I blog about my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.
I’m writing a book on visiting all the national parks in the Southeast – the battlefields, monuments, historic sites as well as the traditional national parks. My book, titled Forests, Alligators, Battlefields, will come out next year, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.
Last stop, the Tilda City, Derry~Londonderry, at the very top of Northern Ireland. This is how everyone refers to it, certainly all the print information. In casual conversation, most people say “Derry”.
Derry is within a stone’s throw from the Irish border. I can see the Republic of Ireland from here – County Donegal.
But maybe saying a “stone’s throw” is not the best expression. You might say that the modern troubles started here in the late 1960s. Plenty of adults that I talked to were affected by it all.
There even was a march from Belfast to Derry in 1969, reminiscent of the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, AL. But now all is quiet. It’s a small vibrant city, with a growing number of visitors.
As I entered the city, the first thing I saw was the “Hands across the divide” sculpture – two men reaching out to each other, but not quite touching. Speaking of men, it felt like the demonstrations and fighting between the IRA and the British were very much a man’s war with the “grannies cooking the food.”
I took a walk across the Peace Bridge, which links the traditional Republicans and Loyalists areas. According to my host, born and bred here, this bridge has made a tremendous improvement in the relationship between different groups.
I also took a tour to the Bogside, the traditional Republican area of small, neat houses, just off the city center. During the fighting, Bogside declared itself free of the authorities; the sign above remains.
Like the traditional areas in Belfast, the Bogside has murals as a reminder of the troubled times and hope and peace of the present and future.
Here’s one of my favorite of peace icons. You’ll recognize Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa. The man in the top left corner is John Hume, a former MP from Derry who was instrumental in the Irish peace process and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
But there’s so much to Derry and Northern Ireland than reminders of the Troubles. The city has walls surrounding the whole small center, walks along the River Foyle, museums, old churches … I’m starting to sound like their tourist bureau.
I’m so glad I came to Northern Ireland after hiking in the South. This is such a vital part of Ireland, though I’ve only touched the surface. All good things must come to an end. I’m making my slow journey home, looking forward to leading my next Friends of the Smokies hike and other commitments.
Thanks for coming along for the “walk” and thanks for all the new Irish friends I made, from South and North.
There’s much more to Belfast than the ‘troubles” of yesteryear.
I had bumped into a Loyalist parade yesterday.
In contrast, I signed up for a walking tour in the Republican side. You might think of the conflict as Catholics (Republicans who align themselves with the Republic of Ireland) and Protestants (Loyalists who want to stay part of The United Kingdom) but Republicans and Loyalists are the terms used here.
There is a group of former political prisoners who now give tours of Falls Road, a Republican neighborhood of mostly small, modest houses. See www.visitwestbelfast.com for the Coiste Irish Political Tours.
Only one other woman, Mary from Chicago, had signed up. Joe, a very fit man of about 60, introduced himself and quickly told us that he had been in prison for 17 years as a former? IRA member. We walked past murals depicting heroes of the latest conflict, the most famous being Bobby Sands, MP. Sands was the leader of a group of prisoners who went on a protest hunger strike and died in 1981.
The strangest murals were of the revolutionary groups supported by the IRA, including the Palestinians, The Basque separatists and the ANC. It’s almost as if they supported these groups because they were revolutionary, independent of their affinity to the Republicans.
This is not the only way to see the murals.
Nothing stops you from just walking around yourself on the major and minor streets. But I know that I would have missed a lot, not knowing all the ins and outs. You can also take a black cab, which are advertised in the tourist brochures. The cabs drive to certain sites and tell you about the events but the quality is mixed. Besides, getting in and out of a taxi every few blocks would drive me batty.
The walking tours are not as popular , probably because you walk for three hours without a chance to sit. Our last stop was in a large cemetery to see famous graves. Then we ended at the Felons Pub, opposite the cemetery, started by guys who were constantly going to funerals. We each got a glass of beer but I traded mine in for a cup of tea.
But enough about the ‘troubles’. Belfast is coming back as a thriving small city. It seems to have more massive Victorian buildings than London, mostly because the city is small and all these ornate structures are close to each other. During Victorian times, it was the linen and shipbuilding capital of the British Empire.
The Titanic was built here, though it sailed from Southhampton. As a sign says:
I very rarely blog about topics not related to the outdoors. But I want to put down some observations before I forget.
When Beth and I decided to hike in the Republic of Ireland, I knew that I was going to visit Northern Ireland as well. Lenny, our son and I lived in Oxford in the early 1980s. These were the Thatcher years and the troubles of Northern Ireland were in the news every day. If it wasn’t the miners strike, it was the troubles in Northern Ireland.
I took the train from Dublin to Belfast.
