Northern Ireland is a different beast from its nearby neighbor. The history of why Northern Ireland is part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland is its own entity is lengthy. The results, however, have led to most of the native Roman Catholic Irish leaving while the Protestants have settled in. We arrived in Derry, knowing only a little of this history. The city of Derry, or Londonderry as it's officially named, is sort of the home base of the revolutionists who are not fans of England. It's the site of Bloody Sunday or the Bogside Massacre.
Derry is also one of the few remaining cities that still has a wall encasing the center of it. It was cool to walk the length of the wall, and see the architecture that often involves buildings sharing their structure with part of the wall.
None of these things were why we came to Northern Ireland. We came for the Giant's Causeway. If you want the scientific explanation of how this landscape was formed, well, here you go. Condensed, it was formed by a volcano that stopped being a volcano by exploding all over the place on some unique ground and it resulted in a very unique sight.
But if you want to listen to legend, the Giant's Causeway is exactly that, the remains of a bridge built by a giant named Benandonner.
As the legend goes, the giant Finn MacCool was living his life on the coast, when from across the North Channel came a boastful challenge to a duel from Benandonner. Not to be thought a coward, he accepted the challenge and so Benandonner began to construct his bridge across the Channel. Now, Finn MacCool was no small giant, he was nearly twelve feet tall. As he watched Benandonner build his way over, however, he realized that he was outmatched. Benandonner was at least twenty feet tall, and he was approaching fast. Fearing for his life, Finn MacCool ran away. He ran into his home, and tucked himself into his child's cradle just as Benandonner reached the shore. The challenger came after Finn MacCool, rushing into the house where he was met by Finn's wife. Thinking quickly, the giantess told Benandonner to be quiet, their child was sleeping. When Benandonner saw the size of "Finn's child" he turned right around and ran back the way he had come, tearing up the bridge as he went.
From there, we went to Belfast. Belfast didn't get a lot of pictures, mostly because it was an exercise in terror. After spending nearly a month with some of the nicest people we've met and seeing some of the most beautiful sights we could see in (the republic of) Ireland, we arrived on the day of North Ireland's biggest holidays, "The Twelfth". On this day, North Irish celebrate the victory of the Protestant King William (of England) over the Catholic King James (of Ireland) thus securing English rule and supremacy in North Ireland. Celebration practices include miles long parades that march city to city, and massive bonfires where they burn things like the Irish flag and both Catholic and Polish effigies! When I say bonfire, I don't mean your grandpa's bonfire. The pyre of wood was at least four stories tall. We could literally see the flames over the rooftops as we cowered in our hotel room. The police were out in full force, but I only ever saw them inside their tank-like vehicles. They were probably just as afraid of the people as we were. This entire trip, I never really fell "unsafe" until we reached Belfast. The great dislike of the Polish immigrants and our name being recognizably Polish didn't help with that feeling either.
We ended up leaving Belfast shortly after we arrived to get away from the marches and the drunks. We went to a small city about eight miles away that had a lovely little shop that looked oh so welcoming! Fun was in short supply, oddly enough.
But seriously, it wasn't all too bad. Nice bars and a castle where Rob made friends with the locals. Come to think of it, maybe we would've felt safer in Belfast if Rob hadn't danced mockingly in front of all the festivities there...
As we settled in to do some work, we heard the sounds of trumpets and the stamp of feet. As it turns out the marches had found us, and continued right outside of our window at the new hotel as well. I guess they weren't going to let us escape so easily.
Probably the most notable thing about Belfast is the Titanic Museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast, and the museum went from the ground up, telling the tale of what made Belfast such a good place to build ships of that size, how the Titanic was built, and her final outcome. The slab of concrete outside is what remains of the bay where it was constructed.
All in all, Northern Ireland really doesn't seem to have very much Irish about it any more. What was Irish has been scrubbed away or scared off. If it wasn't for the Giant's Causeway, I'm not sure we would've visited it. So if you're planning a trip to Ireland, be sure to hit the places in previous posts. If you do wish to brave the northern version, just avoid it on the Twelfth.