Our favorite guest blogger Gerry Britt returns once again to our Emerald Isle. He’s on his own and ready to do some serious exploring. After a whirlwind tour around the island visiting old friends and making new ones, Gerry sits down to tell us all about his time in …
I was sitting on the sofa in my living room one fine evening, minding my own business, when my wife walked in and announced that another (“another”—I love saying that!) trip to Ireland was necessary. Not one to argue with my spouse I immediately agreed.
“When should we go?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, “Not us, just you. You need to go alone so you can play with your friends without having to keep me and Aeron [our son] entertained. Go wander around, see your friends, stay out late.”
“Um…okay. Well…I’ll see about flights.” My rush to the laptop left scorch marks on the carpet.
My plan was to spend most of my time in , visiting with friends I had made in our prior trips to my grandfather’s land. Having had the great fortune to visit thrice before, there were not too many tourist sites left to visit. We’d covered every county in the Republic. The North however was, except for and the , undiscovered country.
! Capital city of the Northern Ireland state, home to famous linen and ships, and shorthand for The Troubles that had plagued the northern corner of the island for centuries. I decided to visit Belfast first.
I landed in Dublin on a fine morning, bringing with me that big, bright, yellow ball of fire so seldom seen in the sky during this unusually wet Irish summer. I collected my expertly packed bag (see your humble correspondent’s prior work: How to Pack for Ireland), picked up my rental car, and headed north along the modern M1 motorway for the scenic ninety-minute drive north.
I had reservations for one night at the Hotel Europa. The Europa is famed for having been the hotel of choice for President Clinton and for being the most-bombed hotel in Western Europe (which it proudly proclaims, by the way). Which is fame and which is infamy I’ll leave to you, Gentle Reader. Mr. Clinton played a big part in the 1998 that ended the violence, so I was very safe—and by the way, well played, Bill. I also recommend the Europa for its excellent Head Concierge Martin Mulholland and convenient location just off the main motorway, which saved me the trouble of an unintended tour of the city and winding up on the ferry to Scotland.
I checked in and set about exploring the city. The locals have the set, serious expressions common to all cities which light up with genuine smiles when approached for directions or guidance, which is not common among all cities (Dublin and Indianapolis being two exceptions).
I had booked Billy Scott’s Black Taxi Tour for a cruise around the city and Unionist and Nationalist neighborhoods. Billy proved to be as knowledgeable as he was friendly and by that I mean he knew everything. We made a dozen stops, with Billy explaining the meanings of the symbols, faces, expressions, and reasons for the murals that dotted the cityscape of the Shankhill and Falls Road areas. The term “sectarian violence” is used all over the news for places all over the globe, but it hit me hard when I saw faces and names that could have come from my high school yearbook. It is a tour not to be missed and never to be forgotten. May they maintain the peace!
We completed the one-hour tour in just short of two hours. I have some knowledge of the history of The Troubles, and Billy took me to places not normally seen so that I could be properly educated, all the while taking phone calls from his wife and assuring her that no, he wasn’t at the pub and that yes, he’d be home soon. The £30 cost was nothing for the experience and I gladly over-tipped, traded sincere goodbyes, and headed off to the with a new appreciation of the trials of Northern Ireland.
If you want to see a classic, famous, historical, and simply gorgeous pub, come to the Crown. Pressed tin ceilings, cozy snugs, ancient memorabilia, and expert bartenders make the Crown the place to immerse yourself in a traditional atmosphere. As with any pub in Ireland, some of the best money you can spend there will be buying a round for the locals nearest you and enjoying hours of conversation about anything and everything. The soft “Nordy” accent is simply musical. Before I knew it, it was after midnight and the pizza place just down a side street from the Crown was perfect for a take-away meal and a good night’s rest prior to my morning appointment with…
Titanic! was another “must see” recommendation from Aileen Power of this site. Situated in the docklands area and completed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s maiden voyage, the Titanic Experience is a multimedia wonder. Filled with artifacts and information, the self-guided tour (guided tours are also available) takes you through the history of Belfast, the nuts-and-bolts (literally) of Titanic’s construction, and the details of her maiden voyage and fateful rendezvous with the iceberg. The tour is well laid out and courses smoothly though large exhibits, an amusement park style gondola ride, and an excellent short film presentation.
I left Belfast and headed towards and , and my friends in the Republic, but I already missed my new friends in the North and I regretted spending only one night.
I hope to make my trip twice upon a time.