Houses Of The Holy

[ Posted Thursday, March 26th, 2015 – 19:01 UTC ]

[Program Note: This is a continuation of yesterday's column. Because I wrote the whole thing as a single column, the transition is a bit abrupt. So if you want the full flavor of the travelogue as it was written, I strongly encourage you to read "part 1" right before diving into this one. Just a friendly warning, that's all. And once again, I also have to warn people that this column has nothing to do with (American) politics, and that the fresh political columns here will resume on the first of April. OK, that's enough of an introduction, let's just get on with it, shall we?]


Wind-swept but safe, back on the bus, we trundled off to lunch at the Bushmills distillery. Yes, in one trip I managed to see both major Irish distilleries: Bushmills and Jameson. And I don't even drink much whiskey (except maybe a snort or two on Paddy's Day each year)! And a note to grammarians: it's only "whisky" in Scotland -- in both America and Ireland, it's "whiskey." I have no idea why, but there it is. File it under the same heading (I suppose) as why the word "Scotch" only applies to whisky and broth, and everything else is "Scottish."

But back to Ireland. Whiskey -- like parades, colors, religion, and everything else on the island (carrots included) -- is political in nature here. For instance: I've never seen Bushmills served in the Republic of Ireland. Never. And I've personally been in many a pub, throughout the years. If you order whiskey at the bar in the Republic, it had better be Jameson. I assume the same is true in Northern Ireland, for Bushmills, as well. Yes, even after a long day when you retire to the pub, politics is never all that far away from Irish life. In other words: keep in mind which side of the border you're on when you order that shot at the bar!

Our next stop after lunch was a photo op at the ruin of Dunluce Castle. This is a spectacular structure, built when a local bright spark successfully salvaged the rich cargo of one of the ships of the Spanish Armada (who had, disastrously, elected to take the long way home after being defeated in the English Channel in 1588). A major part of the Armada was caught on the wrong side of the Channel after the big fight, so they couldn't directly run for Spain . Instead, they elected to circumnavigate the British Isles to get home. They made it around to the west coast of Ireland but then many were driven against the rocks by bad weather (or bad navigation). One of these, La Girona, had taken on the survivors of two other Spanish ships, and when she went down on the Antrim coast, she had 1300-1400 people aboard. Only nine of these survived the wreck. The Earl of Antrim got the booty, and used it to build Dunluce Castle. Less than 50 years later, however, the kitchen fell into the sea (take a look at where it was built, and you can see how dramatic this would have been), and the Earl's wife then refused to live there, so it was abandoned. The moral of this story is: always listen to your wife, especially after your whole kitchen just fell down a cliff into the open sea.

This led up to our final tour stop; the only World Heritage site in all of Ireland -- the Giant's Causeway. Now, this is a fine geologic site and some say it's the biggest tourist attraction in Ireland (which is debatable, however). It has a spanking-new visitor's center and is very well run and everything, but I have to say I was disappointed at one aspect that was (for the most part) completely ignored, to the point of embarrassment. Because millions upon millions of rock fans have seen an image of this site. They didn't know what they were looking at, and they certainly had no idea where on Earth it was. But anyone who has held a copy of Led Zeppelin's Houses Of The Holy album in their hands has seen the image I'm talking about.

Per the photographer, the image was supposed to represent a scene at the end of the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood's End, where Earth children lovingly embraced a benevolent alien overlord. However, the photo has the children naked (only two kids -- a brother and sister -- were used in the photo shoot, and multiple shots of them were combined, in a pre-Photoshop kind of way, to produce the memorable final image). Hence all the embarrassment, one assumes. I mean, it's in no way an obscene or pornographic image, it was produced by Hipgnosis -- the premier album cover designer of the age -- and is in fact quite artistic (the photos were black and white, but when printed in color created some spectacular and unintended special effects). Still, "won't someone think of the children," blah blah blah, morality. I get that. But, even so, save your money and don't bother with the gift shop, since there is absolutely NO merchandise contained within that has any sort of Houses Of The Holy theme. Fun final bonus fact: the image on the inside of the album was taken at nearby Dunluce Castle.

I did leave my disappointment plain on a feedback card they had helpfully set out. I mean, how many millions of Led Zeppelin fans are there out there? The album went platinum eleven times over. How many of those fans would pay to see this? And yet, on the Giant's Causeway Wikipedia page, there is in fact no mention of Led Zeppelin that I could find. That smacks of official "we're going to ignore this" attitudes that are, in my opinion, a downright shame. To their credit and to be fair, they did have the album's cover displayed in one of their "the Giant's Causeway through history" exhibits... but not very prominently. I mean, I would have easily paid over a hundred bucks for a nice high-quality official print of the original photo, but it was not to be found at the gift shop. Oh, well -- their loss.

