Belfast Days 9 and 10

Note: Prior to studying abroad in London, I spent 10 days in Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the prequel class “The Pale and Beyond.” We spent five days in Dublin and then five days in Belfast learning about Irish culture and identity. For more about my time in Ireland, check the Ireland category tag on the right.

Like in Dublin, we had our last full day in Belfast mostly free to explore the city and surrounding area. But first, we all met in the hotel lobby to walk over to St. George’s Market. The market takes place inside this huge warehouse-type facility and has tons of vendors selling everything from fresh produce and cupcakes to jewelry and paintings. It was a great place to buy gifts and also grab a quick bite to eat.

Countryside

The countryside around Belfast

After we left the market, we all had about five hours to spend in Belfast before our final group dinner. Some members of the group walked uptown to visit the botanical gardens and others visited the Titanic museum. I walked around Belfast with a few people and did some shopping before returning to the hotel to relax.

We all met up again that night for our final group dinner at the Crown Pub. The Crown has some very cool stain glass decorations and a lot of polished wood inside. It also has these old fashion areas called snugs. Snugs usually fit about six or seven people in them and are basically big booths with doors you can close so you can drink and eat more privately with your group of friends. But our dinner took place upstairs in one of the bigger private party rooms. We all enjoyed the food and getting the chance to talk with each other.

Stormont Castle

Stormont Castle

The next day we loaded all our luggage into the coach for our ride to the Belfast airport. On the way to the airport, we stopped at Stormont Castle, the seat of the Northern Ireland parliament. It’s a beautiful old stone building located about 5 miles outside Belfast. The parliament wasn’t in session though, so we just took a few photos before getting back on the bus.

We got our baggage checked and made it to our flight without incident. After a short 1-hour flight, we arrived in London’s Heathrow airport. We had been at Heathrow just ten days before on our way to Dublin, but it felt like months ago. After collecting our luggage, we got on the coach for one last ride into central London. We had one night before the other study abroad students arrived and, though I was sad the trip was over, I was also happy that I would be able to see so many familiar faces as I began my semester studying abroad in London.

Belfast Day 8

Note: Prior to studying abroad in London, I spent 10 days in Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the prequel class “The Pale and Beyond.” We spent five days in Dublin and then five days in Belfast learning about Irish culture and identity. For more about my time in Ireland, check the Ireland category tag on the right.

CountrysideToday was spent enjoying the Irish countryside. It really is beautiful out here and it looks like the Ireland you see in postcards: rolling green hills, white waves crashing against stony cliffs and more sheep than I have ever seen before in my life.

RopeIt was about a two-hour ride to get to our first destination: the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. Once we got there, it was about a 15-minute walk along the ocean and some terrifyingly high cliffs to get to the bridge. The bridge is actually made of sturdy cable now, not rope and runs a short distance between the main cliffs and a small island outcropping. It was not as long or as scary as I thought it would be (though many members of our group would probably beg to differ on that point). It was quite windy the whole time and we all had to put on extra layers.

We had lunch at the Wee Cottage, where the owner shut down the whole place for us. The cottage was decorated with all kinds of knick-knacks and the walls were covered in different types of currency from all over the world. Lunch was homemade soup, sandwiches, Irish soda bread, tea and coffee, and, to top it all off, decadent scones topped with heaps of whipped cream and berries. We were all stuffed.

Dunluce CastleFrom there, we walked down the hill to visit the ruins of Dunluce Castle. The castle was inhabited by various Irish and Scottish families over the centuries. It was eventually abandoned because it was too close to the edge, too drafty and had become out-dated. Although much of the original castle walls had collapsed or crumbled it was easy to picture how grand it must have been in its prime.

GiantOur last planned stop for the day was the Giant’s Causeway, an area filled with stacks of these peculiar, flat six-sided rocks. The causeway was created either by giants or by volcanoes, depending on how strong your imagination is. It was about a 25-minute walk to get down to the main area of the causeway and once there, we joined the other tourists in clamoring about on the rocks and getting slightly wet from the spray of the sea. There were also some paths leading up to the cliffs that a few members of our group walked up.

