Crazy times in the Emerald Isle

Trip Start Apr 23, 2005
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Trip End Mar 31, 2006


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Saturday, May 28, 2005

I had a well needed rest week between the Wedding and going to Belfast the next weekend as I managed to get a cold at the wedding which I still haven't managed to shift.

The flight to Belfast left at 7:30am in the morning which meant we had to get up at 4am to get to Gatwick on time - all good except I took a cold and flu tablet before going to bed not realising that it contained caffiene. So no sleep for me - Oh well - I've pulled up from worse. There were 13 of us in all - 8 from London, Sarah and Sean from Yorkshire, Jacqui, Mahini and Tara from Dublin.

On the way in from the airport we passed Belfast Castle and Cave Hill which is a nice green hill with great cliffs overlooking all of Belfast. I made a mental note to climb it later. We got to the hostel and settled in then headed out for 2nd breakfast (1st was at the airport) and checked out the centre of Town which was hosting a Continental market in the Town Hall courtyard - Heaps of good food and coffee. Sean, Dave, Munners and I had a competition to find the most bizarre items for under 1 - The results were surprising:

Sean found some wooden letters on wheels which spelt F U (not sure what that means)
Dave, a dried whole Banana which would provide many hours of entertainment later.
Munners found a Liquorice in the shape of a penis in some Dutch liquorice he bought.
I found 3 liquorice sticks (actual bits of wood)

But the winner was Johno who didn't even enter the competition - He was eating some of Munners liquorice and found a little jelly baby holding its todger - Those Dutch are something else aren't they?

We then spent the afternoon at the Crown Liquor Saloon which is a famous and ornately decorated pub with partitioned dining areas, Gas lights, Chinese teracotta tiles and Steel match strikers from a Crimean Warship. The son of the original owner had travelled the world looking for builing materials and furnishings. I love those old-school buildings. The guinness is as good as ever.

We headed back to the Hostel - and most of us caught some Z's while a few went for a walk and sorted out the nights actitvities. We had dinner at a nice little restaraunt near the University before heading out for a top night at the Botanic Inn:



On the way back we met our next door neighbours (4 local Irish girls and guys) and partied till the wee hours with them - Great night.

Next day we headed on the black cab tour which took us around the troubled parts of Belfast. It was amazing to see how the problems in Ireland had and to a large extent still do impact the City. In fact, there was a helicopter hovering over the city during the whole tour due to an Orange march which was happening at the time. The first stop was a Catholic/Republican area which had heaps of Murals depicting past battles, Peace messages and suprisingly a lot of external conflicts like South Africa and Iraq (seems the city is a symbol for oppressed people).

We saw one of the peace walls (below) which divide the tourbled areas and was shocked to see grating on the back of the houses which abcked onto the wall . These were installed to stop petrol bombs being thrown over from the protestant side and are obviously still there because it's felt that they are still needed:



We then headed over to the Protestant/Loyalist side where the tone changed quite a bit. We were taken into a large area which is traditionally a centre for militias and saw murals which were very disturbing - An Oliver Cromwell quote from one of them (in photo book), which couldn't have been there too long, read:

"Catholicism is more than a religion it is a political power therefore Im led to believe that there will be no peace in Ireland until the Catholic church is crushed" Oliver Cromwell

and

"Our Clergy persecuted and our protestant churches desecrated also our protestant people slaughtered in their thousands" Oliver Cromwell

This sort of abuse of power gets me very worked up and the start of the problems we were told was the Pope who feeling he was losing power in Ireland, sent the Dutch, protestant King William of Orange to Ireland to wrest back power from the Irish.

The other murals were pure propaganda - glorifying violence and contributing in no way to any sort of understanding - Scary stuff:




On the way to the last stop we actually saw an Orange March - This is a common event in which the Protestant/Loyalists dress up in their Orange sashes and March through the Belfast streets. I asked the purpose of the marches, but the tour guide didn't seem to understand the question. Never the less, the marches are one of the causes of problems in Belfast as they alienate andf intimidate the Catholic population and have caused much of the unrest in Belfast.

That people were still doing this pissed me off, but all the marchers seemed older which gives the hope that the sectarian views will die out with the people who still hold them. We were told that young Belfasters do not generally hold these views and friendships between the groups are starting to become commonplace.

It has to be said that the tour guides were obviously Catholic/Republican and so held very biased views, but besides this there was a very strong opressor-opressed feel to the whole thing.

After the tour, Isi, Jacqui, Marnie and myself headed to the Castle which had beautiful gardens. The building itself was mainly closed to the public because of a couple of weddings but worth visiting anyway. Afterwards, Isi, Jacqui and I started to climb Cave Hill (as I'd promised). Jacqui left us half way up and Isi and I finsihed the treacherous climb (it only took half an hour, but was fairly steep - or perhaps I'm just soft) to the top to be rewarded by fantastic views of Belfast and the surrounding countryside.

We walked down the other side into Belfast through green green countryside and a brief rainshower - It's actually nice sometimes walking in the rain - esp. if it's warm.
We found a bus stop and headed into central Belfast to catch up with the others.

We'd missed some drama - Sarah had taken offence to Johno chalking the backside of her bright white trousers so had plotted revenge. She got the banana that Dave had got from the markets and put it in the bottom of Johnos guiness. Johno didn't have a clue, but everyone else did. It was to the whole crew's joy that Johno pronounced his drink "the best guinness he's ever had". Maybe there is something to it?

Later that night, Dave and I came up with a new shooter. It's called Johno's guiness. It's like a little guinness (kalhua topped with a bit of baileys), but with Banana Liquer as well.

We headed home a bit earlier and had a quiet day on Sunday before heading late back into London.

Next stop will be the Cotswolds where Isi has landed herself a job working on a farm and has her own 3 bedroom cottage - Sweet! Then I'm heading down to Wales to visit my sister and help her out fixing up her new house before heading to the French Alps for 2 weeks climbing, hiking, biking and other really active stuff. Hope I'm fit enough.
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