Northern Ireland has some pretty spectacular beaches and coast. Listen…just birds and distant rolling of the sea. Butted next to lush green hills.
For the first few days we were in Northern Ireland, the winds were so calm you almost forgot you were at the coast. Although we were thankful there weren’t driving rains and high winds, a WEE bit of wave action would have been fun. Truly, no complaints and Dunluce Castle was spectacular!
Although we never made it over to visit the Dark Hedges (we might have shown more interest if we’ve ever watched Game of Thrones), we DID find this little bit of Irish heaven on one of the many, many back country roads.
Nothing but hedges, hills, trees, hedges, stone walls, farms, sheep, did I mention hedges? Oh, and my Maine Man behind the wheel of our rented Audi. A stunning drive.
Well, we didn’t start off in the right direction, but we DID end up finding Glenarm Castle and enjoyed the gardens and tearoom. I thought it would be fun to show the folks back home a wee Irish Village.
For our last day in Belfast and Northern Ireland, we chose the Titanic Belfast attraction. Titanic Belfast is a visitor attraction opened in 2012, a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in the city’s Titanic Quarter where the RMS Titanic was built. It tells the stories of the ill-fated Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank during her maiden voyage in 1912, and her sister ships RMS Olympic and HMS Britannic. The building contains more than 130,000 sq ft of floor space, most of which is occupied by a series of galleries, private function rooms and community facilities.
Dave and I grabbed a taxi from the hotel and decided on the deluxe tour. We purchased the White Star Premium Pass which offered us discounts in two restaurants and gift store and entry to the attraction as well as an hour walking tour and entrance to the Nomadic, tender boat.
We had a couple of hours before our guided tour, so we were outfitted with headphones and started on the very extensive, multi-floor exhibition. They begin with conditions in Belfast in the early 1900’s and how the company was formed, how the ship’s plans were created and the how the ship was built.
There was even a gentle, but very clever ride, reminiscent of Disney ride showing the building process with narration of a riviter behind it. Such backbreaking work in the shipyard.
Each display was VERY well done going into as much detail as you wanted or as little. Every floor was crowded, but not to the point you couldn’t get to each visual and enjoy it.
Obviously, the end of that fateful cruise was looming and they did a wonderful job of showering the hard work each shipyard worker endured and how the design of the ship was created using the best materials available to them at the time.
As that fateful day neared, the rooms darkened and the tone changed from hopeful and excited to dread and fear as the alerts about icebergs were sent…ignored, then disaster as a result. One felt your heart grow heavy as you listened to first-hand accounts from survivors as you looked at some of the last photographs of the ship ever recorded frozen in time.
We had to end our tour right then because the guided tour was about to start. Libby, our guide, was a perky Irish Lass who told us about a lot of the symbolism surrounding the construction of the attraction and took us through the Harland and Wolf buildings where the designs of Titanic were drawn. Those buildings are now a very expensive hotel.
There was amazing attention-to-detail put into the design of the attraction as well as the grounds surrounding it. The wooden benches outside spelled out the last message of Morse code from the Titanic. The outline of the entire ship was embedded into the pavement where the ship sat under construction. I was a amazed how narrow it actually was, but it was very long.
There were vertical steel beams to indicate where the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic would has sat in the shipyard. However, they indicated the height of these beams were only about a quarter of the actual height of each ship.
Even the design of the main building itself represented the full height of the bows (front) of each ship and they were covered with thousands of steel plates representing the workers. Really well done.
Of course most everyone is aware of some of the “famous/rich” people who were on board like the Asters, Molly Brown, etc., but our guide told us about the Sage family. They had 11 members of their family on board. All went down with the ship. Only one body was recovered….a 12-year old boy from the family. All of those stories need to be told.
After the guided tour, Dave and I enjoyed lunch in one of the four cafes and had a terrific ham and cheese quiche. Then we continued with the rest of the exhibit.
They continue with the inquests after the sinking including the findings in the number of life boats which no doubt resulted in numerous deaths. The movies made about the sinking and the technical advancements in not only ship building, but underwater discoveries were also explored.
A highlight for me was the astonishing way they displayed the wreckage in the sea floor. They had a glass floor in a darkened theater and lit the scanned images underneath it as if you were in a submersible floating over there ghostly wreckage. It was brilliant and sad.
