Begin the Causeway Coastal Route at Belfast, and ahead you’ll pass the nine Glens of Antrim; glacier-gouged valleys of charming seaside villages and highlands of forests, bogland and waterfalls. As guest blogger Rick Le Vert finds, these landscapes are also weaved with stories, and have much to linger, and gasp over, along your route north.
The same geological forces that created the terrain of the – eons worth of seabed sedimentation, volcanic fissures bleeding rivers of molten rock, the clawing of massive glaciers – also created the .
The story of the Glens is one of isolation. From in the south to Glentaisie in the north, all nine of the Glens bar one, Glencorp, sweep downhill from the boggy upland moors of Antrim’s volcanic plateau to the sea. “And that,” says Feargal Lynn, pointing to the ominous waters of the North Channel, “used to be the only way out of here.”
Feargal Lynn is a local historian, traditional musician, storyteller, and guide. Spend time with him in his native Glens and most, if not all, of the things he’ll show you have a geological vein running through them: basalt crags and ‘raised’ beaches; a volcanic plug covered in Hawthorne and dancing fairies; sea caves and arches carved out of forgiving red sandstone.
Anyone familiar with the tides in the Channel – the point where twice daily the Irish Sea sloshes into the North Atlantic and then refills – will know to appreciate just how difficult and imposing travel over those moors must have been. “Even now,” Feargal says, “people joke about falling in the water if you need any type of medical treatment. Because then the rescue helicopter will lift you out and take you to the nearest hospital.” This just happens to be across the water in Scottish Argyll.
The isolation that once made this coastline one of the hardest to eke a living out of has left the Glens of today with many unexpected riches, including a pristine and preserved landscape, towns and villages that have been spared the greater ravages of modern sprawl, and a traditional sense of communal identity. This is the homey Ireland that the nostalgically inclined crave, where good music doodles out of the pubs and elderly gents respectfully leave the last inch of their pints for the fairies.
Storytelling and spinning yarns is a huge chapter in this heritage. As professional storyteller Liz Weir puts it, “Everyone has a story to tell. The Glens are so rich in folklore, every stone has a story to tell.”
For nearly two decades now, Liz has been collecting and telling the stories of her beloved Glens, many of them dripping in magic and myth and populated by supernatural beings like the Banshees or the Pooka, or vindictive little fairies waiting to bestow heaps of misfortune on anyone foolish enough to cut down one of their beloved Hawthorn trees.
Do people in still believe these old myths? Well, you’ll find plenty of untouched Hawthorn trees standing smack in the middle of a grazing pasture. Liz has traveled the world bringing people closer to the folklore and traditions of this magical corner of Ireland and encouraging other people to share their stories. “Even more than being a storyteller,” Liz says, “I like to provoke stories.”
McCollum’s Pub in is the place to stop for an evening of yarn spinning. Johnny Joe’s, as it’s known locally, personifies the term public house – crowds gather for pints, the best traditional music in the Glens and a good yarn, in what was once literally Johnny Joe’s sitting room and kitchen. At the in Ballycastle, music sessions have been known to have the odd didgeridoo in the line up – odd being the operative word. And you’ll find regular music and storytelling sessions at the Ballyeamon Barn, Liz’s own centre for the traditional arts and storytelling.
You may even find, when you arrive, you’ve got a story of your own to tell. Sure, doesn’t everyone.
Visit the Glens on one of the world’s most scenic driving routes; The Causeway Coastal Route. Download our new Great Irish Road Trips Brochure PDF for the full itinerary.