Leicester and Richard III

Saturday began our last full day in England, and we caught the train to Leicester on the way back to London so I could see my favorite monarch of English/British history: Richard III. If you follow my Instagram you may have seen my epic r3 Halloween costume, and if you’re on Twitter, you’ll know fake r3chard has retweeted me like 3 times now. We’re basically best internet friends.

Mom and I got into Leicester and decided to try to find a place to leave our luggage. If anyone is looking for a lucrative business to open: start a found luggage in Leicester. We carried our giant bags all over the town with no luck. The Visitors Center couldn’t help us; the museum couldn’t store bags for insurance reasons (fair). We had already bought our tickets, I was tired and hangry, and nothing was going our way. My mom, saint that she is, decided to hole up in a café with tea and cake and babysit our bags while I went to the museum. Not ideal, but at least I got to see what there was to see.

The Richard III Visitor Center is built around the archaeological site where in 2012, archaeologists found the remains of the last Plantagenet. The archaeological story itself is fascinating, because it is not at all usual for an archaeological investigation to find exactly what it is looking for on the first try; but that’s just what happened in this case. There is a Smithsonian documentary all about the discovery available on YouTube here.

The visitor begins in a display about the history of the War of the Roses, family lines, and the reasons for the turmoil that surrounded Richard III’s reign. From there, you travel through the War of the Roses, RIII’s short reign, and his burial at Grey Friar’s Priory. Heading upstairs, visitors encounter a display that discusses the portrayals of Richard as a villain throughout popular culture, from Shakespeare to the recent Benedict Cumberbatch portrayal.

Next, the display walks the visitor through the entire story of the dig from its beginning through to the discovery and analysis of the Richard’s remains. This was great! The timeline included artifacts from the dig, video interviews with the archaeologists and others involved in the venture, and diagrams. The exhibit then represents scientists’ analysis of Richard’s bones through medical testing and forensic recreations. One controversy was that of Richard’s scoliosis; many proponents of R3 have relegated the story of the hunchback king to a tale made up by Shakespeare and other detractors to vilify and lessen the monarch in some way.  When the skeleton was uncovered, it was obvious that the scoliosis was a fact after all.

The visitor center experience ends with a visit to the site where the bones were found in the parking lot that used to house the church. The websitedescribes it as, “the site of King Richard’s burial, preserved in a quiet, respectful setting and with a contemplative atmosphere, fitting for the last resting place of a slain warrior and anointed monarch.” The room is quiet and simple, and a hologram shows where the bones were found within the unit. The volunteer in the room when I visited was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, pointing out features in the dig that helped to date the remains.

Across the courtyard from the visitor center stand Leicester Cathedral, where the remains of Richard are interred. The church also has a display about Richard and his discovery and subsequent reburial (and a giftshop, too!).

Behind the church another gem is hidden: The Guildhouse. This is a medieval timbered building dating back to 1390 in its oldest part. The architecture and features throughout are gorgeous, from the soaring timbered ceiling to the mantels to the upstairs library. The site is also supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Britain, as the helpful museum employee told me as I walked through the building on my own. I managed to scare myself nearly to death when I looked into an old jail cell and saw a mannequin in the darkness.

Through hordes of football fans on their way to a match, we made our way back to the train station and headed back to London, content with our few days in Yorkshire and our day in Leciester. We were back to London for one more night, a classy McDonald’s dinner, and a trip to the Sainsbury for a literal duffel bag full of candies and presents (yet I still managed to forget a can of treacle). Mom and I made it back to South Carolina with no issues, and are already planning our next trip together!

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

dublin day 2

*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

london day 1

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


last day in London

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

last day in dublin

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

London Day 2/2.5: New Years Adventures

1507445_10101545216840245_366034008_oAfter a full day of exploring the city followed by an exciting day at the Tower of London and Tate Museum of Modern Art, our third full day in London was a bit more low key. We slept in a bit to recover from the fireworks the night before…

New Years Eve in London

…is the craziest thing I have ever witnessed in person.  Here is the fireworks show, which was amazing in its own right (worth noting it features ELO, 1D (of COURSE), my favorite Coldplay song, and the Queen):

Some bloke getting knicked by the horseback coppers!

