In October 2018 we travelled to Ireland. Later we would go on to England (the south coast and London) before travelling overland (and underwater) by rail to Belgium and then on to Berlin to visit our grandchildren there.
The island of Ireland is not very big, about a quarter as large again as Tasmania, with a population not much bigger than Sydney (4.75 million in the Republic of Ireland with another 1.85 million in Northern Ireland). So it's mainly rural and not very densely populated.
It was unusually warm for October in Europe, including Germany, and Ireland is a very pleasant part of the world, not unlike Tasmania, and in many ways familiar, due to a shared language and culture.
We had a simple plan. We would hire a car in Dublin and drive around the island in an anti-clockwise fashion to Belfast, stopping at points of interest, as recommended by friends, the tour brochures and the Internet travel apps.
To minimise the number of hotels we would spend several nights in some places and use those as a base for day trips to nearby points of interest. With three days in the two largest cities (Dublin and Belfast) at the beginning and the end we decided the two weeks would be sufficient for an introduction.
We resolved to find middle priced accommodation with parking in the following locations.
Kinsale (for the Cork area)
Killarney (for the Dingle area)
Bushmills (for Portrush area)
Antrim & Down (UK)
Wendy had been to Ireland over forty years ago but it's a different country now.
Today Ireland is an easy country to drive in. They have similar road rules to Australia, so there isn't that alarm exiting a driveway one has in Europe or North America: 'Damn! What side of the road am I supposed to be on?' The roads are generally very good. Highways, that we often avoided, are like those in England or Australia and local roads are mostly two lanes finished in smooth black hot-mix. The speed limit on these is typically 100 Km/h limit, except through towns, and we didn't encounter much slow traffic, for example tractors. The longest driving time between the towns listed above was two and a half hours. Several were only an hour apart, so we had plenty of time to stop at a view or to find a pub or cafe for lunch; or on one occasion to shop for grandchild requested Lego.
Unfortunately the Seat Toledo* we'd hired in Dublin was unaware of the antiquated system of mensuration in the North (there was no mph marking on the speedo) so we had to rely on Tom Tom (our invaluable worldwide GPS) to stay within the speed limits. Another issue for the unwary traveller is that Northern Ireland is not in the Euro zone, so it's a good idea to have some Irish or English pounds when crossing the border. Of course one can simply use a credit card for essential things, like petrol.
Yet I came to grief attempting to use some very old one pound coins, brought from a stash home, and even a relatively recent five pound note. The Bank of England has finally seen the light, only thirty years after Englishmen first mocked Australia's colourful 'plastic money'. Britain is at last progressively withdrawing its old fashioned paper money from circulation. A bank in Derry happily replaced the paper notes with plastic ones but not the coins.
When travelling my principal goal is not to lie on a beach; hang out in a luxury hotel; or get close to nature; but to learn more of the history of the place; its people; and their beliefs. Wendy is even keener to get out among the locals.
*The Car - for those interested only
We hired the car, well in advance, from AVIS in Dublin. They were the only company we found there that allowed us to drop it off in Belfast (in a different country).
I'd not driven a Seat before - it's a Spanish VW - described in one review as: "the automotive equivalent of a Bosch dishwasher: well made, utterly functional and entirely devoid of character."
It lacked 'bells and whistles like self-parking and the Sat-nav was disabled, but it was more roadworthy and comfortable than many other cars we've hired while travelling.
With a 1.2-litre petrol engine and a five-speed manual gearbox it was light on fuel, that's expensive in Ireland. Yet mountainous winding roads, leafy, slippery lanes and overtaking were not a problem.
Even on a stretch of boggy unmade farm road, that TomTom had led us onto as a 'shortcut' after missing a turn, the Toledo ploughed on. It even took a steep climb over a grassy bank out onto the made road, obviating the imminent need to find a farmer to extricate us. We had a flashback to Sicily.
But the best thing was a big boot, that took both the big bags and the small ones too.
Cumulatively we spent many happy hours in a variety of museums and visited a lot of historical sites but despite my discovery of mutual ancestors I realised I knew little of Ireland's complex history until this visit. I've subsequently relied a lot on Wikipedia for fact checking but I'm happy to be corrected where I have strayed upon 'alternative truths'. So this section is rather long and those of you who like your reading constrained to 140 characters or less may wish to skip to the next section or if you would just like to see some photos go to the Google Photos Album.
There are many Australians with Irish heritage so a little bit of Ireland's history had indeed seeped into our awareness as Wendy and I grew up. For example, when I was at UNSW (post Grad) learning Computer Science, typing: 'get irish' into a computer consol produced a three centimetre thick pile of green and white striped fan-fold line printer output listing hundreds of 'Irish Jokes' like: 'Did you hear about the IRA man who went to London to blow up a bus and burnt his lips on the exhaust pipe?'
A bit earlier in the 1970's we had both, quite independently, lived in London. At that time there were several Irish terrorist events that dominated the news. Yet those IRA (Irish Republican Army) bombings in London were just a first taste. The bombings were to continue all the way into the 21st century as a result of the escalating 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland.
The origin of 'The Troubles' can be traced to many past events, perhaps to the arrival of Christianity as a result of the Romans. But like all history one event follows another so we could go all the way back to when modern humans first arrived in Ireland.
During this trip we would see evidence of this and visit, still existing, ancient religious sites that long pre-date Christianity.
As the the ice of the last glacial maximum withdrew, about 12,000 years ago, genetically modern stone age humans moved in to the new lands to make a living as nomadic Neolithic herdsmen. Over the next ten millennia clever individuals developed fired pottery and then early metallurgy and these technologies were carried here by successive waves of invaders.
Technological progress empowers invasion or conquest, resulting in its own dissemination. Thanks to these successive waves of invaders, Irish technology was already well in advance of Australia's over seven thousand years ago.
True 'civilisation' is based on organised cultivation, as opposed to hunting and gathering or nomadic herding. This leads to land ownership and the requirement for an authority capable of granting and enforcing title to those lands. Initially a town may have maintained a volunteer force to enforce local rules of ownership and civil society and to repel invaders but with agricultural expansion this quickly leads to city states then, fiefdoms, countries and empires.
Ireland was remote from the great civilisations of the first few millennia before the Common Era (BCE). Elsewhere in Europe great empires formed and fell or were consumed, starting with the Egyptians and Akkadians/Mesopotamians around three millennia BCE. With the development of Iron the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, then the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, followed by the Romans created vast empires, encompassing most of Europe north Africa and the middle east pushing eastward to the borders of India. At the same time in the east the great Chinese empires followed or often led those in Eurasia.
With the Iron Age new weapons came to Ireland, favouring the strong and the bold, and Ireland, like nearby Scotland, became a wild land, occupied by waring tribes who measured wealth by the number of cattle they possessed and where a chieftain's success was measured by how many cattle his clan could steal from his neighbours in organised raids. In this context civilisation (town dwelling culture) was limited to trading and manufacturing centres, for example towns specialising in pottery making, weaving and smelting and working metals.
The ancient Celts of Ireland, like almost all early peoples, had an animistic religion in which places rivers mountains forests rocks animals, and so on, were possessed of spirits (were in some way animated or alive), similarly the dead, particularly ancestors continued on as spirits. Every religion is perpetuated by being handed on to our young as they learn to speak, as are our culture's social rules and mores. Thus religions are very persistent. As a result, despite several thousand years of suppression, animism survives throughout northern Europe and in Asia as witchcraft, Druidic religion and Shamanism and remains influential in Spiritualism and some forms of environmentalism or Nature Worship. It's the default religion of humankind, perhaps pre-dating modern humans, and various incarnations are found among native people in Africa; Asia; the Americas; and Australasia and Micronesia; indeed among humans everywhere.
As each stage of civilisation required more organisation, many of the animistic spirits like those responsible for: successful harvests; the weather; natural disasters; relationships; stages in life; and so on, became gods, many with a professional priesthood. In early Biblical history the God of Abraham was still contested by other gods, like Baal, and we can still see this in the Indian sub-continent and East Asia today.
In the first century of the Common Era the Romans considered Ireland's conquest and there is some evidence of a limited Roman presence but, as with Scotland, the potential military and administrative cost exceeded the perceived benefits and this came to naught. Yet within the Roman Empire a new evangelical belief system had sprung up - Judaism for Gentiles - invented in the first century by the author of the revisionist 'Gospel according to St John' and by St Paul who was Saul who wrote most of the rest of the Christian New Testament, save for the Synoptic Gospels and the apocryphal (to the original Church) Revelation of St John the Devine.
At first, Christianity was regarded by the Romans as pernicious, like all things Jewish (as is Falun Gong in China today). The Arch of Titus, built in 82 CE, still stands in Rome celebrating the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of Herod's Temple at the end of the Jewish-Roman war. But in 313 the Emperor Constantine, whose mother had converted to Christianity, legalised its practice.
Christianity with its 'divine right of kings' and 'one true God' is a religion better suited to the more structured city life of the middle ages than the earlier animistic religions and it's less costly to the State than the polytheistic religions of Greece and Rome. As anyone visiting East Asia quickly observes: in a polytheistic culture the diversion of human and material resources to religious observance can be vast and enormously economically draining. Thus the cost to the Roman State is said to have been an important factor in Constantine creating a new monotheistic State Religion at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, where the Christianity we know today was codified, promulgating it as the one and only State supported religion. This change saved Constantine's budget by denying resources to the multitude of polytheistic priesthoods living on the public purse and ultimately spread Christianity across the entire Roman Empire and beyond to become the most practiced religion on the planet.
And so it came to pass that in the fourth century CE Romano-British Christians, like St Patrick, established monasteries and began 'civilising' the Irish through this still very new religion, that brought forward the Zoroastrian 'end of days' to very soon, when Jesus returns. And it was from this periphery, from a monastery near Derry, that Christianity was restored after being almost extinguished in England and most of Europe by the pagan sceptics.
