Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Voyage of the Vikings Cruise - Cruise Day 23 - Belfast, Northern Ireland

Today we are in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Unlike Ireland, which is an independent country, Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom.  The currency in Ireland is the Euro while Northern Ireland’s currency is the British Pound.

We sailed into the Belfast Harbor around 7:00 and were docked before 8:00.  Today we had a private tour booked for 9:00.  Val found this tour company several months ago and it had very good reviews on Trip Advisor so we booked it.  It is an all day tour with just Val and I so we can pick our own itinerary.  We wanted to see the Northern Ireland countryside, but also wanted to spend a little time in Belfast and learn and see more about “The Troubles” as they call the civil war that started in the late 1960's and lasted for more than 30 years.  There were 3,254 people killed and over 50,000 injured.  Although the worst of the violence has ended, there is still tension between the factions.

We got off the ship just before 9:00 and our driver was waiting for us on the dock.  The guide we had wanted had been called away and not available so we had another guide named Hugh who turned out to be just fine.  The mode of transportation was an old British “Black Taxi”, but painted a bright green.  We discussed with him what we wanted to do and were soon on the road.  We decided to save Belfast for last so we headed north along the coast.
Our driver was very knowledgeable of the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland and also went into great detail on “The Troubles”.   Northern Ireland is a country very much divided by religion, not for religious reasons, but political ones.   A quote from Wikipedia explains it as: "The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the discrimination against the Irish nationalist minority by the dominant unionist majority.".  Towns are typically either Catholic (Irish nationalist) or Protestant (unionist) and even the bigger cities are divided into Protestant and Catholic districts.  They are marked by flags which allow instant recognition of which district you are in.  It is an extremely complex situation and really can probably only be understood by those that have lived through it and with it today.

Once again, I think it is much better to let pictures do the talking than a narration from me (even if I could remember the names of everywhere we visited).  Unfortunately we had gray overcast skies most of the day so not ideal lighting for photography, but you take what you get and make the best of it.

Our first stop was Carrickfergus Castle which was a Norman castle built in 1177.

This was a gate house of an old estate, but is now someone's home.

St. Patrick's Church in the village of Glenarm.  It was built in 1769.

Behind the wall on the right is Glenarm Castle.

Unfortunately for us the castle was closed, but we did get to walk around in the beautiful Glenarm Castle Walled Garden.

Val and Hugh beside our ride for the day.

We have never watched the "Game of Thrones", but Val had heard there was a place in Northern Ireland that was an iconic part of the show, called the "dark hedges".  It was a lane with overhanging tree boughs that formed a tunnel so before we returned to Belfast we asked Hugh if we could go there.  We drove through a very rural area, but when we reached the spot I was shocked to see people everywhere.  It was impossible to even take a picture without people or cars in it.  I guess the TV show has made it a tourist stop.

As planned, we finished our tour in Belfast, but we had less time than hoped and we didn’t have much time to get back to the ship.  Hugh drove us around and showed us the Peace Wall and some of the murals depicting “The Troubles” and told us about things that had happened in the various neighborhoods we drove through.  It was heartbreaking to hear of the violence and brutality that went on and the tension that still exists today.

There were many murals depicting people who were leaders of the
different factions and  had died during "The Troubles".

This is the Peace Wall.  Not a great picture as it doesn't convey the length of it or the elaborate graffiti that covers it.  It acts as a buffer between the Protestant and Catholic areas of the city.  We asked our guide what would happen if it were taken down and he said it would probably lead to an eventual escalation of violence again.  It was very sobering to see.
We made it back to the ship just before the all aboard and were grateful to get back to our room to rest.  The last three days have been very busy for us and we are tired.  After a short rest, it was time for trivia, dinner and the casino.    Tomorrow is the first of two sea days.  The captain said the seas may be quite rough tonight so we’ll see what happens with that.

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