A BEAUTIFUL DRIVE UP TO NORTHERN IRELAND
Sunday, September 8th 2013
So before I begin this entry let me say a couple things about Northern Ireland before I get into the whole thing. First, “The Troubles” are long over and the province has enjoyed peace for quite some time. Second I was advised not to skip Northern Ireland as it is every bit as beautiful as the rest of Ireland and the people are just as great – both are absolutely true (minus one miserable, surly asshole I will mention later). Finally, despite the divisions in the society due to the past, Northern Ireland is a wonderful place and we can’t wait to go back – there’s so much we didn’t get so see, even a month there wouldn’t be enough… Northern Ireland truly is not to be missed!
As we awoke in Dublin we packed up, said goodbye to Martin and headed to the rental car. Dublin was great but we were anxious to see more of rural Ireland, the cities and small villages of postcards and what not. Malahide Castle was on our way and we heard they had quite a large restaurant, so we skipped breakfast and headed straight there… I was not disappointed, yes that is chocolate cake I had with my Irish breakfast, Robert is neither impressed or surprised by my choices – I regret nothing and take the look on his face as a personal victory.
Malahide Castle is much more “modern” than a lot of what we were going to see. While it was started in the 12th century, it doesn’t feel or look like a medieval castle, more like an 18th or 19th century family home. The castle was home to the Talbot family from 12th century up to 1975 when the last owner, Rose Talbot, sold the castle and grounds to the Irish government. Check out more about Malahide Castle and the gardens here: www.malahidecastleandgardens.ie.
This is an example of where I just put my camera away and enjoyed the tour – we did the guided tour through the castle and then walked the grounds ourselves. It was interesting and beautiful, but as I would soon learn some of this stuff looks the same after a while LOL. Here are some pics of Malahide I snagged from Google:
Malahide Castle interior
Malahide Castle gardens and grounds
And here are the few I took:
One thing we discovered very quickly, Ireland is full of very old ruins of various types – burial grounds, churches, castles, monasteries, abbeys, homes, etc., some dating back more than 10,000 years! So we regularly would see a sign pointing to some type of historical site, kind of like a “choose your own adventure” book from my youth, we could either go there and see what’s what or keep moving. As the trip went on we were less and less likely to jump when we saw these signs as we’d seen so many ruins, but at this point everything was new and exciting, so we were game. This is Mellifont Abbey, Ireland’s first Cistercian abbey. It was founded in the 12th century and dissolved by the charming Henry VIII as he wreaked havoc throughout the Ireland, as so many English kings, lords, earls, etc. felt the need to do – a lovely lot were they all.
We traveled on heading north and decided to stop in the border town of Dundalk for some lunch before crossing into Northern Ireland. Dundalk, Ireland has a great Chinese restaurant, make a mental note. I am in no way religious but there is no denying Ireland has so much beautiful art and architecture in its churches. We often stopped when something caught our eye, as these two did.
First is the Redemptorist monastery that also functions as a parish church, very nice – this was to be the first of many churches we’d stop in to see and photograph.
Second is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, beautiful inside, quite imposing on the outside. Clearly we got in at the right time of day given how the light was working for our photographs!
Having eaten and bounced around Dundalk a bit, we were ready to go and get into Northern Ireland. In the post-Troubles world, crossing the border was about as big a deal as going from state to state in the US, just a sign to let you know. Ireland and Northern Ireland (still officially a part of the UK, along with Scotland, Wales and of course England) have an open border policy as they’re both members of the EU (as of the time I wrote this) and the Republic of Ireland has worked hard to promote the Northern Ireland peace process – actually amending the Irish constitution to drop the territorial claim on Northern Ireland in favor of the principle of consent as laid down in the Good Friday Agreement as part of the peace process. All parties agreed that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, whether remaining part of the UK or joining the Republic of Ireland, is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic to decide by majority vote… no small matter given the past history of partition on the island.
One thing we really like in Northern Ireland is the road signs that would show “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”… after we headed back into the south, we wished the Republic of Ireland did this. You’ll see these designated in Northern Ireland, Wales and England, but for some reason not Scotland (according to my Google search), not sure why Scotland is left out. This is the very first one we saw after crossing the border, we were near Newry, the camera on my Samsung Note II in no way does justice to how breathtaking this lookout point was. We got lost on the way there as we had to leave the main road. As we wandered around looking for it we finally pulled into someone’s drive to ask for help. This was our first test of Northern Ireland hospitality and we weren’t disappointed. A very friend man who was clearly used to lost tourists looking to him for guidance pointed us in the right direction. Here we found what looked to be some ancient stone configuration – hopefully I didn’t just prove myself an idiot by calling a dairy farmer’s rocks an “ancient stone configuration,” but they certainly looked like some of the things we’d seen marked as historical so far.
We looked over the valley, enjoyed the view, talked to the cows and stayed while just taking in the lush, green majesty before us.
Northern Ireland was shaping up to be a beautiful and memorable place! Dusk was falling and we decided to get to Belfast, we had a while to go and wouldn’t make it in until dark, along the way we just enjoyed the scenery. We rolled into the city while it was dark and raining, struggled to get to the hotel with the navigation system but we eventually checked into the Days Hotel (Days Inn here in the US, though it’s now a Holiday Inn in Belfast). A super fun surprise awaited us the next morning.
Up next – OUR FIRST DAY IN BELFAST