Vikings and world trade
By the eighth century of the Common Era, Norseman (Vikings) who had once lived by raiding in much the same warlike way as the Irish, had become successful navigators and traders across northern Europe, with trade routes reaching as far as Persia and North America. As a consequence they established substantial settlements, generally on estuarine harbours suitable for their longboats, and so too became 'civilised'. Thus by the tenth century: Waterford; Cork; Dublin; Wexford; and Limerick were all substantial fortified towns established, maintained and defended by the Vikings. Among the traded goods and services were slaves, bought and sold in the local markets, some valued for their skills, others for their loyalty or physical strength. See the old Charlestown Slave Market in our recent US trip.
Over the years, these towns grew in size so that the inhabitants were no longer just Norsemen and their slaves but the decedents of local people who had provided food materials and services to the towns. As in all towns generalists became specialists and followed a trade. Initially the Irish kings were concerned that the Vikings were pagans but in due course the Vikings (as they did in Russia) adopted Christianity.
As once every Australian schoolchild knew, in 1066 the Normans (relatively civilised Christian Norsemen from France) successfully invaded England, defeating the Saxons (the previous German invaders) at the Battle of Hastings. After a century subduing the Saxons and consolidating their power in England, the Norman Earls looked towards Ireland, as prior to the industrial revolution productive land was equivalent to wealth and power.
Ireland was much better agricultural country than Scotland. Better than that, there were already a number of established farming communities, supporting Viking towns and Monasteries, that were ripe for conquest. So the Pope lent his authority to a Norman invasion of Ireland. With the Papal imprimatur in their back pockets the Normans invaded, initially taking most of the country by storm. But it turned out that the warlike Celts, as in Scotland, were no pushover. Soon many of the initial gains were lost in a succession of defeats as the, previously warring, clans of Ireland united against the common enemy. In the north, as we would learn on our travels, the Norman fortified town of Sligo was overrun by the O'Donnell's. The O'Conor clan then settled in and controlled this important trading port throughout the Middle Ages.
Fortified cities began to abound - all with God's blessing of course
In this the Irish chieftains were assisted by the disunity among the English Earls who had begun fighting amongst themselves in the 'Wars of the Roses'.
Nevertheless the Normans retained control of the other principal towns; rebuilding in the Norman style; refortifying them with solid stone walls and moats; and deploying cannon and other modern defensive weapons. Their control usually extended into adjacent farm lands, in particular into the rich countryside around Dublin known the Pale. Hence the expression 'Beyond the Pale', where Norman civilisation ceased.
In Tudor times these power struggles got more complex because, following a religious movement in northern Europe, Britain became Protestant. The trigger for this switch in denomination was the new Pope's refusal to grant the Tudor, King Henry VIII of England a divorce. The Pope had little option as he had recently been a prisoner of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who was Henry's wife's nephew and the king of Spain. The Pope was out of gaol on 'good behaviour' and equivocated. Henry, having corresponded with Martin Luther, promptly gave his ecclesiastical support to the English Protestants, whom he had previously opposed. A previous Pope had even bestowed on him the title: 'Defender of the (Roman) Faith'.
In this Henry had much local support, as Protestantism was already taking Northern Europe by storm and appealed to parochial English sensibilities. In particular the monasteries still controlled vast areas of land and were seen as a law unto themselves and/or beholden to a foreign power. In addition, they were satirised in that new invention - printed media - as being both materially and sexually corrupt - even back then.
After publication of Luther's 95 theses in 1517, Rome was increasingly viewed as robbing Christendom to the Rome's greater glory, in particular to rebuild St Peters, then the largest building on earth. From 1536 Henry, with popular support, progressively confiscated monastery lands and buildings and sold them to wealthy individuals.
Tudor Ireland - more castles and churches
A few years later, to further consolidate his personal power, Henry decided to take control of Ireland from the Anglo-Norman kings. As he had done in England, Henry arranged to be declared head of the Church in Ireland through an act of the Irish Parliament. He then confiscated Roman Catholic lands and monasteries but this time often simply gave them to the Anglo-Irish Lords to secure their allegiance and loyalty.
Most of the ecclesiastical buildings, like churches and cathedrals, continued under a reformed Protestant liturgy, stripped of 'Romeish' heresy (like sacraments with no support in scripture; a transubstantiated host; and prayers for the dead - there being no such place as Purgatory). As elsewhere in northern Europe, the Protestants asserted that Rome had become corrupt and no longer espoused 'pure' Christianity.
Under the Catholic Queen Mary, Henry's first daughter, attempts were made to restore the monasteries but after two decades it was too late. The new owners were reluctant to surrender the properties; monastic life had been dissipated (in both senses of the word); many of the older clergy had died; and many priests and nuns continued their careers under the new liturgy, like The Vicar of Bray, and had begun to marry.
Mary tried to enforce return to the Roman Church by a program of executions and burnings and soon became known as 'Bloody Mary'. This was put to an end when she died and her younger sister Elizabeth I ascended the throne and reached a religious compromise. This was a less radical Catholic Protestantism, in which the 'pure', unsullied, line of Christianity 'free from the extraneous and heretical glitter of Rome' was said to have come to England with St Augustine of Canterbury, at the end of the 6th century.
If you visit Elizabeth's tomb in Westminster Abbey and read Latin (or have the guide book) you will see that restoration of the 'pure primitive (original) religion' is listed as one of her achievements, along with restoring the economy; routing the Spaniard; and putting down the Irish rebels.
|Translation of the Latin inscription:
Sacred to memory:
But the more extreme Protestants were not satisfied. In addition to forming a more Calvinist 'low church', numerous colourless and abstemious Protestant sects sprang up. When efforts were made by the Church of England to suppress them, several of these took themselves off to the New World, as had the Protestant French Huguenots. Yet many of the common folk, particularly in Scotland and Ireland were not swayed by the dissenters.
To shore up Protestant Ireland, 'Plantations' were established in under which Protestant Scots and English settlers were offered alienated land in Ireland, further exacerbating the local feelings of injustice and religious persecution, that as we discovered still prevail today, more than five centuries and twenty generations later.
Across Europe seemingly endless wars of religion broke out, bringing an end to the middle ages. In the midst of this the English Revolution took place, resulting in the Execution of Charles I in 1649. The impact on Ireland was the so called 'Protestant Ascendancy'. This was political, economic, and social domination of Ireland by Protestant landowners and the clergy of the Church of Ireland. Lacking the subtlety of the English Church they had become even more rigid in their piety. Politics and high society now effectively excluded Roman Catholics but also Presbyterians and other non-conformist Protestant denominations, along with Jews and other non-Christians. The Roman Catholics who made up the majority of the working population were even excluded from the professions and the poor were often treated as peasants, a step above slaves, part of a property's livestock.
Londonderry one of the Plantations that lasted
This Protestant tradition was an aspect of Ireland I hadn't anticipated. Being brought up in Australia in the 1950's 'Irish' was synonymous with 'Roman Catholic' and almost vice versa, until Italians and Maltese arrived in greater numbers. Sure, Northern Ireland was Protestant but they had not come to Australia in any great numbers. Now I was discovering that the Irish aristocracy, professional and middle classes were Protestant. It was just that they had generally avoided being jailed and transported as convicts; nor did they have the need to flee poverty in the hope of a better life elsewhere.
My paternal grandmother's family, resident in Northern England, were distant decedents of an Irish aristocratic family listed in Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland. Read more...
Today 78% of the population of the Republic of Ireland is Roman Catholic; while 45% of the population of Northern Ireland is Protestant and 40% is Catholic. Organised religion is on the decline in percentage terms in both countries.
Towards the end of the 17th century the world beyond Ireland was changing. Science led the way to the Enlightenment a movement that in England is normally said to have begun with the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica (1686) and John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding(1689). In France Descartes presaged Voltaire. In Scotland David Hume and Adam Smith revolutionised thinking and in America Thomas Jefferson proposed political reform that provided a rationale, beyond a naked grab for wealth and Indian land snatch by a new elite, to the American Revolution (1775-83).
David Hume and Adam Smith in Edinburgh
(David a bit chilly in winter)
Soon the stability of the old orders in Europe was shaken to its foundations by the Revolution in France (1789).
Thus the Enlightenment had come to Europe and with it a new religious scepticism and a rejection of religious extremism. Catholic emancipation began in Ireland and Britain with the 'Papists Act' of 1778, following similar reform in Quebec in Canada in 1774. Protestant extremists were appalled and protested, with riots in Scotland, but by 1793 Roman Catholics had been allowed to establish schools, attend university and, if a male land owner, to vote just like their Protestant neighbours. Thus by the time Australia was colonised by Britain in 1788 there was no legal discrimination on the grounds of religion. And in due course freedom from religious test became enshrined in the Australian Constitution in 1901.
During the 17th century the population of Ireland had been less than three million but with improved transportation, in the age of Empires, grain and fibre production was increasingly profitable. Yet agriculture was still manual and across the world land owners needed more labour. In the Americas this back breaking labour would be provided by slaves. In Russia and Ireland, land owners required their agricultural workers to reproduce. This required that they be fed, cutting into profits.
Then, in the mid-18th century, fortune, like manner from heaven, fell upon the landowners. A new food plant had been discovered in South America. It had already been cultivated and improved by the Inca in the Andes of South America over hundreds of years. And it turned out to be ideal for feeding Europe's agricultural workers - it was the potato. In less than fifty years, with the help of the potato and the Catholic Church's hunger for new souls, Ireland's peasant and predominantly Catholic population had tripled to nearly nine million and was still growing exponentially, providing plentiful cheap labour for the landowners and blossoming congregations for the Roman Catholic Church. A win-win for all concerned.
