Ireland is a giant island. At one point in time, it was a country all on its own. The British, as they were apt to do at that time, invaded and sparked conflicts that still persist to this day. More on this later, but for now, Ireland is split into two parts: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland’s borders take up most of the land on this island. This is where I have been this semester. The Republic of Ireland is its own country, where people pay in euros, Guinness is brewed, and 95% of the population claim Catholicism. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and they pay in British Pound Sterling.
There was a trip, three days two nights and as much of northern Ireland as you can see for 125 euros. That was for everything but food, so when Niklas showed me, it took about five seconds to decide that this was going to happen. So, I crammed a towel and a change of clothes in my book bag, along with the trusty camera, and we made our way down to the bus at six in the morning. We arrived to find one nice big tour bus full of people, and an old small bus with tires the size of donuts and stone age suspension. Guess which one had seats left!
We boarded and a friendly, spunky dude who insisted on going by his nick-name ‘Funky’ came over the intercom with a voice loaded with way more energy than the other thirty people on the bus had put together at this hour. He proceeded to give us a run down of events and tried to get people talking. There was on the bus people from Germany, Turkey, Italy, Spain, France, England, China, and Canada. There was also one other nation represented. There was one American. Me. Which has never happened to me before, ever. And I thought that was pretty cool. But didn’t raise my hand on that one, as this was right when the NSA milk was spilt. Am I proud to be an American? Yes. But why rock the boat, I will let it come up organically in conversation, try to save a little face.
Ireland has been undergoing some massive infrastructure overhauls over the past decade. So the ride to Belfast was long but comfortable highways. Got to know some of the people around me, and dozed in an out to catch up on lost sleep from the early morning.
Belfast! The capital of Northern Ireland, the second largest city on the island, birth place of the Titanic and the place where they film GAME OF THRONES. Brace yourselves, Belfast is coming. This place was superb. The Titanic museum looks awesome on the outside, but just like the iceberg that sunk the ship, tons more can’t be seen from the surface. I don’t have many pictures from inside, but you walk through what Belfast was like at the time, how the ship was built and how it sank, and then the finding of the wreckage. Belfast was a boom town when the ships were being built, and people flooded from all over the world to get work here, and there was plenty to go around. We road past the Titanic studios where they film HBO’s Game of Thrones. I did not see any dragons unfortunately, but it was interesting to know that the show is filmed either here at the giant sound stage, or in some of the empty country side of Northern Ireland. This is due in part to tax breaks the government gives the studio for using their country, which in turn promotes tourism.
Then we road into the city center, and had a few hours to explore on our own. Even in the rain, it was beautiful. After a few hours, we checked into the hostel. My first hostel! I know now that they vary greatly, but this hostel was more like a dorm room that mated with a shady hotel. It’s bare bones and dirt cheap. This place slept four to a room on twin bunks. There was a sink, and then a shared shower and toilet on the hall. But it was great, I made friends very quickly, and we all headed out for a night on the town. I will definitely never forget that night. The night in Belfast City!
The next morning we woke up, and we were taken to the parts of the city where there are still peace walls. So, Ireland was conquered by the British, and when it was ready to regain independence, not everyone wanted to. This is what lead to the civil war that split the country. Then in the later half of the twentieth century, political strife boiled over again, primarily between the Catholics who wanted to reunite the country, and the Protestants who wanted to remain part of the UK. (I am simplifying much here, and there is really a lot of interesting history on the subject which is worth reading) But these political struggles resulted in riots and murders on both sides, and this period of time and these conflicts became known as The Troubles. During the height of The Troubles, huge peace walls were erected to separate neighborhoods and stem some of the violence. While many of these have since been torn down, some still stand. Partly to mark that time and history, and partly to serve their original purpose, as it is still a very sore subject, and one which the tour company advised us to avoid talking about if ever approached. The walls are now covered with graffiti; everything from John loves Jane, phallic humor, and I was here, to beautiful works of art that are political statements on the conflicts.