Politics, a parade and the ship went down

Published: March 18th 2014
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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
Inside St. Patrick's CathedralInside St. Patrick's CathedralInside St. Patrick's Cathedral

Belfast, Northern Ireland
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 parade to the end of the route. Pride showed among
The TitanicThe TitanicThe Titanic

sadly hit an iceberg
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
St. Patrick StatueSt. Patrick StatueSt. Patrick Statue

at the alter
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 bookings@belfastattractions.co.uk

Tel: + 44 (0) 28 90 247797 or +44 (0) 7964 734 862

Additional photos below
Photos: 47, Displayed: 28


Bobbie SandsBobbie Sands
Bobbie Sands

trying to understand Belfast history
Nelson Mandela MuralNelson Mandela Mural
Nelson Mandela Mural

Politics around the world
They look readyThey look ready
They look ready

waiting for a parade
The shy oneThe shy one
The shy one

Oh but those eyes
Charming Charming

It is a big day for smilesIt is a big day for smiles
It is a big day for smiles

St. Patrick's Day Parade 2014
Belfast troublesBelfast troubles
Belfast troubles

half of the equation
In BelfastIn Belfast
In Belfast

Happy St. Patrick's Day
Shamrocks a plentyShamrocks a plenty
Shamrocks a plenty

fun & smiles

18th March 2014
Bobbie Sands

A poignant scene
Increasingly, Saint Patrick’s Day can be seen as an excuse for a spot of alcohol-fuelled revelry. In Belfast, as you’ve discovered, it is a little more important than that.
18th March 2014
Bobbie Sands

Redevelopment of the city
Until we were here I didn't realize the city had communal segregation and it continues today but the tensions have eased. The city is revitalized and a nice place to explore. The people are passionate. MJ
18th March 2014

Northern Ireland
Nice tour and very informative. Have fun!
18th March 2014

Having fun
Hi Marsha, good to hear from you and glad you are following along. Belfast is an interesting city and we also enjoyed the parade.
18th March 2014
Belfast troubles

Boy I wish I was traveling with you
I'm glad we are traveling and blogging at the same time, but I look forward to the day that we do it together. Glad you are enjoying yourself and learning some history as well. Enjoy the next leg of your trip.
18th March 2014
Belfast troubles

Traveling together
When we get back let's sit down and decide where and when to go together. Should be a grand time. Foodies unite.
18th March 2014

Happy St Patrick's Day
Sounds and looks like a fabulous place! Not what I expected!
18th March 2014

Wandering the world
I was unsure what to expect in Belfast. My mind was cluttered with memories of news stories growing up and had not thought much about it since that time. I city worth visiting.
18th March 2014

Fascinating read!
Thank you for that history lesson. I too have forgotten about the history of the people in Belfast. Love your blogs. Keep them coming.
18th March 2014

Glad you are enjoying them. Traveling helps us understand the history at a greater depth. More to follow.
18th March 2014

St Patrick and the Titanic all in one day?
A mass in Ireland on St Pat's day must have been special. I love the photos in this blog, are they from the Fuji or Sony? And as I just said on Brendan's blog - yey for us being front page buddies yet again! Safe travels guys x
18th March 2014

Hello traveling friends
Ren and Drew, it is good to be on the front page with you!...and Brendan! The mass at St. Patrick's was very nice and the lilt of the Gaelic language was lovely. The Titanic museum is amazingly well done. They even have a "ride" that takes you through the structure where they built the ship and it gives you the feel that you are part of it.
18th March 2014

Shamrocks galore
You certainly have found a lot of happy Irish folk. Are you going to Derry? - I did an interesting informative guided walk round the Walls there - in the pouring rain of course. Don't forget when you cross the border into the Republic you will be in the Eurozone !! Its quite confusing when you are going back and forth. Cheers Lynne
19th March 2014