As predicted by Robert Malthus nearly half a century earlier in An Essay on the Principle of Population the inevitable consequence of unchecked population growth is famine. And in 1845 his theory was vindicated when disaster struck. That year the potato crop failed due to the fungal infection: Phytophthora Infestans. Soon people began to die, some of starvation, but many more due to other causes, as widespread malnutrition lowered immunity and social breakdown led to crime. In the following year alone over a million, mostly working class, people died of cholera. Cholera and Typhus struck again in 1847 and 1848. Millions more died.
Nevertheless, Ireland continued to export grain to England and this led to outrage against the landowners. Yet without healthy workers grain production soon collapsed and with it the Irish economy. Very soon workers in England, emboldened by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, began to protest against the increase in bread prices and to demand 'free trade'. British and Irish grain production had been protected from cheap imports by the 'corn laws' that imposed steep tariffs on imports. These laws were repealed in 1846 so that cheaper grain could be imported to feed the British. This further exacerbated the collapse in Irish agriculture and added endemic unemployment to their miseries. Then the potato crop failed a second time in 1852.
Ireland began to depopulate as working class people fled to find work, initially to England then to Canada, then the United States which gave a new home to nearly two million.
Emigration - part of the business case for the 'Great Ocean Liners' that would soon ply the Atlantic
Soon Irish intellectuals like Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, Synge, O'Casey, Behan and Beckett would also leave and begin to dominate English theatre and literature with their eye for the personal; a satirical view of the establishment; and contempt for the failings of the established religions and people's misplaced faith in God. A new intellectual class of Irish Marxists and free thinkers wanted revolution.
Some of the Irish unemployed who had fled to England turned to crime and some, who were not hanged for serious offences, were transported to Australia as convicts. Others with more resources, including a few Protestants, fled famine or economic distress in Ireland as free settlers.
Some of these Irish settlers would bring their sectarian grievances with them and pass them on to future generations, marking Australian political, religious and cultural life forever.
Perhaps the best record of this intergenerational sectarian enmity is the Jerilderie Letter dictated by Victorian bushranger Ned Kelly, to fellow gang member Joe Byrne, before a number of reliable witnesses, as his gang held up the NSW town of Jerilderie at gunpoint in 1879.
Both Kelly and Byrne were Australian born. Byrne's mother was one of some 4,000 'Irish Famine Girls' who were given free passages to Australia due to poverty or to their parents dying during the Great Famine.
Kelly's mother, Ellen, was Australian born. Ned's father, 'Red' Kelly, was an ex-convict who'd been transported from Tipperary for pig stealing in 1842.
'Red' like most Irish convicts was emancipated (given his freedom) after five years to follow a trade, as a bush carpenter, and he married Ellen two years later. The family 'selected' (took possession without title of) 88 acres of farmland in Victoria and had 8 children. Red drank heavily and died of alcoholic poisoning when Ned was 12. The family had a number of clashes with the law. At 14 Kelly became apprenticed to a local bushranger. His mother was notoriously uncivil to her neighbours and a suspected horse thief. Unlike Joe Byrne who'd been to school, Ned was illiterate and his religion; politics; and unusual version of history, were inculcated at his mother's knee.
But Ned had an imposing stature; was a natural leader and a gifted orator. His goal at Jerilderie was to have his entire 8,000 word 'manifesto' published.
The Jerilderie Letter (small indicative excerpt)
...Either ways a [an Irish] policeman is a disgrace to his country and ancestors and religion, as they were all Catholics before the Saxons and Cranmore yoke held sway since then they were persecuted massacred, thrown into martyrdom and tortured beyond the ideas of the present generation...
source: National Museum of Australia
After his execution Ned became a hero to many Irish Australians and his grievances would continue to be passed down, often in his name, to their descendants right into the 1950's. They were still evident when I was in Primary School when the kids from the small local Catholic (parochial) school, who were taught by Irish Nuns, would chant: 'Catholic, Catholic ring the bell Protestant, Protestant go to hell', at the drop of a hat. Sometimes it came to stone throwing.
After one incident my father told me that in Heaven there was a big high wall with the Catholics on one side and everyone else on the other - and the Catholics thought they were the only ones there. But I knew it was a joke. He'd taught Jewish and Catholic Poles to fly; didn't believe in Heaven or Hell; and said people should have whatever religion suited them.
By the end of the 19th century Ireland's population was back under four million.
Many Irishmen wanted the same privileges enjoyed by the dominions like Canada, Australia and New Zealand: Home Rule. The country was divided. Industrialisation had come to the North, principally around flax, that was the basis if the linen industry, and then shipbuilding, that provided skilled jobs and locked that part of Ireland more firmly to Britain.
In predominantly Protestant Ulster the concept of Home Rule was anathema. Influential figures like Rudyard Kipling demanded that Ireland remained British. In 1912 half a million people in Ireland and some in Scotland signed a 'Covenant of resistance' against the proposed Home Rule Bill that was before Parliament. Women still had no vote but 230,000 signed a 'Declaration' to the effect that they wished to 'associate ourselves' with the Men of Ulster in 'uncompromising opposition to Home Rule'.
The Ulster Covenant - signed by several McKie's and Ellson's (Wendy's mother's family - also an unusual spelling)
We, whose names are underwritten, women of Ulster, and loyal subjects of our gracious King,
being firmly persuaded that Home Rule would be disastrous to our Country,
desire to associate ourselves with the men of Ulster in their uncompromising opposition to the Home Rule Bill now before Parliament,
whereby it is proposed to drive Ulster out of her cherished place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom,
and to place her under the domination and control of a Parliament in Ireland.
Praying that from this calamity God will save Ireland, we hereto subscribe our names.
Nevertheless 'Home Rule' was eventually passed into British law, much to the dismay of the Loyalists in Ulster and to the derision of those wanting complete independence, but the start of First World War in 1914 caused its implementation to be deferred.
When the Great War began many Irishmen volunteered but as it progressed and the death toll rose alarmingly conscription was proposed. This played into the hands of those favouring a Republic, particularly where sectarian and related class enmity remained a smouldering time-bomb to be exploited.
We have now moved forward into my Father's lifetime and the following events were reported on the front pages of the newspapers he read to radio broadcasts he listened to and to the newsreels played during the movies he went to.
Sectarian and class enmity frequently led to violence. During Easter in 1916 there was an uprising in Dublin that destroyed property. In comparison to other incidents this was a relatively minor event and the culprits were quickly caught and jailed. But in a serious misjudgement of the growing anti-British sentiment several of the leaders were hanged. The mistake was quickly realised and the hangings curtailed but it was too late. The dead became martyrs to the Republican cause. The country erupted into civil war. During the next six years the Irish Republican Army (IRA) waged a guerrilla war against the government so that by 1922, to bring an end the violence, both parliaments ratified an Anglo-Irish Treaty, formalising independence for the 26 county Irish Free State: Éire, which renamed itself Ireland in 1937, and finally declared itself a republic in 1949. The remaining 6 counties were partitioned off as a new country, Northern Ireland, also with, initially unwanted, Home Rule. Thus, as Scotland would have to fight for later, Northern Ireland was dragged, kicking and screaming, to become a self-governing country, separate to the United Kingdom.
Like Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch Northern Ireland's new independent Parliament didn't really mind. They set about keeping the new country Protestant by means of an electoral gerrymander that would have been illegal in the UK. Catholics, who were in the majority in some places, like Londonderry, again found themselves second-class citizens. Their grievances included Parliament's unwillingness or inability to remediate the slums of Londonderry and Belfast. This played into the hands of those who wanted a reunified Ireland. Hard-line Republicans had always held that Ireland was the entire 'island of Ireland' and it had now been made easy to ferment Catholic rebellion in Northern Ireland, preliminarily to annexing it to the whole. The IRA's 'provisional' arm became dedicated to this goal. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were just as determined to keep Northern Island separate and British.
And now we are within my living memory.
Soon ongoing unrest in Ireland ranked alongside: the partition of India; the creation of Israel; the war in Korea; the independence of Indonesia; the 'Suez crisis'; the fall of French Indochina; the Malayan Emergency; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Six Days War; and the Vietnam War, in my growing awareness of newsworthy world events.
'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland began in the 1960's with civil rights marches in favour of 'one man one vote' and arguments over slum clearance and occupancy in Londonderry (now just 'Derry'). These brawls escalated as loyalist Protestant groups opposed the Catholic protesters. In August 1969 sectarian contests developed into open warfare in the Bogside area and English troops were moved in to restore order. As yet inexperienced and poorly trained they fired on and killed protestors.
In 1973 both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland joined the European Economic Community. This provided the customs and freedom of movement conditions necessary for the effective removal of borders between the two countries, facilitating the free movement goods, services and workers. The island of Ireland would soon be a single commonwealth - like states or provinces in Australia, Canada or the USA. I remind readers again that Ireland is a country not much bigger than Tasmania with a population not much bigger than Sydney.
Yet those who thought a single commonwealth was the issue were to be disappointed. The provisional IRA did not accept this economic unity as sufficient. Instead it stepped-up its bombing campaign, taking it to London and Britain in general. When I lived in New York in the late 70's, in the Irish Pubs, IRA supporters were like the Salvation Army, with boxes on a stick soliciting donations. Except, instead of supporting the US homeless down the street, these donations went to Heckler & Koch or DuPont, to buy arms and explosives.
Then in August 1979 the IRA murdered the Queen's cousin, Lord Mountbatten, when they blew up his fishing boat, killing him and three others, including his 14 year old grandson. The same day they murdered a number of British peacekeepers. Mountbatten had been the Viceroy who mismanaged the Partition of India and thus, by incompetence, a man with millions of deaths on his hands, yet to Britain murdering an inner member of the royal family was an outrageously provocative escalation. After that 'The Troubles' went into overdrive and became a full-on war in Northern Ireland, involving British troops in both public and covert operations against the IRA. Both sides rose to the challenge.
