Callanish Stones

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

After I visit places such as Callanish I am always bewildered, as I am sure that I can’t satisfactorily answer any of the obvious questions – why was it built, how was it built, who built it, what was the reason for building it here rather than on any other hillock in the area? Even the question as to when the site was constructed is open to discussion.

Callanish comprises several different elements – a stone circle containing a central monolith and a chambered tomb, three rows of stones intersecting with the circle, and an avenue of stones heading roughly northwards away from the circle. All the stones are Lewisian gneiss and were quarried locally.

The stone circle consists of thirteen stones, with an average height of 3 metres. The circle is not quite perfect as the east side is slightly squashed. The circle covers an area of 124 square metres with a diameter of 11.4 metres. The circle was built between 2,900 BC and 2,600 BC making it slightly older than Stonehenge.

The 6.4-metre-long chambered tomb, in the central part of the circle, was almost certainly added after the circle was set up and was used for many centuries, as not only local pottery was found, but also Beaker vessels dating from 2000BC.

The central monolith stands 0.8 metres west of the true centre of the stone circle. The monolith is 4.8 metres high and 1.5 metres wide. This stone is on an almost perfect north to south axis, making me wonder how people 5,000 years ago could align a 7-tonne stone so accurately.

Beaghmore Stone Circles

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

Taking the A505 westwards from Cookstown in County Tyrone, I found my right-hand turning to the Beaghmore Stone Circles after about 15 minutes. Having just visited the Giant’s Causeway, I was expecting to be one of many visitors to these Bronze Age relics. The drive through the countryside afforded wonderful views of the Sperrin Mountains, though I had to be careful as the road was narrow in places. After about four miles, I saw the sign pointing into a field. There were two other cars. The sun was out and the wind was blowing from the south-east. According to the information board, this area had Northern Ireland’s darkest sky, meaning there was little light pollution here, even in this modern age of 24-hour street lighting, car headlights, and planes flying overhead.

In a way, the fact about the darkest sky might have applied whenever the Beaghmore Stone Circles were created. For anyone expecting a Stonehenge-size spectacle, please read your guidebooks before you travel. Beaghmore has hundreds of stones, arranged in 7 circles, 10 rows, and a dozen cairns, but none of them are more than three feet in height.

The stone circles are in pairs, apart from one, which is filled with over 800 small, upright stones. This individual circle is known as the Dragon’s Teeth and is thought to represent a comet. The alignments of the circles correlate to movements of the heavenly bodies and three of the rows point to sunrise at the summer solstice.

Dunluce Castle

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

Dunluce Castle dates from around 1500 when it was established by the MacQuillans on a rocky outcrop, jutting out into the stormy, grey North Atlantic Ocean. Around 50 years later, the MacQuillans were ousted by the MacDonnells, a family descended from the Scottish Clan MacDonald. The MacQuillans quickly became the dominant family of the area and who were in conflict with the surrounding families on a constant basis.

Their conflicts soon came to the attention of the English Crown, who were concerned about their growing power in the area. In 1584, Queen Elizabeth I sent Sir John Perrot, Lord Deputy of Ireland, to deal with the MacQuillans. Sir John successfully besieged the castle, but Elizabeth handed the castle back to “Sorley Boy” MacQuillan two years later, when he swore an oath of allegiance to her. “Sorley Boy”, meaning ‘Yellow Charles’ in Irish, repaired the castle with money obtained from selling some of the artefacts obtained from the wreck of the Girona. He also installed three cannons from the ship at the castle.

Titanic Belfast

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides.

Titanic Belfast stands 126 feet high, the same height as Titanic’s hull. The interior of the eight-storey building provides 130,000 square feet of space. Its centrepiece is a series of interpretive galleries exploring aspects of the building, design, sinking and legacy of Titanic. On the top floor of the museum is Belfast’s largest conference and reception space, the Titanic Suite, a banqueting facility capable of seating 750 people. A reproduction of the original staircase on the Titanic, made famous by the James Cameron film Titanic in 1997, is located in this conference centre. The construction of the building cost £77 million with an additional £24 million spent on pre-planning and public realm enhancements.

Once inside, the visitors all go the same way, through the various galleries that first provide the background of Belfast the city at the time Titanic was constructed, followed by the various phases of the Titanic’s life, starting with the construction of the vessel, the launch, the fit-out, the maiden voyage, the sinking, and then the aftermath.

The first gallery recreates scenes from Belfast at the time of Titanic’s construction in 1909–11. It illustrates the city’s major industries, including amazing statistics about linen. In 1825, James Kay of Preston in Lancashire invented a method of “wet spinning” which passed the flax through warm water and enabled a much finer yarn to be spun. By the late 1820s several “wet” spinning mills using water-power had been built in Ulster. By 1850 there were 62 mills in the region, employing 19,000 workers and by 1871 there were 78 mills with a workforce of 43,000. People flocked into Belfast to work in the new spinning mills. Belfast more than quadrupled in size between 1841 and 1901. It’s easy to see why Belfast was known as ‘Linenopolis’ during this time.

The Giant’s Causeway

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

In 1693 the wider world first became aware of The Giant’s Causeway when Sir Richard Bulkeley, a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, presented a paper on this unique geographical feature to The Royal Society. Even then, it was four years before an artist was sent to the area to provide evidence of this ‘curiosity’ on the north-east tip of Ireland.

It may seem remarkable to visitors such as myself that there were people in the late 1690s who put forward an argument that The Causeway had been created either by men with chisels and picks or by the efforts of a long-dead giant. When I looked at the Giant’s Causeway I had seen many pictures of it before, so it was completely new yet somewhat familiar, but in the 17th Century nothing like it had been seen before. Therefore, the visitor’s imagination could run wild.

In 1740 another artist, Miss Susanna Drury, popularised the Giant’s Causeway for the first time. Her views of the area are landmarks both in Irish topographical painting and in European scientific illustration. The groups of fashionably-dressed figures in Susanna Drury’s paintings show that, even in 1740, the Giant’s Causeway had become a tourist attraction. Soon it became part of The Grand Tour amongst the social elites of the time and its popularity began to increase, a trend that has continued to this day. Even though there were many visitors to the Giant’s Causeway in the period 1740 – 1770, no one could conclusively prove how the feature was created. Then in 1771, a Frenchman by the name of Demarest, announced the origin of the causeway was because of volcanic action.

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