Our flight arrived into Dublin on a true Irish Summer’s day; 13 degrees and torrential rain. According to the locals it was ‘extremely muggy’, we found it quite refreshing. So we donned our warmer layers, picked up our (Diesel Ford Mondeo) hire car at the airport and headed straight to the legendary Galway to begin our week long venture looping up to Belfast in the north and back down to Dublin.
I lived in Galway in 2006 so was eager to return to visit friends and show Cam around this great wee city with loads of character. At the time of our two night visit the infamous Galway Arts Festival was happening so the place was buzzing even more than usual and the street performers were out in force.
On our first night in Galway we headed straight to the pub for a delicious pint of Guinness (which tastes completely different from the rubbish sold in NZ) and good Irish food. As the rain fell steadily it was difficult to resist settling in for the night drinking rounds of the delicious stuff...
The next day we woke to sunshine; the first Galway had seen in a couple of weeks. We spent the day sifting through the streets, shopping for essentials and absorbing the electric atmosphere of Shoppe Street. We visited the Galway Museum and learnt a little about the history of the city from 1800-1950, and about the legendary Galway Hooker fishing boat. Meeting up with some local friends that night we enjoyed our first home cooked meal in some time. It was delicious as always and lovely to catch up - thanks Miss Paula!
The following day we hit the road early and set off for Derry (or Londonderry) in Northern Ireland. The drive took us through quintessential Ireland countryside; rolling green hills, stone fences, and thatched-roof farm houses. We stayed in a sweet B&B located on the outskirts of the city that served up a mean full Irish breakfast the next morning (had to be done).
Derry is the only city in Ireland with a complete city wall. The wall was built during 1613-1619 as defence against settles from England and Scotland. With cannons still intact and the wall’s width reaching 4-12 metres in places, this was a fairly impressive wall (of all the city walls we have seen!).
On 30 January 1972 the ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident, which lead to the deaths of 26 unarmed protesters and bystanders by the British Army, occurred in the Derry area. Some say this was the beginning of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ (the Troubles is said to be the period of political conflict in Northern Ireland from the early 1970’s through to the ‘Good Friday’ agreement in 1998). This is something we learnt a lot more about at our next destination, Belfast.
We took the scenic route to Belfast along the north east coast of the country, known as the Causeway Coast. This road took us along a beautiful rugged coastline that required many stops along the way to take it all in. The road brought us to its’ namesake, the Giant’s Causeway. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an area of thousands of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns. A phenomenon created by solidified lava forming 50-60 million years ago.
In a wee nutshell legend has it that the giant Finn McCool built the causeway after challenging his enemy to a battle (a much larger giant from Scotland) Benandonner. When Benandonner arrived at Finn’s house to fight, Finn’s wife lay a blanket over him pretending he was their baby. Benandonner got so worried that if the baby was this big then the father must be huge, so he fled back to Scotland ripping up the causeway as he went.
We ended our day with a large bowl of traditional Irish stew and a Guinness to wash it down at one of Belfast’s oldest pubs, Kelly’s Cellars. The locals had gathered to play some great bluegrass music - making the experience feel even more Irish authentic!
We booked a taxi for the following morning to drive us around some of the famous political murals (there are almost 2000 of them!), to see the Peace Line and to learn about the history of the area from a local. Our driver was a lovely man and incredibly full of knowledge, having lived in the area all his life. We were completely blown away by the detailed story that unfolded before our eyes over the two hour tour.
The murals themselves were amazing works of art; each depicted a powerful story or message with a mixture of words and pictures. They are displayed for either republican or loyalist political beliefs and some commemorate those that have lost their lives during the Troubles. One mural in particular was rather frightening; as the barrel of a gun held by a man in a balaclava appeared to follow you as you moved past it.
The Peace Lines that separate the Protestant and Catholic suburbs are made from brick and steel and stand up to 8 metres high. Some have gates and we passed through one that closes each night at 10pm. The first of the lines were erected in the 1970s and intended to only stand for 6 months, but due to the violence continuing they still stand today. Some believe that it won’t be until the next generation that the community can consider bringing these walls down.
As our tour continued through the ‘trouble spots’ and we heard of the latest shooting occurring only a month prior, it truly dawned on us how lucky we are to live in NZ. The sad truth is that there may be no resolution to the conflict any time soon, and as quoted by our taxi driver, “Belfast is a pretty place in terms of its’ landscape, its just a shame that the people don’t get along”
We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Ireland. Definitely make the effort to get up to the north and attempt to see a part of the ‘real’ Belfast.
After a fairly ‘heavy’ morning we went to see Shrek at the movies in Eniskillen, where we stayed for a night stop over before returning to Dublin for two nights.
Dublin was a chance for us to do some much needed admin and to prepare for our next phase of travel. We shopped and replaced the clothes that were falling apart, visited the National Gallery, and had a pint or three of the good stuff.
Our week in Ireland has been fabulous. We have indulged in the comfort food of the pubs, learnt a lot about the history of the country, seen some beautiful and unique countryside, and of course met some lovely local people.
We feel relaxed (almost like we have had a holiday from our holiday) and ready to farewell Europe and embark on the next stage of our trip – first stop New York City!!