This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.
Breakfast at the hotel was wonderful. Fried eggs with runny yolks, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, and baked beans. Plus porridge with a little whiskey in it! I obeyed the signs direction to “Try some Bushmills Irish Whiskey with your porridge.” With cream, a little honey, and a generous splash of whiskey, porridge was delicious! Something to try at home.
The day began with a bus tour of Belfast.
Along the way, we saw Divis Tower, the only remaining building of a block of flats that was occupied by the British army during The Troubles due to it’s siteline over the city (for more information about what Belfast was like during The Troubles – and the way that history continues to be felt today – check out this incredible long read in The New Yorker).
We also saw the peace wall on Divis Road (so named because its obstructing presence kept the peace between neighborhoods), which was full of murals, and reminded me a bit of the East Side Gallery in Berlin.
The driving tour eventually brought us out to the Titanic Museum (the Titanic was built in Belfast).
It was one of the best-designed museums I have seen in a very long time. It was similar to the Guggenheim in New York in that the architecture of the museum propelled you through the exhibits in order. The exhibits themselves were very hands-on, and designed to appeal to learners of all types – there were text panels, images, dioramas, video, objects, interactive touchscreens, quizzes, audio recordings – and even a Disney-style ride that took you through the experience of working in a Belfast shipyard (complete with heat from the furnaces).
The museum began with the greater context of the history of Belfast and the shipping industry, and then moved through the construction and furnishing of the Titanic, the lives of the passengers, their daily routines, and then finally to the sinking of the ship and its aftermath – the collection of the bodies, the experiences of the survivors, and finally depictions of the tragedy in popular culture and the search for the wreck itself.
After the Titanic Experience, we left Belfast for our next destination – the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. The views (and the wind!) were incredible.
From there, we hopped back on the bus and drove out to Giant’s Causeway, which was fascinating from both a geological and mythological perspective. The unusual hexagonal flat stones of the Causeway were formed when hot lava shot up from the bottom of the sea and cooled incredibly quickly, before the hexagonal columns had a chance to melt and lose their shape.
More interesting to me was the story that rose up to account for the geological oddity. The area is called Giant’s Causeway because, according to legend, it was once a bridge all the way from Ireland to Scotland. A Scottish giant, Benandonner, once used this bridge to walk over to Ireland, with the intention to fight the Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool). Knowing that he would not be able to defeat Benandonner in physical combat, Fionn asks his wife Oona for help. She advised him to dress as a baby and sit in a cradle. Then, when Benandonner arrives, Oona tells him that Fionn is out but will be back shortly. Eyeing the “baby” of considerable size before him, Benandonner reconsiders his ambition to fight the father, so he high-tailed it back across the causeway, breaking it up behind him so that Fionn couldn’t follow.
After spending some time exploring the beautiful, fascinating basalt formations and enjoying the sunny, breezy weather, we reluctantly headed back to the bus for the ride to our next stop, Derry.
On the way, we passed through the village of Bushmills, where Bushmills whiskey is distilled. Apparently, the word “whiskey” comes from the Irish words uisce beatha (“iska-bah”) meaning “water of life” – just like eau de vie or aqua vitae. In fact, it’s where the concept originally came from! Once Christianity – and with it, Latin – reached Ireland, the term was translated into the Latin, which then evolved into Italian, French, and so on.
Once in Derry, we checked into the hotel, ate dinner, and headed out into the town for our first evening out. Cigi and I spent the evening pub-hopping and talking to everyone we could. One of the most interesting conversations of the evening was with a bouncer outside of one of the pubs. When he asked where I was from and I said the US, he seemed surprised. “But you sound English!” he said. “No offense meant.” I was far from being offended by not being immediately perceived as American, but it was a fascinating cultural moment to understand that merely calling someone English on the Catholic (and therefore Republican) side of Derry could be an insult.
After that, Cigi and I wandered further afield to see what else was out there. Eventually, our wanderings took us deep into the Bogside (the neighborhood in Derry where Bloody Sunday occurred), and murals depicting scenes from The Troubles stared down at us.
It was a very different experience coming across them without context, in the middle of the night, than it was seeing them during the day as part of a tour group, as we would the next morning.