Tag Archives: Discover Ireland

Entrance Tickets – The Titanic Experience

“Certainly there was no sailor who ever sailed salt water but who smiled – and still smiles – at the idea of the unsinkable ship” – Charles Lightoller (Surviving Officer) in ‘Titanic and Other Ships’

So, everyone knows that the Titanic sank but as we came to the end of the visit I began to think about what if it hadn’t?

Read the Full Story Here…

On This Day – The Dark Hedges in Northern 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 10th June 2015 I was in Ballymoney in Northern Ireland visiting a filming location for the TV film Game of Thrones…

The Dark Hedges Northern Ireland

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.

Dark Hedges 03

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.

We might have stayed longer but to perfectly coincide with our visit a neighbouring farmer decided that this was the perfect agricultural moment to apply an evil silage cocktail to the land and the smell was truly awful and penetrated the interior of the car even through the closed windows.  I was concerned that we could get charged for this later under the car rental small print conditions of contract.

Game of Thrones Dark Hedges

Northern Ireland, Game Of Thrones

001

I confess to never having watched ‘Game of Thrones’  but I feel as though I know it because everywhere you go these days claims to have a filming location from the programme!

The Dark Hedges Northern IrelandGiant's Causeway Northern IrelandDunluce Castle Northern ireland

Northern Ireland, A Walk on The (Wild) Bogside.

Londonderry Wall Mural

It was a beautiful morning, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  The view from our room was over the Catholic Bogside area which looked peaceful enough today 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 civil war.

In the 1960s Catholic Derry considered itself to be suffering religious and political persecution 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!

Londonderry Bloody Sunday Wall Mural

Just outside the city walls and only a short walk from our hotel 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.

As in Belfast there are guided tours of the Bogside but we choose 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 and quite different from those in West Belfast.  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 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 the old city.

There was still an hour to spare before our check out time and ninety minute drive to the airport so while Kim returned to the hotel I took advantage of these final moments by walking the walls for a second time and having visited the Catholic Bogside took a detour into the Protestant Fountains estate where I found the murals and the political slogans a great deal more sectarian and aggressive and I didn’t stay long.

Londonderry/Derry Wall Mural

Our drive back to Belfast International Airport was slow going but uneventful and eventually we arrive back at the Sixt car rental office.  Now, if you remember my first day post about this trip to Northern Ireland you might recall that I had paid for fully comprehensive insurance and was confident that I had got everything covered.

Not quite!

A member of staff examined the car and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing  that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a £60 cleaning charge.  Now, I am not disputing that we had walked on a beach and transferred some sand from our shoes to the car but the quantity was minute and you really needed a microscope to find it.

“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with.  I noticed that there was funny smell and I remided him that I am Sixt Platinum custumer and he backed down and said not to worry because  the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.

Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not).  In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but I quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!  These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.

So we made our way to the airport and the departure lounge and in the time we had to wait I started to think about the few days away and began to compare it with the previous year visit to Southern Ireland…

Northern Ireland, Stroke City (What’s In A Name?)

Londonderry Walled City

“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist” – Mahatma Gandhi

The city might be Londonderry/Derry or Derry/Londonderry and we were confused about what we should call it because we didn’t want to offend anyone.

The name Derry became the accepted name of the town around the sixteenth century but it was also at this time point that it acquired the prefix of London. The Plantation of Ulster in 1608 saw the British Crown seizing land in an effort to anglicise Ulster and create a loyal and acquiescent population. The various lands were handed over to different guilds of London traders to develop and manage and in recognition of their efforts and considerable financial investment the city was renamed Londonderry in 1613.

The names of the city, county, and district of Derry or Londonderry continue to be the subject of a naming dispute between nationalists and unionists. Generally nationalists favour using the name Derry, and unionists using Londonderry. Legally, the city and county are called Londonderry while the local government district is called Derry.

Confused? We were. My favourite solution to this problem is the name given by a Northern Ireland radio broadcaster called Gerry Anderson who christened the city with the alternative name Stroke City and residents have increasingly embraced the unofficial name thus neatly circumventing the linguistic minefield of whether it is Derry or Londonderry.