'The Troubles' would continue for two more decades, by which time thousands more had died and the survivors among the leaders were getting old and tired. At last they agreed to talk, then to lay down their arms, as a condition of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
The Troubles ended in 1998 - or did they
Belfast Town Hall has a 'Reflection Space' white walls covered in text of different sizes,
in which people representing both sides in the Troubles and the victims of 'collateral damage' are quoted. It makes one weep.
Meanwhile, in the south, the Republic was a major beneficiary of EEC membership and its economy began to accelerate. First Ireland had success with butter then with IT.
The Butter Museum in Cork records the Irish butter success story.
Until the 1950's Irish butter making was both primitive and unhygienic.
Farmers wives were still hand milking and using a domestic separator and a hand churn to make butter.
Then came the European Economic Community.
Modern milking sheds; bulk handling; and processing factories were built; improved herds and pastures brought Irish butter into the 20th century.
Thus butter became a first step in the late 20th century Irish economic miracle.
Soon educated Irishmen and women returned from overseas and foreign immigrants reversed the old pattern of brighter children emigrating as soon as they were able. Ireland's population began to grow and among these new Irish the old religious enmities were put aside in the interests of a better society. For a period, at the turn of the century, the economy grew so spectacularly that the Republic would be called the 'Celtic Tiger'.
So today it's a different story. Ireland is no longer represented by a three centimetre thick computer printout of inappropriate jokes about stupidity. As we'd hoped in the early 1970's, both Britain and the Republic of Ireland are, or were, members of the EU and the border is indeed transparent. The military control points have long gone. Traffic flows are unhindered by what has become a line on the map and people from either side of the border mix freely, as they do across state or provincial borders in Australia, Canada or the US.
The only noticeable difference when one crosses this border is that the road signs revert to imperial distances and miles per hour and Euros give way to Pounds.
The relaxation of religious bigotry seems to be a factor in this apparent harmony. The Church of Ireland churches are largely uninhabited on both sides of the border. The Roman Catholic Church in particular has suffered serious setbacks this century.
First came the sexual abuse scandals; then the campaigns for gay marriage and legal abortion, both successful in the face of Church opposition. Most recently the Church opposed removing the prohibition on 'blasphemy' from the Irish Constitution so that this 'crime', more familiar in Muslim countries, would be no more.
The campaign took place during our time in Ireland and again the Church has been soundly defeated in a referendum. Pope Francis visited recently and his reception was inevitably compared with the previous Papal visit forty years earlier. Back then the Irish populous flocked to JPII in their millions and besieged his Papal Mass in a crush of humanity. This time the media reported; 'the streets were lined to one person deep'; and 'the St Patrick's day parade attracted bigger crowds'.
No wonder that at we were exhorted, by large a banner, to: Pray the Rosary for Ireland as part of upcoming Irish Rosary on the Coasts event, at which Dingle Bay was to be one point of costal gathering.
The Convent of the Presentation Nuns in Dingle
The white and gold banner by the gate exhorts us to: Pray the Rosary for Ireland
Back at home, after the event, I wondered how it had gone. The Catholic World Report told me:
|Thousands of Catholics gathered at over 270 locations on the Feast of Christ the King (25 November 2018) to pray the Rosary, seeking to stem the tide of abortion and other evils in what used to be the most Catholic country in the world.
The article goes to add:
In recent years, Catholic Ireland has been bloodied by the sins of her clergy in sexual scandals one after the other. The faith, so embodied by her patron Saint Patrick, has plummeted to new lows. This is a new, spiritual version of the An Gorta Mòr (The Great Hunger). Yes, there is another kind of famine plaguing Ireland today. It is one wrought by the sins of man and not the soil. Like almost all western countries, Ireland has bought into a materialistic, self-absorbed, hedonistic form of secularism. Where the highest good in human existence is characterized and fantasized by a corrupted form of self-realization. Instead of exporting or giving and sanctifying and sacrificing to the world her innate spirituality, Ireland is now importing the modern creed of “what’s in it for me?”
Standing against the tide seems an ill-chosen metaphor (like King Canute) and given that the Presentation Order features in a number of those disastrous 'sexual scandals' referred to, and not just in Ireland, they were named in Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse too, one might say: 'what goes around comes around'.
Yet as we travelled around there remained a more concerning black cloud on the horizon, particularly for the North. 'The Troubles' are not entirely dead but just dormant, as I will mention later in this trip. It is feared that a new 'hard border' between the two states will rekindle the desire of some to ferment revolution aimed at unification and in others pre-emptive action to ensure that there can be no such unification. At the time of writing 'BREXIT', British withdrawal from the EC, is in turmoil and such a 'hard border' is a distinct possibility. Since we left there has already been a terrorist bombing (on January 20) at a courthouse in Derry.
To us there seemed an obvious solution. That would be for Northern Ireland not to leave the EC. It is, after all, a self-governing country in its own right. The Scots would love to have the same option but then they would have a 'hard border'. At least the Scottish border is long established and historically defined so that it doesn't run down the centre of streets down the middle of rivers or follow ancient hedgerows across people's property. It's also shorter because it's quite straight while the Northern Irish border looks like a random squiggle by a drunken cartographer with Parkinson's. Yet again religion or perhaps patriotism seems to have got in the way of practicality.
At the time of writing it's still not resolved.
While it's by far the largest city in Ireland, Dublin's not huge. It's about the same size as Adelaide. Yet Dublin punches well above Adelaide in many ways. It's the Republic's administrative, financial, intellectual and IT centre and has doubled in population since the 1960's in part due to immigration attracted by these industries. Non-Irish born now make up around 20% of the City's population.
At the beginning of the 21st century Dublin experienced a technology led boom and then boasted the second highest average salaries in the world, with prices to match. Unemployment fell from 20% in the late 1980’s to 4% in 2007 The economy reached a peak during the period between 1997-2007; and was ranked with the 'Asian Tiger' economies as the: 'Celtic Tiger' Ireland moved from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest in only a matter of years. Membership of the EU provided markets and low taxes attracted investors. Free higher education to EU citizens and full employment attracted immigrants.
Since then job creation has fallen back and people talk of a recession. Yet this is not obvious in the streets or the suburbs, where there are many large, well-kept houses comparable to London's 'stockbroker belt'. The infamous slums, it appears, are gone.
We traversed a good deal of the inner city on foot, our path almost always taking us across the iconic Ha'penny Bridge over the river Liffey and through the now trendy streets of Temple Bar. The bridge gains its name from the toll pedestrians were once charged to take this shortcut.
Ha'penny Bridge over the river Liffey and the now trendy streets of Temple Bar
Counting cranes can be used as an indicator of current economic development - if so Dublin seems to be in good shape
Thanks to the combined schools songbook, when at Thornleigh Primary School in the 1950's, and regular radio broadcasts of the Fort Street School Choir to sing along with, linked to the PA, I was aware of Dublin, and perhaps because of teacher commentary, the Irish potato famine, from a young age.
All together now:
|In Dublin's fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying "cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh"
She died of a fever
And sure, so one could save her
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone
Now her ghost wheels her barrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying "cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh"
Shades of Waltzing Matilda: "...and his ghost can be heard as you pass by that billabong".
The ghost of Molly Malone remains - captured in bronze in Dublin's fair city. Some here seem to take this literally
Like the jinn trapped within Aladdin's lamp, they attempt to release Molly's ghost by dint of frotteurism†
†From the French: frotteur - a floor-polisher - a fetish involving sexualised rubbing first identified by the German psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing.
As mentioned above Dublin is an ancient city founded by Vikings, then Christians and Normans. Yet it's long been a place of higher learning and culture.
Dublin has boasted a University among the most prestigious in the English (previously Latin) speaking world. Since it was established by Elizabeth I in 1592, as The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin Dublin's University has had equivalent academic and legal status to the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge.
Today it's known more simply as Trinity College, the alma mater of many famous and successful people, including several Nobel Laureates.
Trinity College - Dublin
Protected no doubt by the single unarmed man who was unwilling to remove himself from the photo
Among the one time students were: Samuel Beckett; Edmund Burke; William Congreve; Oliver Goldsmith; Jonathan Swift; and Oscar Wilde. So it's one of the principal places of interest in the City. Many other famous Dubliners did not attend because, although the University has not prohibited Catholics since the mid-18th century, until 1970 the Catholic Church in Ireland forbade its adherents from attending this hotbed of sceptical and heretical thought. Not that this prevented Dubliners who did not attend like: G Bernard Shaw and James Joyce from expressing even more heretical opinions, doubting the existence of a deity altogether.
No doubt hundreds of years of scarifying religious disputes, accompanied by regular outbreaks of violence, had a bearing on this very Irish brand of scepticism.
We wandered around the surprisingly open and leafy campus sorry not to be admitted to one of the most famous libraries in the world, having resisted the temptation to join the queue to see The Book of Kells that is on display here. For those of you who don't know what we missed The Book of Kells is a medieval translation of the four Christian Gospels into Latin. It's on several hundred folios consisting of heavily illustrated velum (calf skin) and is now bound into four volumes. It's the vast, life's work of English and Irish monks from around 800 Anno Domini (in the year of Our Lord). For all Christians it's equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls and for Protestants reflects the 'primitive purity' of the Christian religion, before it was corrupted by Rome. So it's very precious to all Christians.
In addition to Trinity College Dublin is the home of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) established 1941 by Erwin Schrödinger winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics (1933) and one of the fathers of Quantum Mechanics. He is best known in popular culture for his 'Schrödinger's cat thought experiment'. He was invited to Ireland by the Irish PM, Éamon de Valera, having outlived his welcome in several other Universities for being an outspoken atheist and for his scandalous private life: a ménage à trois. Éamon de Valera spent some time in Kilmainham Gaol (below) and his cell is identified there, among those of other notable people in the struggle for independence. The invitation is interesting as de Valera was a conservative, opposed to divorce and contraception and, while supporting religious freedom, favouring Roman Catholicism.
