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Published: March 18th 2014
That says it all
When we were growing up, Northern Ireland was not a travel destination but a land of conflict. What little grainy color images we saw courtesy of the BBC showed British troops battling the locals. The streets looked like war zones and frankly, there was a lot of bombing going on. While not always fair to generalize, most Americans our age grew up blissfully unaware regarding world politics and strife in other countries. As a nation, we are terribly self-absorbed at times and the national media had quite a bit to do with this. The internet-age has changed this. The conflict in Northern Ireland was called “The Troubles.” Fortunately, most of this is all behind them. Belfast is a city reborn with a positive energy. And we were the happy recipients of this energy. Once a city known for linens, ship making and political division (partnered with religious overtones), this city is busy re-building and rebranding itself into a destination.
Once again as has become our custom more and more, we rented an apartment for our brief stay. This time we hit the mother lode. We had the pleasure of renting an apartment through airbnb for our stay in
Belfast and we could not have been happier. It is the nicest, cleanest place we’ve rented. It has a washer (yeah, clean skivvies!) The minute we walked in, we knew we were going to enjoy this domicile. We found comfort in a central location very close to the Queens University, a short walk to everything. We enjoyed being able to do some cooking and on our schedule….a very relaxed pace.
Now we aren’t traveling with a mobile phone, so we made arrangements to meet with the gent renting the place at five o’clock and told him we were very prompt people. A side bar….a puzzle to figure. To get to this location we took Rugby Road and turned left on Rugby Avenue as we passed Rugby Street, and Rugby Park to get to our location of Rugby Parade. Do you supposed the city planners were sitting in the pub one Friday night laying out this neighborhood after a few pints and decided to have some fun with the college kids? We feel sorry if they have pizza delivery in the area or need an ambulance.
So there we were, waiting for him and the
appointed hour came and went as we watched a lady and her grandchild wander out through the gate. They walked past us and Dave decided to walk up to the gate to have a look. Just as he got out of the car, the lady beckoned him in a thick brogue. Turns out, the lady was the gent’s mother and agreed to meet us and let us in as he was running late. She was quite pleasant as she and her granddaughter led us through the apartment. So the digs were quite nice and we settled in and readied ourselves for some exploration.
When we were renting our car at the airport for the remaining few weeks in Ireland we had a nice chat with Katherine our customer service representative. She was asking if we came to Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and we had to explain that we had not and that we don’t usually give this day much thought. Neither of us have any Irish heritage to brag about, so we don’t celebrate this holiday. But as it turned out, we would be in Belfast for the celebration this year. She welcomed us and
wished us well. She told us of a fellow who had been in earlier in the day to rent a car. He is originally from Ireland and currently living in the U.S. she said he was sad he would be in Dublin to celebrate instead of the U.S. because he liked the parties they had in the U.S. We could not remember if he was living in Chicago or New York but indeed they both know how to celebrate this holiday……go figure.
Belfast is not a large city and is more protestant than catholic so we knew the holiday festivities would not be what you would find in Dublin and that was perfect for us. We checked on the web and found out the parade started at City Hall. (didn’t see that coming) The crowd started lining the city streets about 45 minutes before the parade was due to start. It included floats, marching bands, groups of people with flags and banners in support of various groups, several stilt walkers and big-head people. Adults, children, families, and businessmen in suits all showed up for the parade and as it ended many jumped in line and followed the
sadly hit an iceberg
parade to the end of the route. Pride showed among the faces and the holiday brought joy to many while music filled the air. Hopefully our photos are worth a thousand words. One key point here is that this parade took place on March 16th
, not on the traditional date, the 17th
Now remember that we’re not in Ireland, but rather Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. As Americans, we need to keep this straight. Here they use the pound, not the euro for money. This is a country where there is a mix of both Protestants and Catholics and they haven’t always gotten along so well, so the fact that there is a parade is curious and we needed to know more…..about the Troubles.
Any locale that’s trying to support tourism will have tourist offices. Lo and behold, there was one….right across from City Hall. We chatted it up with the representative and discovered that there were “Black Cab” tours. The city has several companies offering black cab tours (not all the cabs are black) and we were fortunate enough to end up booking through Belfast Attractions. Our thinking is
that the tourism rep was keen to us a bit and kind of steered us to a tour company we would enjoy. He was correct. We highly recommend this tour and will include the contact information at the bottom.
Our guide told us that few Americans come to Belfast when they visit Ireland. We were sorry to hear that because it has a long history and coming to Belfast and gaining a better understanding of how Belfast fits into the overall picture gives one a better understanding of both Ireland and the United Kingdom. When you are here it feels a little schizophrenic. The Northern Ireland flag was abolished in 1973 and they began to use the British flag but we saw more Irish flags than British. These are complicated relationships. From our perspective it feels as if the locals identify with Ireland more than Britain…..or so it seemed. The Irish flag has three vertical strips of green, white and orange. The green represents the Gaelic, traditional Irish, the white represents peace and the orange is represents Northern Ireland. The white is in the middle to bring peace between them.
We rode past many
murals on buildings, both in Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods and were told quite a story of the strife and violence that was “the Troubles.” Between Ireland wanting freedom from Britain for quite some time, parceling of six counties in the northeast of Ireland and so on, it becomes quite confusing for the uneducated. But after our tour, we felt like we had a clearer understanding and realized that some disagreements turn violent, which is never good. It appears the peace process is holding and some very good things are occurring, but it still appears fragile….
Coming from the U.S. it seems most people use St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to drink to excess. When in reality it is a religious holiday as St. Patrick is the saint of Ireland. MJ wanted to go to a mass, so off to St. Patrick’s cathedral we went. The mass we attended was in Gaelic but the service was the same as the one’s Dave had grown up with. They had a statue of St. Patrick at the altar and we were invited to take a closer look when the service was over but were asked not to touch. The
priest said he wears gloves when he is touching it. The choir sang and filled the ancient church. The service was quite nice and the turnout for a Monday wasn’t bad either. We were invited to the rectory for coffee, tea and fellowship, but needed to press on. There was another stop to make.
We hoofed it over to the Titanic exhibit, which is housed in a very interesting piece of architecture. Seems there was an investments of some 79 million pounds in the old shipyard portion of Belfast, which includes the Titanic exhibit, an arena along with waterfront living and shopping. The exhibit was very well done and it takes at least a couple of hours to take it all in. The detail and the story of old Belfast industries, ship building and of course the Titanic are all woven in nicely. Sad to say though…..the ship went down. More than one local mentioned to us that it was in fine condition when it left the shores of Ireland.
Place we stayed: 25 Rugby Parade
Black Cab tour: Belfast Attractions firstname.lastname@example.org
trying to understand Belfast history
44 (0) 28 90 247797 or +44 (0) 7964 734 862
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