NORTHERN IRELAND

A Giant's Tale

Visit the Giant’s Causeway with a genuine storyteller.

WORDS JEREMY DRAKE

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The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge links the tiny island of the same name to the mainland, but it isn’t for the faint-hearted

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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. 

“Rather than bore people with history and facts and figures, I just run around the country telling stories,” Rodgers says with a grin.

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.

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Guide Mark Rodgers (foreground) never tires of taking guests on tours to this spectacular region

“Rather than bore people with history and facts and figures, I just run around the country telling stories.”
— MARK RODGERS

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

Steps of hexagonal basalt columns spectacularly cascade into the sea and have more recently featured in television dramas like Game of Thrones

Steps of hexagonal basalt columns spectacularly cascade into the sea and have more recently featured in television dramas like Game of Thrones

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.

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

Like Purdy, Rogers sees himself as a custodian of the stories from the generations of Causeway families who have been guiding here since the 18th century, but his family connection dates much earlier than that.

“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.”

Rodgers sees himself as a torchbearer to keep those stories alive and share them with visitors.

Mark Rodgers guides guests across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge on one of his bespoke tours

Mark Rodgers guides guests across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge on one of his bespoke tours

A modern take

In more recent years, he has created his own tour, ‘Beyond the Bridge’ in nearby Carrick-a-Rede. Near the town of Ballintoy, a short drive from the Giant’s Causeway, a huge rope bridge built by local salmon fisherman in 1755 spans across to Carrick Island. Crossing it makes you feel as if you’re tethered by a single thread and that the island could be swallowed by the angry North Atlantic at any moment. Rodgers was the first guide to gain special access to a modest fishing cottage here, 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. “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.”

“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.”
— MARK RODGERS

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”.

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