36 Hours in Ireland

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I arrived in #Dublin, the capital & largest city of #Ireland with a population of more than 1M, with only 36 hours to explore. I wasn’t sure what to expect… despite what many people say the service by Ryanair  was excellent, departing & arriving as scheduled. Landing at Dublin Airport, I proceed to get a taxi to downtown Dublin. The taxi driver was extremely chatty & told me that he had a connection with Canada & in fact his sister lives in #Chilliwack (British Columbia, Canada) – my wife’s hometown! He advised me of the things to do while in Dublin, how to use public transport, I thought this very helpful. When I arrived at the Ashling Hotel the driver asked me for 50 Euros in cash. I asked to pay by Visa, he declined saying that no taxis will take Visas in Ireland… I thought it was odd, but had cash so paid the driver what he asked. **As a side note: on the return trip from the Ashling Hotel to the airport, I also had a very friendly, former civil servant taxi driver & when we arrived at the airport he asked for 25 Euros… he said paying by Visa was no problem… I explained the issue with the first taxi driver when I had arrived to which he shook his head disdainfully.

The Ashling Hotel was a grand old #hotel, it was clean, had that antique feel & the service was excellent. I was informed about a tourist spot named Temple Bar, where all the #restaurants, #pubs & #entertainment can be found. Since the following day would be a packed day including a trip to #Belfast, I thought I would venture out, that very day to Temple Bar. The concierge told me to catch the public tram just yards away from the hotel, that would take me to downtown Dublin. I paid 3.7 Euros for a return ticket, hopped aboard a packed tram to downtown & jumped off the tram at the third stop. I walked across the Liffey River for the first time & entered Temple Bar. It reminded me of a hustling, bustling downtown Amsterdam, with live music in the cobblestone streets – every bar & pub overflowing with very happy people. Enjoying a quick meal, I returned to the hotel to get organized for the Belfast trip in the morning.

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A Day Tour of Belfast
Getting up at 6 am, I headed to the rendezvous point at the Gresham Hotel (23 O’Connell Street) for the 7 am pick up. I was about to embark on a day tour of Belfast including a visit to Giants Causeway, and The Game of Thrones filming locations with the Wild Rover Tours Company. Once aboard the 60 seat luxury coach, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a retired private school teacher. As we were to travel a number of hours, we got to share a bit of each other’s lives, it was fascinating to hear of he and his wife’s travel exploits around the world, and about their home city of Perth, Australia. As we departed Dublin, the guide explained about the Millennium Monument, The Spire of Dublin located across the River Liffey. Dubliners were disappointed as the big celebration planned for the Millennium that was to include the monument did not happen as the monument wasn’t finished until 3 years later. It has been given many names (some I cannot repeat!) but one popular name that is frequently used is the ‘Stiletto in the Ghetto’. We travelled for about 2.5 hours, heading to Belfast. We were given the option of either taking a Black Cab Taxi Political Tour or visiting the iconic Titanic Museum. I opted for the Black Cab Taxi Tour. We were dropped at a nearby shopping mall, grabbed a tea & a sandwich, then in groups of 5, were piled in to a series of Black Cabs. My fellow travellers included a couple from Germany & students from Toronto, Canada. The taxi driver was full of vim & vigor & couldn’t wait to tell us about the history of Belfast, and in particular, the division of Catholic & Protestant communities that still exists today.

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Our first stop, was called Battle of the Falls, where the famous murals of history are all displayed on the Catholic side of the Peace Wall. We got out of the cab in the pouring rain, were given umbrellas & marched along the Road of Murals with our tour guide in tow. Passionately, he explained about the brutal violence over 30 years that took place in the streets of Belfast, with thousands of people losing their lives. This included his own personal trauma during the troubles. We spent about 80% of our time on the Catholic side & the remaining on the Protestant side. When we stopped at the gates that divided the two communities it struck home to me, that the violence and the troubles were still very real.

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Dubbed ‘The Troubles’ – Northern Ireland 1968-1998
The memory of a 30 year stretch of violence in Belfast is still very apparent. The Catholic/Nationalist population together with the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was in a brutal conflict with Protestant led RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), UDR (Ulster Defense Regiment) and the British Army. The aim by the IRA was to achieve a United Ireland by removing British rule. Violence in the streets was common between Unionist/Loyalist Protestant population and minority Catholic/Nationalists, including; rioting, house burnings, shootings & bombings.

Our taxi driver, Martin May, with Black Cab Tours, said “There were troubles on both sides. I will never forget the death squads (RUC/UDR) as they were known, who came & simply hunted Catholics to kill. On the other side, I recall the IRA getting information that leaders within the Protestant groups were enjoying a meal at a local fish & chip shop. They planted a bomb & blew it & everyone in it up. No one survived. They later found out the leaders had already left & innocent people were killed. The conflict in Belfast/Northern Ireland was officially ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. 3,500 people lost their lives & 50,000 were injured over the thirty year conflict.When you enter Belfast, in particular along the Peace Wall, it is evident that there are many reminders of the conflict however even today the main gates between the two religious groups are locked every night at 6:30pm & all day Sundays.

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Back on the coach, we then departed Belfast for Carrick-A-Rede and Larrybane, about a 40 minute drive away. When we arrived at this location, we were told it had become extremely famous throughout the world as it was a major film location for The Game of Thrones (since I was not a current fan of the show, it was difficult to follow all of the characters that were discussed & what they had done here). It also struck me when I saw a National Trust logo, that we were in Northern Ireland under British control. Before we disembarked the coach, we were reminded that currency would now be in pounds at the gift shop, not in Euros. The tour guide explained that the walk along the cliff path would be about 2 kms & that we had an hour in total before the coach would depart. Out in the rain, I headed to the famous rope bridge which was featured in The Game of Thrones. About a hundred people ventured along the cliff path with me, but only 8 people at a time were allowed on the rope bridge. The bridge named Carrick-A-Rede, allowed you to cross over to Carrick Island. The bridge was approximately 100 feet in the air, and in the name (Scottish Gaelic) means The Rock in the Road. It has been used for over 350 years by fisherman gaining access to migrating salmon. It was awful weather, pouring with rain & very windy, so I stopped at the gift shop for another quick hot tea & warm up before boarding the coach. The tour guide, who was extremely entertaining, explained to us that on a good day you could see Scotland as it was only 13 miles away from Carrick-A-Rede.

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Basalt Columns – photo Wikipedia

We then headed off to Giants Causeway, which was about a 40 minute journey. The guide explained that you could walk to the Causeway (about 2 kms), you could ride in a shuttle for 1 pound or you can visit the pub, sit by the fire & enjoy a beer (or two!) before venturing out to the Causeway. Almost everyone headed to the pub! After my own liquid refreshment, I headed out once again into the rain & wind, to the shuttle pick-up point. Disappointingly, the only ‘ride’ that stood in front of me was a golf cart full of garbage. It looked like another 2 km walk down the cliff path would be inevitable. The Giants Causeway is a World Heritage Site with an area of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The Causeway is located in Country Antrim, on the North Coast of Northern Ireland, 5 kms from a town called Bushmills. In 2005, the Giants Causeway was named as the 4th Greatest Natural Wonder in the United Kingdom. All owned & managed by the National Trust, it remains as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. Once again, sopping wet, I headed back to the coach, for a three hour return trip to Dublin, in Southern Ireland. Interestingly, there is no border between Northern & Southern Ireland, making it quite difficult to distinguish between the two, however, as noted, the currency did change. On the return trip, just outside of Belfast, we passed through the small village of Ballymena, famous for being the hometown of actor, Liam Neeson.

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