I had plans to continue to post about my continuing travels daily but, well, then we got to the city and our rhythm changed. No longer were we with friends in the sleepy countryside where I would draw up some thoughts before bed and complete them in the morning. Now, we were on “city time”. So, here’s some thoughts about these two cities separated by international border, history, culture, and sense of self. Yet, they both remain very much Irish.
Belfast is heavy. The weight of the city’s more recent history (recent in these terms means decades) permeates the nooks and crannies. One thing I failed to mention in previous posts was that in driving through the small towns in the North, one would frequently come across a town where every light and flag pole was draped in British and Council flags. Towns that were very clearly loyalist. Towns for whom The Troubles, as the decades long years of clashes between British/Loyalist forces and the IRA are called, have not passed. You could tell the Catholic towns. There were no flags. They were unassuming. As if trying to hide their true identity. Because they were. It was as if the fight were not largely settled. That’s because it never has been and no where was this more stark than in Belfast. To be in Belfast is to be in constant awareness that “peace” is a very shaky and delicate idea. That it is still an idea that in practice is only supported by walls and barriers between the sides that close at night. Where, if not for the walls the bricks and bombs would continue after the politicians turned off the lights. Where Banksy shows up and paints his million dollar graffiti next to your honored war dead to point out that such ideas exist only in a vacuum but has and will never truly belong to those who die to secure it. Especially those who fight to “win”. And these are two sides still fighting to win.
That said, Belfast is a vibrant city attempting a comeback despite this general air. It seems to be trying really hard to move towards a better future. We only had a day and took a hop on/off bus tour which is an excellent way to get a sense of the city when one has limited time. The guide we had before our first and only hop off was cheerful and peppy. Perfect for seeing the parliament building, museums, churches, and other light attractions. We got off to wonder around The MAC museum which is eclectic and slightly cheesy. When we got back on though, we had the perfect guide for the part of the trip that took us through the Catholic and Protestant sections of the city and the Peace Wall that still stands between them. He somberly and deftly explained the major points of the conflict both past and very much present and did his best not to let his loyalty to either side show (though my very smart wife could tell immediately and had to explain to me how she knew). I came away with a real sense of gravity and truly heartbroken for those still having to carry the weight of such generational divisions in their daily lives. I had not planned for it to affect me so deeply. Such is the nature of compassion.
Dublin on the other hand, is light. It is a bustling city full of love and Irish pride. They are very much a tourist city and embrace it with every pint poured and note of traditional music played out of every city center pub. We mainly stayed around this area of the city and played good tourists ourselves. Stopping into sweater shops and paying way too much for food. The one exception is when we got in the rental car and took a trip to L. Mulligan, Grocer; a fantastic meal (perhaps, best of the trip) , incredible service, best beer selection in Dublin, and very kid friendly. Afterwards, just a few blocks away, we found The Cornerstone, a very packed pub that had traditional music and allowed kids in until 10pm. They were even warm and friendly when it rounded time for Beatrix to leave. In fact, I could write a lot more about just this pub experience alone and may save it for a later post. So. Much. Fun.
But, most of our time was actually spent walking. Dublin is a very walkable city and we only used the car for a few hours that one night. We otherwise just left it in the lot near our hotel. One could spend a whole day just ambling and taking it all in and be perfectly happy doing so as we were every time we did.
I think it is common to feel like one never gets enough time in a place when on vacation and that is certainly true of my time in Ireland. I’d say even more so. I felt very at home there. Like the part of me that is Irish (DNA wise I’m about 17%) had finally reached home. As if a longing had been sated. And now, on the plane home as I write this, I feel that part may have stayed behind,in a pub or in the glens, refusing to leave, and hoping I’ll return to find it again one day.
I will, mate. I will.