Belfast, Northern Ireland
Saturday 17th October 2015
The disembarkation from the river cruise was completed smoothly and we were at CDG Airport Paris in plenty of time for our flight to Dublin (John was not impressed with the €290 charge for the extra suitcase). Once we arrived in Ireland it did not take long to collect our luggage, be waved through Customs, be driven to the nearby location to collect our hire car (a BMW318 with only 600 miles on the speedo) and be on the M1 heading north to Belfast. With some perseverance, we managed to program the navigation system to lead us successfully to our hotel opposite the City Hall.
The hotel is currently undergoing renovation and that brings its own challenges – the lift not working being just one of them. Nonetheless, our room was comfortable and the building noises did not overly intrude. The staff worked hard to accommodate the interferences and still provide for their resident’s needs; they kept smiling through some really challenging working conditions.
Sunday after a late breakfast, we went to the St George’s Market – a large red brick building housing the markets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week. We spent quite awhile browsing among the stalls; a wide range of food, jewelry, handicrafts, clothes, books, artworks and antiques (or should that be junk?). After the markets we walked to the central business area to check on chips for iPads as well as pick up a couple of needed items. By the time we returned to the hotel it was time for dinner before taking the 70 steps to climb to the top of the stairs.
Monday was spent taking the Big Bus Trip around Belfast to orient ourselves and then spend the remainder of the day at the Titanic Exhibition. The Exhibition was a comprehensive look at all stages of development for the liner (401) from design through to her maiden voyage that became a well known tragedy; so many lives lost on a vessel meant to be unsinkable.
Tuesday I took the Big Bus part way around to the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont in time for the 11am conducted tour. After the split of North & South Ireland, the North was ruled direct from London and in the 1920’s it was agreed that the North would have their own parliament and so the new building was established on an old estate some distance from the city centre. The architect drew up a plan based on Westminster with the great hall of the people being the centerpiece. To the left is the house of Representative and to the right the Senate. Having six providences, there are six floors and six columns in all three major rooms. There are 365 Oak trees lining each side of the entrance driveway indicating that the parliament is available to the people throughout the year.
There were 72 MP’s elected by the people who then nominated 24 senators from the public according to the parties majority in the parliament.
After the Good Friday Agreement parliament was dissolved and 108 MP’s were elected by the people to sit as an all parties parliament. There is no Senate but review committees from all sections review the workings of parliament. So far this has worked well and Northern Ireland has had peace for over ten years.
I then caught the bus back to the Titanic Pump House and Dry Dock. The pump room contained three very large pumps which were used to drain the dry dock in less than 100 minutes. They were driven by steam until converted to electricity in the 1930’s. At the height of shipbuilding there were 40,000 employees and now there are only 200.
The shipyards were busiest during WWII when 34 ships were built. Today the company, Harland & Wolff have changed direction and are building wind turbines. I went down into the dry dock to get feel for the size of the dock. Next door there were two oil rigs, one being repaired and the other being dismantled.
Back to the hotel and Gae & I went up town to purchase ipad sim cards from 3mobile who cover North & South Ireland as well as England, 20pound45p each for 3 Gb for three months.
Wednesday 21st October 2015
We headed north out of Belfast along the Causeway Coastal Route with the odd stop for photos before reaching the Crannick Rope Bridge; that necessitated a walk by John to explore and record in photos for me.
Our final stop for the day was The Giants Causeway – the myth had been recounted to us by the bar manager at our hotel in Belfast, so it was time to see for ourselves. After taking the bus down to the Causeway for a walk around and take some more photos we decided this could be a good spot for a couple of days exploration and we booked into the Causeway Hotel. The hotel and Visitor Centre are both owned by the National Trust; Giants Causeway is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that also provides some of the funding needed to maintain this extraordinary site.
Our stay at the Causeway Hotel was delightful with its old world charm and gave us time to explore the local area. The exploration included a tour of the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, the oldest licensed distillery in the world and has been in operation continuously since 1608.
We later drove along the coastline to the old castle of Dunluce which was built around 1500 by MacQuillans who were ousted by the MacDonnells in the 1550’s. They were besieged and taken over by Queen Elizabeth l in 1584.
I went out later in the afternoon to revisit the Causeway and then walk around to the next bay before climbing at steep track and 162 steeps to the top of the cliff and return home.
