Ireland 3.0

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In the hills south of Dublin

Our third visit to Ireland… the first whirlwind wasn’t enough, and apparently neither was the second. If you’re going to do something, do it thoroughly. This whole 2017 adventure abroad to Ireland and Scotland was basically Honeymoon Part II: Electric Boogaloo, thanks to the infamous hiking injury; we set out to complete the Great Glen Way, and we couldn’t pass up a stop in Ireland along the way.

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Hiking to Fairy Castle on Three Rock Hill with Dublin and Howth behind us

After exploring Jameson and the Museum of Modern Art, we set out south of Dublin for a beautiful hike to Three Rock Hill and the Fairy Castle. Our good friends at Extreme Ireland hooked us up with a moonlit full-moon walk up the hills, and it was fantastic! The hill walk was just a short ride away on the Luas (public transportation tram), and we will definitely return for another walk there on our next trip.

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Trinity College Courtyard

In Dublin, we still had a few places we hadn’t been yet and a couple places we wanted to revisit. At the top of the list was Trinity College and the Book of Kells. On our previous visits to Ireland, the college was on a winter break, so this was our first opportunity to tour the campus and see the most beautiful library. Our tour of the college was a lot of fun, even if our guide was an American studying abroad. I was especially interested to learn that professors at the college are provided (unheated) lodging in a historic building. We also heard a colorful tale of a shoot out between a professor and his surly students at this historic building.

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A page from the Book of Kells

We were finally ushered into the library, beautiful in its own right, to see the famous Book of Kells. According to the library website, “The Book of Kells (Trinity College Dublin MS 58) contains the four Gospels in Latin based on the Vulgate text which St Jerome completed in 384AD.” It was probably created in a monastery in Iona off the coast of Western Scotland. While it is an important historical text, the Book of Kells is most famous for its beautiful illuminations. It is described as such: “the impact of its lavish decoration, the extent and artistry of which is incomparable. Abstract decoration and images of plant, animal and human ornament punctuate the text with the aim of glorifying Jesus’ life and message, and keeping his attributes and symbols constantly in the eye of the reader.” If you can’t make it to Dublin, you can view the Book of Kells online at this link.

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The Book of Kells was impressive, but the real star at the Library at Trinity College is the Long Room. The architecture and gravitas of the space are breathtaking. In the long room antique books are displayed alongside the busts of famous men related to the college, and an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic which was read outside the General Post Office by Patrick Pearse at the start of the Easter Rising.

All in all, a successful day in Dublin! Next, we were off to Scotland again to finish the Great Glen Way (spoiler: we did it!).

Multi-Sensory Exhibit Design: Jameson Does It Up Right

In May I visited Ireland (again..they can’t keep me away…). On one of our first days in Dublin, my husband and I decided to visit the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.

We started our visit with a trip to the bar housed in the historic building to try a signature drink while we waited on our tour to start. As we took in our surroundings, we noticed the floors were open to show the historic structure and storage areas below the floor. As a fan of all things old, I really appreciated this touch! 

Soon our tour began, and we were taken with our group to a small exhibit of the history of the building and the story of the Jameson family, their endeavors in whiskey production, and the history of the brand. Though this is definitely a corporate tour, the information was still very interesting and the exhibit design is top notch.

Next we visited a room that incorporated primary sources, technology, historic artifacts, and second person interpretation from our guide. The technology used was very similar to what we saw at the Tenement Museum in March, and though we did not each have our own station to choose the artifacts we wanted to learn about, it was still interactive and informative.

From there we entered my favorite part of the tour; a multi sensory journey through the production of whiskey. Now, I am not generally a fan of whiskey, but this aspect of our experience was by far the coolest. In groups of 6, visitors surrounded a table that engaged all of our senses. The guide told us what to do taste or smell and when, and the flow of the interpretation, technology, and engagement was perfect. As you can see in this image, we had the opportunity to smell different types of aging casks (sherry, wine, etc), taste and feel malted grains, watch the process on the screens at the front of the room, and hear our guide talk us through the process.

The last part of the tour was teachable tasting. We compared various whiskeys to the Jameson brand and our guide helped us understand the composition of the whiskeys and the complex tastes. We exited through the gift shop, and got our daily grog!