Some bloke getting knicked by the horseback coppers!

For some perspective, we were right behind the Eye, below the building with the countdown, on the south bank of the Thames.  Leading up to the show, we met a couple of really nice east enders, and bonded over the ridiculous drunken people camped out behind us.  We talked about the Olympics, One Direction, and the weather – they were great!

The real cultural experience began after the fireworks, though… Our usual route from the Southbank to the flat was less than half a mile.  Due to the crowds, however, the police had barricaded off all side streets to force the mass of people to go down one street.  The tubes all closed at midnight, and it was chaos.  We saw: teenagers street fighting, a man who I think was dead on the sidewalk, a lady trying to punch everyone, kids throwing fire crackers into the crowd, people in windows giving everyone a show, a man getting arrested by a policewoman who was on a horse… the list goes on. It. Was. Amazing.  We finally gave up, found some high ground, and just watched the show.

Eventually we made it along with the masses to The Cut, where I convinced a policeman that our beds really were just on the other side of his barricade, and that we weren’t up to any mischief.  Poor, silly little Americans, he probably thought.

Anyway, we got to bed, slept in, then headed out for our last full day in the greatest city I have visited (sorry Dublin, Toronto, and New York).

New Years Day in London

1502443_10101545219210495_1532383247_oSadly, the most interesting looking gallery, at Southbank Centre, was closed.  We looked around outside, and continued on to see a bit more of the city, and revisit our new favorites.  We caught part of the rainy and windy London New Years Day Parade near Picadilly Circus (lots of American high school marching bands – it felt like home!)

We saw the famous shopping districts, had MORE Cafe Nero of course, and had lunch at St. Martin’s in the Green Cafe in the Crypt.  This was the coolest spot for a lunch, and I had a most English lunch of treacle, tea, and a small meat pie.  We went up to see the church, where the creepiest baby Jesus statue ever was found outside (picture below).  The crypts were really interesting, and I loved the statue of the Pearly King!

Charles and I explored a bit more, saw the horses and military park, and decided to get dinner at the Sherlock Holmes!  They were out of a lot of things that night, including fish n chips, but I did get some delicious chicken liver pate, and Charles had yet another delicious meat pie.  It was a great atmosphere with the mist outside, a chill in the air, and the warm pub food and delicious pint.

Dinner at the Sherlock Holmes

Dinner at the Sherlock Holmes

We continued on to the southbank in the dark, where we saw our last glimpse of Big Ben, the Eye, and the city I grew to love.

The next morning, we got up and caught the tube to Euston, and back to Holyhead to catch our ferry to Dublin.  This was probably our roughest day, which an abhorrent man from the Tube harassing us about GMOs and America (like we don’t know there are problems) and a miscommunication with the cab driver in Ireland who spoke a strange Dublinese language.  We only had one full day in Dublin left, so we went to bed prepared to make the most of it before heading back to the states!

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So long, London!

So long, London!

 

So long, London!

I miss you, still!

The Tower of London: Preservation Conundrums

Better late than never on the blog!  I’ve had a crazy past month with work, traveling to Utah, and so much more.  Back to London:

After a fantastic day traipsing all over London, drooling over David Tennant, and visiting the British Museum, we were out for another day of history and art!

1008431_10101545160293565_11292607_oOne place in London that I absolutely had to see was the Tower of London – it has so much history!  I have to admit, as I walked through, I just touched all of the walls and doors and exposed material possible.  People have done that for a thousand years; don’t you judge me.  I remember walking down one spiral staircase and just running my hand down the wall the whole way down – I felt up all of the history.

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The wibbly wobbly Harry Potter bridge, with St. Paul’s ahead!

