Driving from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland on the surface there are minor changes that you will notice. From the style of houses to the signs and motorways there is a distinct British feel, yet Ireland as a whole continues to live on in the land.
As we drove into the United Kingdom I was almost unaware that we had crossed over, except for that silent cry of history held in the very soil beneath us. Having lived in The Republic of Ireland for a good few months and a Father who was born in Scotland I was tentative to travel north. Northern Ireland’s history is wrought with tales of turmoil and tension.
Arriving in Belfast you can see the ravages of years of conflict on the city. All of the shops and local businesses close down before nightfall leaving a select few local pubs open during the evening. If you are travelling from North America the scene that is set is equal to the old western towns that were vibrant in there day but are now ruled by self protection and preservation.
Our accommodation and nice local pubs
Our first stop was to a local Hostel, Lagan Backpackers that we had found online. The comments and ratings on other sites were accurate and we were welcomed and put at ease by William the owner and resident tour coordinator. Located close to Belfast’s Queen’s University the hostel was within safe walking distance to local restaurants and pubs.
With directions in hand and our tour booked for the morning we were off to the local pub the Crown Liquor Saloon famed for its painted etched glass, ornate interior with a mosaic floor and gold ceiling. As we were walking out of the corner of my eye I spotted the Canadian flag decorating a couples entire jacket. I was so excited that I ran over to them squealing with joy. Although I love Ireland, Canada is where I was born and will always hold a piece of my heart. So fellow Canadians in hand we dropped into the local pub and were quickly welcomed by a few of the locals. We were well cared for during our evening out, with tales, music and a love for the laugh we were entertained as we moved from the Crown to Fibber Magees next door. Fibber Magees is a great place for live music and a bit of the craic (Irish term for fun or for the laugh)
The Black Taxi tour
The following morning we set out on the famed Black Taxi tour, where a taxi driver takes you through both the protestant and the catholic sides of the city. Each side protected by a massive wall and equally large iron gates that are locked each evening. As we drove along our driver gave us an almost impartial view of the history of each of the sides. Our first stop was at a street where huge murals were painted on the sides of the buildings. Each picture depicting the tale of violence in a quest for peace, from pictures of guns to children playing each carried a message of passion and hope. Although it is hard for me to understand where they are coming from and easy to stop the fighting, it made me stop and wonder what I would do if someone came along and told me I had change what I believed in.
The black taxi tour was enlightening and thought provoking, helping me to understand Northern Ireland a little bit better.
The very layout of the major points of interest in Belfast allows you to easily tour the city on foot in one day. From sitting on the grass soaking up the sun in front of the parliament building to shopping in the massive mall in the city centre we covered it all. We were even able to find a Tim Horton’s coffee across the street from the famed Europa hotel, which is said to be the most bombed building in the world.
A trip to Belfast without making a stop in the beautiful gardens of the University would not be complete. You could easily spend a day in the gardens walking the many pathways and touring the atrium filled with botanical treasures.
The Giants Causeway
With our walking tour complete and our map to guide us, we set out along the coast of Northern Ireland to the Giants Causeway. The coast is dotted with small seaside villages and rich in history as you pass the shells of the many castles that once graced this land. The first castle that we came to was Carrickfergus, with its coat of arms proudly displayed on the flag hanging over the gates to the castle. The castle itself was set directly on the shore of the Irish Sea. One could only imagine what it would have been like to hold house overlooking both the land and the sea of the surrounding area.
Arriving late in the evening we stayed overnight in the town of Portrush a hot spot for surfers and those on holiday during the summer months. The beauty of arriving in the evening is that you get to watch the sunset over the water creating an array of reds and pinks across the sky. After walking and driving all day we were looking forward to a nice meal and were well impressed by the local Italian restaurant. I would highly recommend stopping in at Don Giovanni’s for a gorgeous Italian meal served by friendly and efficient staff. The food really was incredible!
Stay tuned for the next post on the Giants Causeway and the road back to The Republic of Ireland
Written and contributed by Michelle Andrukonis