THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY© Christopher Earls Brennen
WHITE ROCKS CAVE
``While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin..''
From "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The north of Ireland has a craggy cliff-ringed coast formed by the crashing waves of the north Atlantic and the tectonic uplift of the land. A couple of miles east of the resort town of Portrush, in the middle of a bulwark of basalt cliffs, a broad band of limestone intersects the shoreline at a place called the White Rocks. From Portrush these White Rocks are accessible by way of a mile of beautiful beach (bounded on the land side by the famous Royal Portrush Golf Course). But just east of there, the White Rocks have been eroded away by the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean so that the cliffs are riven through with caves some of which can by accessed from the beach to the west but many of which on the east are only accessible from the ocean. In the middle there are some that can be accessed from the west at low tide but only with calm seas.
It is an ancient place with fortresses like the towering Dunluce Castle only a few hundred yards to the east, a place of remarkable legend and drama including the shenanigans of the irrascible presiding clan chief Sorley Boy MacDonnell. Once during a banquet in the 1580s the kitchens of Dunluce and its cooks fell several hundred feet to their deaths in the ocean. Just a few years later on the night of 26 October 1588, one of the fabulous treasure-laden ships of the 1588 Spanish Armada, the galleass La Girona foundered just east of the foot of the Dunluce Castle cliffs. Of the 1300 men on board only nine survived the wreck and the marvellous treasure remained hidden under the waves until the 1950s. Moreover, a few miles further east are the remarkable basalt columnar formations known as the Giants Causeway, where, the legends maintain, giants roamed and battled.
Approaching the White Rocks Cliffs from the beach
The rugged White Rocks Cliffs on a calm day
As a boy I explored many of the nooks and crannies of this coastline, including descending through the cave that runs directly under Dunluce Castle to form a hidden landing place. My family holidayed often in the nearby resorts and, during the summer of 1956 when I was 15, even rented a caravan in the dunes at the White Rocks. Though my memory has faded I do recall that my brother Michael and I were much taken by the adventure of trying to get as far east as possible along the rock shelves at the base of the cliffs. On one such sortie we were caught out by the waves and only managed to reach safety by the skin of our teeth. Our adventures were only temporarily suspended. But those are faint memories now.
Nearly 30 years later when many multifaceted adventures had lightened my life and spirits and when the White Rocks had become a distant memory, I received the following letter from my father. It is undated but must predate Feb.26, 1987, by several years for that is when he died.
Letter from my father circa 1970
Attached diagram from my father circa 1970
I think my father exaggerates my youthful age; I suspect that the incident occurred during that 1956 caravan holiday when I would have been 15 years old but there were many other family visits to the White Rocks earlier than 1956. It was not difficult to identify the location of the "deep cave" on Google Earth:
Google Earth Image
In all honesty, I have only the faintest memory of the adventure my father describes. Nevertheless, the story seems an appropriate starting point for this catalogue of adventures. I have never been shy about embarking on an adventure into the unknown and the White Rocks may have ignited that chord in my life. Perhaps at that young age, whether 5 or 15, in that "deep cave" I first felt that delicious excitement of fresh discovery. If so, there was much to come that would truly enrich my life.
Last updated 8/20/20.
Christopher E. Brennen