We found the underground car park of the Maldon hotel without any difficulty and after we had checked into our fourth floor rooms with good views over the city we met in the bar for a Guinness before beginning a walking tour of the walls of the city.

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.

Our hotel was conveniently located near Butcher’s Gate so we climbed a staircase to the top and decided for no reason to take an anti-clockwise stroll starting at the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall, protected by rails and wire mesh from any missiles that might be thrown across from the Catholic Bogside opposite.

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 it is definitely wise to call it Londonderry.

It was at about this point where the wall descended almost to street level and seeing a shopping mall Kim and Pauline were sucked inside so Richard and I retired to a pub for a second Guinness.

We had only been there an hour or so but already I knew that 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 longer than one night.

The city suffered badly during the troubles but in 2013 it became the inaugural UK City of Culture and as a result has benefitted from considerable investment.  The best example of this was the Guildhall which has been lavishly restored and is now a superb tourist attraction which best of all doesn’t charge for admission.  In fact it was so good that I felt obliged to make a voluntary contribution and that’s not like me at all!

We had visited the Peace Wall in Belfast and now we crossed the Peace Bridge in Londonderry, which is a snaking structure which crosses the River Foyle and connects the east and west banks in a symbol of hopeful fraternity.

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.

The Hotel Maldron advertised Irish music in the bar tonight so we didn’t have a long debate about where to take our evening meal. Unfortunately the musicians didn’t turn up and the hotel staff didn’t respond well to my complaint.  My food wasn’t very good either although everyone else declared their choice of meal to be a great success.

Deprived of music we left the hotel and went looking for entertainment elsewhere.  The burgundy coloured Tracy’s Bar looked promising with a picture of musicians painted on the wall, but it was empty and lifeless inside and two women who had obviously had too much to drink and were standing smoking in the doorway asked what did we expect, it was Tuesday!

So we walked a section of the wall, found a pub (without music) and had a chat about the meaning of life and a final Guinness for the day!

Londonderry Guildhall

Northern Ireland, Castles and Hedges

Dunluce Castle Northern ireland

At seven o’clock in the morning the Giant’s Causeway was magnificent and as the sun struggled to break through the crazy paved cracked clouds we wandered  across the magnificently moody rocks without any interruption, until that is a quartet of men appeared who were obviously trying to walk off a big boozy night and even now had not fully regained complete volume control.

After Richard and I had returned to the  Smuggler’s Inn from the causeway we had an excellent breakfast (full English or full Irish I am not sure, I was going to ask but promptly forgot) and then we checked out and headed west.

Our intended destination was Dunluce castle but somewhere in Bushmills I missed a signpost and it was soon clear that we were going in the wrong direction and we had to turn back.  It was well worth it though because once on the right road 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 early it was already quite busy and the car park was full and there were a couple of tour buses out of Belfast disgorging their passengers.  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.

The Dark Hedges Northern Ireland

Our next destination was a last minute adjustment to the planned itinerary and was made in response to something that we had seen in the local guidebooks – the dark hedges of Ballymoney, famous all of a sudden for being featured in the TV film ‘Game of Thrones’.

Game of Thrones Dark Hedges

From looking at the road map I was sure that this would be a place that was certain to be difficult to find but I was practically speechless when the normally not entirely reliable SatNav found it without any difficulty at all.

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!

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.

We might have stayed longer but to perfectly coincide with our visit a neighbouring farmer decided that this was the perfect agricultural moment to apply an evil silage cocktail to the land and the smell was truly awful and penetrated the interior of the car even through the closed windows.  I was concerned that we could get charged for this later under the car rental small print conditions of contract!

We left the Dark hedges and returned to the coast road that we picked up a mile or two beyond the Coleraine by-pass but in truth the coast road never really threatened to become anything like as dramatic or interesting as the Antrim coast the previous day and with nothing of any great interest to detain us we carried on directly to our next overnight stop in the city of Londonderry/Derry.

