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In Belfast: no riots yet. The city has really cleaned up recently (helped along by the really tall "Peace Wall" and the armored police cars), so according to my guidebook, it's no longer one of the four "B"s for tourists to avoid: Beruit, Bosnia, Bagdad... And Belfast. ;)

Today was a history day for us in Belfast. For all that this city has really only been around for a couple centuries, there has been a lot going on... And lots of tours covering it.

Originally, on the itinerary we were supposed to do the Giant's causeway tour (supposedly very spectacular and highly recommended), but it's a full day thing, so we scratched that plan. There are also things like black cab tours that cover both the Catholic and Protestant quarters of the city, detailing The Troubles (AKA the riots) in a fairly unbiased way... There are even walking tours with former UVF members (jailed for terrorist activities) to be had.

In the end, it was a price thing: our hostel roommates were leaving, but their hop on, hop off tour bus tickets were still good for another day, so they generously gave us their tickets. The open-top bus tour gave us a good assessment of the city, giving us a view of the murals, churches, etc. We learned the mythic origins of the bleeding severed hand on the Ulster coat of arms, too! The tour was great, and it was free (for us), so, bonus!

In the afternoon, we went for a paid tour - a Titanic boat tour! The Titanic and her sister ships, the Olympic and the Gigantic (renamed the Brittanic after the Titanic sank) were all built in the Belfast shipyards. The Belfast(-ers? -ians? -ites? What do you call someone from Belfast?) are very defensve about it; "She was fine when she left here" and "it was an Englishman who sank her" are the most common remarks.  

But yeah, I learned a lot and want to do a more detailed history post on it when I get back and have a keyboard. Maybe this, too, will be a picture post! :)

We went for a third tour in the afternoon - free guided tour of City Hall. The reason it's free is because it cost a ridiculous amount of money to build in the first place, and the councillors decided it wasn't really politik to have Belfastians pay to look around a building that THEY, the taxpayer, paid for. And now it's not just free for Belfastites, but for us foreigners, too. 

It's a beautiful, symbolism-steeped building that deserves a picture post of it's own. :) I am also totally stealing this one quote from our tourguide the next time I find myself giving a tour to a big group of people: "I am a frail and delicate little flower and don't want to strain my voice, so you'll have to follow closely." It may not have the same effect coming out of my mouth, though. He was a fifty-year old, burly man who had a tendency to speak like Eyeore when sarcastic. It was great.
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Things are slowly getting organized again after that big, uh, upset a few days ago. Sara and I are in Galway, leaving tomorrow for Belfast (For which Sara is excited, but for my part I'm trying to put some of those last few lectures on modern Irish history about sectarian riots from my mind.) 

The last I heard, Chad was supposed to be released from hospital today or tomorrow, so things may be looking up! After a brief scare when we were told by the doctors that he'd be well enough to accompany us, Erin and Kelsey convinced him to go home. If this sounds harsh, well, he needs to give up the rest of his trip and go home and rest, not run all over Britain. If anything else goes wrong, like an infection or a re-broken bone, he shouldn't be in the Isle of Lewis, hours and hours away by bus, ferry or plane away from medical help. Also, selfishly... He can't move his arms. This means that us girls would be obligated to carry his bag on top of our own, give him his meds, feed him (literally spoonfeeding!), and, uh, other things one needs one's hands to do involving personal hygiene.

Um... No. That's not a vacation for the rest of us. Erin concinced him to go home, for his health and dignity, plus our sanity. 

Anyway... Sara and I have been making calls and firing off emails for two days. Most of Chad's hostels and tour bookings have been cancelled, Erin's and Kelsey's postponed or cancelled. 

A few of our tours were cancelled too. For instance, one that was to show us around the Ilse of Lewis proved too expensive (reasonable to split amongst a group of five, but not between only two). At least Inverness onwards on thr itinerary should remain almost unchanged (I look forward to reuniting with our wayward Kelsey and errant Erin!).

Also, note to self: never try to figure out ferry schedules alone. In a fit of hubris, I believed that we could skip flying to Stornoway (where we have almost nothing to do without that cancelled tour) and book a ferry to the Isle of Skye directly from Belfast... Yeah, no. You can't get to Skye from like any large major port city. Who knew? :P 

Anyway... Things are almost sorted. Today Sara and I took a tour bus to the gorgeous Cliffs of Moher (yet another photo post to make!) plus some sites in between: fairy tree rings, crumbling abbeys, famine walls...

Oh, and if you don't know, famine walls are an interesting remnant of the history of Ireland. 1845 through 1849 + potato blight = starving Irish, especially in the West, with it's rocky ground unsuitable for all but potato crops... Which failed again and again. Add to the equation: LOTS of starving Irish + antiquated strict British poor laws = a lot of people who need to work (and work hard) for poor relief. The administrators ran out of things for these skeletal workers to do to earn their soup and bread, so they were made to build roads and walls that literally went nowhere. They're kind of creepy, but also make a sad and plaintive image, winding their way through the rocky countryside of Western Ireland.

On a different note... (AKA "and now for something completely different!"): 

I totally broke down and bought a book at the gift shop today (at the "Gifts of Moher", haha!). Up 'til now I had been resisting the temptation to buy books everywhere, as is my usual code of conduct. I didn't want to carry them on my back in my giant turtleshell backpack, you see. Books are heavy, so I've been making do with small trinkets and things that fold or squish. 

