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Published: June 21st 2019
Flying to Europe from the East coast is so easy! Flight time is less than six hours, and it can be a direct flight; no long layovers wasting time walking through airports just waiting for the second or third flight to board. One stop when you're at the airport and that's it. Much less stress, and the likelihood of seeing your luggage again is infinitely increased. This must be part of the reason why more people from our part of the world don't visit Asia, or Africa, or China. Long air travel can be nerve-wracking. But going from BOS to DUB was simple, even somewhat enjoyable. My flight left Saturday night and arrived in Dublin early-ish this morning. I even slept a bit on the plane, always a pleasant surprise. My seatmates were quite peacefully friendly; they've been to Ireland many times already, but this time they were to go on a boat cruise along the shores of Norway. And I, finally, am rectifying my somehow overlooking visiting Ireland and Portugal, dovetailing two separate trips, this time with Trafalgar.
Parts of Dublin are pretty, but in general I was underimpressed. Except for the lilting language, everything felt too comfortable, too normal, too similar to my regular life back home. But by Tuesday we had travelled to Northern Ireland, to Belfast first and then to Londonderry, neither of which are yet on many travellers' bucket lists. These areas felt very different, much more on the edge, especially in Belfast. As recently as five weeks ago a 28 year old journalist was killed here. Yes, the peace accord was signed in 1998 (when this young woman was only eight years old), but still feelings between the Protestants and Catholics are uneasy. We are told the wall built in Belfast will not be removed any time soon; unlike the Berlin wall, both sides want it as they say if helps to keep the peace. Many in our group signed the wall, as has the Dalai Lama and Justin Bieber. I did too. It is a sobering experience to see this 45 foot high wall, and the neighboring memorial gardens on either side, filled with flowers and photos of those who were killed during "the troubles." So many who died were very young, lives lost for what reason? It seems to make no sense at all, but I wasn't born here, so cannot truly understand the hatred that lies behind all the violence, or why it is felt that this is the only way to reach a lasting peace. How would that work? Given the unease that still exists and can be felt, was dying for either's cause worth it? What did their mothers think, their spouses, their children? After hearing from several local people, from both sides, we learned that not only are there the very well known differences in religious beliefs, but also political, educational, and financial reasons as well for why the Loyalists in Northern Ireland and those living in the Republic of Ireland cannot reach any easy or lasting peace. The issues are complicated and continue to divide this lovely little island.
Over and over I was struck by how much the land and coasts of Ireland and Northern Ireland remind me of Maine. It is comfortable to be here, so familiar, so similar to what I see daily. And, like in Maine, there are beautiful rocky coasts with the wild Atlantic pounding the shores; hearing people's reactions to seeing this beauty for the first time made me even more appreciative of what is so close to me when I'm home in Maine. But there are more sheep here. Many more! Flocks of sheep dot the farms and hillsides. At the most northwestern tip of Ireland, the remote Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal, one sheep "led" our bus up the very narrow road to the top of Grianan Aileach where an ancient stone ringfort still sits. Poor thing, it couldn't find its way back into the fields because of fences built along the roadway, so it slowly zigged and zagged on its thin little legs in front of our beastly bus almost all the way to the top. Our local tour guide finally convinced or scared it enough so it turned and ran back down the hill, although we don't know if it found its entrance back into the fields. Sheep live in these lovely (wet) fields all year 'round. In some places hedgerows delineate property lines, but many farmers' flocks of sheep mingle in a shared area, called a commonage. To identify their own flocks, farmers paint their sheep with a specific color, usually red, blue, or green. The dyes wash off when the wool is boiled, but it is startling to see rainbow colored sheep dotting the pastures. Very pretty, but surprising. I have not seen this in Maine.
As we rode along the increasingly narrow roads I saw a rocky outcropping, and one lone natural grotto. Tucked inside I spied a sheep sitting, happily watching our bus drive slowly by. It looked quite content, sheltered from the rain. I would not like to be an Irish sheep, living outdoors in all weathers, but this sheep looked comfortable, perhaps meditating upon its surrounding kingdom, unaware or uncaring of political problems, king of all sheep, ruler of all that he watched over, the meadow his peaceful world.
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