Buses, People, and Pints! Oh, my!

Dave and I left Belfast early this morning by train to Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland. For those of you who don’t understand what that means, it means the island of Ireland is actually two countries: Northern Ireland, which is actually a part of the United Kingdom (UK) and the Republic of Ireland, which is independently ruled with it’s own government. We’ve spent the last week and a half in Northern Ireland, which include Belfast and today we crossed the border into the Republic of Ireland which includes Dublin. Got it? If not…Google it! 🙂

Now that we’re clear on that, Dave’s and I have enjoyed train travel in Europe so much before, we booked first class tickets for this short, two- hour ride to Dublin. We also got an awesome breakfast on the train and I was able to catch up on my blog from the previous day. Duncan also came out for a visit.

Still an overcast kind of day, but it wasn’t raining when arrived in Dublin and the taxi driver found our hotel for the night at the Albany House. We were able to check in early to freshen up then we took the hop-on-hop-off bus around the city, which has kind of become our “thing to do” in each big city we’ve visited to get a lay of the land and layout of the city.

Our first observations are that Dublin truly exemplifies the words “bustling city” and then some. THIS is a thriving, alive city with many shops and restaurants and a LOT of energetic, young people. There are also a LOT of bicycles.

After going through every stop, we finally got off the bus at the Guinness Storehouse. You’re greeted inside the doors with the 9,000 year lease Arthur Guinness signed. There was a wax seal by his signature. The lease is inside a sunken area of the floor covered in glass.

THEN there are 7 floors of wonderfulness explaining everything about Guinness from the temperature the barley is roasted at, to the advertising designs they have used over the years.

It’s all a self-guided tour and there were a LOT of people there so getting around from floor to floor proved a hassle at times. We did a great beef sandwich at one of their restaurants and then a free pint on the top floor at the Gravity a Bar overlooking the city. I loved it, but we were both tuckered out. Old and out of shape!!

Overall we loved Dublin even though we did’t get to experience much of it. I’d visit again for sure.

Guinness is good!

It’s the last day of our vacation as we fly out tomorrow (Thursday)

Rivets and Icebergs

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!

Belfast Bound

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.

Old Stones. Old Bones. Old Homes.

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.

Coastal Irish Coziness

The Premier Inn provided a lovely breakfast buffet this morning as Dave and I looked through our travel itinerary today. It was just a tick cooler, cloudier, but still nice out. A heavy fog over the ocean would obscure a more brilliant vista most of the day.

We were leaving Carrickfergus and going on to Islandmagee. Now, although my mother’s family name is Maggie, this island, which is actually a peninsula, isn’t a part of OUR Magee family. Dave’s years or research indicates our Magee ancestry related to Islandmagee is incorrectly stated throughout Ancestry.com and that placing the family origin on Islandmagee, is merely a matter of convenience, instead of based on any actual fact. Nonetheless, we stopped and paid our respects.

The next place of interest was a statue in the town of Larne. Easier said than done! But Dave, being Dave, had googled it extensively and we were able to track it down. Surrounded by a pre-school, a caravan/camper park and a bowling green, the tribute was dedicated in 1992 to the memory of those emigrants who left Larne in 1717 to go to America. Leaving everything & everyone behind for a new life. It was a poignant reminder of that time and of our own ancestors. I’m very glad we found it.

The next stop was Glenarm Castle & the Walled Garden. Although the 400-year old castle itself is only open to the public on occasion and the castle trial, which goes by the castle was closed for repairs, the walled garden is open to public and is Ireland’s oldest walled garden.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a bite to eat at their lovely tearoom. We both had fruit scones. Dave had coffee, I had tea, of course. As we sat out on their deck, we enjoyed the sweet perfume of David Austin roses clinging the sides of the building and some sheep were grazing in a brilliant, green field.

Although we’re visiting during the last spring & early summer bloom period and the garden wasn’t as colorful as it could be, there were still some beauties and well worth a visit to see the attention to detail in maintaining the symmetry needed for some lovely angles and views.

As the drive took us north, we tried to hug the coastline as much as possible. The drive often turned into a winding, narrow single lane that was the width of a farm tractor or cart. Dave had to back up once or twice to allow an oncoming car to safely pass. The eye-level hedges in both sides of the road didn’t allow you to see what was coming around some hair-pin turns. Dave attempted to pull over in as many places possible to allow other cars past.

I’m unable to recall all of the places we stopped and what I’m looking at, but suffice it to say, it was all stunning! Even with the fog and haze that crept along the coast. Each small town we drove through and farm we drove past, gave us a wee glimpse into every day life in this cozy spot of the world.

The sun was trying it’s best to shine, but the haze/fog was too much. We lucked out in some of the higher locations where we were able to see for miles and enjoy the many farms, sheep, cows, horses, and accommodating farmers. I’m sure they aren’t as welcoming to the tourist cars clogging their narrow roads.

Out final destination was Ballintoy, where we will staying for four days. What day is today? Who cares…I’m in vacation.

