Here’s the first house we lived in in Northern Ireland. It was in the “greater Belfast area” but by 1970 we’d found our way to Fitzwilliams street in central Belfast.
For those interested I have put my photos onto Kodak’s EasyShare gallery (formerly Ofoto). If you want to look at this superset of photos [click here].
Ahh, yes the moment you’ve all been waiting for … my pictures from Ireland. Sit back, grab a handful of popcorn, and enjoy the show. Donations will be taken later … remember we depend on your generosity. Thanks in advance (just read “The Power of Positive Thinking” … or at least as far as you know).
The trip started in Belfast and being a fan of chronological order I’ll start there:
Botanic Street is filled with cool and mildly-edgy stores that gives the vibe of the new Belfast … a city of growing wealth with youth (Botanic leads into Queens University), attitude and a history that threatens and a contrasting modern face that welcomes. I will point out, however, that underneath the cool is the beginnings of conformity that is officially endorsed by the introduction of a Starbucks (bottom right).
|Back in the early 70′s we lived on Fitzwilliam Street which is near Botanic street and literally pours into the main entrance of Queens University. Our flat, #61, has been converted into three apartments now and apparently is now on sale (the black doored flat on the right side of the building). On the bottom you’ll see shots from the back alleyway and also an advert from next door which has apparently been converted into a backpackers flop.|
|Queens University doesn’t have a massive campus but it does have some impressive buildings as frontage. My father taught Physics here when we were residents.|
|I definitely remember visiting the Botanic Gardens as a kid and on this trip it proved to be the strongest of my remembrances of Belfast. I distinctly remember going through the rows and rows of flowers with my mother. As an adult the scale was slightly diminished but the Botanic gardens are still very impressive at any age. Unfortunately for me the Ulster Museum was closed for refurbishment. The Ulster Museum is where my clearest memory of all comes from … the big map of Ireland which had buttons you could press that then lit up sections of the country. What could be cooler for a future gadget freak.|
|As I left Belfast I headed up the coastal A2 and was lucky enough to get perfect weather. Along the way were ocean views intermixed with the green patchwork that makes up the Irish farmland. Occasionally the traditional beauty would give way to a more rugged beauty as seen in the picture at the bottom.|
|Once reaching the Antrim coastline I stopped at the first tourist hotspot … Carrick-A-Rede (the rope bridge). It was a vacation season, however, and it was a 45 minute wait to get a ticket. I opted out and took pictures around the area which was fantastic.|
|The next stop was Giant’s Causeway and again the main attraction was a bit too crowded so I took the path less traveled which was a 5mi cliff walk. It’s amazing how a little exercise will scare most tourists off.|
|Later in the day I went to the Dunluce Castle (top two pics), and then to Mussenden Temple on the Downhill estate (lower pics).|
|The last stop in Northern Ireland was Derry. As I’d gotten a late start I didn’t do a lot in Derry but did have a chance to have a Guinness and then take a stroll on the wall around the old city.|
|Donegal was stunning, however, unlike my tour of the Antrim coast the weather started to become unpredictable … torrential rain was followed 10 minutes later by blue skies and then back again. Fortunately for me it seemed that where ever I went it cleared by the time I got there.|
Only 5 minutes before they kick me out of the Internet Cafe so I’ll make this a quick update … day 5 was a tour of Donegal. In the morning I went to Glenveagh National Park and did a small walk. It was sunny intermixed with showers but overall it was nice. The afternoon was a total washout, heavy rain made for a less interesting update but I did tour around in the car and it was still pretty fun. Ok, that’s it for now.
BTW, what is it with Ireland and Led Zepplin? A few days back I saw a woman with a Led Zepplin concert teeshirt. I noticed it but didn’t think too much about it but since then I’ve seen at least half a dozen people with similar looking shirts. What doing? Maybe Jon Bonham never died but moved to Ireland and Zepplin has quietly started doing tours there again?
I’m now a little past the halfway point of my trip through the northern parts of ireland (i.e., Northern Ireland plus Denegal in the Rupublic of Ireland). So far I’ve been blessed with amazing weather which has been in stark contrast to the news I hear every night of South and West london getting flooded in historic fashion. Anyway, here’s my short blurp on the trip so far:
Day 1 | Belfast:
- After landing at Belfast City Airport I picked up my Mini from Hertz and was on my way (btw, not only was the Mini the funnest car I could get but it also was the car my parents owned back in early 1970′s when we lived here).
- I quickly dropped my bags at the Europa hotel. The Europa has the unfortuate title of “worlds most bombed hotel” and while things are safe these days it was my memory of one of those bombings in 1971 that gave me the idea that I should stay there.