The last part of the tour was spent touring the SS Nomadic. It’s the last remaining ship of the White Star line sitting in dry dock. It was mainly used a tender to transfer passengers from ship to shore and transferred passengers from Titanic on it’s last stop in France before it sunk. The last time for many to be on dry land.
We were both pretty pooped after a long day on our feet, so we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel and decided to eat dinner in the hotel for the first time. It was great and I asked to take a piece of lemon meringue pie back to the room. They wrapped up a plate including a pitcher of cream for me to take.
Oh, and I now have Dave’s cold. Cheers!
This morning Dave and I checked out of Fir Tree Hotel. I can honestly say we will not miss it and will not be visiting again. You’ll notice we haven’t posted any photos of it or our room. Onward…
We are now headed to Belfast to drop the car off at the airport, get a cab into the city and check in to our hotel for the next three nights.
Dave indicated I had not taken a photo of him driving the car. I took a short video in Scotland of him, but realized he was right. So here it is!
He did a great job driving, despite my nagging him he was too close to the curbs and hedges and a GPS/SatNav that died and having to use a different one. We really liked the Audi we got upgraded to by the nice man inside the airport at the Hertz desk. He was great even taking us outside to let us know where we’d be returning the car.
Dave got us safely back to Belfast airport today. It was a shame the young men who man the outside Hertz rental car pick up & return were so unhelpful and rude. Both at pick up and return, they were unpleasant to deal with.
Anyway…the taxi driver and hotel receptionist more than made up for the airport dudes. Both were extremely friendly and helpful and answered all our questions.
We were both hungry and walked over to White’s Tavern for lunch and a pint. I had Bangor’s (sausages) and Mash (potatoes) and Dave had fish n’ chips and we both had Guinness. What a cool pub. Supposedly haunted, it originally was established in 1630. Which means it has been a pub since around the times the Pilgrim’s landed. Think about that.
Our first order of business after checking in at The Premier Inn, was to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city. We walked to the first stop and were glad to see the tour was just about to leave. We sat on the outside, upper deck of the double-decker bus and were whisked around the city for an hour and a half tour.
Unbeknownst to us, there was a woman’s rights march today in Belfast and the bus had to wait for the march a bit and drive a slightly different route.
The tour showed the good, the bad, and ugly. Unfortunately, there is still some major bad and ugly in Belfast with the religious differences and segregation. There has been peace, but you can tell the unrest could bubble up at any time. After photographing a few of the murals dedicated to those who sacrifices or were innocently killed, I stopped photographing them. I hate war, I especially hate violence, and I wasn’t crazy about it all being a focus of a tour bus. It is, however, part of Belfast’s past and should be remembered to not repeat in the future.
There are some historical buildings in Belfast NOT associated with The Troubles, and they were pointed out and they drove through what could be considered the “slums” of the city as well as the more affluent neighborhoods. It was uncomfortable to me to not only take the tour bus down the streets of these poorer neighborhoods, but for the tour guide to be talking on the speaker about how poorly they live….while driving down the street and people who live their walking about. Edinburgh, this was not. And perhaps that is WHY they do it. They need to show the world.
We also drove to the Northern Ireland parliament building which is very grand, but way outside the main city.
After the tour we walked around the city for awhile and did a wee bit of shopping. Dave picked up a free Guinness hat and I bought one of the two things I’ve been looking for in Ireland: a Claddagh ring.
There is an old Irish saying that goes, “With These hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my love.” The Claddagh ring consists of a heart with a crown held by two hands symbolizing love, loyalty and friendship. There are specific ways one is supposed to wear them as well.
Dave is still not quite over his cold and I was starting to get a sore throat so we cut our night short and hope to get some rest.
We’re off to the big city today. I want to apologize to Belfast for the smelly Americans walking around. We brought FAR too many heavier pieces of clothing for these warm & muggy temps. I’d buy more cooler clothing, but getting my luggage through check-in at airport in four days is already going to be an issue.
Today was all McCauslands, all the time as we were meeting up with local historian/genealogist Frank Collins who has been working on McCausland research here in Northern Ireland with Dave.
We had an early breakfast at the hotel then drove to the Ulster American Folk Park to meet Frank in person. Frank works at the park and we had planned to visit today anyway, so it was a convenient spot.
Frank indicated we had a lot to do in three or four hours and he wasn’t kidding! Little did we know that we’d be seeing close to 10 churches and graveyards during that time and that Frank had done an extremely thorough job in investigating where Dave might find the graves of his distant Irish relatives.
