A gray and weeping sky greeted us Thursday morning, which fit our exhausted spirits. We were thankful to have a slower day planned and dawdled over breakfast in the hotel restaurant before meeting our guide for a taxi tour of Belfast’s iconic murals.
As much as I’ve read about Belfast, it was still startling to see how close together Shankill and Falls Roads are. The physical divide between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods isn’t much at all. Our guide had a first-hand perspective of the “Troubles” as his grandfather had been a member of the IRA and served time in jail.
Much like we in the U.S. are working to rewrite history by tearing down monuments, some of the historical murals in Belfast have been painted over or modified to alter their meaning. We learned that any mural with a face on it couldn’t be painted over, but could be altered. History should be something that is objective rather than subjective, a statement of facts. If we don’t learn where we come from and the mistakes that were made, how can we learn and avoid repeating those mistakes? I wish now that I’d purchased a book on all the murals.
I’m fascinated with the whole Brexit situation, particularly how it will impact the people of Northern Ireland and if this shift will be what leads to the island being reunited. I asked the guide about this and he seemed to agree that reunification was likely, if only for economic reasons. Brexit will likely lead to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, causing goods being transported from north to south to be subject to border checks. (Some roads cross the border numerous times within a few miles!)
Additionally, the Catholic population is growing; the demographic that has most wanted reunification all along. Where they once were a significant minority, they are forecast to be the majority within the next couple of years. If you live in the UK, particularly Northern Ireland, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Our guide dropped us off at Belfast City Hall so we could do a little more exploring. It’s the most impressive City Hall I’ve ever been in! The rain was only a light sprinkle by this time and we enjoyed our walk back to the hotel. The train ride back to Dublin went quickly and we were greeted by Tricia’s friend, Dan. He guided us to our hotel on the River Liffey to drop off our bags and we walked to Trinity College, just a few minutes away. Trinity is a beautiful campus.
We had tickets to see the Book of Kells, a 9th century manuscript, created around 800 AD, that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. We reached the exhibit and flowed from one informational wall to another, learning about the art of illumination, until we reached the actual book in a glass case.
When we finally reached the Book, I experienced a feeling of deflation, much like I felt upon seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Both are much smaller than I expected and the colors of the Book weren’t as vibrant as I anticipated. It’s beautiful, for sure, and it’s obvious the work to create it must have been painstaking. I was so deflated I forgot to take a picture of the actual thing, but I did have a photo of a copy housed at the Dublin Writer’s Museum, which is a pretty good replication. Sometimes we build things up in our mind so much we are bound to be let down when we do finally experience them.
Dan was going to take us to a fish & chip shop, but after wandering for close to an hour, stumbling on icons such as Molly Malone, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, and Dublin Castle, we stopped at the Bull & Castle. Dan was brave and ordered an appetizer of bone marrow. It was strange in every way, but the taste wasn’t bad. The steak I ordered was one of the best I’ve ever had.
Dublin definitely comes alive at night. The streets were crowded as we walked back to our hotel and music poured out of many pubs we passed. We had a good chuckle at the line of American franchises- Kentucky Fried Chicken, Papa John Pizza, TGIFriday’s, Subway, Burger King, and McDonalds- practically on top of each other. I admit we did enter the McDonalds, but only so Tricia could use the facilities. Don’t worry, I purchased a coffee.
Come back next week as Tricia and I pick up our rental car and hit the road!