Ramblings from beyond the pale 2006 - Belfast, Derry and so much more

Edge of the world
NORIN IRON ('Northern Ireland' in a Northern accent, no?!)

One man One vote, One family One house, Once upon a time……

...there was a rebellion not far far away. Northern Ireland, folks, has been overlooked as a tourist destination for too long. Our Belfast brethren bellowed, we answered the call of the wild, and up to the Titanic’s hometown we headed. We ate lunch in a swanky little eatery run by one of these chef célèbre (might have been Paul Rankin). As if on cue, while we wolfed into our posh nosh, the fop in question sauntered by the window horsing his floppy mane from one stylized quiff to another. Bellies full, the road called…

Everyone who grew up in Ireland, I don’t care who you are, or where you hung out your washin’, at some point in your life you had the pleasure of listening to the tidal reports on Radio Telefis Eireann (in-between the ads for Zeebergygee which kills liver fluke in cattle btw). ‘From Malin Head to Mizzen Head, from Fair Head to Carlingford Loch’ yoooou know it, don’t deny it, and if you’re supertrendycool you might even recall that Blur wrote a song based around the very same shipping forecast.

Malin head is the most northerly point in Ireland, it is for all intents and purposes the edge of the world. When I reached the most easterly point of Canada (Cape Spear, for anyone taking notes) there were busloads of tourists, lots of signs, photo ops, even a tower with waxwork figures!

In Malin, there is one sign, and one awful small cement rectangular prefab block which apppparently was once an imposing fortification. 

However, if you look beyond this, the rugged wilds of gruffly beautiful coastline is truly stunning and takes your breath away. I have definitely lost all tom-boyish fearlessness that marked my youth and I am a big pink blousy girly girl, I was screeching while teetering down a gentle hillock, while Dom went all paratrooper and was hoping over fences, storming through marshland, dropping and rolling, and even contemplating an aerial drop onto the last remaining jut of island between us and the dark matter of oblivion.

When I think end of world, I think, desolation, no human being as far as the eye can see, we’ve driven for miles, noooothing, noooo one, then….. we spot the Germans, two dots on the horizon. To avoid weirdness, we park beside them and hop out. Lo and behold, Dom gives me an elbow in the ribs, “it's only yer one from work!, Gretchen, how are ya”. I ffffffell about the placing laughing, is there nowhere on Gods earth safe from these Googley eyed gombeens. (This last sentence makes more sense if you understand that frequently on holidays, no matter how remote, Dom will encounter a work colleague, I'm beginning to think he's tipping them off!).  

(From) London..... (to) Derry

Now Derry, that's one hell of a city. Loved it. Belfast reminds me of places in the UK but Derry is different, it’s not like a UK town it’s like a full on Irish city (controversial talk). We stayed in a terrific centrally located B&B called the Merchant's House, it was a listed building (well, if it wasn't it should have been), 150 years of thumping history boomed from the walls. The full irish breakfast in the morning wasn't bad either!

The highlight of the trip was a tour of the republican bogside by a native bogsider. This is serious ‘welcome to the jungle’ territory. While waiting for the tour to begin outside a block of flats, the tour guide, who looked like he brushed his hair with an ice pick, asked us where we were from, Dom wisely kept his London brogue under wraps and I announced we were in fact from Dublin. His response was ‘Jackeens, eh’.

Don’t worry Dubliners, I wasn’t gonna stand for that kinda tone, so I joxered up to the little pup, grabbed him by the collar, and as I got him in headlock I roared in my best Dooblin accent “Do ya like pain, do ya, cos I’ll brrrrrrring it”. That seemed to the do the trick and off on the tour we went. Pretty sure that’s how it went, or maybe I nodded and smiled, same diff.

We saw the original Apprentices lodge, which is within the walled city (only unabridged medieval city wall in all of Ireland), as the story goes the English Catholic King James was rocking up to the city with his army and had sent word that he wanted to kip in the city, apparently permission was granted, but 13 Apprentice boys who didn’t agree with the King barricaded him and his army out, thus started the siege of Derry.

There are orders of the (London) Derry Apprentice boys all over the world, but to actually become one you must be inaugurated in this very lodge, after inauguration the tradition was to hold a parade with orange sashes and bowler hats. The parade ground overlooked the Catholic under-privileged bogside and ignited riots.

I nearly ignited my own riot when this, shall we say, less than savvy American lady interrupted the guide mid rant as he was describing how back in the day the walled city (which I should point out can be circled in 20 mins by foot) inhabited up to 7 thousand people. “MMYYYYY GGGGAAAAAWWWDDD” she wailed, to everyone’s alarm “Did you say, the city housed 7 MIIIILLION people”. I nearly had a hernia keeping the laughter in, oh lordy, I’m gonna be chuckling at that one for years to come.

Laughter subsiding, the guide was excellent and in his gentle Derry accent he weaved the sad history of the city through the still air. The atrocity of "the troubles" sank the group into reflective silence as he looked out over the streets of Derry’s bogside, the site of the infamous Bloody Sunday, where innocent civilians were killed. 

There is hope in this city though, people want peace. Meantime, they are strangely obsessssssssed with hallow’een. I know it’s an ancient Irish pagan festival and all that but my god people, we’re talking every 3rd shop was a ‘Halloween shop’. Who am I kidding, I loved it, I adore Halloween, not the trick or treat side, I like the freaky gouls, heehee.

Before we left the North we took a trip to see the Giants Causeway, it's a geographical phenomenon and everyone should make it their business to see it. It's a world heritage site for God's sake! The myth is that some volcano exploded a zillion years ago and the hexagonal columns of rock, that step you out into the sea, are 'natural'. Obviously this is poppycock, the truth behind the gigantor stairway is this, the Irish warrior, Fionn MacCumhaill heard there was lad in Scotland challenging him to a fight. Not one to turn the other cheek, Fionn built the causeway so he could knock five shades out of the Caledonian scamp.

Northern Ireland is a wee gem of a place, there is so much to see, I've been up many times but still feel like I've only scraped the surface.

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