Day 5: Belfast, 9 Glens, Giant's Causeway & Derry

Trip Start May 11, 2007
1
5
9
Trip End May 19, 2007


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Where I stayed

Flag of United Kingdom  , Northern Ireland,
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Our day began with a guided tour of the sights of Belfast with a local guide. We toured the area by bus and our guide pointed out many famous historic buildings.

Then we were taken into the area of the Shankill and Falls Road, which is an area where one street (peace line) divides the Protestants (loyalists and unionists) of the Shankill Road from the Catholics (nationalists and republicans) of the Falls Road. This is an area that has seen a great deal of sectarian violence between the Protestant (UDA and UVF) and Catholic (IRA, Provo IRA).
 
With recent political changes in Northern Ireland and the withdrawal of British forces from the area much of the violence has dissipated and its is safe for tourists to visit. As an Irish American I find the history of this struggle both horribly sad yet fascinating. It is a subject not often covered in school and one not too many people know about or understand. It was very interesting to hear a local talk of the history of the Troubles and to get to see how each side felt about it.

I always wanted to see the famous political murals in Belfast and we got a chance to do exactly that. In both the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas there were murals which depicted the atrocities committed by each side, some murals asking for peace, some commemorating the martyrs of the conflict, and a few others commenting on recent world and political issues. We also got to see the shipyard where the Titanic was built.
 
After the tour of Belfast we left the city for a drive through the Nine Glens of Antrim. The drive encompasses nine different areas that includes mountains, glens, waterfalls and beautiful coastal scenery. The Nine Glens of Antrim is the "Ring of Kerry" of the North, without the never ending traffic! Its very beautiful and scenic but you have to be careful as the roads are narrow and windy and there is often mist settled into the valleys.

Literally at every bend in the road everyone's jaw dropped and someone said "oh, ahh". The Nine Glens of Antrim are : Glenarm – “the glen of the army”, Glencloy –“the glen of the hedges”, Glenariff –“arable or fertile”, Glenballyemon –“Edwardstown”, Glenaan - “rush lights”, Glencorp – “the glen of the slaughtered", Glendun – “of the brown river”, Glenshesk – “glen of sedge”, and Glentaisie – “Taisie of the bright sides”. There is alot of old Irish myth and legend that takes place in the Nine Glens of Antrim including one epic battle among a famous god-like warrior and an entire army over a bull. It makes for some interest storytelling as you are driving along the famous glens, it's really something to see.

After the Glens we stopped at a cute little fishing village called Carnlough. We stopped to get a snack and take pictures all around the bay of the many ships and sailboats. Afterwards we set out for the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. This is an old rope bridge that spans a huge chasm that was once used by fisherman to get to the remote island on the other side. Its now a big tourist attraction. We didn't have the time to go across it so we were taken to the top of the hill to get a bird's eye view of it and watch some other brave souls cross it. It's a really pretty area and you can even see the Highlands of Scotland in the distance. I hear that every now and again a tourist makes it across but doesn't have the courage for the return journey so they have to be taken off the island in a boat. To my knowledge no one has even been hurt on the bridge though it does look dangerous.

Next we moved onto the Giant's Causeway, this is another place in Northern Ireland that is surrounded in myth and legend. Supposedly a giant from Ireland and a giant from Scotland had a feud and the causeway was actually built by them to cross between the two island countries for doing battle. In actuality the odd shaped columns were made from ancient lava flow. Personally I like the giant story better..but whatever.

It really is an odd but beautiful looking place. I imagine the moon or some distant planet must look like this place. Its fun to walk and climb around on all the columns, some are even named because they resemble things. You do have to be careful as the ground is uneven and its very easy to turn an ankle here...wear sturdy shoes! We spent quite a bit of time walking around and taking pictures before heading up to the pub for a few pints!

Next we settled in on the bus for the long ride to Derry. Derry is another city in Northern Ireland that is embattled in political turmoil. Its story is similar to that of Belfast, Catholic vs Protestant in paramilitary conflict. It has seen its share of the Troubles and there are the usual political murals there as well. Derry has the added problem of a name conflict. The Catholics (nationalists and republicans) refer to the city as Derry and the county as Derry as it was called before the British occupation of Northern Ireland. The Protestants (loyalists and unionists) refer to the city as Londonderry. There is quite a bit of confusion as to what the city's name is, many tourists believe Derry and Londonderry to be two different cities, in reality they are the same city. So what do you call the city? That depends on what side of the conflict you stand....and who you're talking to and where you are! To the tourist its nothing to worry about, just be aware of the fact that the city has two names.

While we were in Derry we went on a walking tour of the city with a local guide who talked about the city, its name conflict, the troubles, the political murals, and recent political and economic changes in the city. It really was a great and informative tour.

Afterwards we checked into the hotel, where I had internet access! We unpacked, took a nap and got showered before going to dinner in the hotel.
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