Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Along the coast of Northern Ireland

Catching up with what is likely my last posting from Ireland...  We started off yesterday with another marvelous Irish breakfast and a big pot of tea. Well fortified we began our sightseeing at the ruins of nearby Dunluce Castle.  The first castle was built on a rocky crag above the beach in the 15th Century and added on to over the next couple hundred years before being abandoned in the mid 17th C.
In the lower mid-ground is a cavern that is open to the sea behind.
Unlike other castles we visited in the republic, this one was not built by Normans--rather it was first established by a Gaelic lord who was then ousted by one of the Scots families (the MacDonnells) who had been brought over from the Hebrides as mercenaries.

We then hustled along to the Giant's Causeway which had been one of the main reasons for travelling to this coast.  An absolutely marvelous site of basalt rocks and columns!

Lloyd sitting on the Giant's Boot
Standing in a column of basalt rocks.  These were formed by
volcanic action 60 million years ago.
It's easy to see why there are so many of these hexagonal rocks in the local walls and buildings!

We finished off our visit on the north coast with a visit to Old Bushmills Distillery where they've been making Irish whiskey since 1608.  I don't really care for spirits, however their liquor which has been made with honey was quite delish!

And then we made our way to Belfast via the coast road which was a bit gripping!  Narrow roads...agricultural tractors...tourists, including cars with German and French licence plates, meaning that they're left hand drive cars, driving on the left side of the road...scary!

Last night we stayed at the Park Inn in Belfast--a very pleasant hotel and centrally located that we booked on the website lastminute.com.  We woke up to MORE RAIN this morning but in spite of that walked over to the Titanic exhibition, only to discover that the earliest tickets we could buy were for 4:20 PM!!  Should have checked the website a few days ago!!  Anyway, back to the main part of the city we went, and in consolation we took a 90 minute sightseeing tour on a double-decker bus.  We learned a lot and were really glad we went. It included quite a bit of political history of the origins of Northern Ireland (which is 6 counties of the original province of Ulster--the rest went with the Republic of Ireland in the split of 1922.)  The guide was very good about covering both sides of the recent "Troubles" and emphasized how these feelings are still bubbling below the surface but everyone appreciates the peace they have now.  There was one particularly good example--a building on one side of the road still surrounded with baricades and thick cement wall while on the other side of the road a new office tower with glass walls--this much glass would not have been possible before.  The bus travelled the whole length of the "peace wall", which separates the Loyalist (pro United Kingdom) and Republican (pro union with Republic of Ireland) neighbourhoods.  We noticed that she very carefully did not describe people by their religions.

We have felt very safe here, and indeed have found people to be extremely friendly.  On the streets, there has been a lot of eye contact and friendly greetings.  On the roads, drivers wave and acknowledge us when we pull over to let them pass.  It has been a little surprising however to drive through villages and towns in Northern Ireland fully decked out with red, white and blue flags, Union Jacks, flags of the cross of St. George but with a red hand in the centre (aka "the red hand of Ulster, symbol of the Ulster Freedom fighters, a symbol of Ulster's loyalty to the British crown), pictures of the Queen, images of King William on his white horse (from the Battle of the Boyne)...and realize that these are "Orange" towns, i.e. Loyalist/Unionist and have just celebrated July 12th, the day that King William of Orange defeated James II in 1690.  We did hear about some incidents on the 12th--some young yahoos were arrested and other "marchers" were criticized for marching with their band in front of a Catholic church while there was a service going on.  And then there are other towns and villages where there isn't a Union Jack in sight so we assume these folks are mainly Republican or maybe they just don't observe July 12th...

We drove down the east coast of Ireland in driving rain!  Yet again!  We're now in Wicklow town at a great hostel, Captain Halpin's Bunkhouse, with very welcoming hosts.  Our fellow guests are a diverse lot and include several long-haired men with bushy beards who are either actors or extras in a Viking movie being filmed in the area.

We'll be home Thursday night.  It'll be good to have some sunshine and heat but I must say that this humid temperate climate is good for the skin.

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