A few of the older graveyards proved challenging to get to and challenging to navigate as they had become so overgrown and neglected. Often times walking through fields of knee-high brambles and grass was the only way to access the graveyard. I’m so glad I wore my Merrill shoes. But Frank guided us to the headstones Dave needed to see.
After each reveal of a new headstone, it was remarkable to start to comprehend just how many McCausland’s were in such a small area of a few towns. Some were very big land owners and were able to afford prime burial locations.
In one church, Frank discovered this WAS a McCausland church and he was fairly certain there was a crypt below the carpeted floor that would contain McCauslands. Really, really fascinating and I think Dave was a little overwhelmed with everything Frank was showing him and the information he was sharing.
I’m unable to keep all of the graveyards and churches we visited straight, but I think Dave has a new friend and confidant here in Northern Ireland to use as a trusted resource. The time we spent with Frank was very special and he had done a tremendous amount of work and physically going to the locations weeks prior to our visit. That personal attention meant a great deal to Dave.
We were also very thankful Frank drove! If we had tried to find some of those VERY remote graveyards ourselves, it could have been hours. Because Frank has to work at the park today, he hurried us back to the car park. We went inside and enjoyed a cool drink together then Frank went to get to his post while Dave and I had a bite to eat and start to process everything we had just heard and seen.
Now it was on to explore the Ulster American Folk Park. It is an open-air museum just outside Omagh, in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. With more than 30 exhibit buildings to explore, the museum tells the story of three centuries of Irish emigration using displays and stories. Then they physically showed you how they lived and where they lived in a series of homes recreated, or physically moved to the park plank by plank or stone by stone.
Obviously, famous Irish people who bettered their lives after emigrating are shown, but they also highlight the very real struggles and hardships that forced them to leave in the first place, then the new struggles once they reached America. They really do a fantastic job and the homes from different time periods on both side of the ocean, give you a true sense of how they lived.
Frank’s post today was on the very last “exhibit” which is a plantation home in Tennessee from the late 1700’s. Frank told the story of the home owners and also let us in on how the homes used in the park are acquired and built. It’s a huge undertaking and years in the making…also meaning it’s expensive.
Dave and I said our goodbyes and thanks to Frank, they stopped again in the park’s great cafe where I enjoyed a cup of tea and we both enjoyed pieces of fabulous lemon drizzle cake! THAT hit the spot!
Before driving back to the hotel, Dave wanted to drive to a couple more known McCausland locations that included the town of Ardstraw and another very old graveyard and visiting the entrance to Baronscourt estate.
Baronscourt is private, so, we just drove to the gate and Dave photographed the gatehouse. Baronscourt adjoined lands owned by Oliver McCausland and Baronscourt is also where my David Magee was the land agent to the Duke of Abercorn for 50 years, so they may have known one another 300 years ago.
As Dave put it so eloquently as we drove over a bridge on (appropriately) Old Bridge Street:
“Just think – BOTH of our relatives would have passed over that bridge. That’s just f***ing cool, isn’t it?”
Yes Dave. Yes, it is!
Obviously, the beauty of the Irish country-side and some the remote settings of the churches and graveyards, left us wanting to explore even more, but I feel Dave walked away from today’s experiences with a renewed sense of belonging and family. His Celtic Connections here in Northern Ireland.
Today was the first day of our trip south to discovery some of our Ulster ancestors and visit places where they lived and died. Both Dave and I believe our ancestors came from this area of Northern Ireland to America, although a hundred years apart.
Sadly, we first had to say goodbye to Theresa and the Ropebridge House B&B in Ballintoy. Dave and I truly enjoyed our stay here. The location was spectacular, the hosts couldn’t have been more gracious, and the breakfasts were fantastic! Neither one of use wanted to leave this little slice of heaven at the coast. I’ll have more about the B&B in a later post.
The weather was spectacular again today. Warm and sunny, but areas we were going weren’t that photogenic and we were on a schedule.
Our first stop was at a Presbyterian Church in the town of Aghadowey to meet local author, historian, and former teacher Jennifer Cunningham. Dave had been communicating with Jennifer and was interested in meeting her regarding McCausland history in the area as it related to the 1718 migration of Ulster-Scots to America.
Jennifer had spearheaded a wonderful exhibit in the church and we were excited to see it. She and another member of the church arrived to let us into the church, show us the exhibit, and give us a tour of the church that was built in 1830.
