Category Archives: Eire

A Walking Tour of Belfast

After completing the Antrim Coast Drive and a visit to the Gobbins Coastal walk we arrived late afternoon in Belfast.  I have been there before and written a post about it previously…

… lazy I know but…

… Read The Full Story Here

The Dark Hedges and Something Unpleasant Underfoot

It seemed that we were staying ahead of the weather forecast which had predicted storms and heavy rain and after completing a strenuous walk at the Giant’s Causeway we returned to the unofficial and much cheaper car park and set of back along the Causeway Coast

First stop was the ruins of Dunseverick Castle which Kim and Margaret declared not worth getting out of the car for and then swiftly on to Whitepark Bay Beach where we stopped for barely five minutes because the girls were of the opinion that it was rapidly approaching coffee and cake time so we continued on to Ballintoy.

Here there was a charming harbour and an old limestone quarry and information boards that told us that the crushed limestone was shipped to England to pave the roads of Manchester and Liverpool.  Another told us that inevitably this was a location setting used in the TV programme “Game of Thrones”.

Ballintoy in September was rather sedate but it seems that it can get rather overcrowded in the Summer.  I read a newspaper report that on one day in July the local council dealt with so much illegal and dangerous parking that they ran out of car parking violation tickets.

Except for a rather nasty smell in the harbour it was all rather lovely but it really was time for coffee and cake now so we made our way from the harbour to the village and stopped off at a suitable establishment.  I rarely join in this mid morning coffee break because I resent paying £3 for a cup of coffee or £2.50 for a mug of tea when down the road in a pub I can get a pint of Guinness for £4.  It simply makes no economic sense.

From Ballintoy we drove south to the Dark Hedges.

The dark hedges is an avenue of beech trees that were planted in the 1750s in the grounds of Gracehill House a Georgian mansion built by the Stuart family, descendants of a cousin of King James who had been granted the land but who had died in a shipwreck. They wanted to create a compelling landscape to impress visitors who approached the entrance to the mansion.  The Manor House is still there but a private residence and the Stuart legacy is this fascinating avenue of spooky interlinking tree boughs.

I say spooky because of course, such an ancient stretch of road is bound to have horror stories linked to it and visitors are warned to watch out for the ‘Grey Lady’. Local legend has it that she haunts the thin ribbon of road that winds beneath the ancient gnarled beech trees. She is said to glide silently along the roadside, and vanish as she reaches the last tree.  I couldn’t help thinking that I wished some of the tourists might disappear so that I might get a decent picture, but I suppose this stubborn couple do help provide a sense of perspective.

It was a fascinating place and maybe we were lucky to see it because Beech trees reach maturity at no more than two hundred years and those making up the Dark Hedges are well past that.  The Dark Hedges came under threat a few years ago when highway authorities proposed to fell many trees for safety reasons but the avenue was taken over by the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust – and is now the subject of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to protect the popular landmark but I suspect that there is only so long that they can remain on an environmental life support machine.

From the Dark Hedges we returned to the coast at Ballycastle where we walked on the beach and had a pleasant hour or so until I had an unfortunate incident with a pile of dog poo which required fifteen minutes or so of boot cleaning.  I might have mentioned this before but I completely detest dogs and their inconsiderate owners and I am in complete agreement with Bill Bryson on his matter…

“It wouldn’t bother me in the least…if all the dogs in the world were placed in a sack and taken to some distant island… where they could romp around and sniff each other’s anuses to their hearts’ content and never bother or terrorise me again.”  –  Bill Bryson

The weather was deteriorating now and the promised rain was beginning to threaten so we called an end to the day of beaches and beeches and headed back to Bushmills where we arrived back in pouring rain.

Tonight’s dining was no more successful than the previous.  We booked a table at a nearby hotel but when we got there the prices were way beyond our skinflint budget so we declined to order and went instead to a Chinese takeaway, took it back to the guest house and sat and enjoyed a well prepared meal and a glass of two of red wine.  Very satisfying.

The Causeway Coast, Derry to Bushmills

After negotiating our way out of the city we headed east and started our coastal drive at Magilligan point, a nothing sort of place really at the edge of an army practice firing range and close to a high security prison.  We stopped for coffee and watched the ferry as it crossed Lake Foyle on its way to the Republic and visited a restored Martello Tower, built during the Napoleonic Wars as protection against invasion.