If you find yourself in Dublin, I recommend a trip to the Jameson Distillery for a specific history of their brand, or the Irish Whiskey Museum for a more comprehensive look at whiskey and its history over time in the Emerald Isle.

New Research Projects, Travel, and… Death?

Lately I’ve contemplated where my research will take me following the publication of my manuscript on accessibility for people with special needs, the publication of a chapter on accessibility in education in The Manual for Museum Learning, 2nd Edition, and continuing my work towards truly accessible museums.

I’ve decided to take a new track based on the historiographical work I did in my dissertation on museum history and the use of human bodies and human remains in museums. My previous work focused on living humans, often billed as “freaks“, in museums and other exhibitions; now I want to focus on the corporeal remains that we still see in museums today: mummies, bog bodies, medical specimens, skeletons, relics, shrunken heads, and so much more.  What laws (aside from NAGPRA) govern the display and collection of human remains? What are the ethics involved here? How does the public react to these remains? These are just some of the questions I hope to answer as I embark on a new research plan.

I have organized a roundtable at the National Council on Public History meeting in 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada to present preliminary findings and bring together a fascinating group of women who study these questions. Our presentation, “Death and Display, Bodies and Boundaries” will explore our own work and also encourage participation from our audience. I’ve invited my former college roommate, Shelby Judge, a modern funeral director; Laura Anderson Barbata, artist and activist; Dr. Trish Biers, osteoarchaeologist at Cambridge University museums; and Kristen Semento from Winterthur Museum and Gardens.

As I planned my most recent trip abroad, I knew I would have the opportunity to visit international museums that are working with these issues. What I didn’t know was the amount of opportunities that would present themselves on my trip. My future blogs will detail some of the places I visited and some of the remains I encountered in Ireland and Scotland.

The first stop on my trip to Ireland was the Irish Museum of Modern Art. I had just arrived in Ireland, my hotel room was not ready, and my husband and I needed to get out and see the sights while we waited. The only problem was: I don’t think I have ever been as exhausted as I was on this museum visit. I was jet-lagged. I was running none hour of plane sleep. It. Was. Awesome.

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You may have read my thoughts on art museums in the past; in short, I’m not their biggest fan. IMMA was in a great historic building, and there were some interesting exhibits while we were there. However, there was one exhibit in particular that spoke to me through my sleepy haze and has stuck with me. It also set the tone for my exploration into death and bodies.

In the back of the museum, in a quiet, dark room with benches (the initial attraction, let’s be real), I encountered a film installation. The piece, titled The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music by The Propeller Group is probably the best video installation I have ever seen.  Their description reads:

The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Musicis a visual and musical journey through the fantastical funeral traditions and rituals of south Vietnam. It attempts to engage in dialogue with funerary traditions that pulsate in the same vein throughout the global south. The film merges documentary footage of actual funeral processions with stunning re-enactments that bring the film into the realm of the abstract, poetic and metaphorical – a rumination on death and the lives that pay homage to it.

I encourage you to watch the video in its entirety if you can. It is so fascinating, beautiful, disturbing, scary, and amazing all at the same time. The fact that I was almost at a hallucinatory stage of tiredness only heightened by appreciation for the piece. However, it stands up even as I re-watch it today.

So that’s it! I’m on a new program of research, and I’m so excited to have already been welcomed with open arms by so many Death Historians and Death Academics. Thank you, and I can’t wait to let you all know more about my research!

Hurling: Done Poorly by Americans

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Soon I will be back with those promised Ireland reviews, as well as a lot of exciting news.  In the meantime, here is a teaser of our adventure in Ireland.

Hurling (Irish: Iománaíocht/Iomáint) is an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin. The game has prehistoric origins, has been played for over 3,000 years, and is considered to be the world’s fastest field sport.

The GAA says on their website, “Hurling is believed to be the world’s oldest field game. When the Celts came to Ireland as the last ice age was receding, they brought with them a unique culture, their own language, music, script and unique pastimes. One of these pastimes was a game now called hurling. It features in Irish folklore to illustrate the deeds of heroic mystical figures and it is chronicled as a distinct Irish pastime for at least 2,000 years.  The stick, or “hurley” (called camán in Irish) is curved outwards at the end, to provide the striking surface. The ball or “sliotar” is similar in size to a hockey ball but has raised ridges.”

