Ireland 2: Northern Ireland

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August 14th 2017
Published: August 14th 2017
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We headed out from Dublin with Rabbie's Tours, our group of 12 consisting of five Americans, four Australians, two Chinese, and one Canadian, and our driver/guide, Marcus. Our first destination was Belfast, where we focused on The Troubles between Catholics and Protestants in the 1970s to 1990s that led to thousands of deaths in Northern Ireland. We made three quick stops along Falls Road to look at murals of the hunger strikers (Bobby Sands, etc.), ten of whom died in the 1970's. They were IRA members who protested that they should be prisoners of war, not criminals, so wouldn't wear the prison garb, etc. As with most conflicts, there were lots of atrocities on both sides.

We had a little break from The Troubles at lunch time with a two-hour stop at the Titanic Belfast Visitor Experience, right at the shipyard where the Titanic was built. There are impressive recreations of first class to third class cabins and the ornate dining rooms, even a virtual tour of the ship. Most touching are recordings of some of the survivors and stories of the lost. The building that houses the museum is perhaps the most impressive of all. Definitely worth a stop, and depending on your level of interest you could spend two to four hours there.

Then on to the Giant's Causeway by way of Ballycastle (ice cream and lovely view). The Causeway is so cool with hexagonal shafts of rock pushing up from the ground and sloping out into the sea like a paved road toward Scotland. The legend says that a giant built it to fight his Scottish opponent without getting his feet wet. We climbed around on that for a while, then back to the bus for a short jaunt to Dunluce Castle (ruins). Then just ten minute ride to Portrush for our overnight stay.

In the morning it was back to The Troubles in Derry (Londonderry to the Protestants). Bad blood goes back a long way here, to the 1600s when Protestants who came over from England were trapped inside the city walls for 100 days by the Irish Catholics who wanted them out of the country. The nearby Battle of Boyne put the Protestants in charge of Ireland, and they basically plundered the country and subjugated the Irish people for centuries. Resentments remained into the 20th century, and in 1972 Derry was the site of Bloody Sunday, rather like the Boston Massacre, when a rowdy crowd was fired upon by British soldiers, killing 15 Catholics and escalating the violence all over Northern Ireland. Derry was such a dangerous place well into the 1990s that we heard a true story of a wife hearing big boom and saying to her husband, "What was that?" When he said it was just another bomb going off she said, "Oh, thank the Lord, I was afraid it was thunder." Today the city is making great strides toward peace, and you can walk the beautiful walls in safety.

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