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Finn McCool, Bonfires and Ships: Kyra's Third Week in Belfast

Kyra Cooper from Truman State University continues her blog with her third week studying at the International Summer School on Conflict Transformation and Social Justice...

Kyra Cooper Summer School 2018 Blog Giants Causeway

Hello! Back like a bad penny for the blog about week 3.

Giant’s Causeway/Dunluce Castle
At the start of this week, Queen’s took us on a field trip to the coast of Northern Ireland to see Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway.
Dunluce Castle is clearly positioned to be a very safe castle. There is like no way to get to it except for the one way you are supposed to take to get in there. Whoever positioned this was really using the landscape to their advantage. From what I remember from the information on the walls, one family lived in the castle, and hired this other family to be their mercenaries, and then the family with the mercenaries was like “huh, logically, we could probably take over this family that we work for, because we have all of the weapons and soldiers” and then they did take over that family and lived in the castle. Then I think England got involved and I forget what happened after that. Still, it was really cool.

Then we drove along the coast to the Giant’s Causeway, which is a bunch of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns that likely came from cooling lava. Or legend says they could’ve come from the actions of a giant named “Finn MacCool” who built it as a bridge to fight a Scottish giant, because he didn’t want to get his feet wet (there’s matching basalt columns in Scotland, thus why it’s a bridge to Scotland). But when he reached the Scottish giant, he realized the Scottish giant was way bigger than him, and he raced back to Ireland with the Scottish giant close behind. But Finn MacCool’s wife disguised Finn as a baby, and when the Scottish giant saw him up close, he was like “Well, dang, if the baby is this big, then the father must be huge” and ran back to Scotland, destroying the Causeway behind him. And now ya know.

The 12th of July
The night of the 11th and into the early morning hours of the 12th, we went (not officially with the school) to watch the bonfires. These are tons of shipping pallets that have been stacked, sometimes around tires, sometimes not, incredibly high. During the lead-up to the bonfire, the flag for Northern Ireland was displayed. However, on this night where they were actually going to burn it, the Northern Ireland flag is switched out for the Irish tricolor, EU flag, the Palestinian flag, ISIS flag, and also a flag for some Celtic football team (someone explained to me what the team thing was like 3 times, and I did not understand any of the 3 times, so just know it had something to do with sports).

Then they lit the bonfire. It’s massive, very hot, and a little terrifying.

Kyra Cooper blog Summer School 2018 Bonfire

We were out very late watching the bonfire, and then up early to watch the parades. I was excited for the parades before. I love parades. I love marching and bands and uniforms and candy (although spoiler: there was no candy). There were about 59 bands of drums and B flat flutes, and 1 band of drums and B flat flutes AND accordions. The parade took a few hours, but I thought it was fascinating – all of the Loyal Orange Lodges from around come to participate in this parade. They march a six mile route down and then march six miles back with these gorgeous banners. It was really awesome to get to witness this with my class.

Titanic Museum
The Titanic Museum had a lot of really interesting information about the construction of the Titanic. This is my interpretation of an abridged message of the Titanic Museum: “Look, we know this ship was built in Belfast. We know that this “unsinkable” ship is well-known for sinking. We understand that, huh, you might think of blaming us for this. But here’s the thing, folks: TITANIC WAS FINE WHEN IT LEFT. We did all this stuff to ensure the ship would be fine. It was meticulous, meticulous planning. We did a great job. But when someone SLAMS IT INTO AN ICEBERG AT 1000000 MILES PER HOUR, there’s just nothing we could do about that.”
It’s a nice museum, to be sure. Very hip. 

We also toured the HMS Caroline, a ship that was involved in the Battle of Jutland in WWI (the only ship left from this battle).

Kyra Cooper HMS Caroline Summer School 2018

Bangor & Ballycastle
On the weekend, one day I went to Bangor, which is just a 45 minute train ride from Belfast, to visit the beach and read my book. It’s a really quaint town, with excellent ice cream and coffee shops. 

The other city I visited Ballycastle. When we went up to the Giant’s Causeway, we drove back on the coastal route. When we passed through Ballycastle, I thought to myself, “I’m going to make it back here.” Ballycastle is part of an “area of outstanding natural beauty,” and I loved just walking up and down the beach to look at the cliffs. It may or may not have been raining on this beach day, but I had been waiting so long for the rain I can’t even complain that it made the beach a little less beach-y and little more just like swimming.

Kyra Cooper Kinbane 2018 Summer School blog


I also stopped at Kinbane Castle, which is absolutely a nice little castle. It has absolutely gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape. I climbed up this precarious (and fairly dangerous) path for a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. I kind of thought to myself that this is part of why I wanted to come to Northern Ireland – to see these just absolutely beautiful areas. But, it was also very high up there and I was nervous of A. Falling into the water, B. Dropping my backpack into the water, C. Dropping my phone into the water, or D. All of the above. So I hurried it on up and climbed down, flagged down a bus, and made my way back to Elm’s Village.

That’s all I have for this week! See you next time!

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