In 2015, Katie and Charles made their best efforts to “hurl.” Here lies evidence of their valiant efforts. Special thanks to the Extreme Ireland team for their fabulous Cliffs of Moher tour, our great Hurler and Tour guide Shane, Liz Hurley, and The Burren.

Ireland 2.0: More Travels to the Emerald Isle

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Ireland, December 2013

After last year’s travels to Ireland, Northern Ireland, and London, I’ve had an airport tracker on my email.  When a deal popped up last summer, I couldn’t pass it up, and we were off again!  We traveled again on St. Stephen’s Day, and spent New Years Eve in Dublin.  We stayed only within the Republic of Ireland this trip, so we got to see a lot more of the countryside, the West, and Dublin!

This year, I also had my FitBit, so I was able to track exactly how much we walked.  Last year I was obsessed with the maps of everywhere we went, and this time was no different.

Here’s the quick rundown of our trip:

Ireland, December 2014

Ireland, December 2014

December 27  – Arrival in Dublin

December 28 – Off to the West – Galway Bay, Quiet Man Bridge, Connemara, Killary Sheep Farm, Connemara National Park and Diamond Hill, Letterfrack, and Clifden

December 29 – Clifden Castle, Kylemore Abbey, Killary Sheep Farm (again!), Galway

December 30 – Dublin Museums – National Archaeology Museum, National Art Gallery, Irish Whiskey Museum

December 31 – Boyne River Valley, Hill of Tara, Bective Abbey, Trim Castle, Loughcrew Passage Tombs, Monasterboice, Drogheda, St. Oliver Plunkett’s Head in a Box, Dublin for New Yeas Eve Shenanigans

January 1 – A quiet day around Dublin and the shops and pubs

January 2 – Out west again to the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, The Burren for a bit of hurling, Corcomroe Abbey, and Kinvara

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Ireland, January 2015

January 3 – Another day in Dublin for shopping (Penneys!), an adaptive reuse church/pub, and more shopping

January 4 – Glendalough, Wicklow, Kilkenny, and the greatest cultural offering that Dublin has: Sunday night Bingo with Shirley Temple Bar at The George.

January 5 – Back home 😦

 

Stay tuned for the highlights!

Travel Wrap-Up and Summary

I was a geography minor back in the day, and I love a good map!  Plus, I really wanted to log all of the Km/Miles we logged on this trip.  We were definitely tired, and we are avid fans of walking, so this may not be for everyone.  Walking was a perfect solution for us to get exercise, see as much as possible, and get a feel for the cities we were in.  My impeccable sense of direction helped, too.  Next time I’m taking my FitBit to really log the miles!

Dublin Day 1 – December 26, 2013

Airlink Bus 747 from Dublin Airport to O’Connell Street.  An Adult single ticket is only €6, and it is a quick trip to City Center.  Worth it!

dublin airlink

Trying to stay awake, find coffee, and food:

dublin day 1 part one

After a rest, we headed out into Dublin again to do a little exploring:

dublin day 1 part 2

Dublin Day 1 Totals: 7.2 Miles

Dublin Day 2 – December 27, 2013

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*Note – we went to The Beer Club, JW Sweetman’s, not Messrs Maguire, but Google Maps wouldn’t let me choose that as a destination.

Dublin Day 2 Totals: 8 miles

Northern Ireland and Belfast – December 28, 2013

driving to belfast

Walked to Old Church to meet bus, and back after a stop for fish and chips!  Also spent a lot of time walking trails at the bridge and causeway Total Miles: Approximately 5 miles

Dublin -> Wales -> London – December 29, 2013

We walked to the ferry port, then took the ferry to Holyhead in Wales, then the train into Euston Station London, then to Waterloo:

house to ferry

ferry journey

We got slightly lost coming out of Waterloo, so I estimate our miles for this day at: 3 Miles

I got our tickets and information about this type of travel from The Man in Seat 61 – his website is FANTASTIC for travel in Europe.  He posts videos, pictures, maps, time tables, and everything else a true OCD traveler such as myself can enjoy.