From here we drove we continued on the Causeway Costal Route, heading west, as far north as possible through the coastal village of Portrush with its famous dunes golf course which has been granted the 1919 British Open and then on to Derry – Londonderry where we stayed for a couple of days. The City Hotel in Derry was rather busy because of the National Choral Festival as well as their preparations for Halloween.
I took a walk over to the Guildhall, which was built in the late 1800’s, suffered a huge fire, was rebuilt and bombed by the IRA in the 90’s. Over the last couple of years they have spent 2 million Euros in a complete refit. The result has been a wonderful asset to the city for public functions, the front sections doubles as the council chambers. There was a display on the ground floor showing features of early settlement of the city.
I then continued to walk around the city wall, which would only be about 200mts by 100mts wide. Near the top corner is St Columb’s Cathedral, which was built around 1630.
The next day I joined the one hour “City Walking Tour” which started at the eastern entry gate to the walled city. The tour guide was very informative on all aspects of the city from its beginnings in the 1600 to its troubles in the early 1990’s and today’s reconciliation and push for tourism. I called in at the Tower Museum for an hour on the way back to the hotel.
Ireland seems to really embrace Halloween, everywhere we go the paraphernalia that goes with the event is quite evident; heaven only knows what will be around by Saturday night. Our stay in Derry was stamped with the fire alarm going off both nights of our stay (1.30 and 2.30 respectively) – the alarm was situated just above the bed that made us nearly leap out of bed in a single bound!
Daylight Saving finished so there was a little more daylight in the morning, we left Derry to join the Wild Atlantic Way (the most westerly roads for the full length of Ireland) for the drive down the west coast of Ireland; the area is quite stark, windswept, lots of lakes (or loughs), the terrain was dull in colour, little in the way of vegetation that tended to be stunted but all rather beautiful in its own way. There were quite a few houses dotted right through the area; apparently these houses were mainly holiday homes for people from Derry.On reaching Donegal that was enough for one day, so we booked into the Abbey Hotel (once again adorned with Halloween accouterments).
We continued our journey the next day (after a couple of pairs of boots had been purchased) with an all-important visit to Belleek Pottery for Elva. A few wonderful hours spent on a tour of the pottery, slowly browsing and selecting a couple of reminders from the gift shop and then morning tea of fresh scones served on Belleek China – just perfect. Once again I am astounded at the low cost of items in Ireland compared with what we pay at home.
Galway was our stop for the night after covering quite a few miles; we found a lovely hotel in the town square, John headed out for his usual exploration before we had a lovely dinner.
The next morning we managed to locate a cottage at Licannor for a few days of R&R as well as a world-renowned area to explore. On the way south to our accommodation we followed the Wild Atlantic Way right along the coast. Just before Doolin we passed a burial just taking place in a small country cemetery; large umbrellas were making a colourful sight to brighten the dull, misty day. Shortly after passing the funeral we stopped for a pub lunch in the local; the large burial party arrived just as we finished lunch and quickly filled the available space; we were invited to “set a while if we’d a mind to”.
The next stop was the Cliffs of Mohr with a walk to the viewing area and then a short visit to the Visitors Centre before finding our accommodation not far down the road. A quick visit to the local supermarket for supplies and then settled in to enjoy some quiet time as well as making bookings, attending to paperwork and completing banking that all needed attention.
John returned to the Cliffs of Mohr for the strenuous 10 Km walk along the cliffs to Hags Head Tower and to seek / gain great points for observation and photography.
The weather in this part of Ireland has alternated between brilliant sunshine and heavy grey clouds, light breezes through to gales, light misty rain through to heavy downpours all with temperatures from 5 to 15 degrees. I am sure the really cold weather cannot be too far away, but so far, even John hasn’t had too much to complain about while out and about.
From Liscannor we headed to Cork via Limerick and King John’s Castle then on towards Tipperary to meet a Bateman connection of Father Paul’s, Laurence, his wife Eilis and their children Maeve and Patrick. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours talking about family, the good and bad of the Internet as well as farming in Ireland.
By the time we arrived in Cork it was time to watch the Rugby World Cup Grand Final and we all know how that turned out – NZ played a stronger game.
Sunday 1st November
We drove out to the village of Killeagh to meet Michael Browne (the father of one of Jil’s NZ friends) and we had the most delightful day. I am not sure who taked the most, John certainly gave Michael a run for his money when it comes to talking; I contributed a little but mostly just sat and enjoyed the time we spent together.