Other points of interest are Dublin Castle which provides historical context to the Norman Invasion and Protestant Ascendancy (see the history above...) and has foundations incorporating parts of the original city wall and moat.
Also within easy walking distance is Christ Church Cathedral, that has been the seat of the principal Church of Ireland Bishopric (Protestant) since the reformation and thus is claimed by Rome, while the acting seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, St Mary's, is known as a 'pro-cathedral'. There's an interesting museum adjacent to this ancient building again tracing the city's origins and convoluted and sometimes bloody religious turmoil.
Christ Church Cathedral
As in traditional churches of all denominations in, now quite secular, Ireland - more gawkers than prayers
Having now 'done' the Cathedral I needed some spiritual uplift of a more secular kind I sought out the National Galley of Ireland where I discovered some very interesting works while Wendy explored the shopping area - not my cup of tea.
At the National Galley of Ireland - there is an interesting resonance with contemporary Australian artists
One excursion to the suburbs was to the Avis depot where we would collect our car for the remainder of the trip. This was conveniently close to Kilmainham Gaol and we also had the option of the Guinness Storehouse in our remaining hours in Dublin. We opted for the Gaol, as I'm quite familiar with Guinness having sampled it, for comparison, in some dozen countries and many times on this trip, while Wendy abhors it.
Kilmainham Gaol - the cell half way up the spiral stairs is that once occupied by Éamon de Valera (see above)
Kilmainham Gaol operated from 1796 to 1924 and is now a museum memorialising martyrs executed in the struggle for independence from Britain (see the history above...). But it is also where the more fortunate Irish Convicts were held awaiting transportation to Australia, where good behaviour and reformed character earned many land and independence and sometimes wealth. Some, like Mrs Kelly, would raise their Australian born son to: hate authority; despise the law; and be hanged (see the history above...).
As we left Dublin we drove through a few more suburbs and again were impressed by the apparently high living standards of the residents and, unlike many other places we've been, there is no apparent decline in wealth once in the rural hinterland. We surmised that the rural economy remains strong here.
As mentioned in the history above Waterford was originally a Viking settlement and in the early 10th century BCE became Ireland's first city. Today after all the troubles of the late 19th and early 20th century it's growing again but it's still quite small, about the size of Wagga Wagga in Australia. Yet the hinterland is better watered, verdant farming country, like southern England but much less populous. We had a couple of nights in a well-appointed hotel and a nice room looking onto the river Suir.
Apart from being attractive and apparently prosperous, with ongoing gentrification, the town is historically interesting for its Christian, Viking and Norman history in addition to more recent developments.
Waterford is a well-known name to those of you who like to drink out of or collect leaded crystal glass. The original Waterford fame goes back to a maker of fine crystal that operated between 1783 and 1851. Production ceased after the Great Famine, when the economy fell into recession, and glassmaking didn't begin again until after WW2. In 1947 a Czech immigrant determined to profit from the famous name. As local glassmaking talent was gone long before Charles Bacik brought in European glassmakers to restore the industry. Yet despite a high quality product, some of which occasionally grace our table, the company struggled financially and was soon taken over. After that it survived a succession of acquisitions, mergers and receiverships along with the equally famous Wedgewood pottery from England.
In Waterford this small and very labour intensive plant was constructed and kept operating, with taxpayer support because it's a tourist attraction, while the bulk of Waterford crystal is manufactured overseas.
From our hotel it was a short walk to the Waterford Crystal glassworks that's now centrally located across the road from the historic Bishop's Palace and nearby Christchurch Cathedral (Church of Ireland - Protestant). Waterford also boasts the oldest Roman Catholic Cathedral in Ireland: the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity. Like many churches they've hit hard times and want help to restore their windows.
In the same area there's a Medieval Museum that details the town's Viking and Norman origins. While the museum was informative and engaging our visit to the glassworks was one of the highlights of our Irish experience and is highly recommended.
The old town's quite steep, from the river to the top of the ridge, to keep the residents healthy, and it's interesting to stroll around, with a few remnants of the 15th century city fortifications still visible. Nevertheless it's not entirely given over to past centuries as the (tastefully?) modernised Apple Market attests. On leaving we explored some of the outer suburbs in the car and while some dwellings are modest most are in good repair and again we got a sense of general wellbeing - certainly in excess of less well-off areas in, say, Memphis Tennessee.
See the Ireland Album - Click Here...
Cork is the second most populous city in the Republic of Ireland, after Dublin. In the 6th century it was the site of a Christian monastery subject to Viking raids but by the 10th century the Vikings had settled, as in Dublin and Waterford. In due course the Normans arrived (see the history above...) and Cork became a Yorkist town during the Wars of the Roses.
Not a lot of the old Norman city remains. Cork was the location of one of the Tudor Protestant 'Plantations' (see the history above...) and a Republican hot spot during the war for Irish Independence between British Troops, supported by Irish 'Auxiliaries' known as Black and Tans, and the IRA (see the history above...). In 1920 an IRA ambush against the Auxiliaries resulted in Cork being set alight and local attempts to put out the fires being prevented. About five acres of dwellings were consumed, together with several significant public buildings including the town hall. Loss of life was minimal but many were left homeless in what was described as a 'reprisal'. Republicans have not forgotten.
We reached Cork in the morning and were immediately ensnarled in a traffic jam. Parking was difficult to find along the river and we soon determined that this is a busy commercial area with little to recommend it to tourists. We would seek out the local museums. We were tempted by the Cork City Gaol from which Irish Convicts were transported to Botany Bay (Sydney). But after a quick look on-line decided that our recent visit to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin was enough Gaol experience for one trip. And so we ended up at the apparently next most popular and bizarrely different Butter Museum. This had the added advantage of nearby parking; another church (Church of Ireland) to look at; and pubs within walking distance for lunch.
As the name suggests The Butter Museum records the Irish butter success story. I was reminded of the Cupnoodles Museum in Yokohama. Yet it turned out to be very interesting. Growing up on the rural outskirts of Sydney I was not completely ignorant of dairying. Yet at the same time in Ireland our local dairy would have seemed like a space station to the average Irish farmer. They were still hand milking and using what in Australia would have been a farm's kitchen separator and a hand churn to make butter. It was both primitive and unhygienic.
Then came the European Economic Community. Ireland has some of the world's best dairying countryside and its farms and infrastructure were consolidated, automated and improved. Modern milking sheds were built; herds and pastures brought into the 20th century. Milk processing factories received bulk milk deliveries by tanker and churned out the yellow stuff. At the same time a series of marketing campaigns promoted a single homogenised, high quality product: Irish Butter. And thus butter joined the advanced guard of the Irish economic miracle - the 'Celtic Tiger'.
The museum is high up on the ridge overlooking the city so we strolled down the hill in search of lunch and with the aid of local advice found an ethnically unsullied (authentic) place. As we had noticed in local pubs previously, the locals, while perfectly fluent in English, speak Irish among themselves. With the general wellbeing and quite high prices this gives a tourist in Ireland a similar experience to visiting Denmark. Together with declining religiosity Ireland seems to be joining Scandinavia.
See the Ireland Album - Click Here...
Before leaving Australia we had already discovered that we would be unable to competitively match the Waterford accommodation in more expensive Cork. The nearby seaside town of Kinsale seemed better value. We were not disappointed.
Kinsale is a charming seaside town and up-market fishing village in bay surrounded by steep sides, reminiscent, on a larger scale, of Port Isaac, where the TV series 'Doc Martin' is filmed. It's overlooked by Victorian mansions on one hillside and by an ancient fort, now a (closed) wine museum, set below St Joseph’s Convent of Mercy on the other. It's a popular holiday destination and has the appropriate infrastructure, including a shopping precinct of appropriately cute shops, restaurants and bars with some pretty, healthy, and quite precipitous, walks to work off unwanted calories. The convent didn't seem to be inhabited and has seen better days. I later discovered that like a number of Church institutions in Ireland it's closed and is now scheduled for redevelopment.
See the Ireland Album - Click Here...
One of the town's claims to fame is assisting in the rescue of 761 survivors from the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat on 7 May 1915 off the Kinsale headland. Many of the 1,198 killed were Americans and this contributed to the United States entering the Great War. Whether or not it was the prime cause, an intercepted German telegram to Mexico probably had more to do with it, the 'Lusitania outrage' was used in recruiting posters in America and to explain the sudden US involvement in the war to a previously equivocal public.
While conspiracy theorists and crime/adventure novelists have suggested more elaborate sinking scenarios, Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger, commanding U-20, noted the time and place of sinking in his log, adding that he declined to fire a second time in view of all the people in the water. This has since been verified from German archives and from the wreck itself.
Three kilometres around Summer Bay from the town is Charles Fort a well preserved 17th century fortification commanding the bay. It's built over an earlier fortification built during the Battle of Kinsale. It brought this battle to my attention. It was the final battle/siege in the Tudor Conquest of Ireland (see the history above...).
In 1601 the Spanish landed a force of 4,000 at Kinsale in support of the Irish Ulster chieftains opposing the forces loyal to Elizabeth I with whom the Spanish were still at war. The Tudor army responded by surrounding the town and besieging it. Despite some initial bloody skirmishes the Catholic Irish forces were unable to help the Spanish break the Tudor siege. Over three months the Spanish were subjected to withering bombardment, during which Elizabeth's forces improved their fortifications making a Spanish victory impossible. Eventually the Spanish accepted this inevitability and surrendered. They were then allowed to sail away. The Spanish would probably have succeeded had they not lost half their troops, weapons and ammunition, when, yet again, God, in the guise of the weather, had favoured Elizabeth's 'purified religion'. Enough was enough. The Spanish would never again intervene in Ireland and the Ulster forces were obliged to return to their home provinces. The last of them surrendered to the Tudors in 1603.