- My first real stop was Fitzwilliams street, our home address for most of our stay in Belfast in the 70′s. I had hoped to have the building bring back a flood of memories but sadly it did not. I was too young when we left to remember the outside very well. To add to that my dream of knocking on the door and be invited in by loving arms from the current residents was quashed by the fact that the building is actually for sale and the three story flat is now three individual apartments. Darn. I tried calling the realtor but got no response.
- Belfast is a very different city than it was when we left. I can say that with assurance without holding claim to detailed memories of that time. The streets are filled by new shops that cater to a strong middle and even upper-middle class that was largely non-existant in the 70′s. Botanic street represents this new energy and wealth with movie theaters, gastro-pubs, edgy-but-not-dangerous record and book stores, and cafes.
- By the afternoon I had made my way to the Botanic Gardens and it was there that my strongest memories came back. I remember walking there with my parents (although I particularly remember being there with my mother) and going down rows of flowers and thinking it was amazing how many flowers there were. As I walked down these same rows as an adult it was unmistakably the same place although the scale quite the same.
- As a kid my main focus when going to the Botanic Gardens had been the Ulster Museam and in particular the gigantic wall map of Ireland and buttons below that allowed you to light up parts of Ireland at the simple press of a button. Magic or so I thought. On this trip I was looking forward to reclaiming my right to light up Ireland but this dream too was thwarted as the Ulster Meseam is closed for refurbishment.
- All crushed dreams aside, I had a great day walking around Belfast and given the right company would be happy to do it again
Day 2 | Heading to the Antrim Coast
- The weather weather continues to be amazing; I’m definately lucking out so far as a few people have pointed out that up to now the summer has been largely rainy
- The route north of Belfast along the A2 is a beautiful coastal two-laner that weaves along the ocean. No breakdown lane but lots of turn offs so you can jump out of your car and take pictures. I’ll definately add my pictures to the blog once I’m back in London but for the time you’ll have to believe me that it is quite spectacular.
- The two big tourist attractions on the eastern side of the Antrim coast are the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and the Giant’s Causeway. On day 2 I did neither but I almost did the Carrick-A-Rede were it not for a surprising number tourists who got there first pushing the wait time to get tickets to 45 minutes. Arrgh. I decided to hike around a bit from that spot and take pictures instead and I think it was a wise choice. I left Carrick-A-Rede feeling like I’d experienced enough it that I didn’t need to go back and had some great pictures to boot.
- The day finished at town of Bush Mills at a place called — hold onto your seats — the Bush Mills Inn. The place had been recommended to me and for Irish standards it was a bit pricy but it was very well done and the meals were great.
- One of the things I found interesting at Bush Mills was that two people immediately asked me whether I was there for the golfing. I said no but asked why they were asking and they replyed that “oh most Americans come here for the golfing”.
Day 3 | The Antrim Coast
- The day started by heading over to the Giant’s Causway. There were a few walks one could take and all but one had walk times of less than 30 minutes. I had, however, been recommended to take the cliff walk which was a 5 mile walk (of about 2 hours).
- It was a good suggestion as the walk was filled by amazing views and due to its length there were very few people along the way which added to the feeling that the land was unspoiled and you were in nature rather than a tourist farm (which is what the main tourist area of Giant’s Causeway looked like from the cliffs).
- The walk finishes at a an old castle that looked fairly cool from the pictures in the tourist center but it turns out has since then largely fallen into the sea. The bits that remain resemble a pile of rocks more than they do a castle. Ahh well, no complaints as the walk had been great.
- I now looked forward to going to the tourist center at the castle/pile-o-rocks, buying a drink of water, and waiting for the bus to take me back to my car. But wait … no tourist center, no selling of water, and questions all around about whether this was indeed a bus stop at all. I talked to two other confused groups and eventually decided to try my old hand at hitchhiking. I used to do a lot of hitchhiking but its been years since I tried and I wasn’t completely sure whether the sticking out of the thumb was a recognizable gesture in Ireland. The first several passer-bys certainly were doing a good job of pretending I didn’t exist but I did eventually get a ride.
- Being the good semaritan that I am I got back to my car and drove back to pick up an elderly Irish couple and their daughter who were still stranded at the so called bus station. By the time I arrived they had given up on the bus and had started to walk. They were quite happy to take me up on my offer of a ride and even tried to insist that they give me money. On general principle — not to mention concern of loosing my “good semaritan” status — I summarily dismissed their attempts to give me money. I dropped them off back at the Giant Causeway and then pulled in for a Guiness. Now guess who the cat dragged in? If you guessed it my new Irish friends then pat yourself on the back, you’re right. They were already at the counter buying Guiness and tea when I showed up and now it was payback time; one more Guiness please.