On the bus ride back, we made one last quick stop: at a bunch of trees where they filmed part of the Game of Thrones TV show. Those who watched the show had a chance to get out of the bus and take a quick picture before we continued on our way back to Belfast.

Belfast Day 7

Note: Prior to studying abroad in London, I spent 10 days in Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the prequel class “The Pale and Beyond.” We spent five days in Dublin and then five days in Belfast learning about Irish culture and identity. For more about my time in Ireland, check the Ireland category tag on the right.

Today, it became abundantly clear how divided this small country still is. As a bit of background, the island of Ireland was split after the southern 26 counties gained independence from England in 1921. The northern six counties are still part of Great Britain.

The peace wall that separates Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast.

One of the peace walls that separates Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast.

But obviously, not everyone in Northern Ireland agrees with result of the split and we spent most of the day learning about the deep divisions and painful history between the Nationalist Catholic population and the Unionist Protestant population.

Probably the most important thing I learned about this conflict is that for the most part, all this conflict isn’t about religion. For many outsiders, including myself, it’s easy to look at the conflict in purely religious terms and wonder why the two sides could disagree on so much when their religions are so similar. But it’s really not about that. Pretty much all Catholics are nationalists (want to unite with the Republic of Ireland) and pretty much all Protestants are unionists (want to stay united with Great Britain), so identifying yourself as a Catholic or Protestant is as much a political statement as a religious one.

Signatures from all over the world cover the peace walls.

Signatures from all over the world cover the peace walls.

Almost all the working class men over about 40 or 50 years old that we met had participated in “the Troubles” in one way or another. The peace treaty between the the Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups was only signed in 1998, just about 15 years ago, so a lot people still remember the violence and are struggling to move on. Many of the people who spoke with us had served significant time as political prisoners, some joining paramilitary groups as young as 15.

After a brief introduction to the conflict, we split into groups to take walking tours of some of the surrounding Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. My group walked through the Shankill Road area, a protestant area, first. The Protestant and Catholic areas of Belfast are kept apart by a long high cement wall. There are a lot of murals and public art in the Shankill road area that both celebrate Irish history and discuss peace. The Shankill area is also filled with Union Jacks, almost every house has a flag outside and there are apparently more flags flying here than is London.

A mural on the Protestant side of the wall.

A mural on the Protestant side of the wall.

We had lunch and then walked around the Catholic area of Falls Road, which has a lot less public art and almost no murals on the peace wall. You can see that it’s a lot more cohesive than the Protestant area though, which has to incorporate a lot of different strains of Protestant faith instead of just one Catholic faith. We also walked through an IRA memorial garden and visited a giant mural of Bobbi Sands.

The last part of the day was a discussion between two Unionists and a Nationalist. I thought they would disagree on a lot more issues but they were in agreement on many of the questions they were asked. Although both sides concede that the peace walls are still necessary, the threat of violence here is much less than it was in the past. Generations are aging and many kids now will grow up without ever experiencing the violence.

An IRA memorial on the Catholic side of the wall.

An IRA memorial on the Catholic side of the wall.

The country still faces many challenges though including education, healthcare, equal rights, and assimilating political prisoners back into society. But the greatest challenge may simply be returning to a normal state of community relations. It is still almost unheard of for a Catholic to walk into a Protestant area and vice versa. But, at least from the people we talked to, there seems to be a general desire to get along. And both sides have come a long way. Just 20 years ago, both groups were killing each other on sight. Now, they have settled into an uneasy peace, which will hopefully endure for many years.

A mural pays tribute to the American civil rights movement.

A mural pays tribute to the American civil rights movement.

