Where Giant’s Roam

Latimer: Last weekend, I journeyed north – to the rugged and jagged cliffs of the county Antrim coast (Game of Throne’s country! :)).

Winter is Coming… Right?!
The Dark Hedges Antrim

I’m just after realising… I thought ALOT of the places I saw as we drove around the coast looked like the Iron Islands from Game of Thrones… and we ended up, having missed a turn, at a tiny, tiny harbour – and!- AND I just looked it up (it’s called Ballintoy) and it was a location for the Iron Islands on Game of Thrones!

Ballintoy Harbour
Iron Islands, Pyke… but actually Ballintoy… I’m in awe
Yo, Theon Greyjoy spin around, Latimer is waving at ya!

It was the back of beyonds. Wow, I’m actually just going ‘damn, I should have gotten out and ran around or something!’ (over his shoulder on the left-hand side facing us! up there near the cove… yep :)!). I even took note of the place, thinking, I must remember this place!

Anyway, going to Antrim was a first for me. It’s not that far from home, nowhere in Ireland is in fairness, but sometimes it takes a few years before we end up going to the places that we’ve always meant to go.

I’ve always meant to go to the Giant’s causeway; it’s one of those ‘on the list, but never seem to go’ sort of places (like Sceilig Mhichíl, the tiny rock monastery out in the Atlantic ocean; but that’s another story!).

Sceilig Mhichíl… another ‘on the list’ place

As we journeyed to the tip of Northern Ireland, I started thinking back on the story of the causeway, or what I remembered of it. In school I remember that we learned lots of the old Irish stories; children of Lir, Deirdre of the sorrows, Fionn and the Fianna (band of warriors) – I even remember learning about all the tests a young warrior had to do before he could join the Fianna; we had to draw a picture for each task and I think there were 12? I remember one of them was run through the forest while picking a torn out of your foot (and another task was to run through the forest without breaking a single twig!).

We learned a lot of Irish stories; we even did plays ‘as Gaeilge’ (in Irish). Children of Lir was a popular one (I played Fiachra? I think! In the act where the children are turned into swans… I play a child being turned into a swan very well, as it turns out! HA!).

The story of the causeway was a little fuzzy for me. The giant’s name was all I really remembered: Fionn Mac Cumhaill.

When we got to the causeway visitors centre, the story started to come back to me as I watched the CGI Fionn (known as ‘Finn Mac Cool’ in Northern Ireland, but ‘Fionn Mac Cumhaill’ in Irish) on the explanatory video they played.

This story, and the one that I remembered, was where Fionn was mocked by a Scottish giant who he could see beyond the sea in Scotland (jumping up and down and making gestures – the Scottish giant wanted a fight).

Fionn was enraged and threw stones into the sea to build a bridge to get to Scotland (one of the sods of earth became the Isle of Man – that’s a side-story!). He built the causeway, and traveled all the way to Scotland to confront this would-be foe.

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Fionn crept along the final steps of the causeway. He started to haul himself up the Scottish cliffs then paused. The Scottish giant, Cuhullin, was far bigger than Fionn. So, like any sensible person (and giant!), Fionn fecked off back home and shut the door. As his wife stared at him, with a ‘what have you gone and done?’ look on her face, the ground beneath them started to tremble! BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Cuhullin was racing across the causeway to fight Fionn!

causeway

Fionn’s wife, proving the clever one, told Fionn to get into their baby’s cot. She dressed him up as their baby and pulled the curtains to hide him from view.

Cuhullin banged on the door and she let him in. Fionn’s wife told Cuhullin that her husband was out. The giant pulled back the curtains and saw Fionn ‘the baby’ in his cot. What a massive baby, he thought, shaking in his boots – how big would his father be?! Fearing for his safety, Cuhullin raced back to Scotland.

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I remembered the name Fionn Mac Cumhaill as also being ‘Fionn and the Fianna’, the story of an Irish warrior and the fearsome Fianna warriors. As it turns out this Fionn and the giant share the name, but the two have very different stories.

