Crazy Days in Northern Ireland

Trip Start Apr 20, 2009
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Trip End Jul 20, 2009


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Where I stayed
Whitney and Brennon's Apartment

Flag of United Kingdom  , Northern Ireland,
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Right now it's what's known as July 12th Fortnight here in Belfast - meaning that locals either stay at home or get out of town - provided they are not Loyalists of course! Those who are loyal to the crown have a big celebration for when the British armies defeated the Irish on July 12th and came into power. They have huge bonfires the night before and tons of marches on the day, except since the 12th fell on a Sunday this year and they won't march on a Sunday, they actually had the bonfires last night and the marches today.
I had seen them setting up one of the bonfire towers on my way to Whitney and Brennon's place last night and after dinner, Whitney and I saw the smoke from about three of the fires from her roof. Brennon had gone to do some work and said that he wouldn't have felt safe if we were to have gone out into town, so we stayed local and it was fairly quiet. You could smell smoke all over the place though and hear plenty of shouts and such throughout the night.

This morning, I made my way through streets of broken glass to catch my tour bus up the coast - a good day to get out of town really! The bus driver seemed to be a bit nervous and was glad to finally get out the city limits I think. When he picked us up, he said that he wouldn't be able to drop us off much further than the central bus station when we came back since it would be more dangerous and the streets would be full of marchers and possibly their opposing protesters.

We went up the coast to Carrik-a-rede bridge, a rope bridge spanning over the ocean from a cliff to an island just a bit offshore. I couldn't believe how clear and beautiful the water was! Absolutely stunning! And though I know why, I still can't believe just how green this island really is. Oddly enough, I felt quite spoiled by all the nice weather I have had here and in England and Scotland the past two weeks, to be honest. It's like I feel like I have somehow cheated and not gotten the real experience since it hasn't been raining the entire time. But I am not opposed to the sunshine - not one bit!
After that, we continued up to the Giant's Causeway - volcanic balast columns jutting out of the sea on the Northern coastline. They were so much more impressive and expansive than I expected them to be. Some were super tall and others were just like stepping stones, but all perfectly hexigonal-shaped columns, like someone had been building little towers and then just decided to stop on some of them and leave the different levels. Again, the water was so beautiful - the color was just this amazing aquamarine... Nothing like the oceans in the States that I'm used to! (Not even like the ocean in Hawaii, which is beautiful too...)

Then we headed to Londonderry (so-called by the Loyalists; Derry as it is known by the resident Catholics), the only walled city remaining on the island of Ireland. Once there, I went on a walking tour with a guide who actually lived there during the Troubles. It was really nice to get that perspective and some insight into the town. The only downside was that I didn't get any information really on the walls themselves, which I was kinda interested in. It would have been nice to have a bit more time to explore the walls on my own or just have a bit longer tour with him to talk a bit about the walls instead of the just only about the more recent Troubles.
Either way, it was particularly poingent today, due to the fact that the small Loyalist community was out in force and I watched as some of the young boys ran along the street pelting the police cars with bottles, rocks, and petrol bombs. Definately made for a unique experience!

Back in Belfast, the bus driver let us off at the main bus station instead of the usual, more local drop-off points. So that meant about a 20 minute walk for me to get back, but I ended up running into the march route. Surrounded by a mass drunk horde and now sure how to get across, I just decided to stand along the sidelines and watch for a bit. The bands that marched by were so intense, I thought the drummers arms were going to fly off! Young boys and girls twirling battons and jumping about with flags and banners, all the way up to old men hobbling down the road - canes in one hand and an umbrella in the other, as by now the nice weather had faded and there were occasional showers. Flute bands and a few accordian bands, one right after the other, going on for miles it seemed. Union Jack flags, orange and blue sashes and banners, everywhere you looked. And the streets were COVERED in broken glass, beer cans and trash! Of course being added to with each passing of drunken revelers. The police were around, but I don't know what the really would have done had anything gotten too out of hand.
Once I had gotten back home, Whitney and I looked up some of the news online and apparently there had been some unrest and skirmishes between the Catholics and the police forces, perhaps with the Loyalists as well, but the news wasn't too clear. There were some shots fired and some injuries in the small riots, but as far as we could tell there hadn't been any fatalities. It's not nearly as volitile as it was in years past, but it is still unsettling and one can only hope that peace will made it's way.
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