Dark Hedges 03

Northern Ireland, Top Tips for Visiting the Giant’s Causeway on a Budget

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

“The National Trust is a wonderful organisation… but why does it have to be so very annoying?  It would be a kindness if they gave you a map when you paid for parking and admission but this is not the National Trust way.  They like to charge for every individual thing.  The day cannot be too far off when you pay for toilet paper by the sheet.” – Bill Bryson

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they crudely misled visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:

1  Walk there.  This might seem rather obvious but as a word of warning it is about a mile walk and there are no footpaths.

2  Use the  Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills light railway.  It is a lot cheaper and you get a train ride there and back.  It only operates in the Summer however.

3  Drive to the Giant’s Causeway and park in the railway car park.  It is only £6.

4  Stay overnight at the Causeway Hotel and park for free.  If not staying overnight park up and have a cup of coffee and become a customer and get entitlement to free parking.

5  Use the National Trust Car Park but only buy one ticket to the visitor centre, a good solution if there is a family of visitors or if there are 4 adults.

6  Use the National Trust car park and just ignore the visitor centre completely.  National Trust say they may clamp cars when visitors haven’t paid but this is most unlikely.  Don’t worry about the clamped car close to the entrance, this belongs to a member of staff and is only there to try and frighten people.

7 Walk from the car park to the Causeway because if you take the bus then this costs another £1 each way.

The National Trust says:

“The admission fee includes: access to the Visitor Centre facilities (cafe, retail, exhibition and toilets including a Changing Places facility), use of a hand-held audio guide to explore the landscape outdoors with over one-hour of content, a guided walking tour led by a National Trust guide lasting more than 45 minutes, and visitor information leaflets and parking.”

Click on any picture in the gallery to enter the slideshow…

 

Also worth a view:

Views from a disgruntled visitor

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway

Northern Ireland, The Antrim Coast – Just Pictures

Antrim Coast Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, The Antrim Coast

Northern Ireland Blue Flag

Because it is a long journey, our driver on the Political Tour, Lawrence, had suggested that we should go straight to Larne before starting the Antrim Coast road drive.  We took his advice even though this meant missing out Carrickfergus and the castle and the harbour where William of Orange landed in 1690 before going on to victory at the Battle of the Boyne, the location of the last witchcraft trial in Ireland in 1711,  and where the RMS Titanic anchored up for the last time before setting off on its fateful journey in 1912.

So we drove directly to Larne and then rather rudely used the by-pass and circumnavigated the town without stopping but this didn’t trouble us because we were heading for the coast.  Along this stretch of north east Ireland runs the A2 road which is said to be the longest stretch of principal highway in the UK which clings so closely to the sea and indeed to create this road the hills were blown up and demolished to provide the foundations.

Ireland A2 Road Trip

The road here clings like Velcro to the base of the cliffs and swings around the headlands and bays in extravagant sweeps and roller-coaster twists and turns.  To our left were the glens of County Antrim decorated with dainty wild flowers and rolling gently down to the coastline and to our right was the Irish Sea and just twenty miles or so away the coast of nearby Scotland.

Along the route the road is flanked by gnarled hawthorn trees standing stoically alone by the roadside, it is, I later learn, because the locals are reluctant to cut them down for fear of disturbing the little people!

The going was slow because we stopped several times to admire the beaches and the uninterrupted views and by mid morning we had only covered a few miles north when we stopped for coffee at the walled garden of Glenarm.  It was a charming place but there was no time to stop longer than a cappucchino and soon we were back on the road.

County Antrim is one of the staunchest Protestant and Loyalist parts of Northern Ireland and we were left in no doubt about that as we drove through villages where the kerb stones and the lampposts were painted red, white and blue and a Union flag flew above the front door of almost every house.  Until that is we came to Cushendun, a harbour village abandoned by the A2 road and which is a catholic enclave emblazoned with green, white and orange.