There wasn’t a great deal to detain as at Milligan Point so we began the one hundred and thirty mile road trip along the coastal scenic drive which clings to the coastline like velcro alongside a ribbon of continuous sandy beach.

Enjoying the sunshine we stopped frequently at the empty beaches stretching expansively both east and west to watch the Atlantic breakers raging in on a strong wind that tousled our hair and tugged at our coats, walked along the crisp firm sand and filled our willing lungs with salty sea air.

We left the coast briefly to visit the ruins of Downhill House, a stately mansion built in the late eighteenth century by Frederick 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry, an exceptionally wealthy man who imagined a classic mansion in a scenic location and lavishly filled with fabulous art and a well stocked library.

It didn’t turn out to be a very good spot and it suffered from salt corrosion, Atlantic storms and a major fire which did extensive damage in 1851.  It was restored but during World War Two it was used as a billet for the RAF and the men living there had little regard for history or culture and left it in a desperate condition. 

Sadly this is a familiar story about misbehaving troops in requisitioned big houses and country estates and many suffered the same fate. No need for the Luftwaffe to get involved.  Apparently owners in general didn’t mind their properties being borrowed for schools or hospitals but dreaded the armed forces being moved in because this guaranteed damage and expense.

After the war the place was dismantled for its stone for alternative construction work nearby.

After Castlerock we were obliged to leave the coast and drive towards the town of Coleraine so that we were able to cross the inconvenient River Bann, at one hundred miles long the longest river in Northern Ireland and then back to the coast at Port Stewart which was surprisingly busy and we struggled to find a car parking space close to the town.

After a lunch time stop for refreshment we bypassed nearby Portrush and continued to follow the coast until we reached Dunluce Castle. The road is rather precarious at this point, it reminded me of the Amalfi Drive in Italy and we  approached the castle along a twisting route that dropped dramatically down to the cliffs and showed it off to its best advantage.

Even though it was late afternoon and close to closing time it was still rather busy and the car park was full and there were a couple of tour buses out of Belfast disgorging their passengers.  Dunluce Castle was used in the TV show ‘Game of Thrones‘ and for reasons that I don’t understand these filming locations attract thousands of visitors.  On account of this it was rather overcrowded so with natural skinflint tendencies kicking in we declined the opportunity to take the internal tour of the ruins and satisfied ourselves instead with a wander around the exterior.

Actually I am not sure that the £5 entrance fee was really worth it because without doubt the best views were from the surrounding cliffs and that is what I always tell myself when I have been too mean to pay the admission fee.

From there to the small town of Bushmills and our overnight accommodation and after a good day things started to unravel.  While Kim and Margaret settled into the accommodation, Mike and I were entrusted with finding somewhere to eat later.  This proved more difficult than we had imagined and all that we could find was a hotel restaurant but not until half past nine.  We booked it but I knew this would be too late and would meet with disapproval. 

It was too late and it did meet with disapproval so we rang to cancel  and walked out instead for a fish and chip supper.  On the positive side, once forgiven we got to go to the pub.

Derry/Londonderry – A Walk Along the Bogside

We have visited Ireland, North and South, five times and never once have we experienced bad weather.  Kim refuses to believe the stories about how wet it can be.

It was a beautiful morning, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  As I mentioned before we were staying in the Nationalist Bogside area of the city which has a controversial and unhappy past.  It was peaceful enough this fine morning  but has had a recent bloody and violent contribution to the Troubles.  Indeed some historians identify Londonderry/Derry/Stroke City as being the very crucible of the bloody civil war.

In the 1960s Catholic Derry considered itself to be suffering religious and political persecution (quite rightly as it turns out) and the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional discrimination. Despite having a nationalist majority the city was permanently controlled by unionists due to the partisan drawing of electoral boundaries. In addition the city had very high unemployment levels and very poor housing. Overcrowding in nationalist areas was widely blamed on the political agenda of the Unionist government, who wanted to confine Catholics to a small number of electoral wards to effectively restrict their influence.

In August 1969 following the annual Protestant Apprentice Boys Parade Nationalists clashed with police in an incident remembered now as ‘The Battle of the Bogside’ which directly led to widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and the intervention of the British Army.

