Monday, 5 October 2009



5 October 2009 - Monday

This morning I dragged my post church body out of bed, because this morning I was catching a flight to Dublin with Debra to spend a week of sight seeing around Ireland before heading back to Australia.

Once we landed in Dublin, we picked up our hire car and headed to Belfast for the night. I wanted to start in Belfast because that is originally where the "O’Neill" clan came from and I also wanted to go to all four UK countries before I went home. - Belfast is situated in the North East corner of Ireland and is the second biggest city on the island. Belfast is the capital of and the largest city in Northern Ireland, a constituent country of the United Kingdom Prior to its recent political troubles Belfast built the Titanic, invented the Tractor and gave the world George Best, Van Morrison and CS Lewis.

The O'Neill clan had a presence in the area. In the 14th century, Clan Aedh Buidh, descendants of Hugh O'Neill built Grey Castle at Castlereagh, now in the east of the city.Conn O'Neill also owned land in the area, one remaining link being the Conn's Water river flowing through east Belfast.

6 October 2009 - Tuesday


After a somewhat disrupted nights sleep in the hostel we got up and headed out on a Black Taxi tour of Belfast city. Debra recommended this tour as she had done one before. You are taken around in a Black Cab and the driver explains the history of the city and takes you around to all the important landmarks. Most of the tour was about the politics/religious problems that the city had and still has.

Belfast has been the scene of various episodes of sectarian conflict between its Roman Catholic and Protestant populations. The most recent example of this is known as the Troubles - a civil conflict that raged from around 1969 to the late 1990s. Belfast saw some of the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, particularly in the 1970s, with rival paramilitary groups forming on both sides. Bombing, assassination and street violence formed a backdrop to life throughout the Troubles. The Provisional IRA detonated twenty-two bombs, all in a confined area in the city centre in 1972, on what is known as "Bloody Friday", killing nine people. The IRA also killed hundreds of other civilians and members of the security forces.

There is still a lot of conflict between the populations in Belfast and the areas in which each "side" lives is clearly marked out with colours portraying their faith painted on the road side, on the houses and flying various flags. You need to be a bit careful where you choose to live around here.

On the tour we got taken to Shankhill Road where the photos of the murals, below left, were taken. I can't remember where I took the other ones. There are lots of different murals painted all around Belfast city.

Here is a little extract I found which explains a bit about the politics and trouble in Northern Ireland and what it looks like from a tourists point of view

The Sandy Row area is a Protestant zone. I saw my first Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) mural. The UVF, UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) and the like are Northern Ireland (NI)'s Protestant paramilitary groups, set up primarily to counter the influence of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the INLA (Irish National Liberation Front), which aims to unite NI with the Republic of Ireland.

As in all other conflicts elsewhere, such paramilitary groups - both the Protestant and the Catholic ones - were initially established to protect the local community or to achieve specific political aims, but frequently degenerate into glorified versions of local criminal gangs and terrorist apparatus. At the Sandy Row, other themes glorified by the murals include the Union, the Queen and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary). The RUC is the local police force of NI and an object of hatred among the Catholic community, who sees the RUC, rightfully or wrongfully, as pro-Protestant and anti-Catholic.

The Union Jack and the NI flag - St George's Cross with the Red Hand of Ulster in the middle - were hung from many buildings. I have never seen so many Union Jacks in my life - even more than the UK "Mainland", where people flying the flag are more likely to be seen as those in the extreme right wing.

Walking northwards through a run-down deserted area - the "no man's land" with barbed wire, fortified shelters, shuttered shopfronts and lots of rubble - and then I saw my first Irish flag. I have entered the Falls Road area - the Catholic Ghetto of Belfast. Here the theme is the opposite – an united Ireland, peace, the Potato Famine (during which more than a million people starved to death - the "Genocide" of Ireland, as some slogans here claim), Hurrah-To-IRA, Down-With-RUC, etc. Some road kerbs were even painted green-white-orange, the Irish national colours. Plus murals on Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Catalonia.

Just north of Falls Road is the Shankill Road - Protestant area. A "Berlin Wall" separated the two parts.

Gates (the “peace line”) separating the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. These are actually some of the shorter gates I saw. There are much taller ones that look like they came from a maximum security prison.

Protestant neighborhood. I’ve never seen so many British flags in my entire life – even the curbs were painted red, white, and blue. This place has really gone on a jingoistic binge – it seems as if they are desperately trying to prove themselves loyal to an increasingly ambivalent British government.

