The Giant’s Causeway 2013.
By Randall Stephen Hall
What is it that makes the Giant’s Causeway so special?
Is it just the hexagonal rocks, the look of the place or the cultural associations?
If it was just a pile of old rocks with no story to explain how they got there, would people still come? Would they come to visit “The Pile of Old Rocks” in Northern Ireland?
Like all special places around the world it is probably the mixture of place, culture, the legend and the mystery that attracts the visitor. The Giant’s Causeway is a deeply mysterious place, not just a tourist destination. That is probably why people continue to come in their thousands, from all over the world. Surely they need to connect with that ancient voice of the place when they get there, not just carrot cake and a cup of coffee?
They want to hear the story, see the giant and feel that they are engaging with more than just second hand English culture on a Northern Irish headland. Do you catch my drift? For at present there is little to indicate anything Irish, Scottish or local, in this case, as sophisticated as it all seems on the surface.
The main thing missing, almost completely, be it Irish or Scottish, is our “local cultural voice”. Where has that gone? Is it fenced off somewhere like unruly livestock? Oh my goodness! Did someone mislay it somewhere or is the National Trust just one eyed, like Balor?
The local language of a place is significant too so the Giant’s Causeway is extraordinary as it is a hub for no less than four languages which all have an association with the site. English, Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots Gaelic all have a rightful place at the Causeway but sadly only English is currently utilized within the interpretation on site, or as digital audio guides for the roving visitor.
Even though European languages are used to help the tourist it seems bizarre, yet not unsurprising, that our local languages are left beyond the margins by the National Trust in 2013. It doesn’t seem very forward thinking, considering all that has gone on in Northern Ireland since 1969. A local policy only forty four years out of date.
Are our local languages worth celebrating by the National Trust at the Giant’s Causeway? Is the Trust not duty bound to do this as part of the Peace Agreement? It’s as if our local languages don’t exist in this part of North Antrim. Is there some local hold over what goes on at the Causeway or is this general National Trust policy throughout Britain?
Not so, for the National Trust supports and highlights Scots Gaelic culture in Scotland and Welsh culture in Wales. So what’s going on with regard to the Causeway? (Or what isn’t going on at present?)
I work as a local illustrator, writer, storyteller and musician. I have produced a number of books and a multilingual DVD, in English, Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots Gaelic which collectively promotes the story of the Giant’s Causeway and its diverse cultural connections. This work began as far back as 1995 and has been clearly evident to the National Trust since 2005. In fact they sell one of my books.
Yet, as an organisation, they have chosen to disregard this opportunity to engage with an inclusive approach to our rich heritage, and plough on, regardless, as if we are living in the 1950’s when the Irish language and Ulster Scots were regarded as backward and quaint.
I think it’s about time that the National Trust realized that both these languages, and Scots Gaelic, need to be heard on site to fully acquaint the visitor and the local with a broader view of our complete heritage rather than just the English slice of the carrot cake.