Worse was to come on Sunday January 30th 1972 when during a Catholic civil rights march thirteen unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers, another thirteen were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

This incident remains an open wound between the two factions and the British Army but the current official verdict was delivered by the Saville Commission which was published in June 2010.

The report concluded, “The firing by soldiers on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” Saville stated that British paratroopers “lost control” fatally shooting fleeing civilians.  The report states, contrary to the previously established belief that no stones and no petrol bombs were thrown by civilians before British soldiers shot at them and that the civilians were not posing any threat.”  Not the British Army’s finest hour!

Just outside the city walls and only a short walk from our guest house was the very place where the Bloody Sunday confrontation took place so walked down the hill from the fortress walls and saw three famous monuments, ‘You Are Entering Free Derry’, a message painted on the gable end of a row of terraced houses, long since demolished, the Bloody Sunday memorial itself and a third monument remembering the Maze prison notorious now for internment without trial, hunger strikes and the death place of the most famous hunger striker of all, Bobby Sands.

There are guided tours of the Bogside but we chose to do this by ourselves and although it felt quite safe on the busy main road I do admit to  becoming uneasy whenever we strayed into the side streets where signs invited the British to ‘Get Out Now’ and others encouraged local people to join the IRA.

We weren’t put off by this however because we wanted to see the murals, works of urban art really.  These were less political statements but a visual telling of the story of the Bogside troubles.  The political statements were there too but these were smaller information boards which told a sectarian and I have ro say a very one sided story.

I am glad that I walked down to see this but after thirty minutes or so I was happy to leave and walk back now to our car, pack our bags and head east for a drive along the Causeway Coast.

 

Derry/Londonderry – A City Tour and a TV appearance

On our second day in Derry/Londonderry our plan was to take a guided tour of the city walls.  So after an excellent full Irish breakfast at the Amore Guest House we set off in unexpected sunshine into the city.

Derry/Londonderry has the distinction of being the last walled city to be built in Europe and it is one of the most complete with an uninterrupted walk of just about a mile completely enclosing the old city within.  It is one of the few cities in Europe that never saw its fortifications breached, withstanding several sieges including one in 1689 which lasted for one hundred and five days, hence the city’s nickname, The Maiden City, three times besieged but never taken.

The tour began at midday so with time to spare we strolled inside the walls and through the  centre looking for a mural depicting the characters in the hit TV show “The Derry Girls” where we stopped to take pictures. 

A man with a camera approached us and introduced himself as a cameraman from BBC Northern Ireland who was doing a piece about the announcement of a third and final series of the show and asked if he could take a shot of us visiting the mural.  With stars in our eyes we naturally we agreed and that is how we appeared later that night on TV on the local news programme.

Next we crossed the Peace Bridge which is a snaking structure that crosses the River Foyle and connects the east and west banks in a symbol of hopeful fraternity and took us to the predominantly Protestant/Unionist side of the city where we were careful to remember to call it Londonderry.  Here there were the abandoned British Army barracks which have been gifted to the city by the British Government and where there was a frenzy of building/restoration work.

We had only been there an hour or so but already I knew that I Iiked the place.  I was expecting it to be rather more like the cities of Southern Ireland, I thought it might be like Galway or Killarney but it wasn’t.  It may not have had street entertainers and brightly coloured buildings but it had a unique identity which made me regret the fact that we weren’t staying a while longer.

Back within the city walls we joined out Tour Guide, a gregarious fellow in a canary yellow hoodie with a lifetime of amusing stories and anecdotes shared in an extravagant narrative and he set off on an entertaining walk around the top of the walls and on the way told the story of the city and how it was now continuing to recover after the Troubles of the late twentieth century.

The walk took us along the battlements, past fortified bastions and over the various gates of the city where carefully restored cannon still posed threateningly at every corner.  We passed by St Columb’s Cathedral and came across the Protestant quarter called the Fountain surrounded by brick walls and wire fences in a part of the city where the Protestant Unionists refuse to give in and move outside the walls.  Courageous maybe, stubborn certainly but I cannot imagine that it makes for a comfortable life.

