You who enjoy long out-of-the-way drives to tourist traps, -I’m thinking the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine, should consider Northern Ireland. Sit for two hour on the Dublin – Belfast train and then grab a bus for another three hours up the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. Get out of the bus, walk half an hour in the howling cold wind, pay $12 and … Look at you! You’ve arrived at the Wobbly Bridge of Carrick-a-Rede. There you can perch high on the cliff watching petrified elderly ladies, fearing for their lives, being assisted across the undulating rope bridge. They are scared out of their minds as they look down at the crashing surf far below. If you can’t resist all that fun, you too can trundle across the chasm and back.
Not to worry! If the ropes let go or a wind gust carries you over the edge, there is a life boat hanging down from the cliff further up the coast. Trust me, it’s there. The boat could be lowered into the exploding surf. Then a crew of local villagers in the pub might volunteer to row the boat. They might even locate and fish you out before you perished on the rocks of hypothermia.
My wife and I viewed this flimsy swaying structure with terror, but pushed those thoughts aside. We had come this far, we had enjoyed the clean tourist rest room and paid the $12. Hey, why wouldn’t we want to risk our lives and make the perilous crossing? I guess we just don’t have enough death defying terror these days. And $12 is $12.
But the bridge spoke to us, in part, because it joins the stunningly beautiful craggy Irish main land shore with the still more breathtaking petite green island. Three hundred and fifty years ago a small band of fishermen on the island needed a quicker way to get their seafood to market: Thus the bridge.
We didn’t come to the bridge by choice, but rather as victims of a tour bus tour heading to The Giant Causeway a popular destination further north. This was but an interim stop. The bus group needed a pee break stop and this site offered not only a clean toilet plus a bridge thrown in. We struggled down the rocky path through the howling gale. Fortunately the ropes held for our crossing and we returned unharmed.
None of us could fathom the complex load stress factors, the cable tensile strength, the anchor bolt tension requirements upon which our lives depended. Talented engineers made the crossing possible and safe. As a tourist trap- the structure was no more than a pee break and didn’t have much to say for itself. However, as a metaphor for Northern Ireland: It was outstanding- well worth the trip! It calls to mind a different bridge that was built by other engineers who studied the social tensions and dangers among the local population.
As upbeat American tourists who visit this country, we can’t help but admire the gracious charming people they meet. Ireland’s so-called “troubles” – the centuries-old strife between Catholics and Protestants-are both invisible and unfathomable to us. Somewhere, unseen engineers built a political structure, equally wobbly and windblown across a more treacherous gap. Now twenty years later the Protestant/Catholic bridge is still standing and has brought a measure of unity, safety and normalcy to this deeply separated green land.