Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ireland - Part 1

Village of Cong in Connemara area
I've written our Irish road-trip in three parts. Next week and the week after I will continue the series.

You hang out from the top of Blarney castle to kiss the stone
We've seen a fair amount of England and Scotland. And a bit of Wales. But we hadn't been to Ireland. Ireland is right next door to Great Britain but somehow, we just never got there. First, we considered doing a canal boat holiday but decided against it as the canalised area is small and wouldn't allow us to see much of Ireland. On advice from a few people we chose to do a driving trip around Ireland. Turns out that's what most people do. It was important for us to see both Northern Ireland and
The Republic of Ireland.

Loyalist area Derry
Northern Ireland - is part of Great Britain, has pound sterling (£) as currency, they fly the Union Jack and are subject the all the protocol that eminates from the United Kingdom.

The Republic of Ireland - is a member of the European Union, their money is the Euro (€), their flag is the tricolour and they have their own goverment, parliament and rules.

Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland are two different countries. I did not know that and when you travel from north to south there are no border posts.

Aftermath of a car bomb
We did this trip in 2010 and it was painfully obvious Ireland was having a financial melt down. The owners of the guest houses we stayed in were furious with their finance minister and government for getting the Irish people into such a mess. The newspapers were lampooning Irish politicians. We heard all about the boom era when the - Celtic Tiger - loomed large. On our road trip we saw big fancy country houses, the sort you see in American soap operas - except they were abandoned. Clearly people had over extended themselves and were unable to continue with their lavish lifstyles.

Loyalist wall mural Derry
And -'The Troubles' although mostly over - are not forgotten. We couldn't help but notice buildings that had been ravaged by bomb blasts and boarded up. They stood in sharp contrast right next to buildings that had been re-built and restored. This was more evident in Belfast and Derry (Londonderry).

The reason Derry (Londonderry) has two names is a hangover from Loyalists (Northern Ireland) who are pro Britain and call it Londonderry and the Republicans (The Republic of Ireland) who are pro independance and call it Derry.

We saw kerbstones painted red, white and blue in Loyalist communities. And just two blocks away kerbstones were painted orange, green and white in Republican neighbourhoods. A car bomb exploded outside a furniture shop in Derry while we were there, but the damage was contained. And to be fair, these incidents are rare today. I think the reason the tensions don't erupt as much anymore is testament to the will of the Irish people. They really want to move on from their difficult past.


Celtic crosses on Aran Island
I was fascinated by the history of the Irish people and found the similarities between the displaced people of Ireland not unsimilar to what happened in my home country South Africa. The Loyalists, mostly Catholics, are the indigenous people of Ireland. They were displaced by the Republicans, mostly Protestants, who were British settlers.


Medieval crockery for banquet at Bunratty Castle
We learned that a million Irish people died of starvation in the - Great -Famine - while food was being exported across to Britain. Horrific. Over a million Irish people emigrated from Ireland to avoid certain death and many Americans have strong links to Ireland.

We encountered lots of Americans at the breakfast tables in the guesthouses. On our night out at Bunratty Castle we met people from just about every American state. Americans come over to explore their roots and do much what we did, a mad dash across Ireland. Nearly every president of the USA has Irish ancestry. America played a part in the liberation of Ireland from Britain. Read more about Irish American presidents here


Giants Causeway in Antrim
In - Part 2 - I chat about people, best time to visit, planning a road trip, Belfast and Derry and in - Part 3  - t talk about what to do inDublin, Galway, Aran Islands, Kerry, Cork and mention the Druids.

To see other holidays we have taken you can - click here - to go to the Travel Archive Page.