Tag Archives: Ulster

Ireland, Mullaghmore and Donegal

County Donegal

“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.” – Prince Charles quoting lines by the Sligo poet W B Yeats:

On the final day our plan was to visit Southern Ireland’s most northerly county, Donegal, so far north in fact that at the most northerly point it is further north than Northern Ireland.  It is also part of the province of Ulster, which we mistakenly tend to think of as Northern Ireland.

There is a phrase that the Irish frequently use themselves which is “Only in Ireland” which is used to justify the regularly encountered idiosyncrasies of the country without offering any sort of rational explanation.

The partition of Ireland into north and south is a good example…

Ulster and Northern Ireland

… The Province of Ulster is nine counties in the north and to make things complicated three of these are in the Republic and the other six make up what we know as Northern Ireland.

Ulster has no political or administrative significance these days and exists only as a historical sub-division of Ireland and one of the four Rugby Union provinces.  The others are Connacht, Munster and Leinster.  The map above shows the geographical split. The reasons are many and complicated but in the simplest terms these six counties were partitioned from the Irish Free State when it was established in 1920 because these were areas where Protestants were in the majority and had campaigned vigorously to remain part of the Union.

Except that they weren’t because in Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone they were in the minority but were included anyway.  County Donegal was catholic but was separated from the principal border city of Londonderry/Derry and County Londonderry now has a majority catholic population.

How complicated is all that?  No wonder that the Irish issue has taken so long to try and resolve.

Anyway, we didn’t concern ourselves today with tangled issues of politics but in the sunshine drove out of Sligo and once again picked up the road which follows the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’.

Mullaghmore Ireland County Sligo

Although I was uneasy about this (bearing in mind how Kim reacted so badly to a coastal detour just a couple of days previously and just how clear she had been on her thoughts about detours) we chanced a recommended diversion to a small coastal village of Mullaghmore which turned out to be absolutely delightful with a picturesque harbour and a string of bars and cafés so after a stroll we selected one and stopped for drinks.

Mullaghmore is a charming place but it has a grim place in UK/Ireland relations and it has the burden of a horrific legacy.  Overlooking the village is Classiebawn Castle which was once the summer residence of Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma, one of the great British heroes of the Second-World-War.  On 27th August 1979, Mountbatten took to sea in his boat out of Mullaghmore harbour and was murdered by an IRA bomb that had been previously planted on board.

It was only a small boat and a 50lb (23 kilo) stash of radio controlled nitro-glycerine planted there the night before blew it completely apart.

Shadow V Mountbatten

An IRA statement boasted… “We claim responsibility for the execution of Lord Louis Mountbatten. This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country.”

The thoroughly despicable Gerry Adams, Irish politician and Leader of the political wing of the IRA Sinn Féin, justified the killing in this way…

“The IRA gave clear reasons for the execution…  What the IRA did to him is what Mountbatten had been doing all his life to other people; and with his war record I don’t think he could have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation. He knew the danger involved in coming to this country.”  Hmmm!

Hopefully that unpleasantness is all in the past now (although I do hope that nasty Gerry Adams has recurring nightmares about the time he will spend in the future in Hell) and on a perfect summer day we left a very peaceful Mullaghmore and continued our journey to the very agreeable town of Donegal.

Donegal Castle

Donegal was much smaller than I imagined it would be (my research was hopelessly inadequate on this point) and although it was vibrant and busy it didn’t take a great deal of our time to walk around the town centre and pay a visit to the splendidly restored castle, stop for lunch in a hotel bar and then make our way back to the car park to begin the journey back to Sligo for our final night in Ireland –  for this year anyway.

After the first day which had been spoiled by rain our Irish good weather fortune had returned and we had three days in glorious sunshine enjoying Ireland’s north-west coast.  On the way back we planned another recommended detour into the hills behind Sligo in the shadow of the most famous – Benbulbin, which stands out above the land like an enormous beached liner.  We made the drive but the weather was changing again now and the blue skies were being rapidly replaced by ominous grey.

The rain held off for the final evening in Sligo but the following morning was wet and miserable and the drive back to Knock Airport for the midday flight was through a series of squally storms.  We arrived and departed in the rain but in the middle we had enjoyed a fourth wonderful visit to magnificent Ireland.

But wait. There was a sting in the tail/tale because on the way out through Knock airport departures there was a development tax of 10 euros each to be paid before we could leave.  It seems that the Good Lord doesn’t always provide after all, well not all of it anyway!

