Northern and North IrelandPosted: August 19, 2011
It was a Belfastians’ recommendation that we miss Belfast. So we did, catching the ferry from Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne, and immediately took the Causeway Coastal Route – direction – not Belfast.
We met Bernadette and Michael (such Irish names!!!) at a campsite in the Yorkshire Dales. Bernadette is Irish. Well she could be English coming from Belfast, but being born on the “Isle” and being Catholic, she has chosen to be Irish and hold an Irish passport. Michael is actually English but could be Irish, now he has lived on the “Isle” long enough, but he chooses to remain with an British passport. Citizens of Northern Island can choose which passport, therefore nationality, they are. It might be embarrassing to admit, but I had not realised that Northern Ireland is more a part of England than of Ireland. I knew there had been strife and fighting between the north and south! But, did not realise the full extent. Still today, the religion you are matters. You may not practice, but it can influence a belief that if you are a Protestant, you are likely a “Unionist!” Catholic, likely a “Nationalist!” Northern Island is about 30% of the population of Ireland and since 1921 has been a distinct division of the United Kingdom. The Northerners really cling to their attachment to England we are told. The evidence I see is in the Tourist Information centre. There is a lot of information on sights for Northern Island, and nothing for Ireland “proper.” (although its probably not proper to say that!)
Still, we are happy to start with a whizz across the top of Northern Island and happier still that our UK Vodafone plan will continue to work a little longer!
The Causeway Coastal Route is rated as one of the Top Five Road Trips worldwide. Spanning ragged coastal edges, unspoilt beaches, rare rock formations, it leads from one stunning sight to another. Historic remains of strategically placed castles clinging to rocky cliff tops; including Mussenden Temple & Dunlace Castle. Add some sizeable towns and cities, each mixing modern outskirts with an old heart, like Londonderry; an ancient city, walled around 400 years ago, to keep out marauding Irish chieftains. Set these amongst , rolling pastures displaying at least 9 different shades of emerald green, cows and sheep happy, heads tilted constantly to the ground. Complete the picture with rock formations found at the Giants Causeway, unique and rare, formed over 60 million years ago. A feast of hexagonal columns of basalt rock, volcano lava that hardened when it hit the cool of the sea, and later cracked into amazing shapes.
There is a lot of Bally going on too. Bally this and Bally that! Ballycastle, Ballykelly, Ballymoney! Bally translates from the Gaelic word, “Baile na”, or “place of.”
Continuing south along a mostly coastal road, we arrive in the Republic of Ireland. (Ireland proper to me!!!!) I’ve been waiting for a wily, windswept coast and we find it here in Sligo. We both notice. Whilst there is no border crossing into the Republic of Ireland, and we did not see a sign, you do feel like you are in a different country. Besides we are now traveling on kms again, the towns are signed with both Gaelic and English names. It’s difficult to pin point the other difference. But it’s there. As we started our Ireland journey we began to play a talking book – The Secret Scriptures by Sebastian Barry. Little did we realise it was set in Ireland, and are finishing it now as we have arrived in Sligo. The town the book is set in!!! It’s a complete and cooky co-incidence.
We pass through the County Clare on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. County Clare is pretty, pastures boxed by extremely thick, dry stone walls. You can see the back breaking labour of centuries gone by, clearing this land. You can see where the labour stopped. The green paddocks turn into mountains of stone, after stone, after stone.
There is a lot of the Irish in Ireland!!! I would say at least 70% of each town and village shops are named after their owners, Timmy Martins Tailor, J P
Moran pharmacy. Sometimes it’s just Dicks or Lillies! Sometimes someone more famous is the namesake – Rob Roy or Jack Doyle! An Irish boxer who claimed fame in America, and ended sadly, “too many fast women and slow horses!” as the barmaid in the Jack Doyle hotel told us! He also happens to have the name of my mothers father, my Grandfather!!!
We enjoyed some nightlife in Galway. You don’t have to walk far in the evening to hear some Irish music – the soul of Ireland. Full of life, patrons dancing, jumping up and down on the spot, or more sombre tones of a ballad. A moment to go inwards and reflect on your Guinness!!!