After the Black Taxi Cab tour we headed up to Belfast Castle for a quick look around - The familiar landmark of Belfast Castle, overlooks the city from a prominent site 400 feet above sea level on the slopes of Cave Hill. This magnificent sandstone building, recently restored by Belfast City Council's Parks Department, has close associations with the city's history.


After the castle we headed to Antrim - It is located within the province of Ulster and is part of Northern Ireland - where the O'Neill's were quite prominent and apparently there is a castle up there somewhere that is the "O'Neill castle", although thats not its actual name. All we found was this ruined castle, but I am claiming it as my own O'Neill castle. Apparently the O'Neills were quite prominent up there so surely its an O'Neill castle!

Shane's Castle this is the one I was hoping to find, but we couldn't - Shane's Castle,--or, as it was once called, "Eden-duff-carrick,"--has been, since the year 1345, the home of the O'Neills. The Royal house of O'Neill traces its history back to the very beginning of Ireland's story. They were kings of Ulster for one thousand years. Like the branches of a great oak tree that has its roots twined about the very heart of the earth itself, it would be impossible to record a tithe of the events connected with such a people as the O'Neills.

O'Neill History

Imagine this: Off the coast of a faraway, misty land, two chiefs on separate boats were competing to reach the shore. The stakes are high: the winner will get all the land beyond. Both tried their best, rowing as fast as they could but it soon become apparent that one of them was way ahead of the other. Just as the winner was about to reach the shore, the losing chief cut off his hand, threw the blood-dripping hand onto the shore and won the race.

You will see from the murals above that there is a hand on the rock, that is a mural of this story.

Bizarre ? Spare me that hair-raising tale, you may say, but a whole people have adopted the Red Hand as their national symbol. The Red Hand was originally the symbol of the O'Neills, a major Irish Catholic clan in Ulster.
The Red Hand of O'Neill, also known as Red Hand of Ulster and occasionally even as Red Hand of Ireland, is perhaps the most prominent symbol in the province of Ulster. The Red Hand of O'Neill is derived from the coat of arms from the Niáll clan. The Niáll, meaning Grandson of the Champion and later anglicised to O'Neill, have reigned over large parts of Ulster for at least two millennia.Nowadays the symbolism of the Red Hand of O'Neill is completely ripped off its historical context.

- Interesting site - Mythical or Biblical decedents?


After Antrim we headed to Londonderry - is the second largest city in Northern Ireland and home to the Bloody Sunday masacures.

On Sunday January 30, 1972, 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march in the Bogside area. Another 13 were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as Bloody Sunday.

We visited a museum in Londonderry dedicated to the Bloody Sunday Masacures which had lots of information about Bloody Sunday and lots of ... momentos from the day. This was a massive event in Londonderry and there are murals everywhere depicting it.You will find that this event touched many lives and that some artists even wrote songs about it - maybe the post popular one you have heard is by U2

Shots were fired by a mindless military,
The people ran they were unarmed
Across the world we will read of Derry
And those who died by oppressive hands.
Cruachan, "Bloody Sunday"

Well it was Sunday bloody Sunday

When they shot the people there

The cries of thirteen martyrs

Filled the Free Derry airIs there any one amongst you

Dare to blame it on the kids?

Not a soldier boy was bleeding

When they nailed the coffin lids!
John Lennon and Yoko Ono "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

And the battle's just begun
There's many lost, but tell me who has won?

The trenches dug within our hearts

And mothers, children, brothers, sisters

Torn apart.

Sunday, bloody Sunday.

Sunday, bloody Sunday.
U2 "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

After visiting Londonderry we headed to Sligo where we found a cute B & B to stay in for the night.

7 October 2009 - Wednesday

Today we got up early and headed to Galway. We didn't stay in Galway long as we just needed to pop in there to find out the best way to get to the Aran Islands - The Aran Islands a group of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland. Irish is the main spoken language on all three islands, and is the language used naming the islands and their villages and townlands.


We found out the way and headed to Galway Bay and brought a ferry ticket to get across. Ferry is the only way to get across to the Island and there is only a passenger ferry so most of the locals who live on the island have to have cars on the mainland as well. These islands were really nice to see as they were off the beaten track a bit. Not many people live on the Island and the official language on the Islands is Irish, which everyone spoke.

We visited the biggest island - Inishmore (Irish: Inis Mór) is the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay in Ireland and has an area of 31 square kilometres (12 sq mi).

When we got off the ferry we thought we might bike around the island but were told we didn't really have enough time so hoped in one of the local's vans for a tour around the island.

