May 15th, 2022
We departed the campground near Donegal mid-morning and made our way across the non-existent border into Northern Ireland.
You know you’re no longer in Ireland because the speed limit changes to mph and the signs are only in English!
Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom sharing a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland was created in 1921, when Ireland was partitioned by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, creating a devolved government for the six northeastern counties. The majority of Northern Ireland’s population were unionists, who wanted to remain within the United Kingdom. They were generally the Protestant descendants of colonists from Great Britain. Meanwhile, the majority in Southern Ireland (which became the Irish Free State in 1922), and a significant minority in Northern Ireland, were Irish nationalists and Catholics who wanted a united independent Ireland. Today, the former generally see themselves as British and the latter as Irish, while a Northern Irish or Ulster identity is claimed by a large minority from all backgrounds.
The creation of Northern Ireland was accompanied by violence both in defense of and against partition. In 1920–22, the capital Belfast saw major communal violence between Protestant unionist and Catholic nationalist civilians. More than 500 were killed and more than 10,000 became refugees, mostly Catholics.] For the next fifty years, Northern Ireland had an unbroken series of Unionist Party governments. There was informal mutual segregation by both communities, and the Unionist governments were accused of discrimination against the Irish nationalist and Catholic minority. In the late 1960s, a campaign to end discrimination against Catholics and nationalists was opposed by loyalists, who saw it as a republican front. This unrest sparked the Troubles, a thirty-year conflict involving republican and loyalist paramilitaries and state forces, which claimed over 3,500 lives and injured 50,000 others. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement was a major step in the peace process, including paramilitary disarmament and security normalization, although sectarianism and segregation remain major social problems, and sporadic violence has continued.
The economy of Northern Ireland was the most industrialized in Ireland at the time of Partition of Ireland, but declined as a result of the political and social turmoil of the Troubles. Its economy has grown significantly since the late 1990s. The initial growth came from the “peace dividend” and increased trade with the Republic of Ireland, continuing with a significant increase in tourism, investment and business from around the world.
Cultural links between Northern Ireland, the rest of Ireland, and the rest of the UK are complex, with Northern Ireland sharing both the culture of Ireland and the culture of the United Kingdom.
The only official flag in Northern Ireland is the Union Jack flag of the United Kingdom, and has no official local flag that represents only Northern Ireland. The flying of various flags in Northern Ireland is a significant sectarian issue, with different communities identifying with different flags.
The Ulster Banner was used by the Northern Ireland government from 1953 until the government and parliament were abolished in 1973. Since then, it has had no official status. However, it is still used as the flag of Northern Ireland by both loyalists and unionists and to represent Northern Ireland internationally in some sporting competitions.
The Saint Patrick’s Saltire represents Northern Ireland indirectly as Ireland in the Union Flag. It is sometimes flown during Saint Patrick’s Day parades in Northern Ireland and is used to represent Northern Ireland during some royal events.
In recent years, there have been calls for a new, neutral flag for Northern Ireland, most recently as a recommendation by the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition in December 2021.
Northern Ireland’s favourite beer: Guiness
Our first stop was to do a little explore of Londonderry. We parked Minou in a little lot near a park across the river from downtown (we weren’t sure if we’d stay the night or not) and took the Peace Bridge across into the city.
This is a pedestrian only bridge that takes you right into the core of the city. There we saw the Guildhall (town hall) and the Peace Flame
Before wandering over the City Walls – the most intact of all of Europe! We checked out the Bloody Sunday Memorial, parts of “free Derry” and then walked some more on the walls themselves.
As it was such a nice day again today, we thought it might be worthwhile to make a beeline for the Giant’s Causeway as the forecast looked pretty wet for the next few days.
Enroute we stopped to view Dunluce Castle (only ruins left although some complete walls). This was the castle used in Game of Thrones for the House of Greyjoy.
The Causeway has a Visitor’s Centre and we thought we should check to see if booking is required; it was but there were lots of open spots so we thought we’d wing it. After a bit of research we discovered if you parked off the actual site, you could walk to the causeway itself without going in the visitor’s centre and it was free! We weren’t sure where that parking actdually was so we drove into the main lot to be told we wer at the vistitors centre but the girl gave us dirdctions to another lot which turned out to hbe full and that fellow said try the hotel or the bar and we got a spot at the bar – we went inside to tell them we were going to check out the causeway and then be back; it was very busy but they said sure (their lot said “patrons only”).