Belfast Day 6

Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall

Note: Prior to studying abroad in London, I spent 10 days in Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the prequel class “The Pale and Beyond.” We spent five days in Dublin and then five days in Belfast learning about Irish culture and identity. For more about my time in Ireland, check the Ireland category tag on the right.

Today, we officially crossed the border into Northern Ireland. It was about a 2-hour bus ride from Dublin along some very beautiful highways. We had all been up since 7:15 a.m. that morning so most of us spent the trip sleeping.

After a quick stop at the Jury Hotel to drop off our luggage, we made our way to the gorgeous Belfast City Hall building. The city hall was completely paid for by taxpayer money, so the residents of Belfast feel a real sense of ownership with the building and they don’t charge for tours either. It’s clear how much tradition matters here, from the paintings of all the Lord Mayors to the ornate council room to the robes all the councilors wear. There are also three huge rooms to host both city and local functions.

One of the city hall function rooms

One of the city hall function rooms

We finished the tour and then had about an hour or so to walk around Belfast a little bit and have lunch. Belfast is much smaller than Dublin but it still has a pretty built-up downtown area with lots of shops and places to eat. But unlike Dublin, you can see the surrounding green countryside from most areas of Belfast. We ended up having lunch at this diner-type restaurant located a street off from the main drag.

We then got to know Belfast a little better by taking a walking tour of the city. It’s definitely not as touristy as Dublin but there are still quite a number of quaint shops and streets. Like Dublin, a river, the Lagan River, cuts straight through Belfast but this river has caused some problems for the city inhabitants. Up until a weir was built in 1994, the area around the river smelled terrible because of the changing tides that often left the riverbed exposed. The tides are regulated now so the river is never completely drained and a lot more businesses and people are moving into the areas by the river. They also seem to have a bit of an obsession with the Titanic here (it was built in Belfast) and there’s a Titanic memorial and other commemorative places throughout the city.

The Lagan River

The Lagan River

Dublin Days 4 and 5

Note: Prior to studying abroad in London, I spent 10 days in Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the prequel class “The Pale and Beyond.” We spent five days in Dublin and then five days in Belfast learning about Irish culture and identity. For more about my time in Ireland, check the Ireland category tag on the right.

We started the day four of our trip at Dublin’s Old City Hall where we were given coffee and lots of delicious biscuits, which our professor continually convinced us to eat more of. Eventually, we started putting the biscuits in our coat pockets because we were too full, and they were soon all “eaten.” Next we went into the main city council chambers to get a city planner’s perspective on Dublin’s growth in the past few decades and the challenges the city still faces today. It was really interesting and the city planner touched on a lot of interesting topics such as historic preservation, the Dublin bike scheme, transportation and housing development, and some of the “patchy” regeneration Dublin has experienced. There’s a lot of economics involved as well as politics and architecture. Interdisciplinary knowledge has certainly been a theme throughout the trip so far.

Kilmainn Gaol Jail

Kilmainham Gaol Jail

We had lunch at the nearby Epicurean Food Hall and I got fish ‘n’ chips from Leo Burduck’s, which is suppose to be famous for that. Then we got on the tram again to visit the Kilmainham Gaol jail. Kilmainham Gaol is very old and has an eeriness and dampness about it that befits a jail. Many Irish leaders leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish Revolution and the Irish Civil War were held in there and, while it would be a stretch to say the place is haunted, many parts of it feel like a graveyard and it commands similar respect. Many films, including “In the Name of the Father” were also filmed here.

One of the hospital buildings

One of the hospital buildings

On the way back, a few members of our group wanted to check out the nearby modern art museum but it was closed due to construction. As consolation, we all walked through the grounds of the museum, which used to be an old 17th century hospital. It was very beautiful and you could see the Irish countryside in the distance.

We finally made it back to Trinity and had about an hour to get ready before departing for the Merry Ploughboy Pub. The inside of the place looks like a traditional Irish pub with a bar at the back, a stage at the front and several rows of long tables. We took up one of those tables and enjoyed the traditional Irish food they served us while we waited for the entertainment to start. The first people out on stage were the Merry Ploughboys themselves who performed many traditional Irish songs. They were great at getting the crowd involved and the songs were very fun. They then yielded the stage to some Irish dancers before coming back on to play a final set.

