(click on pictures to enlarge)
We left Dublin and drove up the northeast coast into northern Ireland or Ulster where there were more friends to visit. The only indication that we had crossed over the border was that the road signs were in miles per hour instead of kilometres, and we suddenly began to see lots of British and Ulster flags.
Needless to say, these are seen particularly in areas where there are a lot of Protestants so you can always guess the allegiance of the area you are driving through,
The scenery along the northeast coast of Ulster was beautiful with the Mourne mountains on one side and the sea on the other.
We only spent a day in Belfast and a friend organized a trip to Belfast’s Titanic Experience in the morning. Housed in a specially designed building in the newly developed docks area, there were multiple exhibits ranging from economic conditions in Belfast when the Titanic was built to showing how it was actually built. Harland and Wolff still have an enormous gantry for ship-building at the docks though there isn’t much of this happening at the moment.
In the afternoon we took a “Black Taxi’ political tour which consisted of our friend and the two of us in a black cab with our guide and driver Sam. First he took us to the Protestant Shankhill Road. There were lots of British flags and the entire sides of some of the houses were covered with giant murals, jokingly referred to as ‘the Muriels’. Next we went to the Catholic Falls Road where the only flags we saw were Palestinian and there were no ‘Muriels’ but memorial ‘gardens’ commemorating those who died in sectarian warfare. Separating the two areas were what they call the ‘Peace Walls’. Around 10 metres high, there are several of them in the city separating Protestant and Catholic areas. There were metal gates at intervals which open at 6am and close at 6pm preventing easy access to these areas at night. The houses backing onto the walls have what Sam called a Belfast conservatory i.e. a huge wire screen enclosing the back of the house to keep out petrol bombs. It was sad to see that sectarian allegiances still divide the working classes in such a strong way.
We also paid a short visit to Derry city, the only walled city in Ireland. We were able to walk on the broad medieval walls which still have the original cannon used to protect the city from siege. The walls enclose the old city and one can walk around the entire wall in about 45 minutes. Derry was also plagued by sectarian strife as in Belfast, but it seems that this has been overcome to a better degree here. The city is lovely and it was a pleasure to stroll around. I would have liked to spend more time there.
Our next stop was Ballycastle at the tip of the northern coast. Again the coast is beautiful with rocky cliffs, beaches and lush meadows on the tops of cliffs with grazing cattle. One of the main tourist attractions is the Giant’s Causeway where volcanic activity 60 million years ago has resulted in outcrops of geometric basalt columns of various heights.
My own highlight was walking across a rope bridge at Carrick-A-Rede. The rope bridge connects the mainland with a tiny island offshore which is in the path of migrating salmon and was originally used by salmon fisherman. A visit to Bushmills whiskey distillery was educational for me as I did not know that malt, which whiskey is made from, is the term for germinated flax seed. The education continued as we tasted generous helpings of 12 year old single malt! We did so much in just four days that it was really just a taste and we decided that we have to visit Northern Ireland again and enjoy it at a more leisurely pace.