized World Heritage Site), for those who don't know much about the causeway here's the rundown. It is essentially something of a natural miracle--a spot of land on the coastline of County Antrim in Northern Ireland that consists of tens of thousands of mostly hexagonal pillars that resemble steps of various heights and extend about half a mile into the Irish Sea. Science says these pillars were formed by lava that repeatedly erupted through the earth's crust during the Cenozoic period and then cooled over a long time, shrunk, and split to form many multi-sided basalt columns. Folklore, however, says the causeway was built by the mighty Fionn MacCumhaill, a giant and the leader of the Fianna warriors who had an ongoing feud with another giant, Benandonner, living across the Irish Sea in Scotland. But because there were no boats big enough to accommodate a giant, neither big fella could cross the sea and settle the fight face-to-face. So Fionn decided to build a way to Scotland. He built a series of large steps that reached all the way to Staffa, where Benandonner lived, but he fell asleep right after finishing the job and right on the causeway itself. He only awoke when he heard the thundering tread of his foe coming across the new causeway, and in panic ran back home to his wife, Una, who dressed him as a baby and ordered him to lie in a cradle near the hearthfire. When Benandonner arrived ready to rumble with Fionn, Una told him her husband was out and pointed to the "sleeping infant" and asked him to keep quiet while he waited so as not to wake Fionn's son. Upon seeing the size of Fionn's infant, Benandonner trembled at the thought of how huge Fionn himself must be, and he fled back to Scotland across the causeway, tearing it up as he ran to keep Fionn from pursuing him.
Quite a story. And quite a scene. Apart from the causeway pillars, surrounding them are cliffs, a series of isolated basalt columns known as the Chimney Tops (which were said to be mistaken for the chimneys of nearby Dunluce Castle by the Spanish Armada, so much so the cannons of the Armada fired away at the natural formations in the fog), and strikingly red coastal banks colored by the high iron content in the lava deposits that made the causeway so many centuries ago.
|Polygonal basalt pillars of the Giant's Causeway. Photo by Caomhán Ó Donncha|
Sounds like a great place to visit. Imagine touring the coast of Antrim and--after checking out Dunluce Castle--envision stopping at the Giant's Causeway for a good walk along the coastline, climbing the steps once tread by Fionn himself, gazing out at the sea and looking for the distant shadow of Scotland's shores, all the while listening to the waves and the wind and gulls and thinking of the days when great hulks of men tramped these Celtic isles. Unbeatable. Or so most likely thought until someone got the very original idea of building a luxury golf course and resort only a mile from the entrance to the Giant's Causeway.
This plan--which encompasses the construction of a 365-acre site featuring not only a golf course but a 120-room hotel, 75 rental cottages, and artificial lighting on surrounding coastal dunes--was approved on February 21st this year by Northern Ireland's environment minister, Alex Attwood. This approval, which took at least a decade to be won, came despite voiced opposition of the project by numerous environmental and cultural heritage groups, including Friends of the Earth Ireland and the National Trust. Attwood and other ministers claim the elite golf complex will bring a big boost to Northern Ireland's economy, and they cite the 300+ jobs that are expected to be created in the construction and opening of the complex (planned for 2014). A tourist magnet, basically. Only thousands of tourists (along with Irish residents) have said they don't want the golf course, in the form of this petition that protests the building of the thing and has exceeded its goal of 5,000 signers.
|Basalt columns of the Giant's Causeway. Photo by Caomhán Ó Donncha|
But do these objecting tourists golf? That is the question. Since it appears that people who golf will, once again, be the only ones taken into account for this idea. More specifically, rich people who golf, as the mastermind of this truly misplaced sports monstrosity, a Northern Irish-born developer named Alistair Hanna now living in the U.S., has made no bones about catering to the wealthy, with the justification that, "In today's world the best is still selling very well, the mediocre is not doing well at all." Mediocre. Is that what we are? All of us sad sacks who from now will have to equip ourselves with hard hats next time we visit the Giant's Causeway, to guard against the chance of getting struck in the head by some stray golf ball? And how about ear plugs to drown out the sound of construction over the next two years? Or has the deal figured in the cost of bribing the wind to blow the opposite way and carry the noise elsewhere from the extraordinary causeway and the everyday folks who go there to enjoy the unspoiled scenery and fresh sea air? Or maybe it's not the tourists who are seen as mediocre by these developers and their political cronies. Maybe it's the causeway itself. Special, but not special enough--not without the magic that can only come from a putting green. Once giants shaped this beautiful piece of earth known as Ireland. Now that job's being reserved for little men who only care about golf.