In March 1603 Elizabeth I died and James I ascended the British throne. James immediately proposed that the 15 year long war with Spain should end. The Spanish, for their part, had poured vast resources into fighting both the English and the Dutch to no avail. Now that the hated and annoyingly victorious Elizabeth was gone they responded positively, signing the '1604 Treaty of London' (there are several others with different dates), under which Spain formally recognised the English Church and foreswore its intention to re-establish the Church of Rome in England.
In return the British withdrew State support to the Dutch Protestants and allowed Spanish ships to use English ports, giving them a base from which to attack the Dutch. But that all fell apart when three years later the Spanish treasury was declared bankrupt and the Dutch were victorious. Thus the Battle of Kinsale marked an important step in the demise of the greatest super-power the modern world had yet seen.
Killarney is away from the coast, about 90 km west of Cork. We had decided to make this a base for a side trip along the Dingle Peninsular. The hotel was modern, near the centre of town, convenient to pubs and shops, with a convenient car park. Killarney is famed for its parks and nearby lakes that have attracted tourists, holiday makers and ramblers to its hotels and grand houses since the time of Queen Victoria who spent time here. Among its notable buildings are St Mary's (Roman Catholic) Cathedral and the Franciscan Friary.
There was a wedding on at the Cathedral that delayed us having a look inside and then we tried to be inconspicuous. Strangely it was one of only two Roman Catholic churches we visited as almost all the older churches are Church of Ireland (Protestant). Not that there is a huge difference in the architecture. In this case construction was delayed by the 'Great Famine' and subsequent economic collapse and it was only 'reordered' (their description) to this high standard in 1973.
As it was a 'cathedral wedding' it was quite elaborate, and thus no doubt expensive. The happy couple emerged under an arch formed of hurling sticks held aloft by their male friends, presumably members of local hurling teams. The bride was in white and although not as expensively dressed or bejewelled, she was perhaps just as lovely as Meghan Markle had been at her wedding a few months earlier. But we agreed that in the Republic of Ireland elaborate weddings are not usually subsidised by diverting taxpayer resources from more urgent and less frivolous extravagances.
Across the road from the Friary is the Courthouse and a bronze sculpture of two Irish Red Stags with antlers locked. I imagined that this must be a sectarian metaphor but I was reading too much into it. I looked it up online. It simply celebrates efforts to save these animals from extinction or perhaps from being shot by itinerant English aristocracy. The Irish Times laments that the city was able to find seventy thousand Euros for this, implied frivolous extravagance, but couldn't afford to replace the temporary public toilets nearby.
See the Ireland Album - Click Here...
From Killarney we drove out along the Dingle Peninsular taking a circular route through the town of Dingle on the south coast and reaching the most westerly point on the mainland, Dunmore Head, in the afternoon. We then took the more mountainous route back to Killarney via Tralee.
The town of Dingle is a fishing village and pleasure port on a Dingle bay where tourists are offered whale and dolphin watching in addition to fishing. The town attracts glowing praise in tourist brochures for its rustic beauty. So it's become a destination for tour buses, with a large bus parking area. After Kinsale we were hard to impress with painted cottages and junk food. Nevertheless we'd paid for a couple of hours on the parking meter so set out to explore beyond the bay. I was surprised to see a bronze plaque on the Temperance Hall proclaiming, in English and Irish, that the Treaty of Dingle was signed here in 1529. Never heard of it! The plaque provides the amazing information that here the Earl of Desmond had agreed with an envoy of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, King of Spain to grant Imperial citizenship to the inhabitants of most of southwest Ireland. Surely this amounted to granting at least partial sovereignty to Spain. At that time Henry VIII was still married to Catherine, Charles V's aunt, so maybe Charles got away with it - but not for long.
In the 16th century Dingle was one of Ireland's main trading ports and was used by the Spanish and French fishing fleets. Thus connections with Spain were strong, mitigating against the rapidly approaching Protestant reformation (see the history above...).
We hadn't walked a kilometre when we came upon the grand and rather beautiful Presentation Convent, referred to in the history above. The convent is not immediately obvious, set back from the street beyond St Mary's church and reached through a gate. Although it's one of the largest buildings in the area it's not mentioned in the tourist guides and we found we couldn't go inside. But its blessed with extensive pretty gardens at one point containing an interesting graveyard, almost like a war grave, with each almost identical cross showing the, acquired, names and DoD of nuns no longer with us. For us it turned out to be the most pleasant experience of the town.
Driving out of town we headed for the Head. Along the road we encountered a small village with a family cafe/pub offering food. This turned out to be authentic 20th century kitsch - complete with stressed furniture and off-colour jokes adorning the walls and the doors to the facilities (my euphemism - they put it more crudely). We liked it. The young woman of the house was welcoming and set up a table as initially we were the only customers. The food was OK too.
Again locals were speaking Irish among themselves. I later discovered that the Dingle peninsular is one of the areas in which the Irish language (a form of Gaelic) persisted in everyday use, while it almost died out elsewhere. It's from areas like this that the spoken form has been revived. Now throughout the country there are bi-lingual signs and explanations and schools teach in both languages.
As we drove we listened to the radio and at night we quite often watched TV. In both broadcast media there are programmes in Irish. On a radio talkback we learned the sad story of a lad who had never imagined any other career than being a Gard (policeman). But to the phone-in audience's distress he's failed to gain entry as his disability (dyslexia) has prevented him meeting the entrance qualifications, which include verbal and written fluency in both English and Gaelic. It made me recall The Gard, a much awarded Irish movie from 2011. Unlike that story most Garda teams we saw consisted of a man and a woman, a trend now common in Australia and even in western China.
While Dingle Town might have impressed us more had it had been our first experience of the country, we were certainly not disappointed with the landscape. The peninsular is formed by a high ridge, containing the second highest peak in Ireland, and the scenery's quite spectacular along the higher, mountain, road that we took back.
See the Ireland Album - Click Here...
Tralee was an interesting stop. The name was familiar to me, although mainly due to my parent's generation, because of a popular Irish ballad: The Rose of Tralee, sung on B&W TV by John McCormack; Gordon MacRae; and Bing Crosby; among others. In Australia and in the US I've heard it incoherently revived when Irishmen over-imbibe Guinness or Jamison's on St. Patrick's Day.
|The pale moon was rising above the green mountain,
The sun was declining beneath the blue sea;
When I strayed with my love to the pure crystal fountain,
That stands in the beautiful Vale of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.
In the far fields of India, 'mid war's dreadful thunders,
Her voice was a solace and comfort to me,
But the chill hand of death has now rent us asunder,
I'm lonely tonight for the Rose of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary, The Rose of Tralee.
In Ireland, as a result of the song's popularity, Tralee now holds the annual Rose of Tralee International Festival a beauty contest, which in these more enlightened times is said to have widened the original beauty pageant to a celebration of Irish culture and endeavour - it's definitely not a patriarchal, objectification of feminine pulchritude.
Yet despite this annual parading of nubile young women before potential consumers and its coastal location, Tralee was not founded by Vikings. It was the Anglo-Norman Earls of Desmond in the 13th century after the Norman Invasion of Ireland (see the history above...) who were responsible. For three centuries the Earls of Desmond owed fealty to the English crown but by the 16th century that was wearing thin and they now saw themselves as Lords in their own right.
As we learned from the plaque in Dingle, James FitzGerald, the 10th Earl of Desmond, offered fealty and half of Ireland to Spain in 1529. He was antagonistic to the English Court and earlier plotted against Henry VIII with King Francis I of France. Henry was well aware of his antipathy but the Earl was powerful at home. He maintained a well-disciplined, trained and equipped local army and was said to keep: 'better justice throughout his dominions than any other chief in Ireland. Robbers and homicides find no mercy, and are executed out of hand.' Although he was still young and said to be a fit man of above average height (as was Henry at the time) less than two months after signing his pact with Charles V, James FitzGerald died. The cause of death is not recorded on the WWW. Yet it is recorded that the 11th Earl was then obliged to swear loyalty to Henry and provide his grandson as a Court Page in London as a token of good faith. The poor lad was later murdered when visiting Ireland, removing this constraint.
Concurrent with the founding of the Norman town of Tralee, in 1243 a Dominican Monastery was established. After the Reformation the Earls of Desmond remained staunchly Catholic, gaining much of their authority and popular support from the Roman Church in Ireland and, as did the entire European Aristocracy, from 'the divine right of kings'.
Under Henry the Christian faith of the English Court changed (see the history above...) and the monasteries became subject to dissolution. Then, in the time of Elizabeth I, Spain began a long war with England aimed at re-establishing the Church of Rome. All this ungodliness in England, Scotland and the major cities of Ireland led to the 'Desmond Rebellions'. In 1583 the 15th Earl was defeated and killed by Tudor forces loyal to Elizabeth, who benefited from: Dieu et mon droit. But the struggle continued during the 'nine years war' until, apparently ignominiously abandoned by the deity, the last Desmond was defeated in 1603.
In the 19th century Tralee was badly hit by the potato famines. Then, a century later, Tralee was riven by sectarian and class strife in bitter battles between the Black and Tans and the IRA (see the history above...). One of the casualties of this contretemps was the statue of a 'pikeman' (18th century foot soldier) commemorating the Desmond uprisings against British rule. It was dragged down by loyalists but is now replaced with a better one, in pride of place in the main shopping square.
Today Tralee's a peaceful little town. Wendy wanted to explore a couple of retailers while I had a look around town and 'The Pikeman' turned out to be a good assembly place, before returning to the car.
Probably meeting the same fate as the earlier Pikeman, not even the ruins of the 13th century Dominican Monastery remain in Tralee. But according to a search on-line the site of a much more recent Christian Brothers Monastery, now closed like so many others, is offered for commercial development.
