Trip to Northern Ireland cannot be forgotten


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By Kim Fleming, Round Table opinion editor

By Kim Fleming

Round Table editor

Rolling green hills. Jagged, rocky cliffs. Cool, clear, blue water. Narrow, one-lane roads surrounded on both sides by hedges. Astounding mountains reaching up toward the sky. These are all attributes of Northern Ireland that could not be left unnoticed.

This past summer, I was lucky enough to travel to the wonderful country of Northern Ireland, in addition to six other European countries, competing in Mounted Games, a horseback riding competition, alongside some of my best friends. Other than riding in various international competitions, which was an incredible experience in itself, I was able to tour the hills and cliffs of the country and it was by far one of the most amazing things I have ever done.

Northern Ireland is quite a small country just northeast of Ireland, with a population of about 1,864,000 people. It was created in 1921 due to a conflict between the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland over whether or not Ireland show remain a part of the United Kingdom. It was for this reason that the Protestants moved to the northern part of the country and declared themselves separate from Ireland.

The country’s capital city of Belfast is home to, among many other things, the Belfast Titanic Museum, which is located at the shipyard where the ill-fated ship was built. The museum does a fabulous job of explaining how the boat was constructed and even includes a ride that takes you through a personal account of one of the ship workers. There is also an exhibit where you can see what the Titanic looks like now on the ocean floor. I highly recommend this hands-on museum; for only a small admission price, you can experience the Titanic for yourself.

Northern Irish weather can either be a blessing or a curse. There is always a chance of rain, no matter what the forecast is for the day. The summer is much cooler than in the States, with highs typically in the 60s. I remember living in a sweatshirt and jeans, occasionally throwing on a jacket when the wind was blowing. There was never a sunny, blue-skied day but, rather, endless gray clouds. However, with such beautiful scenery, the gloomy weather is hardly noticeable.

It was in a small village in Northern Ireland named Ballyroney where the training camp for Team USA, of which I was selected by the team’s coach to be on, was being held for preparation for the World Team Championships in Southern Ireland the following week. Every morning, our team of six would wake up early to feed the horses and practice with the coach, rain or shine (although it was raining the majority of the time.) We would then go out sightseeing during the day and come home to have dinner with our coach’s family.

This small area of the world is home to amazing mountains, cliffs, rock formations, beaches and so much more. Everywhere you go there is always something to see. Whether you were driving through the Mourne mountains and marveling at the oddly-shaped yet gorgeous hills or simply driving down the motorway, the surroundings were astounding. I visited just two of the amazing parks Northern Ireland has to offer, Carrick-A-Rede and Giant’s Causeway. These landmarks alone blew me away.

Carrick-A-Rede is right on the Irish Sea and contains beautiful cliffs that rise high above the water. A short hike from the visitors center leads you to a rope bridge almost 100 feet above the water and rocks below, deemed one of the scariest bridges in the world. After crossing the bridge, you come to an island that looks over to another in the distance and the opposite side of the cliffs can be seen. The surroundings are simply stunning.

Placed near the parking lot at this park is a plaque, which depicts a scene from “Game Of Thrones” that was filmed there. Having so many friends that avidly watch the show, I felt it was only appropriate to snap a picture of the plaque. It was interesting to see how the parking lot was transformed into a small village for the show, not to mention being able to simply say I’ve been there.

Giant’s Causeway, just a 30-minute drive from Carrick-A-Rede, is another mind-blowing national park in Northern Ireland that contains oddly shaped rocks formed by volcanoes years ago. The rocks that cover the shore of the Irish Sea are all hexagon-shaped and roughly the same size. They are quite an odd sight to see; it was difficult to comprehend that they were naturally formed. Visitors are allowed to climb the rocks as they please but are warned because they tend to be quite slippery. Paramedics are on standby at all time. Luckily, no one was injured while I was visiting.

There’s a local myth that accompanies these rocks to explain how they were formed and how the location got its name. Legend has it that a giant named Finn McCool used to inhabit the causeway and began to fight with a Scottish giant from across the water, who was threatening Ireland. Finn began grabbing pieces of the rocky coast and throwing them into the sea, creating a path that he could follow all the way to Scotland. However, he was scared back into Ireland by the mere size of his Scottish adversary and was saved by his heroic wife. Most locals believe this myth as an explanation as to how the unusual rocks came to be.

In addition to these well-known landmarks, Northern Ireland is home to gorgeous beaches, some of which people wouldn’t even know about if they weren’t paying attention.

Tyrella Beach is a great example of this. This beach, though difficult to find entry to, is a treasure. It follows the coast of the Irish Sea and in the distance a large mountain stands tall, almost like a scene from a movie. Few rocks protrude out of the surf and jellyfish often wash up on the shore after storms. I galloped down this stretch of sand on a horse, feeling the water splash up on my legs as I went deeper and deeper into the water. It is something I will never forget, as I have always dreamed of galloping across a beach, let alone in a foreign country.

Pubs are something else for which Ireland and Northern Ireland are well-known. You can’t go to one of these countries without eating in a pub. The first one I had ever eaten in was named Turley’s Restaurant and Pub. The food was delicious and the building itself was so small and quaint. I also ate in a pub named Patton’s Bar, which was much similar to the other except for a few different food choices.

The food in Northern Ireland as a whole is relatively similar to the U.S. Certain foods have different names; for example, mashed potatoes are known as “champ.” Restaurants serve every meal with some sort of potato side dish, being anything from fries to potato ragout.

After spending a week in this fabulous country, I traveled with my team to Millstreet, Ireland, which is relatively close to Cork. The scenery here was equally as beautiful as it was in Northern Ireland, even though it rained every day.

It was here at the world competition where I made so many friends from all over the world. Our team rode decently in the competition, being the only team on borrowed horses in the A Final. We had fought with the team from New Zealand for this spot, which we had won with pride on the last race before the final. I had never been prouder to be an American representing my country at such a prestigious event.

Overall, my experiences in these countries were some that I will never forget, experiences that I feel everyone should be fortunate enough to have. From a summer full of traveling, one of the most important things I learned was that if you have the opportunity to go somewhere, definitely go, despite your doubts. You’ll have the time of your life and make friends and memories you’ll never forget.