Well, my liking of Dublin increased further with the fact that it was easy to get out of by car. Still, if we can get through Chicago and driving on the other side of the road, we think we can drive anywhere (well, maybe not New York, Paris or Rome. Just shut up now!) We made out way north and visited the neolithic grave sites of Newgrange and Nowth which were amazing. It is fascinating that such ancient people could construct such buildings of great complexity and precision - apparently the stone roof at Newgrange has never leaked in the 6,000 odd years the structure has been in existence. And the transporting of the materials is also a miraculous feat, with some of the stone traced to the Wicklow Mountains some 70 odd miles south of the site. After living the experience of those who came thousands of years before us, we moved to more relatively modern times with a visit to the site of the Battle of the Boyne where William of Orange imposed a significant defeat of James II. It wasn't the end of the Jacobite wars but it ended with James II heading back to exile (presumably a very comfortable one) at the court of his cousin Louis XIV. A pity his son and grandson didn't take the hint. The opening of the centre was another step in the reconciliation between Northern Ireland and the Republic as the equivalent of the Prime Ministers of each country opened the centre in 2007/8.
After sating our desire for culture for the day, it was then on to Belfast. This should have been an easy run, but I suspect Stos had the GPS set to avoid toll roads as we found ourselves in some odd spots along the way, including finding ourselves outside the wrong place at our destination (although I think this was a GPS thing rather than a Stos thing).
Anyway, we have spent our first full day in Belfast and I have a number of observations on the place:
- The wind in Wellington has nothing on the howling gale we experienced in downton Belfast this morning.
- I am sure that the reason Irish people emigrate is the weather. It is nearly summer here and the top temperature today was 7 - 10C and with windchill, I am sure that this is a generous estimate. Such was the severity of the cold, that Stos wore gloves. Those who know him will understand from this exactly how cold it must have been for this to occur.
- The people are delightful and love a chat. We were told by our tour driver that this is possibly because of making up for lost time during the Troubles when the walls had ears and people needed to be very cautious about what they said and in whose hearing (real and electronic) they said it in.
- Black cabs can be white, or any other colour.
- The pubs are charming and meals consist of huges servings.
- When you order a roast, you get both roast and mashed potatoes on the same plate. I am assured by my host that this is normal.
- I totally get why you need two serves of potatoes with your meal and why comfort food is big on menus. See comments on the weather.
- Heating is terrific in Ireland. It needs to be - again, refer to comments on the weather. For the same reason, I suspect that lack of airconditioning is not a problem.
- I talked myself out of bringing my ski jacket on this trip. I shouldn't have.
Belfast is a city of very grand Victorian buildings that reflect the affluence of the past; the result of the being a leader in the linen and ship building industries. I like it more that I expected to (weather excepted). However the real revelation of the day was our Black Cab tour of West Belfast and the murals. The driver is a Catholic who was personally impacted by the conflict that reignited in the 1960's, yet does not appear bitter about the past and is hopeful for the future of Northern Ireland. Most shocking to us was the continue presence of the dividing wall and lock out zones between the hard core Protestant and Catholic estates in West Belfast plus all the stories that didn't make it to Australia about the sectarian violence. I thought I had a good idea of this but there is obviously a lot that we didn't know.
Tomorrow we head to the Northern Coast to Carrickfergus and Giant's Causeway. Our host tells us it is going to be a nice day tomorrow but I will have gloves, coat and scarf at the ready.