It’s about a 15 minute walk down to the site. We walked around and took in the views and took some photos.
Sadly we have to say it was a little anticlimactic after seeing the basalt columns in Iceland last year but with a nice walk on a sunny Sunday.
We drove a bit further down the road to White Park Bay Beach and parked in the small lot for the night. We were up high but did have a partial sea view:
We awoke to a quiet Monday morning with on and off sprinkles. Aaah we were glad we did what we did yesterday and hoped the sites we wanted to visit today wouldn’t be too effected by the rain but we were not overly optimistic as there was a good deal of fog as well once we hit the road.
We wanted to visit the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge but it was not open until later this week. We tried to get a view from a coastal point but it was either too far away or invisible in the fog.
Northern Ireland is the site of many a GOT location site and there were a few more on our route.
Ballintoy Harbour was the location for the Iron Islands in GOT:
The Dark Hedges site:
Cushendun further along the Antrim Coast Trail was where the caves …… Although we found a good place to park and could see the path to the caves, once down the road, it was blocked and we could see no other access – it was also raining and we didn’t search too hard…..
The rain was a gentle Vancouver drizzle and the fog was lifting slowing. The Antrim Coast trail continues along the sea and it was a nice drive but probably so much better if it’s sunny.
Then it was on to Carrickfergus where the best preserved medieval castle in Norther Ireland is found. Here the rain stopped, the sky lightened and it looked promising for a dry afternoon.
Carrickfergus Castle (from the Irish Carraig Ḟergus or “cairn of Fergus”, the name “Fergus” meaning “strong man”) is a Norman castle in County Antrim. Besieged in turn by the Scottish, native Irish, English and French, the castle played an important military role until 1928 and remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Northern Ireland. It was strategically useful, with 3/4 of the castle perimeter surrounded by water (although in modern times only 1/3 is surrounded by water due to land reclamation). Today it is a state cared for historic monument.
Here there was a large parking lot that offered motorhome services like, water and dumping, all for free so we took advantage. We never know for sure when we’ll find dump spots so we use them when we find them!
We arrived in Belfast just before lunchtime and thought we’d check out this bar rated one of the best on the island called the Sunflower Bar for lunch. We parked nearby in a lot and walked over. It didn’t seem that special and they only had two things on the menu for lunch which the bartender was “warming up” so we we’re sure how fresh they’d be so we passed.
Enroute to the pub we saw this lovely mural:
We went for a walk passing St Ann’s cathedral and then had some lunch at Belfast Fried Chicken before heading to Victoria Square to go up to the glass dome to get a 360 view of the city; just our lucks it was closed till Wednesday!
We went back to get Minou and drove over to the International Mural area and took a walk to see them; much of this is political.
Now we wanted to visited the free Ulster Museum but it’s closed on Mondays and parking options for the night were dismal so we decided at this point to book the ferry to Scotland for tomorrow and spend the night in Bangor on the sea about 14 miles away. We got there mid afternoon, and it was gorgeous – full sun but some wind.
When we took the ferry to Ireland there was a two hour departure delay and they had given us a 20 % coupon for our next trip so we were able to use that and save about €40 so it was worth it.
Tuesday was a cloudy morning but the rain held off for a while. We drove back into Belfast and after some difficulty found street parking about a half mile from the Ulster Museum. The Museum is free and was pretty good. It has three main sections: Art, Science and Irish History.
When we were done we had some sandwiches in the restaurant there and then went back to Minou before driving to the Titanic Belfast Museum – just to see if from the outside as we’d seen enough exhibits about this tragic event in our lives.
Next was the ferry terminal where upon arriving we learned the ferry was running about a half hour late and we were already an hour early so we had some time to kill. We installed some new seat covers we’d obtained and then did some reading while waiting. It had begun to rain before getting here and it rained the entire ferry trip to Scotland. We brought out laptops onboard and got some stuff done.
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