Limerick is an even more familiar name. It's reasonably certain that the notorious verse form that takes its name from this city stems from a group of poets, or wits, from this region. The rhyme scheme AABBA is found in some longer poems but from the early 18th century onwards limericks have generally stood alone as a single stanza and as one anonymous wit observed:
|The limerick’s an art form complex
That's content runs mainly to sex;
It’s famous for virgins
And masculine urgin’s
And vulgar erotic effects
It's an art form that reached its peaks of popularity during the two World Wars
|A spy huntress of English nativity
Had a bottom of rare sensitivity
She could sit on the lap;
Of a Nazi or Jap
And detect his fifth-column activity
but it's still loved by many, if the Internet is any guide. At one time I knew quite a few, some original, and still do.
Like Dublin, Waterford and Cork, Limerick began as a Viking town, this time at the mouth of the Shannon River, and like other towns along the coast was later fortified by the Normans. There is still a substantial Norman/Tudor fort near the centre of town on St Johns Island that we spent some time exploring and is well worth a visit.
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As the fourth most populous city on the 'island of Ireland', Limerick was particularly badly impacted by the potato famine (see the history above...) and it's the setting for Frank McCourt's book: Angela's Ashes, about the consequent poverty of the lower classes in the slums of Ireland, that was later made into a harrowing film.
Nevertheless, the city was not poor everywhere and has some fine buildings including some of the best preserved Georgian townhouses in Ireland, the construction of which must have provided much needed employment.
As I had it in mind that Angela's Ashes was set in Dublin we omitted to look for McCourt's slum house in Limerick. But that's just as well. According to The Irish Times the slums are long gone:
Slums of `Angela's Ashes' reborn as heritage attraction
No sooner have the Limerick slums been demolished than they are being reconstructed again as the city begins its love affair with Angela's Ashes in earnest.
THE IRISH TIMES Jun 22, 2000
Out next 'sleepover' was in Galway. But on the way we wanted to see the famous Cliffs of Moher by driving along the 'Wild Atlantic Way'. There it was cold. The large car park is some distance from the costal reservation and we quickly realised we needed more clothes returning to make a second attempt. The main lookout has shops and other facilities set into a hillside and it's a brisk walk up the quite steep hill to the top. Like the Grand Canyon it's a world famous view with many potential suicide leaps and numbers of people daring to stand toe to drop in contemplation of mortality or bravura. But nowhere can compete with the Grand Canyon's cliffs for the thrill of sheer danger. Nevertheless we were quite impressed.
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After an hour or so gazing at the coast upon which some of the Spanish Armada foundered, we set out for Galway.
We had booked a room in a B&B in Galway, an Irish 10 minutes' walk to town (20 min and we are not slow walkers). By now it was dinner time and we found a very commodious pub featuring a portrait of W B Yeats, winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature: "for his always inspired poetry". When I asked if the picture was of Yeats, the young woman serving us asked a colleague and then went to check with management. Neither had heard of him nor had either thought to ask who the bloke in the prominently positioned picture was.
Apparently Galway went through hard times during and after the Great Famine and was a somewhat depressing place. From this low ebb it recovered spectacularly with the economic revival at the beginning of this century. Now it remains a vibrant place with lots of bars and a thriving retail area.
On our walk into town there was a leafy park, Eyre Square, featuring a bronze replica of seated man. He was small and somewhat wizened and might have been a leprechaun. That was entirely wrong, although there are two identical green men. The museum keeps the original safe, due to the susceptibility of the other to beheading. There we were informed that it is the likeness of the local writer, Pádraic Ó Conaire. It further informed us that Ó Conaire was a leading member of the Gaelic League, promoting the revival of the Gaelic (Irish) language. He is largely unknown beyond Ireland's shores because he died young and wrote most of his considerable output in Irish. Yeats and several of his circle were also supporters of the revival of Gaelic and at least one, who wrote an eulogy, was a close friend of Pádraic Ó Conaire.
Like several other cities and ports Galway was fortified by the Anglo Normans (see the history above...) where the River Corrib flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout the middle ages it was Ireland's principal port for trade with Spain and France. As a result, remnants of the original walls at the harbour are now known as the Spanish Arch. Adjacent to this is an excellent museum that in addition to the history and pre-history of Ireland teaches children about the marine science that's one of the City's areas of expertise. All-in-all a good and informative way to spend a couple of hours.
We were somewhat intrigued by our B&B that's one of several such nearby. It appeared like the others to be a conversion of a large but quite recently built, probably 1950's, domestic dwelling. The recent conversion is of a high standard. There are now six bedrooms each with an en-suite bathroom; a downstairs living area and kitchen and a back conservatory, for breakfast, looking onto a small but well-groomed garden on the remainder of the block. Next door was much the same. As family houses they would have been huge, as are many others in the area. It seemed to run counter to the idea of Irish depression that we'd learned about in the museum and elsewhere. Clearly not everyone was poor. We were reminded of the beautiful Georgian Townhouses in Limerick.
I guess that everybody in Sligo knows who W B Yeats was. His rooms in town are now a museum; his postmodern statue is in a prominent position near a landmark bank corner; and his grave is a place of pilgrimage for poetry 'tragics' on the road out of town.
As it happens, I was aware of Sligo from genealogical research. It's in an area over to Londonderry, with one of the greatest concentrations of McKie's in Ireland. But the Irish branch having my paternal Y chromosome are not closely related cousins. We are separated by at least ten generations, because five generations back my McKie ancestors came from Scotland and none of these went off to Ireland. They were Presbyterian and I strongly suspect that the Irish McKie's were somehow involved in the Elizabethan and or more likely Stewart 'Plantations' (see the history above...) which would put our last common ancestor at about 400 years ago. No doubt future genetic testing will reveal more.
Sligo bay is one of the best harbours in the north of the island and was known to the ancient Romans. The area has been inhabited since Neolithic times, at least seven millennia ago, and there are ancient tombs and other prehistoric remnants nearby.
Like many other towns Sligo was fortified by the Anglo-Normans against the wild Irish tribes. But in this case the fortification was insufficient and Sligo was soon overrun by the Irish O'Donnell's and later the O'Conor's, who controlled this important trading port throughout the middle ages. These Irish clans had close associations in Scotland and their chiefs seemed to travel between the two quite often. This would come to an end in Tudor times.
In the19th century Sligo was an important industrial port and became a rail head. It remains one of the best transport connected towns in Ireland.
It's also close to the border with Northern Ireland. In a more rational world the partition of Northern Ireland would have included sparsely populated County Donegal 32 Km to the north of Sligo that would have almost halved the length of the national border. Like Scotland this part of Ireland has a more rugged beauty and along the coast entire hillsides are scraped back to sheer rock by the last glaciation.
Near the centre of town are the ruins of Sligo Abbey, the Dominican Friary of Sligo. A plaque tells us:
Wikipedia further informed me that:
As ruins go, the Abbey is in quite good condition. It's been structurally stabilised with steel and has modern stairs to facilitate access to the upper levels. We spent a happy hour or so exploring and reading the inscriptions on the many gravestones on the site, some not so old. As was everything in town it was walking distance from the modern hotel, which turned out to be one of the best we stayed in, with a commodious room and good bathroom overlooking the River Garavogue. The river was home to a family of swans, and on the other bank was a pretty church. A check on-line told me it's Calry Parish Church (Church of Ireland) built in 1824. It's listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage that tells us that it's very fine in many ways and with its pitched slate roof and octagonal steeple it: 'not only makes a valuable contribution to the streetscape but also to enhances the view from south of the river'.
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The Church's website is less informative about gross worldly things like: the architecture; the builder; or even the date. Although it did inform me that:
|Calry is a community-minded Church of Ireland church of all ages on a God-given journey. To help us we have the compass of God’s word the Bible, the companionship of the Lord Jesus and the comfort and conviction of the Holy Spirit to give us what we need when we need it.
We are very glad of our partnership in the gospel with other churches in the Sligo area, both Church of Ireland and of other denominations.
I was previously unaware that Holy Spirit has such utility - 'to give us what we need when we need it': May I have my own private jet - tomorrow?
'Want' is clearly a different concept to 'need'. I suspect that in this context 'need' is equivalent to: 'get' - as in: to get cancer; to be swept away in a Tsunami; or to have one's child inexplicably killed. Yet I applaud the ecumenical sentiment. If only it were so that all Christian denominations in Ireland are now truly 'as one' and have forever buried the sectarian hatchet. Yet the phrase: 'partnership in the gospel' gave me pause. Does it mean that those 'Romeish' things 'not supported by scripture' like: 'prayers for the dead'; and 'transubstantiation of the host', remain anathema? Get over it guys. Let people believe what they want to. You do.
It was time to contemplate a much more ancient religion, that long preceded Zoroaster (Zarathustra), Moses and Budda, let alone those newcomers: Jesus and Muhammad.
Just south of Sligo, less than 15 mins by car, is Carrowmore, part of a prehistoric stone age burial landscape that may once have included Sligo itself.
Carrowmore is one of four Neolithic burial areas that are now National Monuments, like Stonehenge in England. There's a visitor's centre offering self-guided tours for a small fee. In 1970 initial radio-carbon dating determined the site to have been constructed around 5400 BCE but more detailed dating of each grave has found their age to be between 3750 BCE and 3000 BCE.
For those of you for whom scripture is an unwavering record of God's Word, like perhaps the Vicar of Calry, this site was active around the time of the Biblical creation. Yet I looked in vain for evidence of Noah's Flood. Perhaps Neolithic flood victims, like their modern descendents, were good at cleaning up. Then it occurred to me that those events must have taken place far away from here, because despite Noah inexplicably saving them for future temptations, there are no snakes in Ireland.
Back in the real world: this is but one of many prehistoric stone age burial sites of a similar age found across County Sligo and across Northern Europe in general. Carrowmore is on a small plateau to the South of Sligo township that is described as part of a 'prehistoric ritual landscape'. In addition to original tombs and burial sites Carrowmore features a reconstructed Irish Passage Tomb that for non-expert visitors, like us, provides a more accessible photo-opportunity, along with a series of stone circles where the site continues across the road.