We were in the far north east now and these stretches of the road regularly appear in top ten lists of drives in the UK.  It only ever really makes it to number two in a list of coastal drives in Ireland however, coming in behind the Dingle peninsular and having driven that only last year I have to say that I am inclined to agree with that judgement.  In my opinion It is better than the Ring of Kerry by some considerable way.   It isn’t exactly the Amalfi drive, nothing can hope to compare with the Amalfi drive but it is well worth making the effort to get behind the wheel of a car and experience this wonderful part of the British Isles.

Can anyone suggest a UK top ten drive?

Three quarters of the four hundred miles of Northern Ireland coast are protected areas and as we made the next section of the journey to Ballycastle it was easy to understand why.  The sun was shining today but it was still quite cool and I suppose that the unpredictable climate is a bonus here because if Northern Ireland had the climate of the Spanish Costas then it wouldn’t be long before they were covered in sun loungers and the shoreline would be overrun with pedalos and water sports.

By mid afternoon we reached the seaside town of Ballycastle and as the parking was free we pulled in and went to explore the beach and the harbour.  The seashore stretched some considerable way and we took a stroll along the dunes and back at the car we transferred some grains of sand from our shoes to the car floor and although we didn’t know it now this was likely to become a problem later…

Resisting the temptation of a pub stop and a Guinness we carried on now to our next destination, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland

The travel guides make this sound like a death defying challenge to cross a swaying rope bridge with only irregular wooden steps and rotting rope handles to separate you from certain death on the jagged rocks below followed by a swirling watery grave as the unpredictable currents carry your shattered and broken body out into the sea.

The truth is that this is not nearly so exciting as is made out and there is no Indiana Jones sort of danger whatsoever and visitors cross over the twenty metre bridge as though on a pedestrian crossing on any town centre High Street and make their way to the rather disappointing final destination on the walk.  It is as safe as being on a cycle path in the Netherlands, as safe as a bubble-wrapped Amazon parcel delivery!

Samuel Johnson is reported to have said the the Giant’s Causeway was worth seeing but not worth going to see and whilst I would take issue with him over that I think his assessment could easily be applied to Carrick-a-Rede!

If the bridge is a disappointment (especially having paid £6 each for the privilege) the coastal walks are not and the thirty minute walk there and back from the inevitable National Trust centre and souvenir shop provided splendid views along the rocky coast in both directions and today with the sun shining we could almost make out people waving to us from Scotland.

This part of the coastal drive was almost over now so back at the car we drove the final few miles towards the Giant’s Causeway and our hotel for the night, The Smuggler’s Inn.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

 

Northern Ireland, The Troubles and the Political Tour

Belfast Political Murals

“Side by side, we stand like brothers
One for all and all together
We will stay united through darker days
And we’ll be unbeatable forever”

Ireland’s Call (The IRFU anthem) – Phil Coulter

The thirty year period between 1969 and 1998 in Northern Ireland is generally referred to as ‘The Troubles’ because during this period Catholics and Protestants, Loyalists and Nationalists waged bloody war on each other over the issue of the political status of the Province and in the process destroyed the political structure, the economy and the social infrastructure of the country.

During this time approximately three thousand, five hundred people were blown up, gunned down, assassinated or murdered and ten times more than that were wounded or injured.  To put that into perspective if this level of political violence had occurred in the rest of the United Kingdom then the number of casualties pro-rata to population would have been over one hundred thousand and if it had been in the United States it would have been six hundred and fifty thousand.

Given these statistics and considering the violence and destruction of property (by 1980 a third of the historic centre of Londonderry was damaged or burnt out) it seems to me that the term ‘The Troubles’ seems massively understated.  Troubles implies to me a little bad tempered spat, handbags at dawn or a bit of a playground punch up but this was much more than that, it was actually all out civil war.

Today we were going to find out more about it and back at the hotel we waited for our taxi to arrive to begin a tour of the troubled areas of West Belfast.  Some taxi tours remain rigidly sectarian and will only do either the Protestant Shankhill Road or the Catholic Falls Road areas so we had chosen Ken Harper Taxis because they promised to do both.  Bang on time our taxi arrived and the driver introduced himself as Lawrence.  He began by confirming that we were serious about taking the tour and asked if any of us were frightened.  We replied yes to the first and no to the second and the tour began.