If you have ever heard the story of Tir na nÓg (the land of the young) and the young Oisín who journeyed there on a white horse with a girl called Niamh; well, Fionn Mac Cumhaill (of Fionn and the Fianna fame) was Oisín’s father.

The causeway was beautiful, despite the typical Irish bad weather (winds that would whistle right through your bones and icy cold rain!). The rocks were a little dangerous, because of the wet and the wind, but never one to care I scrambled across them and out as far as I could go – by law! The rocks of the causeway are made of basalt, which is solidified lava. It was caused, in reality, by a volcanic eruption.

Apparently at one point in its life (around 1901), it was rumoured that the causeway was going to be moved to a Philadelphia park (stone by stone and rebuilt there). Thankfully it wasn’t, but lots of the stones were taken away and can be found all over the world.

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This box shows some of the places where you can find some of the Giants causeway! It’s very unlucky to remove stones and you are definitely not allowed anymore (my Mam kept saying; ‘wouldn’t you love some of those stones for your garden?’).

Back at the visitors centre we saw a collection of postcards from years ago, from people who visited the causeway (some would have been from the early 1900s). Very interesting to read voices from the past 🙂

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We also saw some lovely jewellery made from buttons by a woman called Jane Walsh (Button Studio) in Athlone Ireland. I couldn’t leave without one!

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The things you can do with buttons!
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Button rings!
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My button necklace

Also lots of Irish fudge and chocolate, yummers!

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Chocolate and fudge! Yummy! (That bench read; ‘can you fit in a giant teaspoon?’ and had a teaspoon drawn on it 🙂 )

We had another site to see while on the Antrim coast, the Carrack-a-Rede rope bridge. It’s a short rope bridge that leads over to an island where fishermen used to cast salmon nets (back in the old days they would cross the, then, one-rope bridge to collect their catch and haul it back over the nauseating cliff gap).

Not my picture, but this is clearer I think

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A view from a parallel cliff of the bridge. That island/rock is what you are crossing the bridge to get to.

I really, really wanted to cross the bridge (even though I was afraid). But the winds were far too dangerous and the bridge was closed for the day. The sharp, icy winds would have swept you right off the bridge, so no good, we weren’t getting across. It was annoying, but being that close to the cliff, I felt pretty scared anyway. I kept saying I would have done it anyway, and I would have, but it looked really scary.

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Uh-oh… the long way down! Eek
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Be brave Latimer… you will return to cross one day!!

There were steel steps leading downward to the bridge itself at a very steep angle. If I have a fear of something, it is the sea. I really don’t like it. But heights aren’t great either, and it was high up over the waves crashing violently against the cliffs, so… I’ll put it back on the list for a later date!

We saw a lot of stunning views of the rugged coastline and also stopped by a small ‘village’ (I’m not sure it was a village exactly, maybe a small collection of private houses right on the coast more like?).

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(I notice these pictures look like the place was warm… hmm, it was freezing and the wind would cut right through you!)

This was home to what is called (apparently) the smallest church in the world! It was basically in someone’s garden.

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Smallest church in the world

They had a gorgeous view of the sea and the loveliest little place to sit and watch the wave’s crash along the pebble-dash shore. It was very beautiful.

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This was a great trip – the causeway, the bridge and the Antrim coast should definitely be on the list of places you have to visit if you ever come to Ireland 🙂

The trip really made me think of all the old stories I learned in the past and I had this nice re-connect with my Irish-ness – all in perfect time for Lá Fhéile Pádraig (Paddy’s Day) this week 🙂

(also if you are interested in winning that kindle fire – the competition is still going on!)

The 47 ronin

In the damp wet of Ireland’s ‘rainy season’ (a.k.a. summer), Latimer thinks back on ancient Japan. She exchanges her wetsuit for some samurai swag and sets off on a journey through Japan’s shogun past…

Latimer: Modern Japan is fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. It’s fun; it looks crazy, but it does leave me thinking, ‘that’s intense… sort of unreal’.

The Japanese past is sometimes hard to find in Tokyo.

But find it you must, because it’s full of fantastic stories waiting to be told!

We were on a pilgrimage of sorts that day. We wanted to find the temple of the 47 ronin- otherwise known as Sengakuji!