First stop:

Dun Aonghasa - this is the most famous of several prehistoric forts on the Aran Islands. It is located on Inishmore at the edge of an approximately 100 metre high cliff.

View back over the Island from the fort

After looking at the fort we stopped in this little cafe for a delicious meal. I had a Guinness and beef stew and it was so yum, and nice for a cold day. After lunch we headed to the seven churches and graveyard for a wander around the monastic ruins.

These cute little houses were all over the island and we were told they were for the fairies!

8 October 2009 - Thursday

Today we got up and headed out and about on our road trip again. Today we stopped at:

Dungarie Castle - Dunguaire Castle is a 16th-century tower house on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay The castle's 75-foot tower and its defensive wall have been restored to excellent condition, and the grounds are open to tourists during the summer. It is thought to be the most photographed castle in Ireland.

Beautiful panoramic view from Dunguarie Castle

Corcomroe Abbey is an early 13th-century Cistercian monastery located in the north of the Burren region of County Clare. The abbey is noted for its detailed carvings and other rich ornamentation, which are not commonly found in structures from this period. It features a typical cruciform church facing east, with a small chapel in each transept.

Poulnabrone Dolmen is a portal tomb in the Burren, County Clare, dating back to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC to 2900 BC. A crack was discovered in the eastern portal stone in 1985. Following the resulting collapse, the dolmen was dismantled, and the cracked stone was replaced. Excavations during this time found that between 16 and 22 adults and 6 children were buried under the monument. Personal items buried with the dead included a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery. In the Bronze Age, around 1700BC, a newborn baby was buried in the portico, just outside the entrance. With its dominating presence on the limestone landscape of the Burren, the tomb must have remained a centre for ceremony and ritual until well into the Celtic period.

We then drove to a wildlife centre in County Clare. I can't remember the exact name but it inc
luded The Burren Birds of Prey Centre and Ailwee Cave.

At the Burren Birds of Prey Centre we looked around all the birds on display. My favourite bird was the Great Grey Owl. It was cute and everywhere you walked you felt like it was watching you, which I guess could be scary but was fun to try and trick out! After looking at the birds we sat down and watched the bird show. I even got to hold one of the birds.

After the bird show we headed up the road a bit to Ailwee Cave.

The cave system consists of over a kilometer of passages leading into the heart of the mountain. Its features include an underground river and a waterfall as well as some large stalactites and stalagmites. The remains of bears can also be seen inside the caves. It was discovered in 1944, when a farmer named Jacko McGann followed his dog who was chasing a rabbit. The farmer did not explore very far into the caves, and did not tell anyone of the find for nearly 40 years. He told cavers of the cave in 1973 and that summer the cave was explored as far a boulder choke.

This is where a bear used to sleep.

After the caves we stopped at another tourist destination - The Cliffs of Moher The cliffs boast one of Ireland's most spectacular views.On a clear day the Aran Islands are visible in Galway Bay . See picture below. O'Brien's Tower is a round stone tower at the approximate midpoint of the cliffs. It was built by Sir Cornelius O'Brien, a descendant of Ireland's High King Brian Boru, in order to impress female visitors. The Cliffs of Moher is amongst the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland, and topped the list of attractions in 2006 by drawing almost one million visitors.[5]. As of June 2009 the Cliffs were in 5th place in the Seascapes section of the "New Seven Wonders" competition. The "New Seven Wonders" winners are expected to be announced in 2010.

After the cliffs we headed towards Dublin. We thought we would stay in a cute little B & B or something on the way before heading to Dublin the next day. We drove around but after being quote 40 euros each to stay above a smelly pub for the night we decided to keep on driving to Dublin to stay for free at Debra's house.

The picture on the left - On the way to Debra's house the GPS decided to take us on an adventure of the back roads to Dublin. There were very narrow roads and lots of twisting and turning! Well done to Debra for staying on the road and for managing to pull over far enough to let cars pass going the other way.

9 October 2009 - Friday

Today as we still had the rental care we headed out to Powerscourt Estate is a large country estate which is noted for its house and landscaped gardensThe house, originally a 13th century castle, was extensively altered during the 18th century by German architect Richard Cassels, starting in 1731and finishing in 1741. A fire in 1974 left the house lying as a shell until it was renovated in 1996.

The house and the gardens would of been beautiful to look around in but ... not so much when its pouring down with rain and you can't even see in front of you because the rain is so hard. So instead of looking around the gardens we walked though the house and learnt about the history of the place and the fire. There were lots of shops inside too which we browsed through. It looks like a really nice place from the pictures I have seen and if you are over there might be nice to go and have a look at.

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