Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ireland: Belfast to Bru na Boinne and Home

Our last couple of days in Ireland, we really slowed down our pace. I think we were all pretty road weary and worn out.
We drove through the city of Belfast to see some of the murals there. Since the 1970s, people in Northern Ireland have taken to painting political murals to express their points of view. They are arguably some of the most famous murals in Europe.

Although Protestants and Catholics co-exist peacefully in Belfast these days. That has most certainly not always been the case.  And, we did not love the vibe of city.  Things felt tense and we did not spend much time there at all.

The Red Hand of Ulster is a symbol used by both ends of the spectrum. The pro-British prefer the proud hand on a Union Jack background, while the IRA faction prefer the defiant fist on a yellow background. This symbol has roots in another Irish legend...
The kingdom of Ulster had at one time no rightful heir. Because of this, it was agreed that a boat race should take place and that "whosoever's hand is the first to touch the shore of Ireland, so shall he be made the king". One potential king so desired the kingship that, upon seeing that he was losing the race, he cut off his hand and threw it to the shore—thus winning the kingship. The hand is most likely red to represent the fact that it would have been covered in blood. The moral of the story?  The Irish will do whatever it takes.

We spent the rest of the morning at the Ulster Folk Museum. This is very similar to Colonial Williamsburg, in that you walk around a town and explore homes and businesses from the early 20th century.  These are actual buildings from around Ireland that were taken apart and reassembled here for visitors to explore. There are also people in period costume working, baking, and strolling around that will tell you the stories of the homes and the people that lived in them and even share some of the bread they are baking over the smoky peat fire. 

We also enjoyed a silent Charlie Chaplin film in the theater, scones at the tea shop, and picking out some penny candy for the road in the sweets shop.  In other words, it was a great place for the kids.

We spent our last night in Ireland at a guesthouse on a farm in Nobber. The Corballys welcomed us at tea time with punch, more scones, muffins, and chocolate.  We enjoyed their company, and the kids really enjoyed playing ball with their dog, Lucky.

Mr. Corbally walked us up through the pasture to see the sheep, alpacas, and llamas there. 

At the top of the field is an ancient ring fort (before year 1000.)  Over 40,000 of these sites have been identified in Ireland and just look like perfectly round flat circles on hilltops. It is illegal to disturb the ground there, but Mr. Corbally explained to the kids that this is also to protect people from disturbing the fairies who live in these circles. This is the view from the ring fort.

The next morning we drove over to Bru na Boinne on our way to the airport.  This area (a UNESCO world heritage site, of course) is home to several chamber tombs, henges, and other prehistoric enclosures. Some from as early as the 35th century BC.  That is not a typo.  We chose to visit this Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange, from 3200 BC. 

The structure is built on a base of hundreds of these massive stones quarried 20 km away and decorated with megalithic artwork.

It was fun to come up with different theories of what the symbols might represent... the sun, wind, waves? A map? Religious ideas of rebirth?

The entrance was a little tight, and the passage actually became more narrow farther in, but we all went in and observed a reenactment of the sun shining through the roof box on the winter solstice.  At this time each year, a beam of light reaches all the way back into the burial chamber where the ashes of the deceased were laid and who knows what rituals were performed.
We left Newgrange, enjoyed one more pub style lunch, and headed to the airport.  We returned our rental car and trekked to our gate.  Where our 5 pm flight was delayed. We finally arrived in Frankfurt just before 9 pm. After passport control, luggage claim, and trekking to the train station, then 9:45 pm train was delayed. When it arrived we rode it one stop, and got off to transfer to our final train only to learn that we had missed it by 3 minutes. We had to wait until 11 pm for the next train. This photo is of the kids, waiting at the train station in the dark, waaaaay past bed time. When we reached our town we still had about a mile walk home, but thankfully, Rob ran it and came back for us and the luggage with the van. We won't be taking the train to the airport again anytime soon.

Despite the challenging end to our trip, we really liked Ireland.  I am super glad that we went and that we got to see as much as we did.  We consciously chose to unplug from technology for this trip and had a great time reading, hiking, singing (Irish radio turned out to be utterly disappointing,) and playing games. We tried to balance grown-up fun with family fun, and grown-up restaurants with kid friendly ones. It was a huge undertaking, but left me feeling confident that we can actually travel overseas with four children and come out the other side feeling like doing it again.  We are looking forward to our next adventure! 

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