Quick Glimpse into Northern Ireland

September 2016: As part of a trip that included Scotland, Paula and I flew into Belfast, rented a car and explored for two days. I had previously visited Ireland and I wanted to see how Northern Ireland was different from its southern neighbor and I wanted to learn about the divide between the Pro-Irish Catholics and the Pro-England Protestants.

About Northern Ireland

Location of Northern Ireland

The island of Ireland is separated into two. The southern half-Ireland is a sovereign country while the Northern Part-Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom under the influence of England. Northern Ireland is furtherly divided between pro-independence anti-British Catholic Republicans and the pro-British Protestant Loyalists. The 1960’s brought on a 30-year period of sectarian unrest and violence with bombings and acts of terrorism being committed by both sides that resulted in British troops patrolling the streets of Belfast as well as other cities. Eventually a peace accord was signed between the leaders of both groups and walls dividing the neighborhoods of both sides were erected in Belfast to maintain the peace. These walls are connected with gates that are open during the day and on some occasions depending on the levels of violence, closed at night.  The most interesting part of visiting the walls are the elaborate political murals painted on them.

Giants Causeway

Paula and I were originally meant to spend another day in Northern Ireland, but our flight from San Diego on British Airways was delayed and we had to spend our first night in London instead of Northern Ireland. We instead arrived the next morning, picked up our rental and drive directly to Giants Causeway to the incredible volcanic rock formations that line the coastline. The Giant’s Causeway is arguably the most popular tourist destination in Northern Ireland and the park was very crowded with tourists, but it was amazing and popular for a reason.

Giants Causeway

Paula on Giants Causeway

Paula on Giants Causeway

 Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway was nice, but my favorite part of Northern Ireland was exploring the rugged green coastline and castle ruins in our rental car.  


Dunseverick Castle ruins on the coastline over a 1000 years old once visited by St.Patrick and ransacked by Vikings

We stopped at a small graveyard in the back of a cathedral in a small village that looked like it was on its last leg. We walked the old tombstones some from the 1800’s when an elderly man appeared out of nowhere standing beside us. he greeted us in a thick Irish accent that I could barely understand and explained to us that we were fortunate to be young and that he was in his last days. He went on to calmly say that he was visiting his wife, children, parents and other family members all buried in the graveyard and that he was the last of the family and would soon join them. The experience was very somber and felt sorry for him and when we left, we couldn’t help but to wonder if we had just met a ghost. 

Old tombstones

Elderly man visiting the graves of his wife and family in the graveyard

Belfast and Sleeping in a Bar/Inn Located Near the Peace Lines

I was fascinated to see the dividing walls between the two different Irish neighborhoods of protestants and Catholics. We visited the walls during the day to photograph the political murals and I chose an Airbnb in an inn located above a bar frequented by the Irish Republican Army (IRA)on Falls Road near the Peace Lines. I chose an accommodation as close to the wall as possible so that we could explore the area at night. The area appeared to be a tough working-class neighborhood where people just squeaked by, and I definitely felt some tension in the area, but it didn’t feel dangerous. However, I did read reports of violence occasional erupting between young man of the two neighborhoods and bottles, Molotov cocktails being thrown. As a result, the gates of the peace walls can sometimes be closed to seal off the violence.

Paula and I walked down to the IRA pub for dinner and a beer. Many of the street and business names in the area were in Irish or Gaelic. At the entrance to the bar there were a few plaques memorializing fallen IRA members that were killed by Protestant Loyalists outside of the bar on the street. The inside of the bar was small, dark and dingy but vibrant and full of life. The patrons were mostly gritty looking middle-aged Irishmen. My immediate feeling when we walked in was that we weren’t welcome.  Nonetheless, we were inside and committed and Paula and I were able to find only one open table and as soon as we sat down a group of Irishmen from the table next to us invited us over to join them. They immediately started up a chat and bought us a few beers, they welcomed us but were curious why we chose to visit their bar. We went on to have some interesting discussions and the topic of Bristish royalty came up and when I said the Queen to loud one of the men said be careful that is one of those words you don’t want to speak to loudly in this bar. Another guy mentioned that most patrons of the bar are IRA and that there is a deep hatred of the Brits here and that they liked Americans because they also fought back against the British. We had another round of beers and left before overstaying our welcome and Paula and I headed off to another location to get dinner at a Fastfood restaurant.

Anti-British murals on the Peace Walls dividing the Protestand and Catholic Neighborhoods

Anti-British murals on the Peace Walls dividing the Protestand and Catholic Neighborhoods

Anti-British murals on the Peace Walls giant walls dividing the Protestand and Catholic irish Neighborhoods

Plaque outside of the IRA bar we visited memorliazing the murder of a patron by Protestant Loyalists in that exact spot

In the morning the next day, Paula and I woke up and drove our rental car to the ferry port near the Titanic Museum, located in the docks where the Titanic once sailed off on its maiden and final voyage. We boarded the ferry with our rental car and sailed onwards to Cairnryan, Scotland to continue our weeklong trip in the United Kingdom. 

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