Past, Present, and Future

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.

Derry – the City in The Walls

Derry, Londonderry, Stroke City, or LegenDerry. No matter what you call it, the walled city of Derry has a history riddled with strife and a future ripe for peace.

Before our tour of the city of Derry today, I knew a little bit about it, but had yet to fully understand what had fueled the religious, social, and economic battles that have been going on for decades. And to be honest, even after a truly riveting four-hour walking tour, I’m still struggling a bit to grasp it all.

Dave booked us a tour with a reputable touring company called Marty McCrossan City Walking Tours and had hired a private guide for four hours. He wasn’t crazy about driving directly into the very busy, and very compressed city, so we caught a bus to Derry from Strabane this morning after breakfast at the hotel.

It worked out great. The bus trip was uneventful and quick and our meeting point with the tour guide was in the Peace Flame Park right next to the bus station in Derry.

Right at 10am, we met Sorcha Bonner, our guide. She’s a lovely woman with a charming Irish accent. We felt at ease with her and could understand her accent, so that helped. There are some accents we’re having a little bit of trouble fully catching.

Sorcha started out by asking us what WE wanted to know. We tried to narrow it down by time period and also explained to her about the family history research Dave has been doing. She indicated a few of our stops may be able to shed some light on questions we may have.

Rather than try to come up with my own description of Derry, I’ll take some copy from the tour’s website:

The city of Derry, or Londonderry is Irelands only remaining walled city and offers 1500 years of social, cultural and religious history. Derry was initially a monastic settlement, which became a plantation town and in later years it was a center port for emigration to America, Australia, England and Scotland. Derry is still making history as the opposing communities continue to work together towards a lasting settlement of disagreements.

In common with many areas of Northern Ireland and indeed the world this city has witnessed a recent turbulent past. The Bogside in 1972 became the focus of world news with the worst ever atrocity to hit a European city since WWII on what has been named “Bloody Sunday”.

Our guide will recount in detail the events of that day and the subsequent result of the initial inquiry. The second Bloody Sunday Inquiry finished in 2006, and is awaiting its conclusions.

Sorcha took us onto the city walls and described how they were completed in 1618 and mainly planned as a defense of the city against Irish raiders from Donegal. They are up to 26 feet high, and up to 30 feet wide, enclosing the old merchant city (where the money was). When the defiant Derry Protestants (apprentice boys) slammed and locked the four main gates to the walls, blocking the approaching Catholic army, the walls became an iconic symbol of Loyalism and Unionism. The original 17th century locks and keys (which are huge) are on display.

We were also able to visit several of the churches and neighborhoods were the “Troubles”, as they are known, began and still continue to this day in some neighborhoods. Although the peace process has begun and has been marginally successful, to an outsider, still seeing security gates/walls and clearly divided neighborhoods for Protestant and Catholics can be disturbing,

Dave and I could not help but compare Derry to another walled city, York, England where we visited in 2013. Derry is not that blessed when it comes to beauty spots. The city’s history and the buildings related to it make it a worthwhile visit from a tourist’s point of view, not her sheer opulence.

The newer efforts for peace had created several lovely monuments and symbols including pedestrian Peace Bridge that crosses the River Foyle. We walked halfway across. It’s a beautiful bridge.

Sorcha was a wonderful tour guide and we both enjoyed this whirlwind tour, Her personal story of living here and her wealth of historical knowledge was incredible. She also introduced Dave to Ronnie at a church who shared with Dave how a family member emigrating to America in the 1600-1700’s would have been thrown a “wake” right before they left because the odds of their family members ever seeing them again were so slim. IF the family had any money to give, they would give them what they could, and potentially any wills written would NOT have included the family member/s who had left for America.

After our tours Dave and I had lunch in a wonderful area called Craft Market. It’s a hidden gem with refurbished buildings turned into small shops, cafes and apartments.

The struggles still faced by the residents of Derry quite simply makes me sad. Sad that people have died for decades because of the way they choose to worship their God. Sad that our tour guide Sorcha grew up with armed guards around her otherwise civilized city. And sad that Derry’s children of today are still forced to deal with the crimes of yesterday.

As an American, I shouldn’t throw stones regarding another country’s peace because we’ve struggled with bigotry and racism in our country for decades. It IS better, but we’ve only entered the driveway. We have yet to open the garage doors and park the car.

Good luck Derry. May you find common ground and move forward but never forget those who innocently lost their lives in the past. Love & Peace