London Full Day 1 – December 30, 2013

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We saw basically everything. Approximately 7.5 miles

London Day 2 – December 31, 2013

london day 2

 

Again, we saw pretty much everything.  Including fantastic fireworks and historic stuff and art. I added 1.5 miles to this day for our time spent walking around the tower and Tate and time spent wading through people after the fireworks. Approximately 7 miles

Last Day in London – January 1, 2014


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Last Day in London: Approximately 5 miles

January 2, 2014 –  another day of ferries, trains, and this time a cab from the ferry to the flat.  We only had one small mishap with the cab; our cabbie misheard us and we almost ended up in the opposite end of Dublin from where we were supposed to be.  The only time accents were an issue!  We walked maybe 1 mile this day, with train switches and a jaunt up the street to get a frozen pizza for dinner #exhausted

Last Day in Dublin – January 3, 2013

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This was the day all those miles were felt in my poor short little legs.  We worked through another 5.5 miles, and ended with a quiet evening at the flat so we could catch an early flight back to the states in the morning.

Back to the States – January 4, 2014

We woke up with ideas of walking to the Airlink, but this day was the only morning that there was a downpour of rain.  We opted for a cab instead, for which our legs thanked us.  To the airport, through customs, over the ocean and Canada, to Atlanta, and back to Knoxville – all in a day’s travel.  And I got my froyo fix in the ATL airport, which is always my #1 priority at an airport.

TOTAL TRAVEL SUMMARY

Total Estimated Miles Walked:  At Least 44.2 Miles

Sites Seen: All of the major ones.  Guinness, Christchurch, Kilmainham, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, The Tower of London, British Museum, Tate Modern, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and so much MORE.

Costs:
Flights: Knoxville to Dublin, roundtrip $1895.00 total- $947.50/person
Lodging Dublin: $336.00 – 5 nights – $67.20/night – $168/person
Lodging London: $549.00 – 4 nights – $137.25/night – $274.50/person
Rail/Sail Tickets from Dublin->London->Dublin: $254.59 for 2 tickets – $127.30/person
All other costs – Meals, Souvenirs, Admissions, Et al: $1,379.46 – $689.73/person

Total: $4,144.05 – $2,207.02 / person = $220.00 per day per person for everything – not too bad!

But really: PRICELESS

Last Day in Dublin

Walking over roughly 50 miles in 8 days had taken its toll – I was tired and sore and a little grumpy.

Our daily walk

Our daily walk

Much to my surprise, ibuprofen isn’t sold in corner shops, and many times you have to go to a chemist to get a prescription in Ireland.  Without the assistance of chemicals, and it being a BIT early for a pint, I bravely continued on to see as much of Dublin before we headed back to the states in less than 24 hours.

Charles and I walked along the now-familiar path along the Liffey; past the Famine Memorial and Convention Center, that sushi restaurant that was never open, and across the Samuel Beckett bridge.  We were fortunate to have one of our best days of weather for our last day in the city.

Beautiful Cathedral

Beautiful Cathedral

We decided to walk over to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and the antiques district.  The cathedral was gorgeous, and we weren’t even a little upset to pay a fee towards preservation to enter the cathedral and see the beautiful stained glass, carvings, and graves within.  We took several photos which you can see below.  The antiques district was a bit disappointing, due to the exorbitant prices.  I did find a few Beatrix Potter prints – a fairy for mom, and a cat for me!  We also discovered Oxfam, which was rather Goodwill-ish.

Our last day in Dublin is a bit of a blur, which is odd since it was the most recent day spent there. We stopped to buy some last minute souvenirs, stopped at the usual coffee shops, and ate a delicious lunch at Queen of Tarts on Cows Lane.  One of the coolest shops we visited was the James Fox Cigar and Whiskey shop, where we picked up some treats for a friend back home, and Charles indulged in a Japanese Whiskey (in Ireland, I know, right?).  This store remains the manliest store I’ve been in – fantastic.

Chapel in St. Patrick's

Chapel in St. Patrick’s

We stopped again at the Turk’s Head pub, which had become “our” pub in Dublin for a last pint. As we walked back, we decided to take the Luas since we were so tired, and managed to hop on the wrong train – womp womp.  It got us a few blocks closer, but we still had to walk another mile back  up to the flat.  We made it though, and headed to bed to get up for our early flight back to the states the next morning….

 

Things to See Next Time :

  • Dublina Experience
  • Jameson Distillery
  • u2 Graffiti Wall
  • Irish Museum of Art
  • More Pubs and Guinness (can there every be too much??)
  • More Irish Country!

