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Ireland’s Troubles

August 22nd, 2010

“Where are you staying?” the customs woman harshly demanded. I pulled out my iPhone and looked up the address of the youth hostel I had booked for my few days in Dublin; she fastidiously wrote the address down on her notepad.

“How long do you intend to spend in Ireland? When are you leaving? Why don’t you have a return ticket? Who are you traveling with? How much money do you have in your bank account?” Her severely toned questions were like gunshots – unforgiving explosions fired back to back with hardly any pauses for my answers. My responses seemed to satisfy her, because she flipped to a blank page in my passport, stamped it, and sent me on my way. Welcome to Ireland!

a small waterfall - a hike taken in Glendalough (outside of Dublin)

I was practically shaking after that interrogation, however. Never before have I experienced such treatment at customs! Thankfully it was the worst treatment I received in my time in Ireland; the Irish proved themselves to be just lovely, generous, kind people; but let me not get ahead of myself.

I had a few days in Dublin by myself before my travel partner, Jennifer Wellins (an old colleague from my banking job in San Francisco), was to arrive. I spent the days walking around Dublin, imbibing mass amounts of Guinness, and just generally chillin’ out. Jen wanted to take holiday and decided to meet me in Ireland and travel around with me for two weeks. She planned everything – we were to spend some time in the north and then rent a car and drive around the south – which was a relief because I was sick of planning! I looked forward to handing the reigns over to someone else and just sitting back and enjoying the ride.

A girl friend I’d met in Amsterdam also happened to be in Dublin the same time I was, so we met up a few times for dinner, Guinness and live music. The pubs in Temple Bar all had live music every night; all of which was hit or miss, but it was great fun to see the local talent.

Jen arrived on 3 August and we spent two days in Dublin exploring and taking day trips hiking and such. That Friday, we took the train up to Belfast for a few days. When we arrived in Belfast I immediately noticed some differences – the tension in the air was almost palpable and they didn’t use Euros, they used Pounds. This was surprising because I wasn’t previously aware that Northern Ireland was part of the UK. Our first night there we went to a Food & Music Festival in a huge park near our hostel, which was lovely; lots of delicious cuisines and great live music.

The next day, we took a black taxi tour, which was basically a political tour to learn more about the recent civil unrest of Belfast and Northern Ireland. The taxi tour was quite informative and rather shocking for me. I had no idea of The Troubles Northern Ireland had been going through! (For more information and history, check out the Wikipedia article on the topic, linked.) Our taxi driver was on the Catholic side (the original Irish) and hearing his perspective was both insightful and heart breaking. Hearing about the violence and civil unrest that people had to live through, seeing all of the murals on the sides of buildings… it was all very touching.

political murials seen during the taxi tour in Belfast (Northern Ireland)

After our taxi tour, we took a bus up to Derry and did another political type of tour there in the walled city. This tour offered a different view of the civil unrest and violence. The man leading the tour was probably my age, so he’d grown up with all of the violence around him and I was very interested in hearing his stories. So fascinating! He told of tankers full of English soldiers rolling down the streets, stopping Irish people on the streets just to bother them. If someone was stopped, Irish people would pour out of their houses to stand in silent solidarity, daring the soldiers to DO something. It was sobering to hear the stories, see the murals and walk along the streets where so recently violence and death happened.

Our last day in Northern Ireland was spent on an all day tour of the Giants Causeway. We drove all around the coast and saw some gorgeous scenery. It was lovely! The countryside in the north was absolutely stunning and breathtaking but the recent political unrest definitely left sort of a negative energy hanging around… so that was sad and sobering.

We left Northern Ireland and took the bus back down to Dublin to spend one night there before picking up our rental car and road tripping the Republic of Ireland for a week!

One Response to “Ireland’s Troubles”

  1. Jennifer says:

    The tours of the Murals on Falls road will forever stay with me. The passion and personal history our taxi driver shared with us affected me for a few days after our tour. I felt like we saw a bit of raw history up front and personal … remember holding those rubber bullets???

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