Young and Free in Northern Ireland
Ireland 1996… I was in my mid 20’s and about to embark on a fun road trip around the Emerald Isle with 5 friends. One of my friends had been to Ireland before so was our designated expert on all things Irish. We soon learned we couldn’t have picked a better country for hiring a Tarago and visiting the many welcoming pubs and B& B’s. Let the adventures begin.
Starting with a few nights in Dublin we spend the days taking in the sights and found ourselves finishing each day in the Temple Bar area. This popular area of cobblestone streets and laneways is by the river Liffey and is full of lively pubs, music, restaurants and groovy boutiques.
As we left Dublin our bags were packed into our red Tarago “tetris style” and had a designated driver for the day. The freedom of where to go today and which pub for lunch seems like another life. Young and carefree, they were the only decisions we had to make each day. As we drove along the rolling green countryside chatting and laughing, we would point out sights and read parts of the well-loved travel bible – the Lonely Planet.
We decided to head north up the coast and took in Monasterboice, the high crosses and round tower of a monastic early Christian settlement and Newgrange, a stone age monument set in the middle of the green farmland. I think we were proud we took the time to visit these sights rather than just look for the “fun” things to do such as spending an afternoon at a pub listening to an Irish Folk Band.
Growing up, Belfast and Northern Ireland was often on the news for the violence and bombings. With the IRA, Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein making headlines between 1969 and 1994, to us lucky Aussies, this was terrifying. Even a ceasefire in 1994 didn’t stop the violence. The U2 song we grew up singing to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” suddenly became real as we drove into Belfast.
Lonely Planet mentioned Falls and Shankill Roads as the main roads through Belfast and also the most dangerous and violent. With the boys in our group eager to drive down these roads, us girls were not so keen. As it was the boys turn behind the wheel, we soon found ourselves driving down these roads and peering out the windows at the graffiti, murals, barbed wire fences and bleak buildings. I couldn’t believe that people lived here, kids went to school and it was life as they knew it. To think that some of the locals would never venture from their local area and see other parts of the country or even the Republic of Ireland let alone other parts of the world was beyond belief.
After our stay in Belfast we drove further north along the coast. The cold grey ocean was a stark contrast to our amazing beaches back home. From rugged cliffs to green rolling farmland and then to see barren and rocky landscapes, there was always a change of scenery. The Giant’s Causeway, located at the very top of Northern Ireland was amazing to see. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is 40,000 massive basalt columns rising out of the sea as a result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago. This site has inspired legends and myths of giant’s footsteps over the sea to Scotland and was definitely well worth the drive and the icy cold wind blowing off the North Atlantic Ocean added to the atmosphere.
By an open fire at the local pub that night we started to map out our itinerary back down south. We contemplated going to Tipperary but heard it was a long way! Oh well, next time!
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