It was late afternoon now so we split up to go our separate ways for an hour or so.  I choose to visit the Tower Museum which had a useful walk through history of the city and the province.  It was here that I learnt of the plantations and the settlement of Ulster by protestant Scots, the displacement of the native Catholics and the possible root cause of the centuries of tension that culminated in the troubles of the 1970s and 80’s, but I sensed a whiff of optimism here and I hope it is a beginning rather than an end.

Back together we visited the City Hall with an alternative but equally informative history of the city.  After a stop for a late afternoon Guinness we made our weary way back to the guest house to open a bottle of wine and settle down to watch our anticipated appearance on BBC news.  We scraped in there but only just with no more than a two second shot of us posing in front of the Derry Girls mural.

Later we dined out, drank more Guinness and made plans for the following day.

A to Z of Statues – Y is for W B Yeats

“In a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo.” – W.B. Yeats

This rather unflattering statue of the poet stands in the centre of the town of Sligo in Southern Ireland.

Read The Full Story Here…

A to Z of Statues – O is for Oscar Wilde

A rather strange statue of Oscar Wilde lounging in a very unflattering pose on an uncomfortable looking granite rock which I didn’t care for a great deal.

t seemed to me to be somewhat inappropriate, the poor man clinging on like a piece of lichen to a boulder with his legs wide apart showing his crotch which was what got him into a whole load of trouble in the first place!  Dubliners have christened it the ‘fag on the Craig’.

Other statues in Dublin…

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A to Z of Statues – M is for Michael Collins

We were going to visit the Michael Collins Museum and as we waited for it to open at ten o’clock we walked around the square in search of photo opportunities.

Michael Collins is one of the great characters (heroes?) of Irish history, a soldier, a politician, a patriot who was eventually betrayed by a man less worthy (Éamon de Valera) and murdered in an ambush somewhere close to Clonakilty at Béal na Bláth.

Read The Full Story Here…

One Word Challenge – Point

This week I have decided to join in with Debbie Smyth’s One Word Sunday challenge

Skelligs View Car Park, Kerry…

It has to be said that this was a really odd place. It seems that wherever coaches stop in Ireland an unusual ensemble of strange people and entertainers beam down from out of space and put out a collection tin.

In this windy remote place the oddest of all was a sort of farmer chap who looked as though he hadn’t washed his hands or combed his hair for several years who sat on two battered sofa cushions and invited people to have their photograph taken with a litter of kittens barely old enough to be away from their mother and then some lambs who looked to me to be highly sedated. I think the chap was highly sedated as well, probably on Guinness!

But he actually seemed positively normal next to the man a badly out of tune accordion and kicking a piece of metal plate in some sort of unholy row that I can only imagine was designed to scare witches away.

Walking back to the car in a state of dazed amusement I decided to take his picture but he saw me raise the camera and he was not very happy about it. Perhaps he thought the camera would steal his soul but on reflection I think it was because I hadn’t put any money in the tin. “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me” he yelled, “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me”. I took the picture and gave a jolly wave but he wasn’t going to be that easily placated, “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me”, “I’ll set the dog on yer, I’ll set the dog on yer”.

Now I suffer from a real fear of dogs and a paranoia of being mauled to a canine death and normally a threat like that would turn by backbone to jelly. The British Geological Survey Team in Edinburgh measures earthquake activity in the UK and has been known to sometimes get confused by the seismic activity created by my violent shaking when faced by a dog and has even issued a false earthquake event alert.

On this occasion however I didn’t think I had a lot to fear from an obviously shagged out old collie that was wearing a flat cap tied to its head and whose best people attacking days were a long way behind it. The poor thing could hardly stand up let alone chase anyone that it was set upon so I gave another cheery wave and dawdled defiantly back to the car. I was supremely confident that I could make the five metres to the door faster than it could cover the fifty metres or so to get to me.

Back in the car I suddenly worried that this might be the time that the engine would blow up and I might be in a spot of bother after all but thankfully it fired into life and I deliberately drove slowly past him and gave him a another cheeky wave as he continued to make his pointless threat – “I’ll set the dog on yer, I’ll set the dog on yer”. What was it going to do – bite the tyres?

Anyway, there was no warning light on the dashboard about geriatric dog attacks so we just laughed and carried on to the exit.

On This Day – The Father Ted Tour in Ireland

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 22nd June 2014 I was in Southern Ireland on the trail of Father Ted…

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

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