- After I had finished the Guiness it was time to head further west to Portstewart, Dunluce Castle, and eventually to the Mussenden Temple on the Downhill estate.
- I could tell already that I had got a little too much sun from my cliff walk so these later stops were a little rushed and I found myself enjoying moments in the shade equally to the sites (not a good sign).
- I will say that the Dunluce Castle is a proper castle. No pile-of-rocks like my earlier experience. Well done Dunluce Castle.
- Mussenden Temple was also pretty but as there wasn’t nearly enough shade I can say without appology that I didn’t dilly-dally much more than I had to.
- I got back to my hotel at the Bush Mills in and got a message and called it a day.
Day 4 | Whiskey and then Donegal
- Old Bushmills Distillery
- Today started very late. I got up at 9:30 just in time to grab breakfast and then slept again until noon right before the last checkout. I caught myself feeling guilty about not getting up earlier so I could do more but give me a break … its vacation not a mission.
- Once I finally did get things into gear I drove 1/2 mile down the road to the Old Bushmills Distillery, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, and signed up for a tour.
- Let me start out by saying that Kabuki and I went the official Scottish Whisky Tour in Edinburgh. It was cheezy as hell, I actually fell asleep, so did Kabuki. I do remember one important fact from that tour … Scottish Whisky is the best in the world.
- Well you can imagine my surprise when I found out today that indeed it is Irish Whiskey that is the best (and the Scottish spell Whiskey wrong too). Can you believe that? Boy I felt like i’d been lied to all those years. Well now i have it straight and it turns out those cheap Scotts only distill their swill twice whereas the Irish do it three times. And we all know that three is better than two. I was feeling dizzy by the weight of my new knowledge. I needed a drink and a drink they gave me. Ahh the sweet, non-peat flavoured angel juice (the Irish don’t polute their barley with peat burning unlike some other nationalities), quietly aged for 12 years for me personally. I was in heaven and 15 minutes later I walked out with three bottle of that moonshine.
- In all seriousness, I did really like the whisky tour. Unlike the tour in Scottland, this was a real distillery and you got to see the whole whiskey making process from start to finish. It was well done and I’d recommend it to anyone. My only request is when they brag about distilling three times for the fourth or fifth time please ask the guide, “only three? why not four?”
- Londonderry / Derry
- The next stop was Londonderry or Derry if you are so disposed. Apparently the distinction between the two names is still controversial but I am not sure why (I find it interesting that Wikipeadia has entries for both … those crazy lads).
- I got there a little late in the afternoon and decided all I would do is two things: find a Jessops camera shop and see if I could get a recharger for my camera batteries and check out the walled city in Derry.
- I blindly pulled the car over at a “tourist ino” sign and went in to ask where I could find my meat for the day. Surprise of all surprises they were both within 500 yards of where I’d parked. The fates were calling … should I buy a lottery ticket? I didn’t but my luck would continue.
- I got to Jessops and found they did not sell my battery charger but after some conversation I was able to convince them that it would be a fine idea to open up a box of one of their new cameras and let me charge my one dead battery. They signed up for my locally staged charity and my battery started drinking the AC juice it loves so much. Looks like I’ll be able to take pictures for the rest of my trip.
- I then took a 45 minutes stroll around the walled inner-city of Derry but not before having a Guiness at an authentic looking pub nearby. Good times.
- I am staying at a B&B in Letterkenny for the next two nights
- Letterkenny is in the northeast corner of Donegal and should serve as a good base for adventures
- First sight of the B&B is that its functional, a little less central to town than I’d like (aka, no walking home from the pub, more of a taxi ride), but it’ll do in a pinch.
Tomorrow morning I fly to Belfast for a week-long vacation. It’ll be the first time there since living there as a kid in 1969-73. Kabuki doesn’t have the time off so it will just be me, the camera, and Northern Island. Planned highlights are:
- Stay at the Europa Hotel – the Europa was owned (maybe still is?) by politically connected people which resulted in it being bombed two or three times during the 60′s and 70′s. One of my memories as a child was getting in the car and driving out of neighborhood when they blew it up the second time (unlike today’s “terrorists”, the IRA usually told people to evacuate the area before they’re large scale bombs).
- Up the the Northern Antrim coastline to through Bushmills, Port Stewart, by Dunluce Castle, and then Londonderry.
- From there I’ll head west into Donegal (which is the only part of Ulster County that is part of Ireland rather than Northern Ireland).