You know you are off to a good start when someone you just met for the first time greets you warmly; the conversation did not stop until we drove off quite a few hours later. The topics of conversation varied from farming, to family, the economy, good and not so good business decisions, politics, vehicles, travel and anything else that came to mind. I am quite sure the next time we meet, the conversation will just continue as though there was no interruption.
While we were on the topic of family, John mentioned his Heffernan family Irish heritage and the planned meeting with Paddy Heffernan the next day; Michael told us his son-in-law was a Heffernan and it turned out to be Paddy’s nephew – you just never know when your family connections will surface. Best be careful about what we say about whom.
Our visit included sitting and chatting in the sunroom at Michael’s, walking around the farm discussing farming techniques in the cold climate and later visiting St Mary’s Collegiate Church in Youghal, the foundations date from the 5th Century, with the main parts of the church dating from the 14th and 16th Centuries. While in Youghal Michael showed us the College Gardens that were owned by Sir Walter Raleigh until 1602, the city wall, the Clock Gate (1799) as well as the Water Gate built in the 13th Century (known as Cromwell’s Arch because this was where he left Ireland after spending the winter there in 1650). Late in the day we all enjoyed a meal together with Michael’s friend, Irene, at the Green Barn Restaurant Michael built some years ago. I hope it is not too long before we are able to share more time with them; Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are all possibilities.
Monday I drove north up the M8 until I reached Cashel before heading north west via Dundrum to the little village of Clonoulty where I had arranged to meet Paddy & Mary Heffernan who are the nearest relation in Ireland to the Heffernan’s of Buckajo of which Dad’s mother Josephine was one of them. Our house is on Heffernan land and the adjoining two properties.
After a welcoming cuppa Paddy showed me around the yard including the old horse stable and cow shed which date back to the early 1900’s. We then walked through the dairy where he milks 300 head in around an hour with the up to date electronic milking equipment. The next shed is where they feed and house the heard and where the cows spend day and night from November to February. Paddy’s son James also works the farm and lives with his family in a new house next door. They have 160 acres with the heard of 300 and the feed is harvested into round bales with black plastic covering. An acre of land in their parts cost around $24,000 compared to the good flats around Bega at about $5,000. They have taken a reduction of around 20% in their milk prices this year with the drop in world prices.
Paddy drove me to the local village cemetery to show me his family’s graves and that of a relative to the Australian connection.
On the return journey I call into the “Rock of Cashel” which was an old fortress with church etc. on the highest point in Cashel. Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St Patrick in the 5th century. The majority of buildings on the current site date from the 12th & 13th centuries. Queen Elizabeth ll visited the chapel when she came to Ireland over four year ago.
While in Cork I visited the English Market “a civic space, a meeting place, a thoroughfare, and a bustling social hub of the city. With its variety of products, the pride of place accorded to small traders, the personalised service, the growing emphasis on organic products and reliance on small-scale producers, it is forever popular. A mix of traditional Cork fare and exciting new foods from afar, along with longstanding family-run stalls and newcomers from outside, all contribute to its unique appeal, which is celebrated widely, especially by visitors to the city.” I spent quite some time just wandering through the various areas where you can buy just about any food item you can think of interspersed with a range of handcrafts.
Tuesday we drove from Cork to Dublin via Clonmel; beautiful green undulating hills; stone fences for miles each way and lots of healthy looking stock making the most of this good weather, grazing before they have to go indoors for the winter.
That night we went to the Celtic Show at the Arlington Hotel where we are staying; lots of Irish songs and stories as well as Irish Dancers. The dancers amaze me with how quickly they can move their feet while in perfect unison; makes me tired and dizzy just watching them. The musicians were all really talented; violin, banjo and guitar and balladeer as well as the dancers thoroughly entertained us for the two hours.
The following day it was the bus tour around Dublin; a bit chilly for the whole trip and misty rain by the end but we certainly saw and heard lots.
Hot soup and tea were needed to warm up again after the two-hour bus trip, but that was mainly because I believed John when he said we didn’t need our big coats, added to which we were sitting upstairs on the open bus! I called it quits mid afternoon but John was off again making the most of our last day in Ireland visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Our time in Ireland has been very pleasant with lots of new places visited, people met and wonderful scenery to add to the memory banks; the photo album is growing exponentially to accommodate everything we keep adding.