AND THIS JUST IN – Our next time in Dublin will be in less than 6 months!  We’re going back for Christmas/New Years this year for a 9 day Irish adventure (Sorry, Britain, not this time!).

Up next… a summary of the entire trip!

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Wales, Snowdonia, and Entering London

NIreland-mapAfter our full day in Northern Ireland, we returned to Dublin.  We grabbed some quick fish n chips, then rested up for our full day of travel to Wales and London.

Rather than take a cab to the port, we decided to walk from the apartment.  It wasn’t a terribly long walk, but it was early, and we hadn’t had our coffee or tea yet.  Dragging our backpacks, we finally entered the gangplank to board the Ulysses and cross the Irish Sea to Holyhead.  We booked our rail and sail tickets thanks very much to the advice of The Man in Seat 61. I was a little apprehensive at traveling by boat, train, and tube all in one day, but we did it successfully!

After boarding the ferry, we grabbed some seats and a quick breakfast.  We had all the best intentions to go out on deck and see the sea and the approach to Wales… but we took Dramamine and promptly fell asleep in our seats. I woke up just in time to see the British Isles from the window, and watch the boat maneuver into Holyhead Port in Wales.  We had a little bit of time to look around Wales, but being neurotic and worried about missing our train, we limited our selves to a quick view off the bridge and a jaunt around the giftshop (dragon key chain and ALL the tangfastics, wine gummies, and galaxy minstrels!).

The train from Holyhead to London was PACKED.  Apparently Virgin Trains overbooked, and we felt lucky to have seats, even if we weren’t next to each other.  People were standing in the aisles, and we didn’t even get trolley service (I really wanted some Harry Potter style roving snack cart action – so this was a huge disappointment).  Luckily we had stocked up on candy in the giftshop so we got all sugared up as we rode along the coast, through the mountains, and across the beautiful countryside.

The Man in Seat 61 posted this video, which shows the journey from beginning to end (only in the opposite direction that we went in):

As you can see in the video, it is a gorgeous way to travel, with castles, seas, and TONS of sheep along the way.  The Snowdonia Mountains were particularly gorgeous, and occasionally we would spot a ruined castle atop a hill – perfect. Snowdonia National Park is the largest in Wales, and one of the original 3 National Parks established there.  Wales is arguably one of the most beautiful places we saw in our travels, and I’d love to spend more time there off the train.

The weirdest part of the trip was definitely Will Ferrell/Ron Burgundy narrating the bathroom experience. We also passed what seemed like the world’s biggest trailer park.  We also heard some of the dumbest words ever uttered on the train: American Man: “What language do you think that is out there on that sign?”  American Man’s Girlfriend: “ummm, Welsh?”

I navigated this ish like a boss

I navigated this ish like a boss

Finally, we pulled into Euston Station, changed some Euros to Sterling Pounds, and headed down to the famous Tube stations to catch a ride to Waterloo Station in Southbank… we had no trouble navigating (or staying on the standing side of the escalators so as not to incur the wrath of angry Londoners) and made it to our home neighborhood for the next several days.  By this time, we were exhausted from travel, hungry, and not thinking terribly clearly.  Our host’s instructions were fantastic, but we managed to come out the wrong exit and get turned around.  Luckily, a kind Liverpudlian walked us to the correct street and virtually patted us on the head as he sent us on the correct path to the Cut (everyone was SO NICE there – if a bit snarky).

We got in the flat, threw our stuff down, and headed to the closest pub, the Windmill Tavern for some pints and chicken curry.  Rather than explore, we settled in to prepare for a full day of London the next day…

Belfast: More Difficult Histories and Recent History

Respect | Remember | Resolution

Respect | Remember | Resolution

*** Well, I was really hoping to have more than a recap on our trip to Belfast, but at this time that’s all I’m able to offer.  We only spent about 2 hours there, but the recent history there surrounding “The Troubles” really impacted me; even in the few months since I’ve been back, I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around it all, and I’m hoping to come up with a bigger blog series on difficult histories, reconciliation, and more.  As my good friend Abigail Gautreau found in her dissertation research, Public History has a HUGE role to play in reconciliation with recent historical events.  ***

So as we wrapped up our great day traveling to rope bridges and giants’ homes with Wayne from Extreme Ireland tours, we headed back south towards Dublin with a stop in Belfast.  Wayne set us up with his friends from a Belfast black Taxi Tour Company to learn more about the politics of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Britain, and the Republic of Ireland.  If you want a good, quick synopsis of the Troubles, please check out this Wikipedia link (don’t hate – Dr. Robert Connolly writes of the scholarly values of Wiki here).