“Will I see a sign that says ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland’?” I asked a woman sitting across from me.
“No.” She smiled.
But there was no need for a sign. As soon as the dual language (English and Irish) signs ended, I knew we had crossed the border.
I’m staying with an AirBnB host who’s very talkative. He took me on a walking tour downtown, which was very helpful. As soon as we came back, a police car was on the street, close to where I’m staying.
“Well,” the officer said, “there’s going to be a parade. And this is a bit of a contentious area.”
i didn’t waste time. I grabbed my camera and walked through the Protestant area, photographing murals, which depict the men who died during the “troubles”. Queen Elizabeth also featured in their murals.
Then I bumped into the band parade.
Wow! I was not prepared for such fervor from the Loyalists. There are more Union Jacks in the few blocks around here than I’ve seen in all of London. Every house is blazing with British flags.
Bands after bands of men and boys, with different uniform, marched. Some came as far away as Scotland. In the hundreds of males in the parade, I only saw five women.
Apparently the band season occurs in the summer. I was just lucky to be here at the right time. I walked on the sidewalk, sort of following the parade. The parade started and ended with the police, both in cars and on foot.
The locals here are more difficult to understand than in Ireland. I think that they have more of a Scottish accent mixed with the Irish. But I smiled a lot, even if I didn’t appreciate all that was said.
Many of their people came to the U.S. down the Great Wagon Road and into Appalachia. The men I spoke to knew where North Carolina is.
i took a lot of pictures. Here’s one depicted the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. Look up this important date. Remembering that I’m still blogging on mini IPad.
Beth and I have finished our walks through Ireland. With the Kerry Way, Dingle Way and more than half of the Wicklow Way, we calculated that we did over 275 miles. That doesn’t begin to compare with 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail or over 1,000 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea across North Carolina.
Still, it was a great way to see a part of Ireland. Instead of renting a car or getting on a bus and visiting many places for a short time, we chose to concentrate on walking and understanding a small section well.
But if truth be told, that’s not how we made our plans. We decided on walking in Europe and then learned about the marvelous trails in Ireland.
As I’ve commented before, there isn’t much wilderness in Western Europe. Every corner has been lived in, farmed, tilled, and grazed. When you see sheep or horses, you know that the land is privately owned. People live and work in their national parks, though with many restrictions, I’m sure. So you can walk and walk and plan to have a bed, shower and meal, if you want that.
But the walking feels wild, even with sheep bleeting on the path. We had to figure out gates, stiles and sometimes confusing instructions and signs. We met few hikers on the trail and stopped and said hello to everyone we met. This kind of vacations allowed me to talk to locals in the shops, pubs and at our B&B. The people here really appreciate visitors and want to tell us about their country. Since there were few Americans on the trail, locals were intrigued about us and our walks.
Ireland Walk, Hike, Bike (www.southwestwalksireland) had organized our lodging and transported our bags from B&B to B&B. They were very good at helping us tweak our plans when we made it clear that we were hikers and not just on a walking holiday. So a big thank you to Linda Woods and her staff.
After the drama of the first day, the Wicklow Way south of Dublin was much kinder to me.
The weather was better and I was paying more attention to the twists and turn of the trail. We were led on open, wild country where we could see forever. Almost all of the trees in the countryside were cut down eons ago, giving wonderful views.
But as I keep commenting.
This is not untouched land. We passed through the monastic city of St. Kevin. We had scheduled a short day, only six miles, so that we had plenty of time to understand the ruins in Glendalough.
St. Kevin was a hermit who lived in a cave and presumably spent his free time praying. He was supposed to have lived from 498 to 618. To have lived this long certainly required divine intervention. But others must have found out about his lifestyle.
A monastery was founded after his death that became a center of learning. This is where monks wrote out and illuminated manuscripts. Then a village sprung up around the monastery. Well, others needed to grow and process grain and other foodstuff while the monks prayed.
Today, the monastic city still has an intact Round Tower and St. Kevin’s church. The cathedral is in ruins. The rest of the area is a huge graveyard, where people can still be buried. But here’s the modern story.
Close to the B&B where we stayed was a modern St. Kevin’s church.
I was not able to go inside but the grounds held a fascinating group of outdoor sculture. The most memorable was a memorial designed by Brother Joseph McNally, a local monk who had been in the United States when the twin towers were attacked on 911.
The Wicklow Way is the oldest long-distance trail in Ireland, having been established in about 1981. It’s only about 82 miles. Like most walks, it has a lot of roadwalking but it enters and leaves Wicklow Mountains National Park several times.
Unfortunately our plans don’t allow us to do the complete trail. If you’ve been following me, you might think that Beth and I will be in Ireland hiking forever, but no such luck. This is our last trail.