Thursday, July 31, 2008

Last weekend I had an old friend, Kristin, visit from Norway. It was so great to see her again after 3 1/2 years.

Following my theme of untraditional Irish sightseeing, I took her on the Sinn Fein Rebel Tour of Dublin. Run by the Sinn Fein Shop, a very enthusiastic guide leads a 2 hour tour around the old revolutionary haunts of the city, most of which you would otherwise just walk past without knowing how much history it holds. Although I got a bit lost in the dates it was a really fascinating tour, and the very small group combined with the glint in the eye of the guide really fires up the enthusiasm. We had a journalist stop by to take some snaps, and we were hoping to make it into the national newspaper as participants on a 'Terror Tour' of Dublin. Alas, the paper was rather kind, and I'm hoping that more people are encouraged to take part in the tour, despite the political leanings of Sinn Fein!

It was a rather lazy weekend from that point on, although I threw a Mexican party on Friday evening followed by a trip to the North coast of Dublin on Saturday. Saturday night was dominated by a spontanenous 'Homeless by Night' tour, followed by a rather classy trip to Eddie Rocket's Diner for dessert as everywhere else was closed. Suffice to say, we couldn't find a creme brulee, but the booth jukeboxes were a nice touch.

The weekend went all too quickly, but I think I managed to show Kristin the highlights and lowlights of Dublin. I even made the ultimate life sacfice: I took her to a vegetarian restaurant! Medals welcome.

This weekend I'm hiring a car with a group of friends and heading to the West Coast, home of rugged cliffs, wild waters and Gaelic speaking locals. We'll be staying in a small town called Lisdoovarna, home of Europe's largest matchmaking event!

More photos here

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Very Irish Weather Forecast

Over the weekend and for the start of next week temperatures will not be as high and the weather will gradually become more unsettled. Fairly cloudy on Friday night with scattered outbreaks of rain but most of the night will be dry. However it may be foggy as well. Saturday and Sunday will be two fairly cloudy days and there may be rain at times. However the rain will generally not be that heavy and there should be long dry periods during the day. Highest temperatures will be around 20 or 21C at most. Then during the first couple of days of next week the weather looks like turning back to its very wet pattern of the early summer as heavy thundery rain once more sweeps up across Ireland from the south.

I think they're trying to cover all bases...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On Sunday me, my flatmate Gergu and his father hired a car and did some sightseeing.
It was a great feeling to be in a car again, not tied to bus timetables and destinations, and we managed to pack a lot in.

The first stop was the site of the Battle of the Boyne, where George of Orange defeated the Jacobites, thus laying the foundations for English dominance in Ireland over the following centuries. Its also known as the battle in which the protestants defeated the catholics, and is celebrated on 12th July (see last post)

Next stop was the Neolithic passage graves of Knowth, with hundreds of beautifully decorated stones. Knowth has more than a 3rd of the total number of megalithic art works in the whole of western Europe, and it was well worth seeing, even if it just looks like humps of earth from a distance.

After Knowth we drove through some storybook Irish villages, with coloured houses and, of course, lots of traditional looking pubs and the odd fish and chip shop with nackers slouching outside. We walked through Kells (origin of the book of Kells)- a really pretty town- and drove past some similarly quaint looking places.

We dropped Gergu's father off in the tiny town of Glenlough, right on the Northern Ireland border, where he will work on a farm, and headed back to Dublin.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Belfast on Orange Day

It's been awhile since my last entry- I haven't had much time for computers lately.
Dublin was becoming a bit too... peaceful... for me, so last weekend I decided to jump on the train and go to Belfast. What I didn't realise until the day before was that it was 12th July, which in Northern Ireland means Orange Parade- formally a celebration of William of Orange, the Dutch Prince of Great Britain and Ireland in the 16th century.

Informally, its a chance for Protestants/Loyalists to agitate the Catholics/Republicans and vice versa, and usually ends in some sort of violence.

So I stumbled onto the 7.30am train from Dublin, and woke up 2 hours later to the sounds of marching bands and crazed screeching teenage girls draped in British flags with an incredible penchant for fake tan. They must have really been going for the orange theme.

I walked through the marching bands which took over the city centre, and onto Falls road for my 3 hour political history walking tour. I'm not usually into tours, but this one was something different. There were only 5 of us on the tour, and it was led by a Republican who had endured 16 years of jail as a political prisoner during The Struggles. He had 200 stiches in his head to prove it.

The tour, although 'unashamedly republican' was really fascinating. The entire tour took place on one very famous road, Falls Road. It began with an apartment block which is a former base for the British forces, and ended at the cemetary where famous IRA/republicans are buried, including Bobby Sands, one of the hunger strikers.

I still find it quite incredible how divided the city still is. A wall runs the length of Falls Road, where Catholics and Protestants still live on their respective sides. There are separate schools for both sides and relatively little interaction by all accounts.

Despite this, the city has come a long way in just 10 years. It's hard to imagine where I was walking was a literal war zone, with frequent bombs exploding and gun fire from both sides. One interesting, bad side effect of peace from this type of war is that there has been a dramatic rise in suicides since the ceasefire. According to the guide, suicide and hard drugs were virtually unheard of during the conflict, but now they are a very serious problem in Northern Ireland.

I walked back from the tour into the city, hoping there would be a lot going on when the parades finished. Alas, it was like a ghost town. Almost everything was closed, including bars and restaurants and it took me over an hour just to find something to eat in the city centre.

I took the train back to Dublin in the evening. The rest of the weekend was suprisingly sunny, although I wont hold my breath that summer has come!

Otherwise everything's going really well here. Tommorrow I'm going the theatre to see The Rat Pack, a Dean Martin tribute play and there's a festival on this weekend on the coast.