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Ireland 28 August 2014

Posted by uggclogs in Uncategorized.
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My holidays this year took me to Ireland – a country that everyone has been raving about and which I had never been to. I had high expectations, due to all the reviews I heard, but never actively sought it out. This year, a friend of mine decided to celebrate his significant birthday in Ireland, however, and asked us to come along. 

I loved it. Absolutely loved it. And I am not entirely sure why or what made it so interesting and wonderful. But I would definitely recommend Ireland to others. But one of the highlights was the Irish. They turned out to be courteous, humorous and friendly, more than happy to have a chat and to talk to foreigners. Even traffic was courteous – cars slowed down for jay walkers, and let each other in when the roads were busy. I have never seen anything like it – and although only a small example, I think it reflected the general attitude of the Irish. 

We only had a week and a half in Ireland, but we packed as much into our trip as possible. 

We started off in Dublin, and went to a Gaelic Football Game at Croke Park. It was a real spectacle, and we had the opportunity to ask some of the Irish fans sitting around us about the game and the rules. The games we watched were Donegal-Armagh and Dublin-Monaghan.

Croke Park

The former was a tense game, eventually won by only a point – a real nail-biter! The latter was also a good game, but Dublin ended up winning with a large margin, which wasn’t as exciting. Dublin supporters, however, are full on, though! 

Dublin Supporters

One of my favourite moments happened in the stands near us, where a young fan found someone sitting in his seats, and asked the other person to move. The person in his seat was an older gentleman, who, with one eye on the game, realised he had sat in the row in front of his actual seats. He got up, but only to realise that his team (Donegal) was getting closer to the posts. Mesmerised, the older man watched, mouth open, sometimes yelling encouraging words. The young man (also a Donegal supporter) had also turned to watch the game, seeing that his compatriot was getting excited. 

The team got even closer to the posts, passed it to someone right in front, and GOAL! Straight in the net. The young man grabbed the older fellow around the neck with his arm, and started jumping up and down, chanting together. It was a moment of pure joy and celebration. After the excitement of the goal died down, the older man moved to his actual seats, but they kept talking throughout the game, new friends over a shared team. It was a lovely moment. 

In Dublin proper, we had been told to see the Kilmainham Gaol for a Dublin history lesson. It is essential to get there early to line up as you can only see the gaol through a guided tour, but lining up was absolutely worth it. Knowing little about Ireland apart from the potato famine and the large number of emigrants that have left, the gaol provided a good run-down of what can only be described as a sad history. The Victorian wing (below) is a fine example of later types of jails, and has been used as a backdrop for several movies. 

 

Kilmainham Gaol

 

I also went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral – worth a look if you like churches (there’s lots of them in Ireland, even more than castles!) 

St Patrick's Cathedral

Finally, Dublin has pubs galore – and in one of these is where the birthday itself was celebrated. We had a wonderful time in Dublin before we moved on to Limerick.  

Limerick was added to the itinerary due to the convenient distance for a day’s drive from Dublin. The city itself was not much to look at – it felt quite modern and industrial.

Limerick

But there were a couple of interesting sights, including the Hunt Museum – a quirky little museum with artefacts from all over the world. It also has a silver coin on display which is reputedly one of the coins Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus – worth a trip to see, I thought. I have no idea how it was established that this was indeed one of the 30 pieces of silver in question, but now I have seen it, and it makes for a good story. 

Another thing worth seeing is the King John’s Castle, which has an excellent exhibition describing the various sieges of Limerick and the origins of the term ‘to undermine someone’. You also get to walk around the court yard and look at some very kitch dress ups of adults pretending to be from the middle ages, walk up through narrow passage ways to the top of the tower, and see lots of old-time weaponry. 