Ireland Drinking Guinness

Advertisements

Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid

Victoria Square Shopping Centre Belfast

“Belfast is a city which, while not forgetting its past, is living comfortably with its present and looking forward to its future.” – James Nesbitt

We started our walking tour at the restored Victorian St George’s indoor Market and as soon as we went through the doors I knew that I had been there before.  In 2002 I attended an Environmental Health conference in Belfast and one evening there was live entertainment and a lot of drinking in this place.

Read the full story…

Belfast Beacon Of Hope

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 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.

Northern Ireland, A Walking Tour of Belfast

Victoria Square Shopping Centre Belfast

Must See places in Belfast…

“Belfast is a city which, while not forgetting its past, is living comfortably with its present and looking forward to its future.” – James Nesbitt

We started our walking tour at the restored Victorian St George’s indoor Market and as soon as we went through the doors I knew that I had been there before.  In 2002 I attended an Environmental Health conference in Belfast and one evening there was live entertainment and a lot of drinking in this place.

It looked quite different today laid out with market stalls selling all sorts of food and traditional produce.  We would have liked to have stayed and looked around but Saturday it seems is early closing and all of the stall holders were in a rush to pack up and get off home or down to the pub.  The information board at the door told us that it was open again tomorrow so we were obliged to postpone our visit for twenty-four hours or so.

From the Victorian Market we made our way to the modern Victoria Square shopping centre which is much like any other UK shopping centre and sent the same sort of shivers down my spine that I get in Grimsby or Nottingham but happily we weren’t there for shopping we were there to find the steel observation tower set under a glass dome with good views across all of the city and we climbed the spiral staircase to the to the top platform for a 360° panorama of Belfast.

I might have mentioned before that I don’t really like shopping centres and arcades but this one impressed me.  Not because of the merchandise but simply because it exists. Twenty years ago Belfast city centre was a soulless place with army patrols and check and search points but now it is a vibrant and colourful city centre with a healthy beating heart and shops and department stores that would never have considered locating here during the times of trouble and violence.

Getting away from the centre proved a little difficult because shops have tractor beams that draw women inside and we had to stop regularly as Kim and Pauline were unable to resist the shoes and the sparkly things in the shop windows.  I am completely unable to understand the need to shop but here it was even more confusing.  We were in the UK and these shops were exactly the same shops that you can see in any UK town or city so where was the need I wondered to go inside and touch things.  And that is another peculiarity of shopping, women need to touch things even if they have no intention of buying them.  I raised this point and asked for an explanation but all got was a ‘you wouldn’t understand’ sort of look in response.  Too right I wouldn’t!

Queen Victoria Birmingham UK

A feature of cities is that they give different areas quaint touristy names and now we made our way to the Cathedral Quarter, so named for no other reason than this is where the Cathedral is.  We stepped inside but there was an admission charge of £5 so put off by this we just stayed in the entrance area and looked at the interior from a distance.  This might sound a bit mean but I am always reluctant to pay to visit an Anglican Cathedral on account of the fact that they are always disappointingly dull.

Now somewhere called the Cathedral Quarter sounds as though it should be rather well worth visiting but all in all we found it a bit of a let down and then I found this on Wikipedia:

“The Cathedral Quarter is a developing area of the city. While it has considerable good attractions it is also true that its designation as a cultural quarter may easily lead to an apprehension of a busy and significantly developed cultural area, which may bring some disappointment to visitors.”

Turning back now to the City centre we did stray into one rather lively street with a courtyard of entertaining murals and a street of lively and colourful pubs;  It looked like a street that was trying to become a sort of Temple Bar (Dublin) but it has to be said that it still has some way to go.

As we walked it began to get rather cloudy and soon there were spots of rain.  Kim and Pauline used this as an excuse to shelter in a shop, Richard went looking for a guide book and I decided to wander back to the hotel.  The weather changes quickly in Ireland however and I hadn’t gone very far when the clouds broke and the sun was poking its smiley face through again.

This conveniently coincided with my arrival at the Belfast City Hall in Donegall Square.  This is without doubt the finest building in Belfast commissioned in 1888 after Queen Victoria awarded Belfast city status and as a mark of gratitude her statue stands proudly outside the main entrance.

There were no flags flying.  In 2012, the City Council voted to limit the days that the Union Flag flies from City Hall to no more than eighteen designated days. Since 1906, the flag had been flown every day of the year. The move was backed by the Council’s Irish nationalist Councillors but was opposed by the unionist Councillors.  On the night of the vote, unionist and loyalist protesters tried to storm City Hall and they held protests throughout Northern Ireland.