Important for ALL historians to remember. Mural in Belfast.

Important for ALL historians to remember. Mural in Belfast.

At the very smallest, most basic level – Irish Catholics and British Protestants fought for years with various terrorist groups on both sides wreaking havoc in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and even in England and other places;  this time is called “The Troubles” and officially lasted from the late 1960s until 1998.  Violence has still occurred since then, and during the weeks leading up to our visit to Belfast a car bomb exploded.

The tour started in the City Center by the City Hall.  We had 2 guides, who both grew up during the Troubles in Belfast; they didn’t tell us which side they grew up on, so as we went through the tour we tried to guess from their biases which side they were on.   We hopped into the cabs and were off to see the city.

How terrifying would it be to see this every day, and know it was aimed at you or your ancestors?

How terrifying would it be to see this every day, and know it was aimed at you or your ancestors?

We started in the “English” section, which is dotted with memorial murals commemorating the English heroes of the Troubles and religious conflicts.  We talked about the Hunger Strikes, the various violent conflicts, and others calling for peace and reconciliation.  There are memorials on both sides, and for just about everything.  There are many sources online that document each mural.

Even accounting for my shortness, these walls are HUGE

Even accounting for my shortness, these walls are HUGE

Next we went to the Peace Wall, which was an incredible sight to see.  The wall is up to 40 feet or more in some places – high enough to prevent people from throwing grenades or shells over to the other side.  The violence that occurred here (and still does) is astounding to me.  This blog, “WTF Wednesdays: Belfast Peace Walls” by the Everywhereist really does a good job of explaining how I felt seeing the walls and on the tour in general.  We wrote our own messages on the walls, reflected on their purpose and the fact that they still exist, and moved into the Irish neighborhoods.

There is a lot of talk about whether or not the Peace Walls or the murals should remain, and I hope to tackle that question from the preservation/reconciliation side in the future.  In the meantime, read more about it here, here, here, and here.  There is also a lot of talk among residents, found here, and here. Another good article about architecture and conflict is available here.

One we passed through a gate in the walls to the Irish side, we visited a memorial on Bombay Street.   Here, the neighborhood had constructed a memorial to those killed, just in that one neighborhood, as a direct result of the Troubles.  The Clonard Martyrs Memorial Garden lists each name and stands directly in the shadow of the walls.  The Conflict Archive on the Internet posted a video tour of the memorial on youtube here.

A “non-lethal” rubber bullet; at least 17 people were killed by these during the Troubles (or after, from the effects)

A “non-lethal” rubber bullet; at least 17 people were killed by these during the Troubles (or after, from the effects)

While we were at the memorial, the guides showed us the “non-lethal” rubber bullets that killed so many people in the Irish neighborhoods.  Dominic Marron is considered the most recent death as a result of plastic bullets.  He passed away in 2004 from complications related to being shot at the age of 15 in 1981.  The memorial and all the names of those killed or injured or otherwise impacted by the Troubles made a huge impression on us. 

At the end of the tour, we guessed which sides our tour guides grew up on; based on the tours, we guessed that one was English and the other was Irish – turns out both were raised on the Irish side!  They did a fantastic job telling the whole story without letting their own personal biases show, which shows an incredible amount of forgiveness and/or professionalism.

The presentation of such recent and fresh difficult histories brings any problems and questions;  I hope to address these more soon. Another public history aspect of the murals is Belfast has to do with preservation of the murals: can they be preserved, and should they be?  What feelings do they still stir among residents or visitors?

View out the foggy window at Belfast City Hall all lit up for Christmas

View out the foggy window at Belfast City Hall all lit up for Christmas

I was only 12 when the Good Friday Peace Agreement was signed,  so I can barely remember seeing some of the violence on the news.  This tour, the information I learned from Wayne, the tour at Kilmainham, and during my travels around Ireland really struck a chord with me.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I really hope to explore this history more.  There is DEFINITELY another trip to Belfast in our future to learn more. The question of safety in Belfast always comes up among tourists and concerned friends and family.  Our tour guides assured us that it is one of the top destinations for tourist, and the Visit Belfast website (albeit a obviously biased site!) lists all of the awards and lists they have made over the past several years.

