First things first. Whenever I refer to Ireland in this post, it's always Northern Ireland. I carried a UK visa - it allows you to visit Northern Ireland but to visit the rest of Ireland, i.e. the Republic of Ireland you need an extra visa. Even if you carry a valid resident's permit, that wouldn't suffice. We had a lot of drama at the airport with regards to this - we'll keep that story for some other day. Although we stayed in Ireland for 4 days, I'll restrict this post on our one-day tour to Carnlough, Cushendun, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, The Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle, etc. Some of these locations were used extensively for the filming of the famous TV series Game of Thrones.
It came as a genuine surprise for me when I came to know how deeply influenced was the Game of Thrones series by Irish history and mythology (some say even Welsh mythology too). In one of his recent interviews, the creator of "A song of ice and fire" George R.R Martin admitted that there is a considerable influence of Irish mythology on Game of Thrones and the fictional continent of Westeros is in fact based on an inverted map of Britain and Ireland.
Our guide for the day was a thorough Irishman, but English only in name (His second name was English, I forgot his first). He turned out to be a consummate professional, at the end of the day all I was left with was a genuine admiration for the man for his humor, wit, knowledge, candidness, and most importantly how he respected and kept time. He gently warned (kept warning throughout) all the tourists to be mindful of time quoting famous song of the popular band U2 (an Irish band) "with or without you", meaning the coach would leave on the designated time no matter what. I've mostly tried to capture all the things he narrated (of course I cross-verified them, most of them true and some were myths)
St. Patrick is considered to be the patron saint of Ireland (on an unrelated note it is St. David for Wales). He is credited to have converted Ireland from paganism to Christianity. There were invasions in the first Millenium both from the Vikings and Anglo-Normans (from our conversations later in Wales, Norman invasion seemed like a big deal). Celtic imagery in the form of Celtic crosses among others is strong not only in Ireland but also in Scotland.
Some striking resemblances from Irish mythology/History and GoT
Children of the forest: Children of the forest were the original residents of Westeros, and they worshipped forest, naturalistic spirits - in short, a primitive form of animism - this has very strong parallels with Celtic mythology. Celts were perhaps the first group to inhibit Britain and were animists are they did worship trees, also believed the world around them as part of the divine.
Red Wedding: GoT fans would definitely remember the episode of "Red Wedding" in which a lot of important characters like Robb and Catelyn Starks etc. are killed in a stealthy manner over dinner. Even during the dark ages, it was a well-known rule that a host and guest were not allowed to harm each other even if they were enemies. This rule was flouted and has two precedents in history: Black dinner and the Massacre of Glencoe.
A few other interesting tidbits:
We saw a lot of sheep grazing the meadows and were colored differently. Our guide jokingly said they were colored whether they belonged to unionists or nationalists. Or, maybe he was serious, I couldn't say.
He also narrated the story of Sean O' Neil and how he won one of the contests (by severing his arm and throwing towards the finishing line). Since I don't remember the details and also couldn't find any back-up material, I've not expanded the story here.
Also, our guide narrated the story of "Diarmuid and Gráinne" famous in Irish Folklore.
Some Famous Clans
He made too many references to the clan McDonald who originally came from Scotland and was a violent tribe and acquired their wealth and power primarily through violent means. They were perhaps the largest clans from Scotland.
|The current state of Dunluce Castle|
One more powerful clan back in the day was the Clan McDonnell — One of their remaining vestiges today is the Dunluce castle. We saw it from a close distance — It's in a very dilapidated state (It is used to depict the Seat of House Greyjoys in GoT).
The rivalry between Anglican and Catholic Church
Spanish armada was an attempt to invade England by Spanish King Phillip II in the later part of the 16th Century. It consisted of over 100 ships and were met with solid defense from the English. The armada was eventually defeated. They attempted to return home through the Atlantic, but due to violent storms, they were forced toward the west coast of Ireland. There were multiple wreckages in the event and many people perished but there were about 9 survived. Learning of the events, Queen Elizabeth I ordered to kill them all. Needless to say, all of them were Catholics.One more strong example for the case is Henry VIII and his daughter Mary I, also known by the sobriquet "Bloody Mary".
Ireland is a beautiful country full of spectacular sights, a pleasant climate with a dash of rugged Atlantic beaches enshrouded with mystery. This combination surely beckons the romanticists and adventurists alike.