Today is my last full day in Northern Ireland, sadly. I feel like I needed at last a few more days to do it even a remote amount of justice, but alas, I have a plane ticket in a few days time. To go back home and digest all these experiences. I’ve finished two pens already, writing in my moleskine (yes, I write even more every day than just my blog posts). And my book is about halfway filled.
I started my day with a tea and cookie and chat with my lovely B&B owners, Sinead and Dermot, with their 3 busy little ones running around and injuring themselves on the trampoline outside (knocked heads and then lots of crying). Yesterday was tough on the kids because of the rain so they just wanted to play outside as much as possible. They counted 11 slugs in the garden, and the eldest boy insisted the dad needed to go look at them.
It was during this conversation that I realized where my one friend’s certain speech pattern comes from. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s funny when you hear something familiar and something just clicks.
Another thing that clicked this morning as I was thinking about my plans for the day – uisce is the Gaelic word for water. Whiskey… Uisce… Ahhh… This was further confirmed by the video loop playing in the waiting area at Bushmills Distillery – uisce beagh -> fuisce -> whiskey. Yay early morning brain.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I went to Dunluce Castle. The legend has it that, one night during a banquet around 1642, the kitchen fell off the castle and into the sea (with part of the cliff that it is built on) which is when the lady of the house decided it was time to move. Seems like a logical decision to me. But… Paintings from a later time period still show the castle intact, and it wasn’t until later that a chunk fell off – and not the kitchen either, because I was poking around in it. In fact, they figure that the lady of the house, Katherine Manners, abandoned the castle when her husband was caught in the Irish uprising of around 1641-42. She moved her wealth to Chester, England, as the family had been allying itself with the monarchy. But it was all confiscated by the anti-Charles I forces.
There’s a lot of interesting history about Dunluce, actually. And a lot of links to Scotland (which I kind of saw across the straight). It was a good call by J, again. ;) Not a surprise.
Then I went to the Bushmills Distillery. I have to say, the mash house smells delicious. Our tour guide explained the difference between Scotch, Irish whiskey and American whiskey. Americans distill theirs once (~23% alcohol). Scots distill twice (~70% alcohol). And the Irish distill it three times (~80% alcohol). The Irish also dry their sprouted barley with warm dry air whereas the Scots dry it over burning peat, hence that peaty flavour. Also, once the mash is finishing boiling, they decant the liquid and sell the essentially cooked barley to local cow farmers for feed. Our guide assured us that they weren’t alcoholic because fermentation hasn’t happened yet, and she said not to worry because they weren’t encouraging drunken cows, and the only drunken cows she knew of were her and her friends. Heh.
I got to smell a cask *woo!* (smelled like my bottle at home). she mentioned that they sometimes bottle gor Jameson’s as well at their bottling facility. Craziness. And I got to try the 12 year reserve whiskey that they only sell at the distillery, not in shops. It was lovely. I could only have a few sips because it is 40% and I did have to drive and I’d only had a cheese sandwich before I went in… I also made friends with a group of Australians who I took a picture for, and they noted I was sitting alone in the bar trying my whiskey, so they invited me to sit with them. The daughter in law was not enjoying her Bushmills Irish Honey (whiskey mixed with Irish honey – the “trainer whiskey” according to our guide). The son, however, was totally okay finishing everyone else’s whiskey if they didn’t want it.
Artistic exit from the distillery – their casks are kept in a warehouse, actually. We couldn’t have cameras etc. on because we were walking through areas with a lot of alcohol vapours and they didn’t want any explosions. Also meant there were no pictures of the plant.
After that, I went to the Giant’s Causeway – a really awesome natural feature of basalt columns. Unfortunately, there had been a landslide so I wasn’t able to see the two additional bays, but the parts I did get to see just thrilled my geological soul. I hiked out on one of the promontories and took some photos. Memories of running out on the breakwaters at Kingston Harbour. The ranger who was being our tour guide did an excellent job of delivering the history, geology and lore about the causeway. It’s all wrapped up in the Finn MacCool story, Ireland’s giant. Also, I was the only one from our tour group who he ended up showing the wishing seat to (mainly because I’d stayed behind to climb and take more photos), but I didn’t have anything to wish for, so I just took a photo and chatted with him about how he has a ton of family in Hamilton. It’s nice to not know what to wish for. Then he had to go be a ranger because some folks were trying to climb to the sea’s edge and the wet basalt is super slippery.
So, tomorrow I head back to Dublin and drop off my car. And I was just getting more confident with this driving thing… :) Then I catch a ferry (but not a real faery) back to Wales.