My second of 10 sojourns to Ireland was a summer-long storytelling tour of the island that was certainly one of the highlights of my life. I kept copious journals recording my remarkable experiences. When I read them in 1996, I realized there was a book in it. So I wrote one. Took about a year and a half, but it was time well spent. I am a much better writer as a result, and let’s face it: anyone can begin writing a book. It’s an achievement to FINISH writing a book. I never attempted to publish, as travel writing is like milk: it has an expiration date. The Ireland I describe in this book no longer exists. Little more than a decade later, it is almost an historical document. But it’s good. I like it. It’s fun to read. That is enough. It would be even better if people would read it. Books like having readers. It makes them happy.
JUNE 23rd, 1994:
. Come morning, I undertook a daytrip to Cerrikfergus. Unfortunately, Donna was not available to escort me to her hometown on this particular day- but since it was really my last opportunity to go, I decided to set off without her- taking the bus that ran up the northeast side of Lough Belfast to the quiet little seaside enclave. As usual, the bus driver tortured us with a non-stop assault of drippy music and irritating commercials, played at an inappropriately LOUD VOLUME. Thankfully, it was a short jaunt or I would surely have been driven raving mad.
. Cerrikfergus was markedly sleepy for such a large settlement. Again, I couldn’t help but wonder: ‘Where is everybody?’. Considering the town’s close proximity to the metropolis of Belfast, I expected it to be far more spirited and lively than I found it. Strolling the near-deserted streets, I discovered a thin, cobblestone arcade that seemed to transport one centuries back in time, to a sweet, melancholy effect. Stopping to browse in the town’s only CD store, I found the selection small, the prices astronomical. When I asked the detached youth behind the cash register where everyone was, he just cocked his head and gave me a listless shrug, mumbling: “Not here.”.
. My main destination was Carrickfergus Castle, one of the finest examples of an ancient Norman fortification still intact. The ancient landmark had been completely refurbished, and furnished to offer a window into everyday life, back in the castle’s glory-days. Costumed mannequins are found scattered about the grounds, posed as though frozen in daily tasks. Workers work, guards guard, nobility luxuriate. The lord of the castle can even be found, doublet around his ankles, making a throne of the cold, stone toilet. There are interesting displays everywhere, and a worthwhile audio-visual show. One room held the answer to the mystery of how the original inhabitants managed to live in the totally self-contained castle, while enemy armies below unsuccessfully tried to starve them out. There, on the peak of the bluff, surrounded on three sides by ocean, was a long, narrow artesian well, bored deep into the cliff! With this inexhaustible supply of fresh water, they could raise livestock and grow all the food they needed on a tiny patch of arable land inside the fortress walls. Armies attempting to blockade, would eventually run out of provisions and give up, or have to retreat with the coming of winter. It was fascinating to imagine how the inhabitants lived under the constant threat of attack, densely packed into a cold, damp environment for months on end, or longer! (We have it so easy now!)
. Having noticed an intriguing tourist attraction near the castle, I back-tracked to check it out. ‘Knight-Ride’ purported to bring riders on a magical tour backward in Time through Celtic history. The entertainment complex housing the aerial tram ride was completely barren. As the only tourist in the building, I seemed like more of a bother to the bored staff than anything else. I felt a little silly, boarding one of the giant helmets that dangle from a meandering monorail, and strapping myself into one of the two seats embedded into the oversized knight’s headgear. The ride lurched to a start and I burst out of the loading bay, to find myself suspended high above the atrium below, where all the people would be, if there were any. After wiggling about a bit, the giant helmet entered a corridor through Time. A slick soundtrack plays in each helmet. We eavesdrop as an Irish grandfather tells his young grandson about their mutual roots. Some of the visuals and effects were cursory and uninspired, but the attraction was peppered with occasional flashes of inspiration as well. The best part recreated a famous ‘haunted manor’, widely believed in a more primitive time, to be seething with restless spirits. Reckless charges were lodged against the occupants, and as a result, several souls were hanged for witchcraft. Good story! I was smiling at the skeptical attendant, as I stepped out of the giant helmet.
. With a half an hour to while-away before my bus returned to Belfast, I took advantage of the low-tide to walk around the base of the castle’s imposing battlements. Picking my way across the rock and seaweed strewn seashore and gazing up at the formidable stone walls, I imagined how crazy it would have been for an army to try to take the indomitable stronghold by force! (It seemed an impossible challenge!)
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