One last thing about that Led Zeppelin photo shoot -- the kids were freezing cold. They shot for something like ten days, and were always stymied by bad weather. Finally the photographer (Aubrey Powell) got enough shots to be satisfied, and had to pack it in. I mention this because the weather (for us) looked like it wasn't going to cooperate once again, as well. It was raining as we exited the bus. However, when we arrived at the Causeway itself, the sun broke out and the wind died down, and it was actually pretty decent. Good photo-taking light, and nothing like what we had experienced at the rope bridge. So in the end we got a few good photos as well. This is the type of place (I should mention) that is worth coming to without a tour group, if you're really interested in getting good photographic shots (that other tourists aren't messing up, that is).

The Causeway is comprised of basalt columns, many of them in the shape of hexagons. This is a volcanic feature that appears all over the planet in various places, but my guess is that you will indeed recognize the most prominent example. The Giant's Causeway is located next to the sea, and so is constantly being eroded to some extent. But now imagine a volcanic plug of a cluster of hexagonal columns nowhere near a sea (at least, these days). Imagine further that the land around it had eroded away over millions of years to leave just the plug standing, in dramatic fashion. Now (bear with me), imagine alien spaceships hovering above it (yes, this is a callback to that whole Led Zeppelin thing). Would it look something like this, maybe? Yes, Devil's Tower (in Wyoming) is the same exact geologic formation, it's just easier to walk around on the top of the Giant's Causeway, that's all.

OK, before I move on here, I do have one other final complaint, and it's a minor but annoying one. The Giant's Causeway has a new visitor's center (their old one burned down a few years back), and it's pretty spiffy and all, but the price structure is reminiscent of a nickel-and-dime huckster. They charge you admission for the visitor's center (eight British pounds), and two pounds for a roundtrip bus to get you down to the Causeway itself. Why not just include everything in one admission? I have no idea. The visitor's center is where hot drinks and food and the gift shop are located, and it seems kind of chintzy to charge you admission to a gift shop. Maybe that's just me, I dunno.

After the Causeway, we headed back to Belfast and eventually back home to Dublin. On the way we got more talk from the tour guide about how happy all the Northern Irish were to live together now in peace, but I notice he didn't much mention the peace walls which still exist all over Belfast, to keep the incidents of violence down. There are even bus tours within the city where guides take you to the bloody sites of the "Troubles," and interpret the current-day graffiti on the peace walls (there are a lot of terms and acronyms no one from outside Belfast would ever understand).

Not to be too negative -- things, after all, are indeed much better now, and the peace appears to be holding firm, which is an enormous relief to those within Northern Ireland (and to anyone who cares about peace outside their country as well). This is all very fresh in everyone's memories, after all. It wasn't all that long ago things were much, much worse. The one thing that came through clearly from the tour guide is that they were all desperately glad that we tourists had begun to return -- and to think of their country in a positive light, rather than dwelling too much on their recent and violent past.

Still, though, those walls are going to have to come down some day, or the reconciliation will never be complete. Right now, they're targeting 2023, but we'll see whether they achieve that goal or not.

Sure and begorrah, though, 'tis time for me to be in bed. So I'll leave off the travelogue at this point and perhaps down one final Guinness before retiring. As always, relating these tales raises a powerful thirst in me.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


3 Comments on “Houses Of The Holy”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    The moral of this story is: always listen to your wife,

    A good rule of thumb no matter WHERE you live!! :D

    Yes, Devil's Tower (in Wyoming) is the same exact geologic formation,

    Been there. Awe inspiring....

    No other words describe it...

    but I notice he didn't much mention the peace walls which still exist all over Belfast, to keep the incidents of violence down.

    "I have heard that expression, mother and I have always wondered. How can 'mending fences', in effect building a barrier between people, connotate repairing a relationship?"
    -Spock, STAR TREK, Amok Time


    Great travelogue, CW!! :D


  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    "Less than 50 years later, however, the kitchen fell into the sea"

    Of course it did, because it was Dunluce. Mind the load bearing walls or risk Fawlty Towers.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Always a danger when building a castle where water is involved...



Comments for this article are closed.