(4.0) (3 Votes)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Aug 04, 2004
Ireland hadn´t featured on my travel itenary. Ok Mr O´Brien,
I know thats really stupid, and thats why, after a great adventure
exploring the Gaelic cutlure of Western Scotland, I changed my flights
and headed to that proud island to the west of Britain. Having only
a few days available, I decided a tour was the only way I'd see
what I wanted. Luck put a brochure in my hands for ´Celtic
Connections´. The day came and I rose at 6:30 with mixed emotions
from shuddering nightmares of Contiki or MacBackpackers, but on
the morning of the tour was plesantly suprised to see a small dodgy
looking bus with a roof rack and a non-PC scottish guide with a
good sense of humour at the wheel.
We somehow packed the 12 of us into the mini-bus and struggled up
the hill under the shadow of mighty Edinburgh castle, stage one
on the trip to the ferry to Belfast. The ´war´in Belfast
may be over, but the tall towers with security cameras, fortified
police stations and cars, the barriers at the ready between the
Irish flag flying catholic suburbs and the union jack flying, paramilitary
mural painting, protestant suburbs of downtown is a living testament
to the bloody past of the city. We continued from here on to Derry
(or Londonderry), where we were greated with a similar site below
the impressive medieval walls of the city. Highlights were murals
on the buildings marking the site of the Easter rising and the event
of the bloody sunday massacres and the impressive ´welcome
to Free Derry´ sign under the spectre of a security camera
mast above the city walls on the hill.
From this sobering living history we continued on to see the giants
causeway, an impressive peninsula built from pillars of volcanic
rock, and then on into the Republic of Ireland. Seeing the signs
written in Irish (Gaelic) and English, reminded me of my ignorance
of the country whose namesake had been on so many bars that I had
drank at in the past. I had been amongst the masses who think that
Irish is just the dialect of English that they seem to speak!
The change in quality of roads and lack of development that gives
Ireland so many of its problems, and so much of its charm, was quickly
evident. From a tourists perspective, not having motorways and being
forced to chug slowly through the beatiful European looking towns
was a charm, but I imagine it is a little frustrating for the Irish.
We continued on to climb a mountain and swim in a pool below a waterfall,
to drink at a few great little Irish pubs with live music (and no
smoke thanks to new anti-smoking laws), to visit the beautiful waterfalls
at the lake where Yeats lived and was inspired until we reached
Croque Patrick is the mountain where St Patrick was supposed to
have meditated to banish the snakes from Ireland (I think he should
have got the midges, little biting insects, because I would have
preferred the snakes, but I guess he knew best). I was informed
by a girl I met that, as with many early Christian sites, the mountain
was also sacred to the Celtic religions that proceded the Christians,
and the modern pilgramage to St Patricks chapel was a continuation
of this ancient tradition in a Christian framework.
Whatever you think, it is an impressive Catholic tradition, the
rain soaked me as I climbed the mountain but I was not able to feel
sorry for myself as I passed one old lady in barefeet sliding painfully
back down the mountain and later another barefooted young man, face
grimaced in pain, climbing the slipery scree that leads to the summit.
After Croque Patrick the road led us to the beautiful west coast,
past the famine folly walls, agricultural stone walls criss-crossing
unarable stone hills and built during the potatoe famine by Irishmen
who the English forced to complete meaningless work for meagre food
rations to prevent them becoming lazy, and terminating in a sunset
drink over the impressive Cliffs of Moher. From here we headed to
Dublin, but not without stoping at one of the many immaculately
preseved stone age tombs in the largely undeveloped stone and peat
hills of this part of the country.
Dublin I found to be an underrated city, with some very nice and
well preserved old architecture, friendly people, and most important,
the best Guiness in the world! I started at the Guiness factory,
a slightly dissapointing tour, but almost worth the steep entry
price for the awesome ´free´Guiness at the roof top
bar with 360 degree views of Dublin. Then it was on to the pubs
for a great night on the Guiness.
The next day we returned to Edinburgh via a ruined monastry with
some impressive Celtic crosses.
And to think I would have missed all this by choice!