King John's Castle 3  

Next stop was Galway, a far more touristy town with street performers and a holiday-feel down the main streets. The town felt quite medieval, and we enjoyed the lane ways and the alleys that felt like a movie set the most. We stopped by the obligatory pub, of course, and found a lovely Turkish restaurant for dinner. We went for a long walk along the water, stumbled upon the ‘Spanish Arch’ which is not remarkable in itself, apart from the fact that it was built in 1584 and still standing! The arch is in the background below. 

Galway Spanish Arch

 

Next stop was Donegal – the winners of the above Gaelic Football bout (which was a quarter final). Donegal Town was my personal favourite stop over, due to the little castle (below) which was lovingly restored and the true local pub where I had a beer with one of the other travelling companions. There was a group of locals sitting around looking at us suspiciously until we mentioned that we’d been at the game, and all of a sudden they got talking. I couldn’t understand much, but they sure do love their football! 

Donegal Castle

One thing we noticed in the pub was the clear side it took in the ‘troubles’. Having by this stage not quite read up on the history of modern Ireland (I had only got up to the civil war in the 1920s and not actually read up on it) it was quite confronting. This pub was clearly on the catholic side of the subsequent upheavals, and it made me want to read up on the more modern history of the Island I was visiting. 

Donegal borders what is variously known as Northern Ireland or ‘the six counties’ (depending on where you stand in the Catholic/Protestant or part of Ireland/United Kingdom debate) – the dark green part on the map (HT: Wikipedia).

Location in Ireland,indicated in darker green

 

Quick geography lesson (I had to look this up myself): Ulster is the 9 northern counties of the island – 6 of these became ‘Northern Ireland’ and are under United Kingdom control, hence the ‘six counties’. Donegal county is one of the 3 counties which is part of Ulster, but not part of Northern Ireland. It, however, shares a long border with Northern Ireland, and is mostly to the north of those six counties. The six counties that did become Northern Ireland, were perceived as being the area where Protestants/unionists (those that supported being part of the United Kingdom) would have a safe majority. 

This was our first alert to the fact that the ‘troubles’ are very much at the forefront of the minds of the Irish living in the north of the island. We had been blissfully unaware until this point, but our holidays took a darker turn as we continued northwards. I will come back to this. 

That evening, we went to the Olde Castle Bar and attended an event by a local ‘story teller’ – an Irish tradition going back for many generations. It was basically a man who entertained us with tales and stories, a poem and even a song. It was quirky and fun, and we thought it was definitely worth while to drink our beers and listen to him. I mean – what else was there to do in Donegal at night? 

The next day we set our sights on Portestewart, but on the way, we stopped off in Derry/Londonderry based on advice from Tripadvisor. And this is where we finally came to understand the rawness of the ‘troubles’ in Ireland. In fact, we came to start seeing the issues as we were coming in to town. We knew in advance that some people call it Derry and others call it Londonderry. Driving in from Donegal, we noticed that all the traffic signs had Derry on them. We didn’t think anything of it, and passed by the town to keep driving out towards our destination. About 10 kilometres outside of town, we decided that we wanted to turn back to Derry, as it was still early, and we couldn’t check in to the hotel until much later. A roundabout later, and we were heading back, but all of a sudden, the signs said Londonderry. Many of the signs had, however, crudely been spray-painted to read Londonderry. Still ignorant, we were wondering why this was such an issue – what’s in a name?, we thought.  

In town, we parked and walked to the museum of Free Derry. We also did a walking tour around Derry with a man whose father was shot dead on Bloody Sunday. And despite being fully aware that this tour was going to be heavily biased, all of a sudden the significance, the reality, the raw emotional intensity of the troubles, Bloody Sunday, Northern Ireland/the six counties, Catholic/Protestant, unionist/free Ireland – hit us. Like. A. Tonne. Of. Bricks. 

Derry

This country – this beautiful, green, lush, welcoming country that we had come to – has gone, and is going, through the hell that is differences based on religion. Arbitrary lines that decide what side you are on. The baseness that is human nature, declaring lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’. And the awful perpetuity of pain, loss and revenge. The hurt felt by losing loved ones and the impossibility of getting through that pain. Lives lived without those who should have been there, fanning hatred towards those who are to blame. 

