As I travel, I often take notes on my phone to remind me of things, particularly when I’m listening to a really knowledgeable guide, like the one Deana and I struck at Ingateston Hall a few days ago. I take shots of information boards to help me remember things as I’m writing these posts. Corinna, Deana and James would all agree that they’ve heard me say, “This shot/place is definitely bloggable!!!” as they’ve been with me.
This day in Belfast was no different in one sense, though the feeling that I’m left with as I’m here in my hotel room before dinner is very different. I’m still processing it.
I’m left with a profound feeling of sadness. You all know how I love my English history. I’ve been revelling in it since I got here. But the damage the English has done to Ireland was something I’d been vaguely aware of, but now that my feet are firmly planted on Irish soil, it’s starting to become a bit more vivid.
In Belfast, there’s lots of mentions of “the Troubles”, a period of time between 1969 and 1998 where there was open warfare between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland.
The seed was down for The Troubles back in 1921: when the first prime minister of Northern Ireland, clearly not elected for his political acumen, stood up and said in his maiden speech, “I am a Protestant Prime Minister, in a Protestant government, in a Protestant country.”
The 50% of his newly- formed country who happened to be Catholic weren’t impressed, and were even less so when for the next 50 years they were badly discriminated against for their choice of faith.
Everything erupted in 1969, with people being killed, bombs being planted, Molotov cocktails thrown at houses, politicians being assassinated… and not just in Ireland. It was when bombs started going off in London that the world started paying attention. I remember seeing news stories about it on the tv when I was a kid.
As I said, this went on for 30 years, until a peace accord was finally signed, guaranteeing equal rights for all, regardless of religion.
But why was Northern Ireland, a mere 1/6th of the whole island, even formed in the first place? After WWI, England said it would give the whole of Ireland back to the people. But they didn’t want to give up the enormous revenues that the shipyards, the linen factories and a few other industries were bringing in…
Our city guide said that she watched the Liam Neeson film “Michael Collins” a few weeks ago. He was the poor politician who was sent to England to bring back the whole of Ireland in a signed deal, but he came back with this deal instead. He had no choice.
Apparently, there’s a line in the movie where he says, “They’ve made me sign my own death warrant.” He was dead within the year, killed by his own people.
Ben, our main guide, mentioned these bollards in the top photo, saying, “Thankfully, we’re not going to be stopped by British soldiers or the police asking us our business and searching the bus. There’s no need for them anymore, but back then, there was a sore need for them to be here.”
This is the Peace Wall. This was put in place, dividing the city of Belfast, to literally stop people from lobbing Molotov cocktails into the different neighbourhoods, shooting people and planting bombs under the cars of people with a different religion.
It was a necessary step, but sadly, all these years later, it’s still in place. There are people in these neighbourhoods who still refuse to cross the Peace Wall into the other part of the city.
On the Catholic side, you’re encouraged to write on the wall. I thought I’d write something to you all. 🙂
Here’s another view, with some of the rest of the tour members to show just how tall this wall is.
“You could still throw a Molotov if you really tried,” said our guide, “but at least now you couldn’t target the houses.”
After this, we drove to the other side of the wall, where suddenly we were seeing the Union Jack in all directions.
The Battle of the Boyne, a fight between the Catholic King James and the Protestant William of Orange took place in 1690, but the people on this side still celebrate it with marches and parties for a month, because the Protestant army won.
There were Union Jack buntings strung throughout the streets, with the English people on the bus saying that they’ve never seen so many flags in their lives.
A picture of William of Orange on a white horse, winning the battle. Yes, it happened over 300 years ago…
This is a place absolutely formed by religion. There are 2,000 schools in Northern Ireland, but only 50 of them are not segregated by religion.
Belfast only has 848,000 people in it, even though it’s a capital city. The entire population of Ireland still hasn’t recovered from the potato famine in the 1800’s.
A fun fact: Ireland invented the ejector seat. Our city guide said, “Ben has one in the bus so you’d all better behave!”
Ben said, “ I’m not sure which one it is so it might happen by accident!”
This is the memorial of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. The politicians of the day decided to use reclaimed land to put the clock tower on. They didn’t realise that the ground hadn’t properly stabilised yet, so it leaned over 1 metre to the side in its first year. Everyone was terrified that it was going to collapse, but it didn’t move an inch after that.
There’s lots of street art here, most of it political. This is just a collage of famous folk from around here. Van Morrison and George Best were among them. Jamie Dorian, C. S. Lewis and Liam Neeson were also from here.
Omg. This Parliament House is incredibly impressive. It’s a shame that since February 2022, no- one’s using it.
The Northern Ireland government voted to support Brexit. Then they decided that they didn’t like the way the British government was implementing it, so they walked out in protest. The politicians are still getting paid, but nobody’s turned up for work for over 18 months.
This means that all governance has ground to a halt.
Can you believe it?
The lamps that light the mile long driveway were donated by the Canadian government. They all have moose heads on them.
During WWII the Luftwaffe targeted the building, so they disguised it by covering it with a mix of bituminous and cow manure so it would be harder to see in the dark. After the war, it took a team of 33 men 7 years to pick it all off.