The exhibit was a wonderful mix of true antiques & documents. From delicate Irish linens and an antique flour-sack quilt, Jennifer did a great job on the exhibit and couldn’t have been nicer to us.
Afterwards, Dave drove through Garvaugh to drive by the Woodbank House that used to be owned by a McCausland. Beautiful home!
Onward south! Today was mainly going to be about looking into my Magee family tree. Dave arranged to have historian/genealogist & teacher, Boyd Gray meet us at our hotel in Strabane to help us find a few locations.
The first place we wanted to find was the Old Leckpatrick Graveyard in Strabane where we believe my 10th great grandfather, John Maghee is buried. Dave had found a photo of a map of the graveyard online indicating where the stone may be. However, finding it proved far more difficult than we had anticipated.
The cemetery itself is overgrown and not very well maintained. Large carpets of dense prickly, stinging nettles and vines had found it’s way in, under, over, and around many of the older stones. Of those we could read, none matched the stone we were looking for. Dave and Boyd climbed through some serious overgrowth and finally…past a heavily-traveled modern roadway, we heard Boyd yell “Found it!”
Dave and I rushed over and in a sunken area of ground beside an old iron gated section of the cemetery, we spied John Maghee’s name on the stone laying flat on the ground. The vines, dirt, and moss needed to be swept away to be sure. Dave and Boyd did their best to clean it off with absolutely no tools at our disposal. Then the rest of the words on the stone came to light and proved this was the stone on the map we were looking for. It read:
HERE IS THE BURIAL PLACE OF JOHN MAGHEE DECEASED 26 FEBRUARY 1617 AND HIS FAMILY
On it is carved a coat of arms, a hand bearing a sword and a Celtic cross. It’s a large stone, especially for that time period. We believe he is from the Dumfries area of Scotland and was born in 1548 around the Elizabethan Era. (Queen Elizabeth I). Boyd said it’s the oldest stone he has found in a graveyard and the graveyard touts it as one of the earliest stones in Ulster/Northern Ireland.
Needless to say, it was a special moment for me and I was beyond thrilled we hadn’t given up looking and Boyd had discovered it. It was basically right where the map said it was but because it was so overgrown, you could hardly see the stone. He just happened to see the edge of it.
In the hopes that we’d find this cemetery and the grave of John Maghee, I brought some of my mother’s ashes with me in a lovely cremation necklace with the tree of life on it. I wore the necklace today and once we were able to clear off the stone a wee bit, I spread the small amount of ashes on the stone and told mom I had brought her home. I had to crawl back out of the nettle-lined hole to get some wild flowers at the graveyard, then I had Dave place them on the stone.
So, what could top that adventure? Why, having tea at an estate that used to be owned by a Captain George Magee in the late 1600’s, of course!!
Boyd had spoken to the current owner of Holy Hill estate and had arrange for us to meet him at Holy Hill. It’s a little difficult to find. Which is probably what you’d want with an estate.
The shiny white walls of the buildings displayed brilliantly with the lush green lawn and gardens. We were met by current owner Hamilton Thompson who purchased the housed and 230 acres in 1983. Hamilton is a soft-spoken sort who didn’t let an arthritic hip keep him from sharing his home with us.
We started the tour in a lovely sitting room with many windows and seating areas. He had Boyd read aloud, a few passages about Magee’s involvement with Holy Hill. And, although Hamilton didn’t give us any new information, we truly appreciated the fact he did look into it.
The next few rooms he took us into were rooms straight out of Downton Abbey! Beautiful, old country estate rooms and opulent decor and furniture. He had some unique and beautiful pieces and you could tell he loved talking about them with others.
During the tour, his wife Margaret came in an introduced herself. Then she excused herself We Hamilton continued. Then last room we visited was their personal sitting area and I felt very bad for Mrs. Thompson because she was enjoying her crossword puzzle and these three strangers are brought into the room.
However, she then offered us tea and out came the tea tray, crisps (cookies) and shortbread. The four of us continued to talk history and Holy Hill. As a teacher and historian, Boyd himself, was thrilled to have had this opportunity.
Margaret asked us to sign their guestbook, then we were on our way. We had only scheduled to stay there an hour, but ended up being 2 1/2 hours!
Boyd drove us back to our hotel. We said our goodbyes and thanks him so very much!
What a special day and I hope my mom and sisters were looking down and smiling at our adventures.
We flew out of Scotland into Northern Ireland.