War, Drones & Beer: Ireland
I must admit I had downplayed Northern Ireland's guerrilla warfare before spending a few days in Belfast this month. Therefore I would like to first use this post to debrief on what the region is like, after years of ugly, religious turbulence between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the forces of the United Kingdom (Britain). In addition you'll find a list of tips for Dublin and a cross country road trip, as well as my first drone video at the Giant's Causeway.
Upon our arrival in Belfast, my family and I took a traditional "Black-Cab" Tour. The driver referred to the infamous rough times as "the troubles", in his thick accent from the front seat. This conflict has been going on since 1170, when England was first involved in trying to gain power, to which they did successfully in the 1300s. But the serious rebellion on both sides began in the 1600s, and has lasted up until just 20 years ago. In 1921 there was a treaty signed releasing the free state of Ireland from 23 southern counties, except 3 up in Ulster, or shall we say "the battleground" which we explored through with this funny gentleman. We drove with him around Belfast for two hours, listening to him describing shootings in history at each block we paused at. He explained the murders of gang leaders at each mural we observed.
As our tour ended, we offered to grab a beer with him - although he admitted that if he walked into a pub on this "side of town", some old patriotic geezer would ask him what business he had over here, so close to the city's tall gates closing for safety. Despite this war going on for so many years before us, I realized he STILL could not walk into a pub - order a pint - and walk out without getting some type of malicious commentary in his enemy neighborhood. On April 10th of 1998, the sworn enemies of both sides successfully signed the Good Friday Agreement, which had overwhelmingly positive feedback from the people in desperate hopes of stopping the violence that had tortured families for decades. I asked our driver if he would ever pretend (to be on the side which I will not mention to remain unbiased*) to avoid conflict. His response was that he wouldn't put himself into a situation, such as wearing a club jersey to depict which team he even supported. Most of his friends he grew up with had wound up in jail for years, or dead.
Now for any of you thinking the best Irish fighter out there is Connor McGregor, I doubt it. I'd say there are a couple sitting in a jail cell right now. In fact, my family and I visited one of the cemeteries in Belfast to respect to our ancestors on my Mother's side. We walked past a women's resistance memorial, and my mother jokingly said, "Alex this is where you would be if you lived here in the 90's". And she was probably right. With the sliver of Irish I have in my mut-mix, I'm sure that's where a bit of my fighter comes from. Speaking of ancestry, I am currently awaiting my for my DNA results from company 23AndMe, which tells you where in the world your DNA strands came from back to 500 years. Check out their website if you're interested in in finding out where the fighter in you comes from too!
I had never taken a tour through a war zone, and it is such a surreal feeling. If traveling to Northern Ireland, I would definitely recommend a black cab tour (around thirty five euro an hour) for history buffs. Perhaps one hundred years from now, our grandkids will be able to take cab tours through Aleppo, or Gaza? The hands down best way to see this region is by renting a car, but a tip is don't let them know you will be crossing the border, because some companies will make you change cars and pay extra money. And since most people who visit Northern Ireland come in through Dublin first, here are a few tips to do while in Ireland's capital:
- You must indulge in famous fish and chips from Leo Burdocks! Additionally, try typical mashed potatoes or "champ", a local twist mixed with diced green onions.
- Skip the touristy Guinness tour and go for the local beer called Harps, found in any pub.
- For accommodations, there are NO AirBnbs and Hotels are extremely expensive in this city, so research way in advance. For a luxurious stay, check out the Marriott Shelbourne Hotel. For a backpacker budget, there are plenty of hostels linked here.
- Have a picnic in Saint Stephen's Green Park
- Check out Christchurch cathedral to catch local musicians in a punk rock scene
Above is footage of The Giant's Causeway in Antrim, an absolute MUST SEE (comparable to the cliffs of Moher). The park will make you pay for parking, or you can park and walk from a small village about 10 minutes away from the entrance. Sneak through the grey building under the bridge, with straight access to the trail taking you to the majestic seaside. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site with about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption that is believed to have taken place 60 million years ago. Although a comical legend says a prissy Giant didn't like getting his feet wet while crossing over to Scotland, so he made the site with "stepping stones".
Traveling to Ireland or Northern Ireland and have more questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!