The Merry Ploughboys

The Merry Ploughboys

Throughout the evening, we all had a lot of fun enjoying each other’s companies and having a few drinks. We also had some unpaid entertainment throughout the night courtesy of a rather drunk old Italian guy at the next table over. He kept yelling at the Merry Ploughboys to play Italian songs proving that Americans are not always the obnoxious drunkards.

For our last full day in Dublin, we had most of the day to explore the city and do whatever we wanted. I began the day by going on a two-hour walk around Dublin with my roommate. We walked up the Liffey River and came across some cool old churches and also some cute residential areas. We didn’t have a map with us but were always able to use the river to guide us back into town. The personal highlight for me was the two bookstores we came across. I got a copy of Dubliners by Joyce for only  3 (about $5). It seemed like the perfect book to buy in Dublin and I also got a few other books, which, will certainly not make my suitcase any lighter on the return trip.

By the time we finished our nearly two-hour long walk we were starving. We were too tired to walk around and find somewhere cool to eat, so we ended up having lunch at T.G.I. Friday’s. After that, we did some shopping in the downtown Dublin shopping area and also picked up some souvenirs for friends and family.

We then went back to Trinity so we would have some time to chill before going to the Riverdance performance that night. We all got a little dressed up and then met on the steps to walk over to the show. The theatre was called the Gaiety Theatre and had that ornate, old-fashioned theatre feel to it. We had to walk up quite a few flights of stairs to get out seats, which were in the last row of the theatre. We were a little worried about not being able to see anything but once the performance started, it was easy to enjoy the music and watch as dancers filled the stage.

At intermission, we all got this traditional ice cream treat, which was basically ice cream with some sort of congealed food coloring type thing. Regardless, it was pretty good and after watching the last half of the show, made our way back through the Dublin night to our rooms at Trinity.

Dublin Day 3

Note: Prior to studying abroad in London, I spent 10 days in Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the prequel class “The Pale and Beyond.” We spent five days in Dublin and then five days in Belfast learning about Irish culture and identity.For more about my time in Ireland, check the Ireland category tag on the right.

Today was a very busy day that took us from the busy streets of Dublin to the quaint roads of the Irish seaside. But the day began with another lecture, this one from the director of the Inter-religion Center at Trinity. The lecture took place in the brand-new Ecumenics Center, a building so new that we couldn’t even find the lightswitch. Ecumenics is not, as I first thought, a weird Irish spelling of Economics. It is in fact, as the director explained, “the intersection between religion and politics.” As he talked, I could definitely see why this would be such an important area of study for the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland is 84 percent Catholic and one’s religion is something that affects every area of one’s life, even for people who might not attend mass on Sundays. Nearly all the schools are segregated here by religion, so Catholics and Protestants go to separate schools. The Catholic Church dominates social life as well as it sponsors various sports teams and holds social events. Inter-marriage between Protestants and Catholics is very low and the lack of interaction between the two groups has caused problems (more on this once we get to Northern Ireland).

Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghai

Next we had another lecture on Irish travellers, similar to gypsies, before leaving campus to explore the seaside outside of Dublin. We got a packed lunch from the campus dining center and then boarded a Dart train (similar to the NJ PATH) for a 20 minute trip to the town of Dun Laoghai. It was a gorgeous day and we ate our lunch while watching the waves lap against the piers and rocks. We then walked down to an ice cream place called “Teddy’s” and got their famous “99” ice cream, which consists of this really creamy vanilla ice cream with a stick of chocolate in it. It was delicious.

