Sunday, August 03, 2003

The craic in Ireland is mighty!

I'm in Dublin today, just hanging out-getting my laundry done, emailing, reading, etc. I have spent the last 6 days on a tour of the north of Ireland with Paddywaggon.

The day we headed up to Belfast, we had some really Irish weather-everyone dreaded that the whole week might end up being rainy and horrible, but we've had remarkably good weather since. We passed by Slane Castle (where they hold huge rock concerts), saw St. Oliver Plunkett's preserved head, and entered into Northern Ireland. Being a bit of a travelling ditz, I had totally forgotten that I would need pounds on the trip, and had to make a quick visit to an ATM as all I had was euros.

You could tell we had left the republic-British army bases, protestant neighborhoods with the curbs painted red, white and blue, lots of protestant Ulster flags (looks like the English St George flag but with a red hand in the centre of the cross). Belfast is a nice city-we went to the main shopping street for lunch and then headed out to the Ulster museum. We passed one of the queen's uni buildings-gorgeous!- that took me back, as it was one of my choices for doing my exchange.

That evening we started out at the pub next to our hostel. It had a huge cage on the door and you had to buzz for entrance. Our guide told us the next day that it was where ex-IRA guys hang out (some of them released from prison as part of the Good Friday Agreement) and the cage is because of an attack when protestant gunmen burst in and killed seven people. As you may guess, the hostel was located in a Catholic area, and once the tour buses were even set on fire over night while they sat in front of the hostel. However, it was a very nice little pub!!! Then we moved along to the Crown. This is quite a well known pub in Belfast as it is elaborately decorated. The crown itself is a mosaic on the ground in front of the door, so that everyone walks over the British crown while entering. Lots of Guinesses and Baby Guinesses consumed, while we sat in a snug.

The next morning we had a black cab tour of the protestant and catholic neighborhoods to see all the murals. I've got tons of photos and they are really fascinating-the historical aspect of the first three days of the tour was fantastic. Lots of murals commemorating the hunger strikers, Oliver Cromwell, various terrorist groups. Heading out of Dublin, we walked across the rope bridge at Carrick-Fergus and then saw the Giant's Causeway-lots of the faerie stories/myths here in Ireland mirror those of Scotland, so some of these characters must have racked up lots of frequent flier miles!

Again in the evening we hit the pub in Derry, this time participating in the 1st ever Paddywaggon Bar Olympics. It involved asking a series of questions of complete strangers-like the type of underwear worn by the bar staff or using cheesy pickup lines on guys. Kate won (I got to judge having been involved in making up the game). It was an absolute laugh. Nothing like cheap cocktail pitcher to make for an interesting evening.

We did a tour of Derry's walls and again of the protestant and catholic neighborhoods. Derry was the location of the Bloody Sunday incident and there were murals commemorating it. There were several interesting things-a statue of two men reaching across to each other and not quite touching, symbolizing the work towards peace, and designed to meet up once the people of Derry feel that peace has arrived. There was also a mural of a 14 year old girl (killed by British army snipers while in her school uniform when they claimed they thought she was a bomber) with a butterfly in the corner-again the butterfly represents peace and is unfinished, waiting for peace to come.

Up until then our driver was big Joe and we switched over for the next three days to Conner. Conner was a laugh, and every second word out of his mouth was fuckin'. So if I swear like a trooper on my return, I blame it all on his bad influence ;) There were three Canadians on the trip, and he christened us a canary of Canadians. We wandered around donegal in the bus, stopping at stone circles and ancient forts. Saw the highest sea cliffs in Europe-any fans of the Princess Bride film, they were where the cliffs of insanity bit was filmed. We were back in Derry that night, and back in the pub-this time to hear some Irish folk music. Had an incident with a drunk guy who kept asking us all if we were catholic or protestant and got quite nasty.

Leaving Northern Ireland behind, we headed back into the republic. Visited Yeats' grave and then headed up a big hill to see Queen Mary's tomb. Having tired out our leg muscles, we went and had seaweed baths. It was very relaxing-first you steam for 10 minutes (opens the pores) and then hop in a very hot bath filled with seaweed, which detoxes you. Our evening pub experience that day was in Westport in a famous little pub called Matt Malone's. The folk music was great-especially a wee old man who sang unaccompanied. He sang a version of the Wild Rover about never again being a drunk driver-pure genius. Got locked into a pub after closing for a bit, enjoying the craic.

Our attempt to climb Croagh Patrick the next day was stymied by the horrible weather-sadly, as I only went up part of the way I am not going straight to heaven (apparently if you climb it you can skip purgatory). Then we headed through Connemara, one of the worst hit areas during the potato famine where the population levels have never recovered. The scenery was very Scottish-hills and glens, waterfalls, and even a pub with people speaking Irish Gaelic. That evening we arrived in a very busy Galway, as the races are on! We had intended to do a pub crawl, but ended up staying at the King's Head because it was far too busy to move. However, as our tour was made up of two guys and the rest girls, most of the girls were pleased to see that the King's Head had far more guys than girls, and they were all very good looking. An enjoyable evening of talent spotting.

Our last day driving back to Dublin had us stopping at Larry's Old Time Traditional Village. Larry is a retired guy who has created a whole mini village-it's hysterical. So is Larry-he proposed to one girl on our tour-apparently his big draw is that he comes with a bit of property ;) The pictures are no doubt going to be a laugh! It sort of reminded me of my grandpa's model train set, but on a bigger and nuttier scale. We also saw a monastery with some beautiful Celtic crosses and a castle once belonging to the Boelyn family. Our trip ended with a trip to a pub in Temple Bar area of Dublin to see some more folk music.

Have any of you guys heard of Mundy? Great Irish band-they do a song called July.

I head down to the south of Ireland tomorrow-it seems more popular/touristy than the north and apparently the tour is quite a party.

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