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A Last Minute Change
Rating: (4.0) (3 Votes)

Belfast, Northern Ireland
Aug 04, 2004

Pros: None
Cons: None

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.

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!