I'll end this by asking readers to take a look at this link, which depicts an artist's rendering of the proposed golf complex by the Giant's Causeway. Behold the amazing golf course to be. Isn't it a stunner? How would you say it stands up to the beauty of the causeway itself? Compare it to the pictures that have accompanied this post, all taken recently at the Giant's Causeway and its surroundings by my friend Caomhán Ó Donncha, who was kind enough to let me use them. Which sight impresses you more? The giant's creation...or the golfers'? Yes, I thought so.
|A giant's creation. Northern Ireland. Photo by Caomhán Ó Donncha|
Saturday, March 24, 2012
The folks at the Aran Islands info website were kind enough to share a story I wrote on their blog: Island Luck. It's just a light, lovely, little fishing tale from my days on Inis Oirr. Check it out!
|Tea and the sea|
|Look what the waves tossed up: seaweed and seagulls|
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Happy St. Patrick's Day, world! Just wanted to post some pictures I've never put up before of different parts of Ireland, taken over many years. Enjoy the weekend and the photos!
|On Clare Island in County Mayo|
|View of Inishturk from Clare Island|
|Lake at Glendalough in County Wicklow|
|Ruins of graveyard at St. Kevin's retreat in Glendalough|
|Me in Northern Ireland above Carlingford Lough|
|Rounding 'em up in County Down, Northern Ireland|
|Fall, in Northern Ireland|
|Purple heather in bloom in Northern Ireland, Carlingford Lough in the background|
|Spuds for sale in County Down|
|View of Carlingford Lough in Northern Ireland|
|Narrow Water Castle, Warrenpoint, County Down|
|Narrow Water Castle in Warrenpoint, County Down|
|View of Sliabh Donard Hotel in Newcastle, County Down|
|Beautiful County Down|
|Cliffs of Moher in County Clare|
|Cliffs of Moher in Clare|
|The Ha'Penny Bridge over the River Liffey in Dublin, long ago|
|Browne's Doorway in Eyre Square, Galway City|
|Eyre Square, Galway City|
|Beach on Inis Oirr, Aran Islands|
|The Plassey shipwreck on Inis Oirr, Aran Islands|
|Dog and O'Brien's Castle on Inis Oirr|
|On beach on Inis Oirr, barnacles stuck to stone|
|Stone carving on grounds of Ashford Castle, in Cong|
|My friend Phil, in Roundstone|
|My friend Amanda, in Roundstone, County Galway|
|A Guinness between friends|
|Me in Connemara|
|Darts competition in Headford pub. 1st prize leg of lamb, 2nd prize 4 pints|
|In Galway City, kissing|
|An Irish whiskey and an Irish coffee, in an old man's pub|
|At Cong Abbey ruins|
|Trying the nectar in a fuschia plant in Cong|
|Fuschia in Headford|
|At Ashford Castle grounds|
|Monk's house ruins in Cong|
|Drink galore, in Cong|
|Which way to go? Cong crossroads|
|View from Tigh Ned's window on Inis Oirr, Aran Islands|
|Me and a friend and a lighthouse, on Inis Oirr|
|Elderberries, on the Aran Islands|
|Kylemore Abbey in County Galway|
|With friends in Connemara|
|A sheela-na-gig? In Roundstone|
|Sheep in Headford field|
|A rainy day in Cong|
|Driving through Connemara. Watch out for sheep!|
|Dayshine trying to break through the gray in Ireland|