Ireland has been on my
itinerary for a long time and I finally got there. This trip will be split in several sections
due to the extensive travel throughout the island. There are two countries here, The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
which is still part of the British Empire.
The history is complicated and it took me a while to figure it out but I
may be wrong. When the English conquered Ireland, the Irish became indentured
servants and were not allowed to own land.
The English Lords moved in and developed their estates. The civil wars started and the Republic of
Ireland gained its independence in 1922 from England just as the USA about 240 years earlier. Similarly
the northern borders of the liberated countries in this case, Northern Ireland and
Canada, remained part as part of the English Commonwealth.
Belfast is the capital and
largest city of Northern Ireland and at one time was an industrial and economic
power that faded with the British Empire by the end of WWII. Its name has nothing to do with breakfast but
it means “Mouth of the River”. It has a
magnificent City Hall completed in 1906, with a park full of statues and the
inner halls preserving the greatness of the past. It is readily accessible and open to the
public and the grassy areas are full of life - particularly at lunch time when
the office workers come to enjoy their lunches - with vendors and itinerant
musicians. Surprisingly I did not see
street people living in the park. There are numerous stained windows but the
one shown attracted my attention because of its content; it depicts various
episodes in its history such as the heavy bombing during WWII and maritime
heritage. Being a working City Hall,
there were various wedding parties celebrating the events…little did they know
that there were going to be caught by paparazzi.
The city is modern and clean with the traditional botanical
gardens, museums and university. The
botanical gardens include the domed glass Palm House built in 1849 is unique in
having a cold wing and a hot wing where the dome is located. You never know who
you are going to run into - a statue of Lord Kelvin is also on the grounds.
The Ulster Museum was renovated in 2009 combining multiple
collections of biological, geological anthropological as well as historical artifacts located at
various levels with a central atrium looking down into the entry level. It has modernistic sculptures but most
interesting at the time of the visit, a display of Viking Deadly Dragons that
attracted children as if they were ice cream. The last image is that of the
Belfast University where all the stories of dragons, witches and leprechauns
are delegated to myths. The museum layout
is different but worth visiting.
Walking downtown one encounters the grotesque as well as the
unusual. Imagine running into Medicare here…nostalgia
of home. A giant quilt covering the facade of a sewing schools and multitude of
pubs. Surprisingly traffic is heavy and
the streets are busy. Belfast seems to
be undergoing an economic rebirth.
Belfast economic power originated with the linen trade and
at one time produced most of the linen and the maritime ropes used by the
shipping industry worldwide. Shipbuilding
was a major industry at the beginning of the XX Century, and when the Titanic
was launched in 1912, it had the largest shipyard in the world. There was also airplane manufacturing that
contributed to the war effort during the WWII.
The Titanic Museum (below) has a very modernistic building that seems to
follow the lines of the famous ship. I
hesitantly went into the museum and was pleasantly surprised. It mostly deals with the construction of the
ship with lots of trivia; for example, 3 million fasteners of 6 different types
in fastening the hull steel plates.
There is a suspended ride that takes you through the different stages of
construction of the ship - all well done.
Recent history of the city deal with the “Troubles”, the result
of the divisions in Northern Ireland between religious groups that has been
quiet recently. But tension can still be
seen in the graffiti in some sectors of the city. Below is a partial photograph of the “Peace
Walls”. Suggest you refer to the history
of the “Troubles” on the internet. The last photo is that of the Northern
Ireland Parliament at Stormont.
I will continue this blog covering my travels along the
coastal roads on the island moving counter clockwise.