By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 7 April, 2018

STANDFIRST: In an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Your Place and Mine’ we heard Anne Marie McAleese describe Mark Rodgers as “a fabulous ambassador for the whole of the North Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and that area”. Well, that he is and so much more.

This morning’s ‘Your Place And Mine’ was certainly well worth a listen to. I’d say there may even have been a few tears in a few eyes because Mark Rodgers did exactly as he set out to do when he set up Dalriada Kingdom Tours – to tell the story of the people of the shoreline.

When he joined Live It Experience It as a member in 2017 we knew we were taking on board someone who is very special indeed, and, in one year, what he has achieved, has been phenomenal.

So it’s no wonder his story appealed to BBC producers. So Ronan Lundy travelled to the Causeway to go for a dander with the man who is bringing the Causeway back to life.

Mark Rodgers of Dalriada Kingdom Tours leading a walk at the Giant's Causeway

Here’s what Mark said as he took Ronan on a journey, on a very stormy day, at the Giant’s Causeway – where the shore people used to live.

“We are standing beside the tall reeds and rushes that are home to the narrow mouthed whorl snail and of course that’s one of the main reasons why the Causeway is a nature reserve as well as a world heritage site.

“Most people are unaware of it. It’s very deceptive from the road and you would never believe these reeds and rushes are as tall as they are and of course the fact the snail exists here is unique to these bays and the Causeway.

“I love going off the beaten track. I love to explore and go on an adventure myself. I am a man who never grew up. I’m still a boy. That’s what takes me off the beaten track.  I like to explore and this is where the real history of these sites are. This is where the local people actually worked and made their living in bays like this so it’s lovely to keep that history alive. That’s very important to me.

“There were three main industries. The first was the kelp industry. Kelp is a large seaweed gathered by local people and used as fertiliser on our fields so it has an economic benefit. Then came fishing and tourism.”

“This is The Brenther Harbour. It’s a small harbour – a very special place past the kelp wall, on the Giant’s Causeway. Just to my left is one of the huts the fishermen used. It is still intact. It’s been built into the bank and a huge stone at the back made it easy to build it around.

“All it needs is a door and a roof. This is all stone gathered from the shoreline here in the bay. Then the mortar is brought round from Portballintrae and into the harbour here. It was the McMullan family who dominated the history in this bay and it was them who built the first of these huts.”

When Ronan asked about how people have had to adapt over the years, Mark added;

“Locals have had to adapt and these are people who are able to adapt. If you can imagine seasonal fishing didn’t provide much of an income so to adapt, and make more money, they started gathering the kelp, and, then, when the tourists started to come, they started to service the tourism industry. And that was from this harbour. The original journey of the causeway was down the steep banks and that brought you down onto the shoreline and it was here that you met the men from the families. They had adapted. They used their boats to take you round into the bay to see the columns of the causeway.”

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Ronan asked Mark if the people then became the history of the area.

Mark said: “These people didn’t know it at the time but they were actually making history themselves and that’s the history I try my very best to keep alive – the history of this place and these great Causeway families.

“The Brenther Harbour – it’s a Norse word which means a tall or steep harbour and you can see that’s exactly what it is.  In the year 800Ad, the Vikings spent the winter months in this bay and they christened it the Brenther harbour. Across the causeway we have Norse words, old Irish Gaelic words and Ulster Scots words. We have a great mixture of everything. It’s delightful.”

The pair walk to the slipway where Mark told the story of how the people of the shoreline adapted.

“This is the slipway,” Mark said. “You would have walked out here and got on the boats which took you around the two famous mounds – Stookins – a Scottish word for haystacks and you can see why. And, into the next Bay, you would find the columns of the Giant’s Causeway and that was your journey. That was your adventure. And it certainly was an adventure when you went with the local men. So it’s that history we are trying to replicate – to go with local men to discover the area.”

In spite of not being born on the Causeway, Mark tells Ronan how his passion ignited.

Mark Rodgers of Dalriada Kingdom Tours on our famous North Coast. IMG_2046

“I was born in south Derry in Maghera,” Mark explained to Your Place and Mine listeners. “I was one of five and my mother had me at home. My birthday is June 21 – not only was it the longest day of the year –   longest day of my mother’s life.

“But I was very lucky. I came to the coast and I met a wonderful girl – Rosemary Purdy. And I married Rosemary. My father-in-law was very much alive at the time and he was a great local historian because his father had been a guide here at the Giant’s Causeway and their history on the coast dates back to 1588. The Purdys are known locally as the people from the Spanish ship. They have traced their ancestry to survivors of Lá Girona shipwreck here on the Giant’s Causeway site. They have a huge history here and it fascinated me and it was the passion that William John had that really ignited my interest in it.

“When I started the company (Dalriada Kingdom Tours) we contacted a lot of the old families who had been here and explained to them what we wanted to do, to tell their story, to bring this history, that was long forgotten, back to life.  It comes from the ancestors, the people who were here before me, and when William John Passed away, I honestly thought I would never guide again. That’s the truth. It was just so emotional for me to be on the site but the causeway saved me. It brought me back. And now every day I am here, I just love the place. I am very much in love with this site, and the people from it.”

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Live It Experience It’ is a group of journalists and travel writers who tell the story of our members. We work  collaboratively with our members, which are tourism businesses, to promote Northern Ireland through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. Together we let our visitors know of all of the amazing things Northern Ireland has to offer.  To become a member business in of ‘Live It Experience It’ call our office on 028 3756 8436 or please submit your information through our online form. T&Cs apply –  Sign Up Here Let us tell your story! Live It Experience It is the NW200 tourism partner for 2018. 

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Eleanor McGillie

About Eleanor McGillie

Eleanor spent eight years working in the south west of England - one of the UK's most popular tourism hotspots. During her stint working with key players in the tourism sector she developed a love for all things outdoor adventure. As a journalist she got to travel to remote corners of the world to write travel features about the experiences of a particular place. Northern Ireland's story needs to be told and needs to reach new audiences. Live It Experience It aims to attract tourists from outside Ireland, people from Ireland and people who live in Northern Ireland but aren't aware of the extent of the adventures on our own doorsteps. Eleanor is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) at Associate Level