I have known the Giant’s Causeway since I was a wee boy. We visited every summer during the school holidays and, like many, I was entranced by the stories of the warring Irish and Scottish Giants who created and destroyed it respectively.
My memory may be misleading but I seem to remember we would finish our trip with an ice cream down by the harbour at nearby Ballintoy or maybe a trip to the beach at White Park Bay – miles of sand with the occasional herd of cows for company.
When I was older we would attempt the crossing of Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, though I was never keen on such a precarious place.
In fact the whole of the “Causeway Coast” was the focus of many family holidays for us and I absolutely loved it.
Roll on some forty plus years and I found myself back there last week. Of course, there has been change. The Giant’s Causeway is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws thousands of visitors from all over the world. Some squeeze in a visit on day trips from Dublin – far too rushed to be anything I would ever advise! There are audio guides, a shuttle bus for the less able, toilets, park and ride etc. The focal point is the very impressive National Trust visitor centre, opened five years ago now, complete with shop, cafe and interpretation centre. The latter pleasingly gives equal emphasis to the two alternative stories of the creation of the Causeway: the geological version describing volcanoes and lava versus the mythological yet colourful tales of mighty beings. The centre is a clever design, single storey with a grass roof and pretty much hidden from the coastline itself – apparently aided by a complete lack of ninety-degree angles to draw the eye.
I admit I was worried that all this change would take away the magic of the place, the magic which captivated a small boy all those years ago. Instead I felt rather proud of my home country: people of all different nationalities were now discovering the magic for themselves. We continued our walk beyond the stones, away from many of the visitors, and onto the clifftops. From here I couldn’t help thinking that nature – or the Giants’ handiwork – hadn’t changed that much after all.
By Robert Kidd