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For the experts, the grave goods found in the tombs provide a lot of information about those ancient people. For example at another site in County Sligo, Carrowkeel, quantities of coarsely made yet elaborately decorated pottery, known as Carrowkeel Ware, were found. This pottery had been used for food preparation and for storage. Pottery is the necessary intermediate technology between the stone age and the bronze age, as fired clay bricks are required to build kilns and to cast molten metals. Pottery is also necessary for reliable grain storage. Storing seed grain for the following years is a necessary step towards systematic seasonal farming.
Here antler pins, shellfish, and ornaments made from sperm whale teeth have been found in the graves suggesting that the builders were advanced hunter-gatherers. The presence of small amounts of Carrowkeel Ware suggests farming. The chambers contained the remains of multiple individuals.
Almost all the Neolithic burials at Carrowmore appear to have been cremations. The alignment of the tomb entrances and the stone circles are consistent, suggesting both an awareness of astronomy, for forecasting the seasons, and the mystical significance of geographical features like the nearby mountain, that was topped with a cairn. The investment in time and effort involved, together with grave goods sacrificed, is indicative of a systematic, organised religion in which death played an important part.
In addition to these early Neolithic artefacts, there are later burials and evidence of both Bronze age (2000 BCE to 500 BCE) and Iron age (500 BCE to 400 CE) habitation and farming, in addition, of course, to modern farming (and on this site garbage potential dumping) as several of these Neolithic sites were/are on private land, protected only by the belief among superstitious locals that disturbing them would activate a curse.
Perhaps this belief explains why they are still found in such numbers in County Sligo?
County Derry, like Sligo, was first settled by Neolithic farmers and experienced successive waves of invasion through to the Vikings and then the Normans.
The last great invasion was prompted by religious schism when a 'plantation' of Scottish and English Protestants was established by James I and the city of Londonderry was founded and later fortified. Unlike many of the cities to the south, Londonderry was less badly affected by the potato famines, leading to an influx of Roman Catholics to what had previously been a predominantly Protestant city.
The Protestants reacted by denying the newcomers proper democratic representation and many were settled in sub-standard housing on land that was reclaimed from an arm of the River Foyle called the Bogside. In 1922 (see the history above...) Ireland was partitioned and Northern Ireland became a separate country, like Scotland, and a part of the United Kingdom. From the 1960's until the turn of the century Roman Catholics, outnumbered Protestants by three to one in Londonderry and they struggled to gain social equity and equal representation during a period known as 'The Troubles' (again see the history above)
Today the legal name of the City remains Londonderry but the democratically elected city council is the 'Derry City Council' and it is now universally referred to as Derry.
One of the legacies of the Protestant plantation's struggle to survive in a hostile countryside is one of the youngest, finest and best preserved walled cities in Europe.
We walked right around it, admiring some fine buildings within and without. At the top corner stands the Church of Ireland Cathedral that more than once needed to be defended. Along the wall a little way, overlooking the Bogside, are the ruins of the 96 foot high pillar, once topped by a nine foot tall statue of Bishop Designate George Walker, hero of the Siege of Londonderry (1689). Walker was a supporter of William of Orange against the deposed Catholic James II of England and VII of Scotland. His column was perceived to be a symbol of Protestant overlordship. It was bombed by the IRA in 1973. Unlike the Pikeman of Tralee (see Tralee above...), it has not been replaced with a better one.
Meanwhile, other bombed buildings have been repaired or replaced, mostly with better ones, and the city is again thriving. Yet the Protestant activists are concerned. Already in the minority, their numbers are dwindling and their explanation is that Protestants are being forced out, particularly from the west side. They have erected various billboards to this effect. For their part the Catholics have resorted to wall art to tell their side of 'The Troubles'.
As in the Republic both Christian sects are on the decline. The number of people reporting no religion has increased by over 30% in the past ten years and we can but hope that the growing numbers of secular Irish will continue to keep the ideologues under control, so that everyone can continue to live in relative harmony.
In 2011 Peace Bridge across the Foyle was opened in an effort to improve relations between the predominantly unionist 'Waterside' and predominantly nationalist 'Cityside' and a bronze sculpture called 'Hands Across the Divide' was erected depicting the two sides shaking hands. When we were there it was festooned with a rainbow banner, making it seem that the two figures were shaking hands preliminary to more intimate congress, perhaps across the nearby border with the Rainbow Republic.
In the meantime, if you want to visit a fine walled city in almost original condition and enjoy some good food and a Guinness or Cider or two, among apparently healthy, happy and wise citizens, Derry has a lot to recommend it.
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This is along the picturesque northern coastline of the island and is a popular holiday region. We stayed in a comfortable yet isolated B&B at Bushmills and seemed to do a lot of driving.
The nearest town for shopping and meals was Coleraine, home the University of Ulster and one of the oldest human settlements in Ireland. The Mesolithic site at nearby Mount Sandel has been dated from 5935 BCE. So like Sligo (see above) Coleraine's ancestors were definitely preadamite.
Coleraine is a pretty place and has some of the highest property values in Northern Ireland. It's predominantly Protestant. This made the town a target for the IRA during the Troubles. In 1992 a van bomb destroyed several important buildings in the City centre and the Town Hall was heavily damaged. IRA bombs elsewhere in region killed a total of 10 civilians. For their part Ulster Loyalists shot and killed three suspected IRA supporters.
Portrush is a small seaside resort town, reminiscent of the south coast of England, featuring some fine Victorian buildings and having rocks instead of sand. One of the attractions for holiday makers is the rugged coastline known as the Giant's Causeway. On the coast beyond Bushmills are the ruins of Dunluce Castle that feature in the television fantasy series Game of Thrones.
Despite the relative proximity of the Causeway Coast to the Arctic circle it benefits from the Gulf Stream so that even in October it was temperate and a pleasant place to spend a day or two.
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Belfast is the second biggest city on the island of Ireland and has a population of around half a million. As capital and administrative centre of Northern Ireland it has high-rise offices and commercial and retail infrastructure. It remains the largest industrial city, once renowned for shipbuilding. In Britain it ranked alongside Clydeside, in Scotland, and my birth town, Newcastle upon Tyne, in England.
Geographically Belfast is very well located for shipbuilding at the mouth of the River Lagan that flows into Belfast Lough (Loch in Ulster-Scots). The Lough is a large intertidal sea inlet on the east coast of Northern Ireland that flows to and from the Irish Sea.
Indeed at one time Belfast was preeminent, with its most famous ship being the RMS Titanic, then the largest ship ever built, that sank after a collision with an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912 with a number of wealthy and famous people onboard.
Like London, Belfast is on the floodplain of the River and is relatively flat so the city proper is an easy place to walk around.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, like Londonderry, Belfast became a relative haven for people from the south seeking work during and after the Great Famine. Initially predominantly Protestant Belfast soon acquired a substantial Catholic working class. Today about 82% of the population remain Christians, split evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant.
The two big names in Belfast are 'Titanic' and 'George Best'.
Those who don't play or follow Soccer or are younger than twenty may not know of the latter.
At a time when Northern Ireland didn't have much to celebrate George Best became a celebrity who liked to deliver 'zingers' like:
He's dead. He was 39. Maybe it was a life well spent?
I don't suppose there is anyone who's not heard of the Titanic.
Alongside Belfast Town Hall is a memorial garden to those drowned and inside there are some associated objects that failed to make it on board.
For greater immersion in the Titanic, adjacent to the now mostly deserted Harland & Wolff dockyards and Slipways is an elaborate museum with the Titanic Experience featuring a ride through the stages of construction as well as reproduction staterooms and cabins. The wreck lies deep on the Atlantic floor and robot vehicles have explored it providing an additional IMAX style cinema experience. In a nearby Victorian era dry-dock is the ferry/tender that ferried the passengers from the port to the liner. We bought tickets on-line in advance and at the appointed time walked the few miles to the museum.
Belfast was also home to a number of world famous people of real importance, but there's no airport named after them, like: Iris Murdock; Seamus Heaney; Kenneth Branagh; James Galway; and Lord Kelvin the ground-breaking Physicist, after whom the absolute temperature scale is named.
The Christmas retail season was looming and according to the media city retailers were getting twitchy. A couple of months earlier the main shopping street had been divided by a fire in an historic bank building. In the event that the precarious, yet historic façade, might come crashing down barriers extended right across the street before and after the burnt out shell. Thus the main retail street, with several iconic retail stores like ZARA, was impassable. There was said to be an impasse (of a different kind) as to what to do about it. The media seemed to think there was something uniquely Northern Irish and slightly amusing about this.
To keep abreast of such things we often watched TV at night. In some places on the West (Atlantic) Coast TV is confined to local stations and the world stops at the Irish coast. But in Northern Ireland the BBC and commercial channels compete with cable offerings from around Europe.
The annoying street closure did have the effect of leading us along some not so salubrious roads that we might otherwise have missed. Yet we didn't see any signs of the ill-feeling that prevailed during 'The Troubles'. Just two decades ago one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Belfast now has very little violent crime and is one of the world's safest.
Of course BREXIT was in the news every night. One evening there was a panel of comedians discussing the news. One remarked on a proposal to set up a buffer zone around the border with the republic. "Oh good," said another: "now we can have two borders." Another said: "We're like the child in a divorce. Why can't we do as they do - spend week about with the separated parents? One week with London and the next with Dublin." Everyone had a good laugh - it's all they can do.
Also in the Town Hall there is an historical exhibition that sets the background to the events leading up to the partition of Northern Ireland and then on to the Troubles and their resolution, we trust.
There's a 'Reflection Space' white walls covered in text of different sizes, in which people representing both sides and victims of 'collateral damage' are quoted.
In this room, like at Auschwitz, humanity's capacity for inhumanity - when justified by pernicious ideologies and intergenerational prejudice - is stark.
Yet in this case there is hope and evidence of true reconciliation. It makes one weep.
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