But today, I found a book that my inner history dork couldn't resist. It's called "The Feckin' book of Irish History for anyone who hasn't been paying attention for the last 30,000 years." I hesitated, but when I saw that they had a lovely photo of a memorial to Countess Markievicz, I was sold. 

P.S., for those not in the know: the good Countess is a national Irish hero of the 1916 Easter Uprising. I think I wrote a post on her in November (probably tagged "histories" and "oh those crazy irish") My last name is Markewicz, which is a version of the same name that was simply anglisized differently. I don't THINK that I'm a relation... But I don't advertise that fact when I'm fishing for discounts or goodwill. And besides: "I know very little of my great-grandparents and their Polish relatives" isn't a lie. :3 
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"Bathroom, food, then poison garden," said Erin today. Where were we? Blarney castle. It wasn't all about kissing stones to become eloquent - the grounds are gorgeous and green. (we ran into one of the groundskeepers spraying pesticide or fertilizer or something and I had a laugh because for a moment I thought he was literally painting the plants green.)

Things to see: the ruined castle (under renovations), which is obligatory... But also things like the druid's cave, the wishing stair, the witch's rock (and it's offerings)... Oh, and the poison garden, which is exactly what it sounds like: a garden showcasing poisonous plants. 

I can't do the place justice with words typed out on an iPod keyboard. I will need to make an image-heavy post on the subject when I return. That's a promise.
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I really like the expression "beyond the pale" now that I've been to Ireland. It all has to do with Irish history and geography. 

The Irish Pale was the region around Dublin, long an English stronghold within gaelic Ireland. To go "beyond the Pale" meant, for an Englishman, descending into the wilds, possibly falling victim to the mercies of unsympathetic Gaelic lords and the hoards of their warriors. The English language was once confined to only a very small area of the world, if you recall. Even in Shakespeare's time, English wasn't even used in more than a relatively small corner of the British isles.

This post was prompted by the preponderance of bilingual, gaelic-English signs all over trainstations and, indeed, everywhere. They're more numerous than French signs in Canada, and we actually have a significant proportion of native speakers of the language.
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It's amazing the little details of old cities that you can totally walk right by, unknowing and oblivious, if they aren't pointed out to you by someone in the know. 

Take, for instance, O'Connell street in downtown Dublin. In 1916, rebels stood on the steps of the post office, read a proclamation, retreated into he building, and waited for the british to attack them. 

Now, last autumn, when my Irish history prof told us this story, I didn't understand why they went to the post office of all places. Turned out I just hadn't had the right kind of post office in mind. Google image this thing. It's massive. Ostentatious, but impressive.

Also, there was once a statue of Admiral Nelson, the great British naval hero of the Napoleonic wars, standing in front. The rebels took turns trying to shoot off his nose. 

Anyway, the giant pillars in front of the post office have shrapnel and bullet marks all over them. The bronze statue down the street by the bridge also has bullet holes in it - easy to miss unless you know they're there. But then you can't NOT see them! 

Dublin's city hall also has bullet holes, but from the conflicts of the 1920s. This isn't the kind of stuff you see in Edmonton, no matter what the wild west reputation dictates. The Irish are cool.
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Okay, I am going to have to learn to type faster on my iPod touch as a survival skill. I'm sorry I haven't been updating as promised, but internets is expensive. :P Ten minutes generally seems to go for at least two euro in most places. My hostel has free wifi, but charges for the use of the lobby computers... And the Internet connection doesn't work upstairs in my room.

Anyway, getting the hang of typing here ( courteously ignore typos please)...

I met up with my friends just fine! They are Erin ( my Irish history class buddy), our mutual friend Sarah, and Erin's friends Kelsey and Chad. They arrived in Dublin by way of ferry from England, getting to the hostel only five minutes after me and my taxi.

Yesterday we visited Newgrange, which was absolutely amazing. Look it up if you've never heard of it, because shorter posts are my friends, here. Mary Gibbons, the tour guide, was very entertaining and knowledgeable: very good characteristics to have in her line of work). We visited Tara (nice view, thought-provoking remnants of the past, lots of sheep... And sheep muck).

We got to go inside Newgrange itself, which was quite an experience. Remind me to elaborate when I have access to a proper keyboard. It's lovely and cool inside, and the carvings were breathtaking to see in person. There was grafitti from the 18th and 19h centuries carved on a lot of it though ( variations of "Harry was here, 1821"). Still, wonderfully to see!

Continuing on the history theme, we went on a 1916 Easter Uprising walking tour of the city. Songs were sung. Tales were told. Bullet holes were seen. Statues were made fun of.

Yesterday evening we went to he Brazen Head, a pub founded in the mid 12th century ( that wasn't a typo) for an obligatory pint of Guiness (hey, we're in Dublin!), and tonigt we're off to see some live music. Tomorrow morning we're taking the train to Waterford ( or Wexford. One of he Viking-founded towns beginning with "w", anyway).

Postcards will be posted soon. Hugs and kisses, everyone! :)
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Oh, Ulster Unionists...  )
Oh, Ulster Unionists...  )

Here's another picture of Countess Markievicz before you go.

Stylish AND revolutionary. She can look good in anything.

Also, I've decided to write my Honor's Thesis on American Civil War Medicine! (Although really, shouldn't I be working with my new crush, the Countess? ;) )


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April 2011

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