Myth and legend are synonymous with the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. They are intertwined in conversation by thick-accented Irish guides like a rich tapestry. One such guide, Mark Rodgers of Dalriada Kingdom Tours, proudly calls himself one of the few local remaining seanchaí (a traditional Gaelic storyteller) who relays stories along this short, but dramatic piece of coastline.
Steps of hexagonal basalt columns spectacularly cascade into the sea and have more recently featured in television dramas like Game of Thrones.
“Rather than bore people with history and facts and figures, I just run around the country telling stories.”
It’s that same cheeky irreverence to history that got him fired from his first guiding job in the area for not sticking to the script. But what Rodgers had inadvertently done through this natural storytelling charisma was tap into the very essence of why seanchaí are so revered, and why visitors keep coming to this tiny corner of Ireland.
Guide Mark Rodgers (foreground) never tires of taking guests on tours to this spectacular region.
Guests are treated to an exclusive experience inside a 200-year-old fishing hut in Carrick-a-Rede.
The striking landscape was caused by volcanic activity some 50 to 60 million years ago.
A family tale
The story of the Giant’s Causeway is that a giant named Finn McCool fought another giant called Benandonner who was threatening Ireland, tearing up great chunks of the Antrim coastline and throwing them into the sea, thus forming this part of the Causeway. But Rodgers says travelers want to hear more than just myth. They want to feel something. Rodgers learned this from his late father-in-law William John Purdy (also a seanchaí), who bestowed on him decades of guiding knowledge and local stories from in and around the Causeway communities.
PLAN TO VISIT?
The Giant’s Causeway has been a visitor attraction for at least 300 years and has come to be regarded as a symbol for Northern Ireland
“Our connection to the Causeway dates back to 1588. We are descendants of the sailors who survived the Spanish Armada shipwreck (Lá Girona) so we are known locally as the folk from the Spanish ship.”
Rogers is a custodian of the stories from the generations of Causeway families who have been guiding here since the 18th century, and he sees himself as a torchbearer to keep those stories alive and share them with visitors.
A modern take
Near the town of Ballintoy, a short drive from the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. The vast rope bridge was built by local salmon fishermen in 1755 to access the sea on the other side of the island.
Mark Rodgers guides guests across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge on one of his bespoke tours
“The whole idea was to go beyond the bridge. I wanted to take this tour to another level. To do something no one else was doing.”
Rogers, in recent years, created his own tour, going ‘Beyond the Bridge’ and inviting visitors to cross the 65-foot rope bridge over to Carrickarede. Crossing the rope bridge, strung nearly a hundred feet above the rocks below makes you feel as if a single thread tethers you to the mainland and that the wild North Atlantic could swallow the island at any moment. Rodgers was also the first guide to gain special access to a modest fishing cottage built on the island in 1785. The ‘Fishery,’ as it’s better known, has no electricity or running water, but along with a small roaring fire, the sound of crashing waves, and a few glasses of local whiskey, it has earned its place as a popular spot on his tour.
Carrick Island is tethered to the island by a rope bridge first built by salmon fisherman in 1755
He says a huge diaspora of Irish people exist all around the world including in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and many travel back to Northern Ireland to learn about their ancestors, as well as have an authentic experience. “My job is to connect with those people and tell them the stories of their ancestors.”
Rodgers says many people visit this region to trace their ancestory and he sees it as his job to inform and educate them about their ancestors
When you hear a seanchaí like Rodgers speak, you can’t help but be enamoured by his ability to simultaneously orate and captivate you like a wave crashing over a volcanic Antrim coastline. Combine this with the incredible surroundings and you can see why Rodgers calls the Causeway “a true gift to the world”.