When Irish Eyes are Smiling

March 13 – 21, 2017 —

March 13th we left Barcelona and flew to Dublin, Ireland to spend the next week, including St. Patrick’s Day.  Our first side trip was to explore Belfast, Northern Ireland.   There was only a sign along the road identifying our entry into another country. 

Belfast was an eye-opener.  Not sure what we expected, but what we found was not the green fields of Ireland.  Belfast is an industrial city where the industry left.  In the early 1900s Belfast was the largest producer of linen in the world and the world’s largest shipyard.  Known for generations of conflict between Catholics and Protestants which labeled the city unsafe for tourists, the ceasefire of St. Andrew’s Agreement in 2006, is enabling it to make a comeback.

Much of the credit can be given to the new Titanic Belfast Museum.  The ship – RMS Titanic – was built in Belfast at the very active dockyards.  Fifteen thousand people, mostly men, worked on the construction.  Since that time the shipbuilding in Belfast dried up and all of those jobs disappeared.   The dockyards have been renovated into the Titanic Quarter.  The aluminum clad museum faces the water in the shape of a ship’s bow.  The exhibits combine photos, video, a ride through an area designed to imitate a construction zone complete with sounds and smells of ship construction.  It was truly exceptional.  We read that we should plan on two hours to go through it.  We were there four hours (until it closed) and really would have liked another two hours.  It is on our highly recommended list.  Understandably it has become the number one tourist attraction for Belfast.

A Black Cab Tour showed us another side of Belfast.  We spent a morning touring parts of Belfast in an old black cab with a 65ish driver who has lived his entire life in Belfast.  At age eleven he was making Molotov cocktails before going to school.  He is still bitter about the division between Catholics and Protestants that has divided the city for so many years.  While the center of the city is sporting cleaned up buildings and pubs, the residential neighborhoods are another story.  He took us into both the Catholic neighborhood and Protestant.  They are each surrounded by walls with gates that are locked every night for security.  The St. Andrew’s Agreement may have been in place for ten years now, but the war is emotionally very much still on.  The schools are religiously segregated.   In each neighborhood there are two story high paintings of the “martyrs” who died for the cause that children see every day.  Unemployment is high among middle aged men.  He told us that neither England nor the Republic of Ireland wants Northern Ireland because it is such an economic drain on the UK.  The tour was both enlightening and depressing at the same time.  It will take generations before they live peacefully together.

Leaving Belfast we drove south again (less than two hours to Dublin) to our Air B&B cottage on a farm outside of Dublin.  Arriving in the dark we found the cottage surrounded by animals.  They included a donkey (“Donkey-hotey’) who was very social and spent most of his time trying to get in our front door, three cattle in the pen attached to our house, cats, a dog, a chicken and two lambs that were just four days old.  The family living in the main house was delightful and we enjoyed the time we spent with them.

For St. Patrick’s Day we took a train from Athy where we were staying right into the center of Dublin.  To get to the parade we merely followed the crowd.    Over several days we spent time at several exhibits including “Epic Dublin-The Irish Journey” which follows the migration of Irish with whom, why, and where they went.  It is well done.   We saw Trinity College and the Book of Kells, then went on to the Guiness Storehouse for a tour of the beer making and ended the day in Dublin with a Guinness on the top floor with a 360 degree view of Dublin. Happy St. Patrick‚Äôs Day!

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