We walked along the Thames through the mist, saw the current London Bridge (I lamented the fact that it is totally lame compared to the Elizabethan version), and finally turned the corner to the ticket queues for the Tower.  Along our walk we also got to see St. Paul’s in the day light, walk across the wibbly wobbly Harry Potter bridge, the iconic Tower Bridge, lots of giant boats, barges, and bouys, and even the Globe Theater.

From a museum professional perspective, I do have to say their ticket process is ingenious – the cost of the ticket was, say  £17.99; the ticket person asks if you would like to round up to and even  £20 with the rest as a donation towards preservation.  Duh!  We did, of course, and I’m trying to implement the same among my staff.

my favorite monarch!

my favorite monarch!

Moving on, we walked through the gates, past the yeomen warders, and into the heart of 1,000 years of English history.  You can read about the entire history elsewhere, but historical highlights for me were: William the Conqueror, Richard III (allegedly) murdering the princes, and Anne Boleyn.

It was a bit crowded while we were there, but it didn’t dampen my excitement.  Charles loved the armor and weapons displays, I loved the animal displays and Traitors Gate, and we both loved the cooking demonstration, even though the stag’s head sat there and watched itself being butchered.  We didn’t bother with the crown jewels since the line was long, and I had promised Charles time to visit the Tate Modern across the river.  Another disappointment was the lack of info torture chamber – the yeoman laughed at me when I asked where it was; something about Americans and their love of violence.  The interactives, living history, and touch stations really made a difference, though.  Charles and I both tried our arms at the long bow – we weren’t too shabby at it!

yummy. It really did smell delicious!

yummy. It really did smell delicious!

Reading about the Tower, I was a bit surprised to find out that sections were torn off that didn’t look “old” or “new” enough. I don’t know why I was surprised since this is a common practice, but it did still hurt my heart a bit.  I deal with the same type of things (on a MUCH smaller scale) at my own site, where the historic house has undergone MANY renovations, changes, and owners in its 200 years.  What period do you interpret?  Can you tell all the stories?  What color do you paint the walls – the color from 1200, 1500, or 1850?  Should you tear down a building from 1700 in favor of the view from a 1300 building?  I don’t have the answers, and I don’t know if there is a right answer.  Preservationists – what are your thoughts?

My general demeanor throughout the Tate

My general demeanor throughout the Tate

We left the tower to head to the Tate Modern.  I originally thought I would write a blog about that, but I enjoyed it so little that I don’t even really want to think about it that much.  I saw a Dali, which was ok, and I ate an ok muffin from the cafe.  Charles saw a couple things he liked, but over all, it just wasn’t that great.  As you know if I read this blog, I have feelings about art museums anyway, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I have nothing against art, obviously, since I’m engaged to an artist.  I like a lot of contemporary art and old art; something about modern art just irks me, though, in general.  I like van Gogh?  And now I’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to that place. Fin.

From the Tate, we tried to find a place for dinner, which we hadn’t anticipated as a problem, until we realized it was New Years Eve.  We went to the Sainsbury’s by the flat, watched the premier of Sherlock on the BBC online, and then headed out to Southbank for the fireworks….

london day 2

Our day in review

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The British Museum: Elgin Marbles, Cabinet of Curiosities, and Overwhelming Spaces

British Museum front facade

British Museum front facade

On the best day in London ever, I had a chance to visit the British Museum, which was a dream come true.  For years, I’ve read about the museum, longed to see the Elgin Marbles and Rosetta Stone, and I even used the museum in my dissertation as an example of the old paradigm of museums.

Old paradigm, indeed.

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In the entryway

I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t love huge museums.  I didn’t really like the Met, I really didn’t like the Tate (next blog coming soon), and the Natural History Museum in NYC was just ok for me.  Why is this?  I’m a museum person! I’m still thinking it all out, but I think it might have to do with the exhaustion of vacation, the sheer size of the places, my feeling that I NEED to see everything, and the amount of people there.  Also, they seem like spaces for rich, old, white people most of the time.  It’s kind of like that feeling I get sometimes at big parties, where I’d rather talk to the wait staff.  Maybe I’ve just built them up so big for so many years that they couldn’t possibly live up to the hype in my mind.