Many (all?) of the guides that do this tour and run the museum are related to the 14 people that died on Bloody Sunday. Our guide lost his father, and he described in detail how it happened. I have no idea how he is able to talk about this loss and the details, including the fear that his father had every day. I assume it must be cathartic, perhaps even therapeutic. A way to ensure the memory of the dead stays alive through spreading the message to others, spreading the information and knowledge through peaceful means rather than hatred and anger. I am sure there is still anger. Of course there is. This did not happen a hundred years ago, Bloody Sunday happened in 1972. The latest inquiry did not conclude until 2010. Unresolved questions remain. 

We were all deeply affected by the day, and sat in silence in the car. None of us could believe that these events had happened. Paradoxically, we had seen a clean, vibrant city. Blue skies above us and yellow rays from the sun had warmed our backs. The area known as Bogside was no longer slum-like, and many of the most densely populated public housing estates that had been the site of the shootings had been demolished and the area gentrified. A park takes up most of the space where only forty years ago, 14 people were shot with heavy military fire, where there had been barricades and misery. Some of the misery remains and lives on in the people that remain in Bogside. What a day. I must read up on the history of Ireland to seek to better understand, but I am afraid I never will. 

In Portestewart, we ended up walking along the water and having a couple of drinks at night. 

The next day, we drove to Belfast along the coastal route – very scenic and via Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway. Dunluce is a ruin with an interesting past – in it’s hayday the kitchen of the castle crumbled into the sea without warning – killing several of the people working within it. 

Dunluce Castle

The Giant’s Causeway was the one thing that I had wanted to see all along prior to coming to Ireland, as I am a total nerd and I love the geology of the Causeway. When we got there, however, we found out that there was an entry fee (the 2009 Lonely Planet we had with us mentioned that entry was free) and that was a real dampener as we felt pretty ripped off. But the site is wonderful and spectacular, I was glad that we still went. 

Giant's Causeway 6 Giant's Causeway (2)

In Belfast, we decided to do the Black Cabs tour, to gain a better understanding of the recent history of the city, and because it came highly recommended to us. We chose the Paddy Campbell’s tour, but unfortunately, you have to call them to arrange pick up. Being the person that I am, I do not like to have to speak to people on the phone, and I would have much preferred to have had the option of going to a specific location to arrange the tour. But they were extremely helpful on the phone, and were more than happy to pick us up from the location that we were at (the St. George’s Market). 

I would now also highly recommend the tour – we had one Protestant and one Catholic driver (we were a group big enough to require two cabs) – and we learnt a lot. One thing that surprised us all is that Belfast is divided by a large wall (55 feet high in some places – see below) with gates that close at night to keep the Protestant and Catholic population segregated. Schools are still mostly segregated. One of the tour guides told us that they are still living in a powder keg, which could very easily explode. Kids still throw rocks, bigger kids throw bigger rocks, and it escalates from there. People still own guns, and petrol bombs are easy to make. 

Belfast wall

 

It boggles the mind that this is still happening today – in 2014! 

We left Ireland emotionally drained and unable to comprehend that a beautiful country like Ireland could have such a horrific past and such a difficult future. We did not really explore anything further in Belfast as we simply did not have the motivation to get out and about anymore. We went for an early morning jog, and left without seeing any more of the sights. 

I am overwhelmed with the impressions that remain, and I will definitely not forget my sojourn in Ireland. I will leave you with some of the landscapes we drove through – the beautiful lush greenery. 

Ireland landscape 2 Ireland landscape 3 Ireland landscape 

 

 

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Comments»

1. Kirby - 2 September 2014

Love the story about the young and old man making friends at the football! Glad you had a good trip, even if it was confronting.


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