My Dad was the one that told me the story of the 47 ronin (master-less samurai). I’m not sure how or why he came to know the story; but he told it to me in his ‘every single detail’ manner…

The story begins in the age of the shogunate… I will attempt to set the scene… actually I may have to leave it to your imagination because my historical knowledge is firmly European. I could tell you to imagine a castle, a wild windswept hill; rough spun tunics and broad swords… but I won’t because I’d be wrong, your picture would be wrong and we’d all be looking at Braveheart and that’s not right! We are going to the orient after all….

The shogunate age was the golden age of the samurai and their masters. The samurai were a noble class and they followed a strict code called bushido. This was all about honour. Honour and respect; that was key to the samurai- you could lose your honour very easily back then it seemed. We use the term perhaps a little dismissively today- but back then, to them, it meant something…

Asano Takuminokami was the Feudal lord of Ako. He was asked by the shogunate to entertain vistors to Edo (the old name for Tokyo). Asano asked his loyal advisor Kira Kozukenosuke for directions on how best to do this. Apparently Kira didn’t like Asano and ‘with malice’ disgraced his honour as a samurai (bad mouthed him basically. This was a major no-no in bushido!). Asano decided to put Kira in his place for insulting him. He drew his katana (sword) and managed to cut Kira on the forehead- but not kill him (ah fiddlesticks!).

It was strictly forbidden to draw your sword in Edo castle. There was also a law that stated ‘equal punishment for quarrels’ so both men were expected to be punished. Now the story gets foggy here, but for some reason Kira got off the hook and only Asano was punished. He was forced to commit seppuku (samurai suicide, not to be too graphic but it involved a knife to the stomach and then your stomach on the floor- grim). Anyway, Asano was forced to commit seppuku in the garden of another lord’s house. This was bad, because seppuku outside was for felons not a lord like Asano. And as if that wasn’t bad enough- his family were stripped of their titles and forced off of their estate!

Asano died and Kira got away scot free! Oh… that’s the perfect start to a story of revenge if ever I head one! The loyal samurai of Asano, the Ako Gishi (47 of them), pleaded against this indignity and demanded the reinstatement of the Asano house.

They were denied. And so began two years of plotting…

They set their plan of revenge in motion on December 14th 1702. They attacked and killed Kira at his residence. Apparently they pleaded with Kira, treating him with respect, to die as a true samurai should (commit seppuku and die with honour). The leader of the 47 samurai, Oishi…

… offered Kira Asano’s dagger (the one he had used to killed himself). Kira trembled before them, but would not kill himself. So, they did it for him (dishonourable) then cut off his head, taking it to Asano’s grave in Sengakuji.

One of the 47, named Terasaka Kichiemon, was ordered to go to Ako to report that revenge had been taken.

Strangely now, the 46 remaining ronin didn’t run. To run would be dishonourable. They turned themselves in to the shogunate straightaway.

They were sentenced to seppuku the following February 4th and buried in Sengakuji with Asano. In a strange twist, Terasaka Kichiemon was pardoned by the shogunate when he returned from Ako. Some reported it was due to his young age. Terasaka Kichiemon lived to be an old man; he died in his 80s and was buried next to his comrades.

And after hundreds of years, myself and Ridley found ourselves at the 47 ronin’s graves in Sengakuji.

It was one of the quietest places we had been in Tokyo. Tucked away from the bustling modern world (though that world did overlook the small temple).

When we got there, it felt like we’d finally found ancient Edo, beyond the lights and noise of Tokyo, behind the modern facade.

The story of the 47 ronin is one of the most popular stories in Japan, because it reminds them of loyalty (Chu) and justice (Gi).

There were no tourists there. The place was serene. It had history. It had a story. I’m in two minds about the samurai notion of honour. It’s an extreme version that I don’t understand to be honest. Then there’s the loyalty part, which is somehow easier to connect with. These men sacrificed their lives to avenge their master. There is something very powerful about that level of conviction.

It was amazing to finally see the place; amazing how such an old story, from so far away, could have found its way through time and tide to us. We were very touched and awed! (Thanks to my Dad for telling us about it!)