Later we met in the bar for a Guinness and a debate about where to eat.  We took the word of a helpful young barman who recommended an Italian restaurant called the Cheeky Cherub which personally I didn’t think that sounded all that promising but we went there anyway and after a first class meal we all agreed that we were glad that we took that advice.

Next day we were going to see the Titanic Exhibition.

Belfast City Hall

Northern Ireland, Preparation and Research

Ulster and Northern Ireland

Eire, Northern Ireland and Ulster

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

The Province of Ulster is nine counties in the north of Ireland and to make things complicated three of these are in the Republic and the other six make up what we know as Northern Ireland.  The map above shows the geographical split. The reasons are many and complicated but in the simplest terms these six counties were partitioned from the Irish Free State when it was established in 1920 because these were areas where Protestants were in the majority and had ferociously campaigned to remain part of the Union ‘by all means which may seem necessary’ which inevitably included violence and civil disobedience.

Northern Ireland Map Postcard

As Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom I found it difficult to carry out my usual areas of research but I have managed one or two interesting facts.

The Office for National Statistics revealed that in 2014 Northern Ireland was the happiest part of  the United Kingdom and the top four places based on a residents survey were the counties of Antrim, Fermanagh, Omagh and the city of Dungannon*.  The least happy areas are all in England at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, Dartford in Kent, Torridge in Devon, Maldon in Essex, and South Ribble in Lancashire.

Let’s turn to Blue Flag Beaches.  The United Kingdom has one hundred and thirteen Blue Flags and ten of these are in Northern Ireland.  It is more impressive when you think of it like this – The UK has twelve thousand, five hundred miles of coastline and Northern Ireland has four hundred so it has just three percent or so of the total seashore but seven and a half percent of the Blue Flag Beaches.

Northern Ireland Blue Flag

I always like to take a look at the Eurovision Song Contest and Ireland competes as part of the United Kingdom.  Belfast born Ronnie Carroll came fourth in the contest in 1963 with “Say Wonderful Things” and in 1967 the Northern Irish songwriter Phil Coulter wrote the winning UK entry “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.  He also wrote the following years runner up “Congratulations” by Cliff Richard.

Quite a lot of famous people have been born in Northern Ireland, in Literature there is C.S Lewis, in music there is Van Morrison and James Galway, in golf there is Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, in snooker, Alex Higgins and in motor racing Eddie Irvine.  Leaving Best till last is George who is generally reckoned to be the finest player who never played in a World Cup finals and makes it into everyone’s top ten greatest footballers. I saw George Best once when he gave an after dinner speech, later I shook his hand and got his autograph and believe me it was a very special moment!

When it comes to actors there is Kenneth Branagh, Liam Neeson and Sam Neil who I always thought was Australian but turns out he regards himself as a New Zealander.

We arrived at Belfast International Airport around about lunchtime and still being in the UK there was no tedious border control procedure so we skipped straight through and made for the Sixt car hire rentals office on the other side of the airport car park.  I completed the paperwork and paid for fully comprehensive insurance which more than doubled the cost of the rental at a stroke.  Still, better to be safe than sorry we all agreed.  We were allocated a brand new silver Honda Civic Tourer and eased out of the car park satisfied that we were fully covered for all eventualities.  I should have read the small print – more about this later!

Belfast International Airport isn’t exactly in Belfast and there was a twenty mile drive to the city and I overruled the SatNav and avoided the motorway and took a leisurely drive through the small towns and villages along the way eventually arriving in the capital after about forty minutes.

Rather unusually we found the Premier Inn hotel with a minimum of fuss and presented ourselves at the check in desk where the lady on reception asked if we were with the Stag Party. OMG, there was a twenty strong bunch of staggers at the hotel all intent on getting gloriously drunk and having a riotously noisy  evening.  The receptionist scratched her head and fiddled with the keyboard and then happily announced that she had found us two rooms a couple of floors away from the merry makers.  We celebrated with a Guinness.

A Premier Inn Hotel is always a safe choice, hardly luxury but always reliable.  Last year I took my granddaughters to  a Premier Inn for a night and the youngest, Patsy, declared it to be the best hotel she has ever stayed at in her life – but she is only four years old!

Satisfied we found our rooms on the fourth floor, left unpacking until later and stepped out into the sunny street for a walking tour of the city.

Welcome to Belfast

*What is interesting is that although there is still a desire for many Catholic Nationalists for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and join the Republic, three of these areas are predominantly Catholic.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Vivid

The Dark Hedges Northern Ireland

The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

The Dark Hedges in County Antrim is said to be haunted by a spectre known locally as ‘The Grey Lady’ and this eerie location has been used as a setting in the ‘Game of Thrones’.

Game of Thrones Dark Hedges