It was a pretty crazy thing driving from Ireland to Northern Ireland. I was (and still am) fairly ignorant about the conflict and the history between the two, and couldn’t believe that one minute we were following speed limits in kilometres, seeing petrol stations advertising in Euros and having fun attempting to read the street signs in Gaelic, and the next thing we knew we had crossed into Northern Ireland and were operating in miles, pounds and strictly English. Very bizarre.
Our trusty hire car took us to the Premier Inn in Belfast, where we had about 5 minutes to go up to our room, slam my iPad (our equivalent of a DSLR) into a charger and head back down to commence our Black Cab tour of Belfast which had been recommended to us by the bride and groom from Part II of our Irish adventure, and was such a brilliant experience. Our driver, a lovely Northern Irelander named Joe, had a huge breadth of knowledge and was happy to answer any questions at all. We felt a little awkward about what questions we could ask (given the half-joking-but-we-couldn’t-quite-tell warning to wear a bullet proof vest in Belfast, and not to wear particular colours in particular streets) but Joe was really happy to answer whatever came his way. We never found out for sure whether he was on the Catholic or the Protestant side of the fence but he was fairly unbiased in terms of both his responses and the tour itself.
Firstly, Belfast is beautiful. It reminded me of London, but more peaceful and spread out. After driving through the city with some great sights pointed out, we first stopped off on the Protestant side of the Peace Wall (which I will get to in a second!), parked the cab and stepped out for 45 mins of so of wandering around. Our guide showed us some of the more significant murals which have been painted onto the sides of houses. The area is adorned with union jacks, signs, the colours of their football teams, and it’s impossible not to feel slightly intimated by the passion and strength in beliefs.
Some of the murals were quite intense, such as this one, with a gun pointing directly at a tall Catholic church, with a steeple just in view.
Next we drove around to the Peace Line. It was built in 1969 and has been built up and extended over the year. It was built originally to stop violence by literally separating the two groups. They would often find ways to get around it and violence and deaths continued to occur, but the wall helped somewhat. The concept seems flawed to me; building a wall to separate two communities in order to promote peace? Something about that doesn’t quite sit right. But, it’s still incredible driving the length of this massive wall which has thousands and thousands of signatures and messages written across it. Blake and I signed our names too.
Next we visited the Catholic side which noticeably less aggressive but still very much adorned with Irish flags, colours, signs and murals. We visited a memorial site, saw the headquarter’s where Blake’s grandfather’s football team began and learnt a lot about the area and its history.
I can’t recommend this tour enough. Joe dropped us off at a local pub for lunch, and we then walked through Belfast back to our hotel. Conveniently, ‘A Belfast Story’ had just been released and obviously we can’t be staying in Belfast and not see A Belfast Story, so we saw a late session at the local cinema. It had some terrible reviews, but I didn’t think it was too bad personally. It was interesting to get further insight into the history and community in the form of a film!
The only setback of the night was that even though it was about 11pm on a Saturday night when we left the cinema, there was nothing open, and we hadn’t had dinner. Woe! We wandered around looking for even a convenience store for a nutritious dinner of Doritos and salsa, or MAYBE even macaroni and cheese if we were lucky, but there was nothing anywhere in the vicinity. We did, however, find the Titanic quarter and took some photos of the fancy buildings, then went back to our hotel and ate dinner from the vending machine. Quite a different experience to the meals at Kilronan Castle the previous day!
We woke up early and left to head to Dublin (which we had to limit ourselves to 2 hours free time in due to wanting to make our flight back to London!). I would love to spend more time in Dublin as I’m sure there is a smorgasbord of amazing things to do there. But we had to pick just one, and upon recommendation from my grandparents we headed to Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells.
The campus was stunning, and it was fascinating to see the book and learn about its history. The Long Room library was also very, very impressive. You know the bookshop that Belle frequents in Beauty and the Beast, and the bookshop guy comes swooping in on one of those cool ladders on wheels? Yep, I was imagining that and then had the ‘Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour bonjour bonjour!’ song in my head for the rest of the day. I’ve since seen The Long Room pop up on various blogs about amazing libraries (nerd alert) online several times since visiting, and it’s always a thrill (nerd alert) to see it mentioned.
And so ends our Irish Extravaganza. We’ll try to make it back at some stage whilst we’re living over here, I loved the experience so very much and can’t wait to see more of it. Although our list of countries we want to visit is growing faster than we can save (and we are moving into a new apartment soon!) so we’ll have to see…