The fog had followed us and was now getting thicker as we found the Ropebridge House B&B where owner Theresa greeted us warmly at the door. Having only had the B&B for about four months, she and her husband have done a great job in providing guests with a warm and inviting home. Our room is on the 2nd floor and looks out over the hills to the ocean. I’m sure Ill have mode to share in the next two days.

Our dinner tonight was the Fullerton Arms. Terrific staff and one of, if not THE best dinners we’ve had in our trip. I had a burger & Dave had a steak & ale pie WITH Guinness of course.

After dinner we went down to the rocky Ballintoy Harbor and explored. The fog and haze was still hanging around, so it only made for an atmospheric setting, the HBO series GAME OF THRONES films around here a lot.

When we arrived back at the inn where I heard one of the two front sitting room calling me. So it grabbed a cup of tea and say there writing my blog. As we were sitting there speaking to the owners, the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds, giving us spectacular sunset at around 9:30.

I’m looking forward to not having to pack each morning the next few days!

Deer, Duncan, and Downpours

The quiet morning by the Loch. The birds chirping. The spectacular views. Ah…Scotland!

Dave and I enjoyed a restful night and arrived in the breakfast room ready to meet the day. There was a lovely woman from England at the table and we were shortly joined by another couple from the Lake district of England. The food was excellent and company was as well. We spoke of history, travels and language. Enjoyable.

Our first stop today was to drive down to a viewing point to see Castle Stalker. It is one of the best-preserved medieval tower-houses to survive in western Scotland. The castle is privately owned and apparently the family that lives there DOES give private tours, but we were just going to stop and take a few photos from it.

The weather was perfect and we enjoyed a short stroll to the edge of the lock. Upon doing so, I spotted something tall in the field and it turned out to be a very large deer. We were surprised how unaffected he/she was by our presence and allowed us to walk quite close to take videos and photos.

Castle Stalker has been featured in many television shows and movies throughout the years. We can see why. What a picturesque setting as it rises from the rocky island.

We continued our drive and stopped for another castle drive-by. This time is was the ruins of Kilchurn Castle across the loch through the trees.

Our next stop was the ancestral home of Clan Campbell at Inverary Castle. What a stunning building inside and out. A very unusual entrance, at least compared to other castles, with the hanging flowers.

However, we needed food! So we stopped into the on-sight tea room for a bite to eat. Dave ordered some coffee and a ham salad, which he loved. I had a fruit scone, butter, jam, and a wee pot of tea. We sat outside in the shade (yes, it was very warm again) at small bistro tables with the castle directly beside us.

The Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell lives in the castle with his young family and they’ve done an amazing job of allowing the public to view a certain number of rooms, maintain a fabulous garden & gift shop, and keeping it their ancestral home as well.

The grounds are very sprawling and the large garden is lovely. Many of the early spring flowers had gone by, but all the rhododendrons and azalea were in bloom. Some of these bushes/trees must be VERY old because they were very large.

The rooms inside gave one a real taste of the 17th century through the Victorian age sprinkled with photographs of the present Duke and his family.

Although, I hate war of any kind, I have to admit the armory room is impressive. They indicated the last time these weapons were used was at the Battle of Culloden. One certainly looked at them with a sense of sadness and respect.

The extremely large silver bowl on the formal dining room table was given to the Duke at the time by Queen Victoria and we learned the gilded sailing ships are actually filled with soup, the top is removed and they roll them around the table for the soup to be served.

Dave and I walked around the beautiful gardens admiring the grounds and expansive tree collections just like Balmoral. There was one HUGE tree truck that caught my eye and I had to have Dave take a photo of me with it for perspective.

I snapped a few photos of Duncan at the entrance as this would be his last castle in his homeland of Scotland then the clouds moved in and we could see rain was coming.

We were able to stay ahead of the rain for awhile and enjoy still more stunning scenery around Loch Lomond. Dave’s ancestors went to Northern Ireland from an area/river here called Glen Douglas, which we were able to find. Dave walked along the path his ancestors walked 450 years ago and he paid his respects. I snapped a photo of him walking the road and also a massive tree that MAY have been there at the time. Who is around today to prove us wrong, right?

Then the skies opened up as we tried to find our B&B for the night. The GPS was leading us in all sorts of directions and finding certain places proved difficult. Those darn back, country roads!

We finally found the entrance gates to the 19th century lodge, the Mulberry Lodge and were greeted at the door by owners Yvonne and David. Our room was a lovely back room facing the lovely gardens and a small deck overlooking the gardens with a bistro set. Fresh flowers, interesting artwork and a painted bookcase on the wall…literally! The sitting room and breakfast room were great. Like an old country manner.

Dave and I wanted to eat some place nearby and Scottish, so Yvonne generously offered to make reservation for us at the Clachan Inn/Pub for dinner. We cleaned up and drove in to Drymen and discovered this lovely, very old white-washed stone building.

The Clachan Inn is the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland (1734). It has a lot of character and warmth and we thought we’d give Scotland ONE last change on their fish n’ chips. They did NOT disappoint and they also had Belhaven Best, so I was happy.