One of the swimming areas

One of the swimming areas

From there, it was about a 15-minute walk to some of the swimming areas. I thought the water would be too cold to swim but there were a lot of people swimming and those that went in said the temperature wasn’t too bad. The swimming area was cool because you literally jump right off the side of the stone area into the sea. No steps or gradual decline here.

An excerpt from Finnegan's Wake

An excerpt from Finnegan’s Wake

After that, we walked up the hill to the James Joyce Tower, which houses the James Joyce Museum. Joyce is an Irish writer who has written books such as Ulysses, Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man, and the practically unreadable Finnegan’s Wake. The tower is so named because Joyce lived there with two of his writer friends before leaving Ireland at the young age of 22. I had read a few books by Joyce in high school, so it was cool to see the various artifacts they had there.

GuinnessFinally, we boarded a bus to go to the Guinness Museum in Dublin. The whole museum was very cool and was shaped like a giant Guinness glass. Our tour guide said that, if full, the glass would hold roughly 12 million pints. Another fun fact we learned is that Guinness is made from barley, water, yeast and hops and that everything except for the hops comes from Ireland. The most interesting part of the tour for me was learning that Arthur Guinness originally signed the factory lease for 9,000 years! That’s quite a commitment and makes it easy to see why Guinness is so synonymous with Dublin and Ireland.

The brewery

The brewery

Dublin: Day Two

Note: Prior to studying abroad in London, I spent 10 days in Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of the prequel class “The Pale and Beyond.” We spent five days in Dublin and then five days in Belfast learning about Irish culture and identity. For more about my time in Ireland, check the Ireland category tag on the right.

The jet lag definitely made it difficult to get up for my first full day in Ireland. After breakfast, we had the first of many lectures we would have over the next few days about Ireland. This lecture happened to be on the Irish economy and the Celtic Tiger. After it was over, we had time to venture outside Trinity for lunch.

streets of dublin

The streets of Dublin

Walking the streets of Dublin is a very interesting experience. First of all, there are always a lot of tourists here. About 4.6 million people live in Ireland and there are more than 6 million tourists annually. This, combined with the crazy way people drive here (and in Europe in general) is probably why they paint “look left” and “look right” on the crosswalks. I couldn’t help but think that New York City, or any other American city for that matter, would never be so accommodating to its European visitors.

We eventually found a cheap café for lunch and ordered paninis, which turned out to be a mistake because the Irish have a very different idea of paninis than I do. They put it on a weird poppy seed roll and even put stuffing on it! Neither of us were big fans of this interpretation, so we went to the Spar’s across the street afterwards for candy. (Spar’s is basically the Irish version of a 7Eleven.) They take their chocolate seriously here; the store had a whole area just for “luxury chocolate.” Some of my favorite candy here so far are Aero Bars, Malteasers, Galaxy Bars and Mars Bars. With apologies to Hershey, the chocolate really is much better over here.

Dublin castle

Dublin Castle

We then went on the walking tour of Dublin, which was very interesting and helpful in getting our bearings. There is so much history in Dublin everywhere you look. The only cities I can think to compare it to in the U.S. are Boston or Philadelphia, but even those cities are only hundreds of years old, not thousands. Some of the tour’s highlights were the Bank of Ireland, the Temple Bar area, Dublin Castle, the new Dublin City Council Building, the Four Courts and the Liffey River.

There were some flags flying by the river, which our tour guide said were there because of an upcoming gaelic football tournament. All the counties enter a team and the Dublin County team had made it to the semi-finals. All the athletes are professionally trained and though they don’t get paid, our tour guide said the athletes are pretty much guaranteed a job for life because of the prestige that comes with playing on the team.

Sand sculptors near Dublin Castle

Sand sculptors near Dublin Castle

After the tour ended, we made our way to a section of Dublin where there were a lot of Irish pubs and restaurants. We ended up eating at a place called O’Neil’s and I had some of the best fish ‘n’ chips I’ve ever tasted. A few of the others who were with me had Shepherd’s Pie, which they said was fantastic as well.

Liffey River

Liffey River