We went first to the Protestant/Loyalist working class area of the Shankhill Road and pulled into a social housing estate where Union Flags were displayed prominently on every house and where Queen Elizabeth looked out from front room windows into the street, surveying her Realm and here on the gable ends of the terraces were the famous political murals of Belfast.

They paid homage to the Loyalist heroes of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, a deadly sniper pointed his rifle directly at us and here of course was King William III of Orange and a celebration of the Battle of the Boyne of 1690 which effectively established Protestant domination in Ulster and which has been celebrated every year since in the provocative Orange Day Marches on the 12th July*.  Being only a few weeks away preparations were already in place and on one corner of the estate was the wooden pallet base of what was soon to become a one hundred foot high bonfire.

In one place there was a rather discreet memorial to Oliver Cromwell and I asked about that.  Lawrence said that there used to be a full mural but it was taken down because it was considered offensive to Catholics.  Excuse me, all of these murals are offensive to Catholics and this explanation only confused me.  But then Ireland is an enigma, there is bad blood between the Republic and the North but when it comes to sport for example everyone gets on together.  Rugby Football, Hurling, Hockey and Cricket are all organised on an inclusive basis and only football retains a distinction between the south and the north.  Maybe the people who run the Ireland Rugby Football Union should be in charge of the political peace process?

Northern Ireland Belfast Peace Line

We left the Shankhill Road and drove now towards the Catholic/Nationalist Falls Road but our way was blocked by an ugly concrete and steel wall topped with razor wire which Lawrence told us was the ‘Peace Line’ built to keep Nationalists and Unionists apart and with steel doors which are closed at night to prevent fighting and confrontation.

There is currently an agreed objective of removing the Peace Line by 2023 – Another eight years!

I was genuinely shocked to see this, I really had no idea and in this moment I came to understand that the troubles are not over and that I was not on a tourist pleasure drive but I was seeing first hand the gritty reality of life in working class Belfast.  The wall is covered in graffiti and peace messages and Lawrence handed over some marker pens and invited us to make our contribution.

We passed now into the Falls Road and stopped in a memorial garden to fallen heroes of the IRA**  next to a row of houses where back gardens were protected by cages to prevent damage from missiles thrown over the wall and then to the offices of Sien Fein and the instantly recognisable face of hunger striker Bobby Sands staring out from perhaps the most famous Belfast mural of all.  As the tour came to a close we stopped one final time by a wall of murals all declaring solidarity with other worldwide political protest movements.

This was a highlight of our time in Belfast, it was both educational and entertaining and anyone visiting Belfast should not hesitate to take the tour.  Like a lot of people I had thought that the Troubles in Northern Ireland had ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 but Lawrence had demonstrated just how wrong I was.

http://www.harpertaxitours.com/

It was late afternoon now and we needed to lighten up a bit so after being dropped off back at the hotel we followed a walking route to a famous Victorian pub called the Crown Bar Liquor Saloon where we drank Guinness and made plans for the evening.

Later we returned to the Cathedral Quarter and a restaurant called ‘Made in Belfast’ where we had an excellent meal and watched a party table next to us overloading the table with alcohol.  I think that they were planning a very big night!

We didn’t stay long enough to get involved because we were planning an early start tomorrow and a drive north along the Antrim Coast.

 

* The Orange Order is an international Protestant fraternal organisation was founded in County Armagh in 1795 as a Masonic-style brotherhood with the principal aim of upholding the Protestant faith. Its name is a tribute to the Dutch-born Protestant King William of Orange. Its members wear Orange sashes and are referred to as Orangemen. The Order is best known for its yearly marches which take place not just in Northern Ireland but also in the USA, Canada and almost anywhere in the World where people from Ulster have emigrated to and settled.

** The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is any of several armed movements in Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries dedicated to Irish republicanism and the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic. The first known use of the term “Irish Republican Army” occurred in the Fenian raids of the Fenian Brotherhood an Irish Republican organization who were based in the United States on British army targets in Canada.