|Bright colours in Dublin|
|The library in Trinity College|
Kilmainham gaol is another sobering piece of history. Walking the empty corridors where the Irish Rebels last walked makes you realize why the Irish are so proud to be separate from England. A lot of work went in to making it so.
Art galleries and traditionally decked out pubs abound in Dublin but for a real feel of Irish pride and passion head to Croke Park during the Hurling season. Hurling is a sport created and played solely by the Irish (as is Gaelic football but it’s just a little too similar to rugby to spark my interest). The teams wear helmets like those in cricket and carry a wooden bat (or Hurley) most related to a large hockey stick. It is the fastest field sport and the players hit the cork and leather ball (or sliotar) up and down the pitch or run with it, balancing and bouncing it off their Hurley. The aim is to get it into goals that resemble a cross between football and soccer posts. It is a dangerous and loud game with the crack of sliotar hitting Hurley ringing around the stadium and the roar of the crowd sparking passion in even the most confused of foreign viewers. Check out some hurling here or here, then tell me it doesn’t look like fun!
Newgrange. This Neolithic passage tomb’s claim to fame is that it is roughly 5200 years old, that’s older than the great pyramid at Giza. Just above Dublin in County Meath it sits in the Boyne valley, home to many other ancient structures. Hidden for centuries it had passed into myth, stories of fairies and burial places for ancient kings were associated with the area and when a local land owner in 1699 ordered his workers to clear the land they initially they refused, claiming that the fairies there were known to seek revenge on those who disturbed them. When it was eventually cleared, large stones covered with carvings were discovered in front of a long passage leading to what seemed to be a burial chamber. Since then many other Neolithic sites have been discovered in the area and it is now a UNESCO protected site. It is an awe inspiring site at any time but its true magic is felt on the 21st December each year, the European summer solstice. Around this time a ballot is held and only those few that have their name drawn out are allowed down the passage to experience the sun creeping down it to light the end chamber on the longest day of the year and the only time the sun reaches all the way inside. It is an amazing engineering feat from those who had not even advanced to using metal tools and truly one of the wonders of the world.
|Murals in Belfast|
|Claire deciphers a mural|
We were standing looking around and deciding where to go when he noticed us, “Do y’ want to see the murals? Come with me, I’ll show ya.” He introduced himself as Sam, just back from 3 years in Australia and told us about the area, including the bombings he had experienced. He told us about a time when he was in the street when it happened. “I saw a body, lyin naked. Y’ know how all the clothes come off with a force like that? And she was face down, with cuts covering her body from the shrapnel. I thought it was my ma an I ran over to cover her with my jumper. But when I went to turn her face toward me my fingers went straight through her skull, shattered it was, and she was dead. It wasn’t my ma but the horror was still there. But y’ know what haunts me more? What comes back to me at night? It’s the screamin, all those children screamin, for their mothers and their fathers and cryin at the sight of the ruins”
|Murals in Belfast|
The bombing he was talking about was the Shankill Rd Bombing in 1993 and was the most devastating bombing the area had experienced. Just a few days later our train down to Dublin was replaced with a bus when we got near the Republic of Ireland border where there had been some political unrest and the rail line was considered unsafe. Yep, memories of struggle are still very fresh in Northern Ireland but I still think it is a place that needs to be experienced.
The Aran Islands are a short ride by bus and ferry from Galway’s city center. Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer are three breakaways from the mainland which to the naked and untrained eye look like three slabs of uninteresting rock in the ocean. Get a little closer however and an Irish gem has been discovered. I have only been to Inishmore, the biggest and most popular of the three, however I have visited 3 times, needing always to show the next person their charms. On the islands, Gaelic is still the language of the community, one of the few places in Ireland where it is primarily spoken. On Inishmore a few hotels, food stores, bike rentals and souvenir shops huddle around the port where the ferry docks into but just a walk of a few hundred meters and you are out in the rural barren island. So what do you do here? Hire bikes and explore.
|Houses on Inishmore|
Have you ever wished that you lived back when much of the world was undiscovered? Me too. This island allows you to feel like you are discovering it all anew. The main attraction is Dun Aonghasa, a ring fort perched on the edge of a cliff. There are no barriers to stop visitors falling (or being blown) off into the navy foam specked sea 300 feet below and every time it both scares and delights me. Now that you have ticked of the main site, follow road signs (in a mixture of Gaelic and squiggles), your map (which doesn’t actually match with the roads you are riding on) or just have fun bumping over fields or slogging up hills until you find something that interests you. I have found stone domes and naturally occurring swimming pools in this fashion and you are sure to find something to make all the pedal pushing worth it.
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