This is the view looking down from the parliament building. The green of the lawns is not photoshopped.
On our way again, we passed a funeral. Everyone on the street stopped until the cortège had passed by. You can see how the traffic on our side of the street has stopped.
Our local guide was interesting. She was in her 70’s and said that she and her husband were from opposite sides of the religious divide. When the Troubles happened, they knew they’d be in danger if they stayed, so they went and lived in Europe, only coming back once things had settled down.
“We had a lovely life… I don’t regret it for a second,” she said. “Warm weather, skiing holidays in Switzerland… it was lovely.” I get the feeling that family brought them back.
She told us to go and see the reception room at the city hall, so when we were dropped off at the hotel and we had a couple of hours to kill, I walked over.
She was right. It was pretty.
I walked around the city centre for a while and grabbed a sausage roll from a bakery. I sat outside and chatted with a few locals.
Oops. I took this photo because the book looks interesting and I didn’t want to forget it.
Pretty street. Just around the corner from here I bought my Belfast souvenir. A pair of earrings I’ll wear everyday.
Flurry of activity at the hotel when I arrived back. It was a Travellers/Gypsy wedding.
At breakfast we’d seen these women with huge hairpieces and trunkfuls of makeup on, some wearing pyjamas, and we’d wondered what was happening.
I don’t know how she expected to get that crinoline dress with the 2 m train into that car.
Pjs why? It was nearly 2 PM.
we left them to it and took off for Hillsborough Castle, which is the place the royals stay when they visit Northern Ireland.
It was a fascinating choice for the afternoon, considering all that we’d learned that very morning.
It’s called a castle but it’s really just a very swish mansion with 100 acres of gardens.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures so I restrained myself.
But look at these miniatures. They were made in the 1830s and were of all the kings and consorts. They lined the room. The guide to the house said the Victoria liked to take them back and forth to wherever she was living, so they used to get mixed up.
This was the last room on the tour. The others were all stuffy rooms so you haven’t missed out on anything. This room is where the family chills, and it’s really nice. In the background you can see one o the last portraits of the Queen.
There are family photos scattered around, interestingly Harry and Meghan are there as well.
I snapped a sneaky pic of this. It’s by Prince Charles… a watercolour.
This is right outside the back door. There used to be a road running right alongside the house, where this patio is now.
The people living here were given new homes and the garden was extended.
No filter. There’s a reason why it’s called the Emerald Isle.
I saw these chimneys as I came out from the gardens and thought they looked pretty.
One important thing about the tour of Hillsborough Castle was just how proud the guide was to show us around. She was practically bursting with joy at being able to share these rooms, art and gardens with the public.
“When I was a wee girl all of this was shut up for security reasons,” she said. “It’s so lovely to be able to share all of this with you all.”
I’ve been getting a lot of compliments about my wee little sheep that James gave me. Here’s the shot I sent to him.
When the tour first started, I was outraged to be charged the equivalent of $15 for a single glass of wine. I now have a bottle of wine that I keep in my room. It was a nasty shock to find out that a complimentary drink each night wasn’t included.
We had two nights in Belfast, so I put my 2/3rds bottle of wine in the safe for the day. I didn’t want the cleaning staff to chuck it down the sink!
And here are my everyday earrings that I bought in Belfast. You’ll be noticing them in photos once I’m back home. In this photo they look gold but they’re silver.
One of my goals was to buy some everyday earrings on this trip, after I lost my other ones from Bali on a Little Adventure in South Australia.
As soon as we went inside, it was a mistake. It was deserted and loud DOOF DOOF music was playing. Our group split, with Anne, Jeff and I deciding to find the pub that the guide had talked about on the tour this morning.
This bar is EXACTLY the same as in Victorian times, even to the gas lighting. None of the decor has been altered.
Luckily, Anne had paid attention to the guide’s directions. She was turning left and right, while her husband Geoff and I followed behind.
It’s just around the corner from the Europa hotel, which was bombed 48 times during the Troubles.
It was fabulous. Look at the floor! Look at the roof! Look at the carving on the beams!
We didn’t think we’d get a seat but Fortunate Frogdancer was in the house so a snug was empty just as we walked by.
I wanted to take a video of the flickering of the gas lights to show you, but my phone couldn’t capture it.
I suppose we’d call them booths nowadays. We sat in one and then, feeling a little guilty about all the other people looking for a seat, we invited two older women to join us. To be honest, they looked a bit dodgy to me but they turned out to be great.
They were from Northampton in England, here on a tour like us, and they’ve been friends for 72 years. The rest of them started talking and omg – the things they remembered!
Gas lighting, not only in the streets but also in their houses. Anne told about going on holidays in a caravan with gas lighting. Geoff’s grandfather used to have a job lighting the gas lights in the streets.
One of the Northampton women remembered the “knocker-upper”… a man with a long stick who’d bang on your front windows to wake you up, before they had alarm clocks.
I’d heard about these things but I never expected to meet people who had actually experienced them.
We walked home, the two groups parting company at the main road. We got back at 10 PM… a far more suitable ending to the day than the 8 PM “good nights” that many of the Americans couples were happy with.
Tomorrow we head further north. Let’s see what awaits!