A happy St. Patrick's Day
Yes lots of happy people were at the parade. It was fun. We will be spending the night in Derry tomorrow and hope to take one of those walking tours.
18th March 2014

My neice and nephews were born in Northern Ireland...
and have Irish, British and US passports. Irish because they were born on the island, British because they were born in Northern Ireland, and US because their mom was American.
19th March 2014

Multiple passports
We learned last night in talking with a local that they have multiple passports also and that all Northern Ireland people have both Irish and British. It is an interesting land. A lot of information has filled our heads. Good stuff.
18th March 2014
Belfast troubles

but it still appears fragile
Hope peace in Nthn Ireland is stronger than that. The "troubles" affected many generations as Britain sought to retain control in this pocket of the island that has always constituted Eire...apparently on behalf of the Protestant population. My reading of history is religious wars are always controversial.
19th March 2014
Belfast troubles

The troubles are in the past
A couple of people we spoke with about religion and politics of the area seem confident the troubles of the past are in the past. We all hope that is true and peace remains.
18th March 2014

Titanic exhibition
We saw a fantastic Titanic exhibition when it was showing at the Melbourne Museum - wonder if it was the same one. We've only been to Ireland twice but never around St Patricks Day. And while St Patricks Day celebrations are big here in Sydney this St Patricks day there were even bigger marches all over the country - March in March - demonstrating against the terrible policies of our Federal government, something you probably here nothing about in the US. Anyway, glad you enjoyed Belfast, some great pics!
19th March 2014

An interesting city
Belfast is an important world city historically and looks like they are building a strong future. Politics and religion still impact the daily life but things appear calmer and people have more understanding of others, maybe tolerance. We do think the news in the U.S. is one sided so we didn't have some of the information that helped us to understand more of these issues.
19th March 2014

Loved the pics of the children. The \'troubles\' of back to the time of Cromwell and the Potato famine. My grandmother would refer to them whenever speaking about Ireland. I read a wonderful book called\" All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston\". It is about a coffin ship that took Irish immigrants to the USA. Some of the history is in the book particularly the vituperative speeches from Cromwell and other in the English Parliament. The Koch brothers and the Tea Party people must have read these speeches as they use the same like of reasoning- inferring that immigrants are worse than vermin. Perhaps that hatred toward the Irish is one reason I\'ve never been keen to go to London. So many of the \'troubles\' the world is still dealing with today are due the the collapse of their Empire: Israel. Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, pretty much the entire middle east. But I digress... A friend of mine has used Air B&B 9in Wash. DC and NYC with great success. Safe travels... Carolyn
19th March 2014

History forms our opinions
I was surprised to hear you have not been to London but in considering history maybe I should not be. I'll take a look at the book when we return. Sounds like something I might enjoy reading. MJ
19th March 2014

Hi both,interesting to see Ireland viewed from an outsiders perspective. Both Robert and I have Irish ancestry somewhere, but I have never been to Ireland. I was completely put off by the 'Troubles' and although I know it is a very beautiful place, I doubt if I will ever go. Very nice to read such a positive article, however.
19th March 2014

Thank you for your comments
Bridget, so great to hear from you. We've thought of you often since we met. I understand how you might not make it to this part of the world but it is interesting to be here and be open to learning more. Belfast was a city I assumed I'd never visit just because of the things I'd seen and heard in the news when I was young. Times change.
19th March 2014

Great immersion in history!
Belfast and Londonderry are so rich in the tragic, interesting history of that beautiful land. So glad you're getting steeped in it. You're so right about the fragility of the peace--I passed more than one pub that forbade the wearing of the colors (green or orange). The mass sounded heavenly--how wonderful that they had a choir singing on a Monday. Happy St. Patrick's Day!
19th March 2014

History class 101
Although maybe the class should be 401 because at times it seems like we are getting an upper level education. You are right about restrictions on colors in some locations. The mass was very special and we are glad we could see how they celebrate St. Patrick.

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