So after many weeks, I have resurfaced from my cave to continue the story about Ireland. I apologize for the delay, with the start of a new job I have been quite busy trying to balance work, family, friends and workouts once again. However, the show must go on! And without an understudy to fill in, I must find the time to carry on this show. So, lets continue!
After the first day of Ireland almost had me running for the hills and back to Canada, the ending of that day provided me with enough reason to be hopeful for the week ahead. That next morning around 6 am, my friend and I were getting ready for the week of a lifetime. After walking twenty minutes to get to their transit system in frustration we managed to find our way to the meeting spot to board our tour bus. It was there we reunited with our tour mates from the day before, as well as met new people who would be joining us on our adventure. At around 8:30 am, we were off to Belfast. For those who do not know about Ireland’s history, starting in the late 1960’s conflict began to brew in Northern Ireland. I cannot do justice in explaining the conflict, so I will only provide a short synopsis and urge you to do your own independent research on the conflict. Simply put, the conflict arose out of the way people living in Ireland identified themselves. For some, they identified as British, and believed that Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom (as Northern Ireland remains today). On the other side, there was those who identified themselves as Irish nationalists, and believed that Northern Ireland should join the rest of Ireland and sever ties with the United Kingdom. To complicate matters, these divisions were made worse by the differing religious beliefs amongst people and political affiliations. This conflict led to a bloody period in Ireland’s history with mass civilian casualties and one which impacts Irish citizens to this day. As a result, I urge you to resist commenting on the conflict and your personal ideologies with the citizens. Instead, I ask you to recognize the beauty that surrounds the country and the warmth of its people. I have fallen in love with Ireland and I hope you do too.
It was on the black cab tours in Belfast that I was made privy of this information and the conflict that ensued. These men who run the black cab tours are individuals who during the conflict were there to get people to where they had to go. If you are in Belfast, I am not suggesting that you should go on a black cab tour, rather I am demanding that do. The way these drivers spoke about Ireland’s turbulent history with tears in their eyes and sorrow in their hearts, only serves as a reminder that we as outsiders cannot pass judgement on a nation’s conflict. Rather all we can do is try to be understanding and listen to their stories. When we often think of heroes we think of firefighters and paramedics. However, these individuals should not be dismissed as it was their efforts which allowed citizens to arrive safely to their destinations. As we went on our tour, the cabbie drivers took us to on a tour through Belfast stopping in front of buildings covered in murals depicting the conflict. These murals commemorated the fallen and the fighters in the conflict. After seeing the political murals, we visited a memorial which listed the names of civilians killed as well as those who died for their political beliefs. It is one thing to hear about the conflict that occurred, but to see these murals and the names of actual individuals who perished left me speechless. It made me grateful that I have not had to deal with real political conflict in my own home country and made me grateful for the safety that my homeland has brought me.
During our tour, we were also informed that during this conflict many walls which are referred to as “Peace Walls” were put up to separate communities with opposing beliefs. In Belfast today, many of these walls remain and we were taken to a location where one of these walls stood. Upon arrival, I was speechless that such divisions occur today. It is one thing to hear about political strife in countries, but to physically see the impact is disheartening. With tears in his eyes, our cabbie driver expressed his sorrow that people in these opposing communities cannot even say “Merry Christmas” to one another with this wall of cement keeping them apart. It touched me to my core that even during a time of the year known for bringing people together, people remained divided. Looking at the peace wall, I was also struck by a particular piece of artwork which stated “it…is…cold…and we…are…tired.” To this day, I still think about this piece of artwork. While I cannot bring change to conflict overseas, I can attempt to dissolve barriers in my own country and try to understand those with differing opinions than my own. It is here that our tour of Belfast ended leaving us to reflect on our own situations and hardships.
Dark Hedges and Ballintoy
After the somber tour in Ireland, our next destination was the Dark Hedges. For those who do not know what this is, it is a tunnel like path of intertwined beech trees which was made famous after being used in a scene of the HBO Series: Game of Thrones. Now I am going to be honest in that while I do watch Game of Thrones, I still do not know which scene was filmed here nor do I really care for that matter. Rather, what struck me about this place was the silence. I have heard that this area can get quite crowded with tourists but when we arrived it was as though the whole path was just for our tour group. As a result, this moment allowed for a moment of reflection of everything I had just learned during our black cabbie tour and allowed me to take stock of everything I was grateful for in life. With the sounds of my tour mates in the background, I allowed myself to be happy with the present moment I was in and that I could face whatever the future holds. It was a scene out of a fairytale, and I was the protagonist of my own story. I realized it is up to me to decide how my story plays out.
After the moment of reflection down the path of beech trees, it was time to drive to the village where we would settle for the night: Ballintoy. The village is very small, housing a population of about 160 people. No that is not a typo, however what it lacks in population it makes up for in charm. We stayed at the Sheep Island View Independent Holiday Hostel and set off to explore the little village. If you have time, I urge you to visit the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Although I did not get the chance to visit it, some of my tourmates did and had quite a good time doing so. While some of my tourmates visited the bridge, my friend and I explored the surrounding hills and had our own photoshoot near the water and caves in the village instead. For those who live in Ballintoy, I can only say that you must have some seriously strong legs and glutes. Those hills were no joke, and walking uphill after my photoshoot was a full body workout. Joking aside, coming from a big city, this small village offered a temporary relief to the stresses of city life and those photos reflected this. I was recently told I should smile more, but I assure you that at this moment my smile reached from ear to ear.
As night dawned upon Ballintoy it was time to go out and enjoy a drink at their bar. As I mentioned earlier, I used to be a shy kid. As my friend decided to turn in early, I was left to my own devices and was determined to be social. With much hesitation, I put on my big kid pants and headed to the bar. It was there that I had a great conversation with one of my tour mates and her husband. While it may have been an alcohol induced discussion, it was great to be amongst two people much wiser than myself and discuss our passions in life and dreams. It made me realize that just because our dreams are unconventional does not mean we should give up on them. It may be idealistic I’m sure but I refuse to give up on what I love. With the conversation dying down and the exhaustion setting in, I decided to turn in for the night. I had pushed myself out of my comfort zone and was made better because of it. Tomorrow would be a new day full of adventures and new experiences and it was time to get some rest before our next day of travelling in Northern Ireland.