I will admit that hearing about the car bombing the same month I visited, the topics of the tour, and the general gloom of the evening when we were there made me somewhat uneasy. That won’t stop me from coming back, however!

If you have any personal stories related to the Troubles, please comment below or contact me – I’d love to learn more about it.

Things to see next time:

  • More time in Belfast in general
  • More time in Northern Ireland in general
  • City Hall
  • Titanic Museum!
  • Europa Hotel

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Northern Ireland: Giant’s Causeway

Walk down to the Causeway

Walk down to the Causeway

After the bridge, lunch, and cute ponies,  we continued on to another National Trust site, the Giant’s Causeway. Wayne from Extreme Ireland Irish Day Tours told us some of the history and mythology associated with the geological phenomenon along the short drive to the site.

I'm not sure what this is, but it is terrifying and probably exactly what it looked like when Fionn and Ben met.

I’m not sure what this is, but it is terrifying and probably exactly what it looked like when Fionn and Ben met.

Legend has it that the rock columns that make up the formation are the remains of a road built by giants.  Wayne told us that the Irish giant and hero Fionn mac Cumhaill, sometime called Finn MacCool, was the rival of a Scottish giant called Benandonner.

Ben challenged Fionn to a duel, and built the causeway across the Channel so that they could meet. When Fionn saw Ben coming across the causeway, he realized how large his opponent was and decided to hide from him to avoid the battle.  Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguised Fionn as a baby and put him to bed in a cradle. When Benandonner came to the house to find Fionn, Oonagh told him he had gone out, but would soon return.  Ben saw the ‘baby’, and got curious about the size of Fionn.  He reckoned that the baby’s father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants, and he was frightened back to Scotland. As he ran back across the causeway to his home, he destroyed it behind him so that Fionn could not follow to give him the business.

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

While this is a fantastic story, the geological reasoning for the formations is almost as thrilling. Sometime 50 million years ago,Northern Ireland experienced a lot of volcanic activity.  Molten basalt leaked through the chalk creating a lava plateau.  The lava cooled, and when the rocks contracted they created hexagonal pillars that we see today.

Regardless of how it was formed, this is a BEAUTIFUL site, and truly a national treasure worthy of protection by the National Trust.

The visitors center was nice looking, but we were warned it was way over-priced so we skipped it and decided to walk down to the stones. It was super windy, and a little bit chilly, but again, the beautiful views along the way made it worth it.  The path down to the rocks wasn’t too long, but the weather made me long for a quick stop then a jaunt back up the hills to the pub!!  We got to the bottom of the hill, saw the causeway, and I said, “ok, let’s go!”

Gorgeous Northern Ireland

Gorgeous Northern Ireland

Luckily Charles convinced me to sit a moment, and then he asked me to marry him!!  I’ll spare you the details, but it was great, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful and inspiring place to get engaged.

We looked around a bit more, took pictures, then headed back up the hills to the pub, The Nook.  The pub was perfect, we had a Guinness, and then stopped at a little shop to buy some delicious honeycomb candy along with MORE postcards.  I also took the requisite phone booth photo, since we were in the UK, after all, and I wasn’t so uncool to do something so touristy in London.

Back on the bus, Wayne asked if everyone had a good time, and if anyone happened to get engaged at the Causeway – we did!!  On the way from the coast to Belfast, we stopped by Dunluce castle.  The castle is over 500 years old, and is in serious disrepair.  This is

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

one of those cases where “ruins” rather than conserved sites are the most beautiful.  The castle is right on the edge of a cliff, which is great for defenses but not so safe, as it turns out.  Parts of the castle have fallen into the sea, and part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea during a party One story says that when the kitchen fell into the sea only a kitchen boy survived, as he was sitting in the corner of the kitchen which did not collapse.  This castle is also said to be the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’  Cair Paravel in the books Chronicles of Narnia.

We didn’t have NEARLY enough time in the north of Ireland, and we need to make another trip soon.

To See Next Time:

  • Bushmills – Distillery and town
  • Rathlin Island
  • Dunluce Castle
  • More ponies

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