Regardless, the British Museum was still impressive, and again, the Day of the Feels continued.

We walked up Drury Lane to Museum Lane, and rounded the corner to find the great British Museum.  I got really excited about what was going to come next – I mean, this is THE place!  Home of the Rosetta Stone, countless Egyptian and Middle Eastern artifacts, and bane of every museum professionals’ ethical and reasoning mind powers – the Elgin Marbles.  I had a bit of the vapors as we went in, saw the entrance, and walked through some of the Egyptian rooms – but the real feels didn’t come until…

EMOTIONS!

EMOTIONS!

We got to the room filled with the Elgin Marbles.  They were huge, and beautiful, and amazing… and I was so sad that here they were in the middle of London, instead of in Greece still on the Parthenon.  Of course, there are many pros and cons to this situation, which is why its a perfect Museums Studies class discussion.  But the current ethnic Greeks aren’t the same ones who are there now – but the Turks sold them to that British guy – but otherwise they would be destroyed – but but but – I really can’t decide what is right or wrong in this case.  All of that aside, they were astounding to see.

Elgin Marbles!

Elgin Marbles!

Charles dragged me along, I saw the Rosetta Stone and felt/got felt by a ton of people trying to do the same thing, and the rest of the museum is kind of a blur.  I remember seeing some goat mosaics, and the large library-esque room.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

The British Museum also seemed a bit, like most huge museums, to be a Cabinet of Curiosities gone wild.  There is a hodge-podge of  anything and everything there.  Some of it was thrilling to see, and some of it seemed to be a testament to colonial conquests.

We saw all the things and stuff,  as you can see in the pictures below, but by the time we got to the more modern exhibit of watches and timepieces, I grabbed a small stool and sat in a hall while Charles explored some more.

Final thoughts – I am an expert spotter of goats, both in the wild, and especially in museums.

Also, I can’t decide if I have memory fatigue from that day because of the sheer size of the collection and space, or if it was because of the reasons raised in this fantastic article on the Huffington Post called “Why Taking Photos At Museums Is Hindering Your Memory. “When people rely on technology to remember for them — counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves — it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences,” Henkel explains in a description of the study.”

It was nice to get back into the fresh air as we walked on to the Richard II performance.  I’m still processing the whole visit to the British Museum, but I wouldn’t say I DIDN’T like it.  It was just a little overwhelming.  I also can’t say I’d particularly want to go back to it, either.

Hopefully someday, I’ll think some more about the visit and update this blog with more thoughts and feels…

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London: A Walk Through History and Modernity

We woke up the next morning, December 30, after a pleasant night full of chicken curry and great sleep, ready to take on the streets of London.

LondonWe started the day with Cafe Nero (thanks for the suggestion, Kelsey!) hot chocolate and espresso.  Cafe Nero quickly became a twice-daily part of our time in London.  There was one right across the street from the flat, and the public restrooms in the cafes throughout the city were an added bonus.  We also stopped by a little bookstore to buy a pocket map of the city.  Luckily, I have an impeccable sense of direction, AND I was a geography minor, so we didn’t even come close be being lost (not that we could have been, since we were just wandering!).

Having the feelings

Having the feelings

The day started out perfectly misty and damp, just how London should be.  We crossed the mighty (brown) Thames to the Embankment where we saw a beautiful World War II memorial, a great view of the Eye, and Parliament and Big Ben.  This is a great intersection of the modern and historical sides of London.  The Thames has been the center of life in London from the time of Henry VIII,  William the Conqueror, and even earlier.  The Millennium Wheel, or London Eye, is a once controversial sign of modern London.  The timelessness (ha!) of Big Ben is iconic, and the history made in and around Parliament is also impressive.  Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with all the feelings about history.

An accurate depiction of me outside Westminster Abbey. Thanks, Sherlock.

By the time we turned the corner and saw Westminster Abbey, I was having even more feelings. Let’s just take a second here to recount just a few of the things that have happened here.

  • Construction on the present church began in 1245 by Henry III (he’s also buried there)
  • Before that, William the Conqueror and his successors were coronated on the same site
  • Survives the Tudor era and all the there and back again of Catholic/Protestant rule
  • Weddings: Henry I of England to Matilda of Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II to Phillip, and Will and Kate of course!
  • People buried there: kings and queens (excluding 2 of my favs: Henry VIII and Richard II),   Geoffrey Chaucer Isaac Newton, and  Charles Darwin
Charles and the Arch

Charles and the Arch

We didn’t pay the fee to go in, but I did fangirl appropriately outside, and buy a tiny gargoyle and some tea in the giftshop.

Next, we decided to go ahead and see Buckingham Palace and see where the day took us from there.  The weather cleared up, and the sun even showed itself!  We walked through the park, saw some geese, then turned the corner to the iconic palace.  I didn’t have as many feelings here, but I did try to keep an eye out for the queen!  We walked along the royal apartments, took a picture with the changing guards, saw Charles’ favorite spot up to this point, Admiralty Arch, and then continued on to Trafalgar Square.

and we'll never be royals.. that kinda lux just ain't for us.

and we’ll never be royals.. that kinda lux just ain’t for us.

In Trafalgar, we stopped at yet another Cafe Nero, saw the lions and Napoleon, and a big blue chicken.  Since we were already out and about, we made the quickest of stop at a McDonalds (reminiscent of our first morning in Dublin) for a cheeseburger on the go – no stopping for real food on this day of site-seeing! At this point, we figured why not go on and go all out – we walked up Drury Lane (of muffin Man fame!) to the British museum (where I again had all the feels – but that’s a topic for another blog, coming next week!). – Spoiler alert – I got emotional about the Elgin Marbles.

From the British Museum, we walked on to the Barbican Centre for one of the many highlights of the trip: David Tennant, the 10th Doctor himself, starring in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of Richard II.  Seriously – what a day of emotions, and I am not an emotional person (it’s the Britishness I inherited – stiff upper lip!). I mentioned in a recent blog that he is my dream guest blogger – still waiting on that call, Davy!  The performance was great, we loved it, then we waited out by the back stage door for him to emerge in all of his hair-extension-ponytailed glory.  I was so close, that had I not been so polite, I could have touched him.  The ponytail served as a great repellent.

Instead of a tackle or full contact hug, I just did a weak little wave.  Safe, but lame.

Instead of a tackle or full contact hug, I just did a weak little wave. Safe, but lame.

Walking on air, we went over to the Jugged Hare for the best dinner of all time.  Charles had the slow roasted rump of a Hertfordshire Fallow Deer, and I had a meat pie.  I don’t think this one was cooked by Mrs. Mooney or Mrs. Lovett, but it was certainly deserving of a song of how great it was.  The deer rump was the most delicious piece of meat I have ever tasted.

We started back to the flat around midnight, and passed Saint Paul’s Cathedral along the way.  This was one of the (if not THE) most impressive sights we saw on the trip – and we saw an awful lot of stuff. We had seen it in the distance earlier in the day, and it is an iconic part of the London skyline.  Seeing it in person, bigger than life, was something else.  None of the pictures can do it justice.

London-0630

St. Paul’s at Night

We continued along the Thames, which was the only time I was slightly uncomfortable in London – along the river, at midnight, under bridges.  Maybe we should have taken a different route.  Things were a wee bit confusing as the city was preparing to set up for the fireworks on New Years Eve.  Regardless, we made it back to the flat and passed out from a day full of excitement.

To sum it up, looking back on the day’s events, this was possibly one of the very best days of my life (surpassed by the day before when I got engaged in northern Ireland and that time I graduated with a PhD).

Next time:

  • Actually go in Westminster Abbey
  • Climb to the top of St. Paul’s
  • Ride the London Eye
  • Museum of London
  • Go back to the Jugged Hare
london day 1

Day 1 in London

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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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