Sunday, 10 June 2018

Easter Ireland - Part 2 - Leaving Dublin

Houses on the Lifey.
Dublin street art.
Brick terraces in Dublin.
The saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." We all know the meaning and when we travel, we like to think we follow this one simple rule for being in someone else's country. There are new rules and customs to follow, new food and drink to try and also new languages. Everyone loves to try the good things, the French wine, Argentine steak and Australian BBQs, but there are many things that aren't to our liking. These things are the problem, or when differences are found. For example, I love the Spanish laid-back attitude, except when I'm trying to get something important done, then they're all lazy. Going back into a country that is very much like Britain, it was hard not to make certain comparisons about people and the country. Firstly, when I say Britain or The UK, I don't mean to offend Irish people here - I shouldn't put everyone in the same basket, but I'm not sure how else to mean English speakers from the British Isles (and even countries like Australian and New Zealand) all in one word - Commonwealth Countries? What I'm trying to say is that we're very similar in many ways, culturally and culinary, compared to most of Europe and the rest of the World. One big difference I found was immediately after landing in Dublin airport. I bumped into someone at the baggage claim and he said sorry. Yes, it may seem like a small thing, but it was like being back home! Nobody apologises in Spain for bumping into you, let alone if you bump into them - it was very, very refreshing and I nearly thanked the man! Driving in Ireland too made me realise how mad the Spanish roads are (although nothing compared to Italy!). The Spaniards aren't terrible drivers, more just inconsiderate as they don't realise that anyone but themselves are driving on the road. It's a very egotistical way of driving, but in Ireland (and the UK) they are very polite and considerate - moving over for you when you merge onto the highway, letting you jay-walk by stopping and waving you over. Never does that happen in Spain, where pedestrian crossings are just lines on a road (or cross-hairs in Italy). Bars in Ireland and the UK are also very different. They are usually quiet, sombre places, for having a few pints, sitting on soft seats and reading by the fire - Spain is loud, both inside and outside with people yelling (Spanish talking), football matches blaring from huge screens and all the while you're sitting on hard metal chairs. I can appreciate both, but a change is as good as a holiday!

The St Jame's Storehouse - home of Guinness.
This way to Guinness heaven.
Baby Guinness!
Just beautiful.
We had one more day in Dublin left before driving up north. Although small, the city is packed with things to do! The thing that everyone does is the Guinness Storehouse - and so you should! I was here when I first visited and I remember a few things - the high price and the view from the top with your pint of Guinness. Back in 2005 I was shocked at the price, talking the girl at the desk into giving me a student's price (which was still €11!) in stead of the full admission, which she wasn't happy about, but I wouldn't have been happy to pay full price. This time around there was no way of getting a discount, even though I always ask if there is a teacher's prices - a €25 entry fee nearly gave me a heart attack at 37 and I was evening thinking of turning around and leaving. I'd come this far and you can't do this anywhere else, so pay it I did and in I went to get my money's worth! The store was new this time and oh boy was it big! It's the first building you walk into after paying, and although my pocket was still very wounded from the hit it had just received, I still wanted to buy so many things! The most important part of this room is in the centre though - the lease signed by Arthur Guinness, the very busy man and young entrepreneur behind every bottle of the lovely black stuff. In 1752, at the age of 27, he received £100 from his godfather and he immediately invested the money and bought a brewery just outside of Dublin. But this wasn't enough for the young Guinness - most young men would have gone out and partied, bought a fast car (or a fast horse then maybe), spent it on drugs, sex and rock and roll most likely, but not Arthur. He went into Dublin and took out a 9,000 year lease on the 4-acre brewery at St James' Gate which is now the famous factory. Why such a long lease you think, it sounds quite ridiculous, but it only cost him £45 a year - maybe a decent sum them but could you imagine buying 16,000m2 (the equivalent of 7 New York City blocks) and never paying any rise in rent for your entire lifetime and the lifetimes of your next 400 generations? Smart man! He had 21 children and many grandchildren, so it was worth it! The Guinness Storehouse has since outgrown it's original land size and so has expanded and also bought the land - rendering the lease redundant. The Guinness Brewery had became the largest brewery in Ireland by 1838, and the largest in the world by 1886, with an annual output of 1.2 million barrels - nowadays it is 260,000m2 and produces over 50 million barrels.

Perfection in a pint!
I love watching the Guinness settle.
Dublin from the Gravity Bar.
The Famine Memorial in Dublin.
Although my aim all along was to get to the top of the building and have a pint in the Gravity Bar, I worked my way though the 7 levels of the museum first. On my first visit here in 2005, I didn't bother with all that, I remember being disappointed and bored. I'm not sure whether things had changed that much or what, but I quite enjoyed the tour this time round. There are a few different sections, some more interesting that others, but plenty to see. I enjoyed the advertising exhibition, showing off the ads and all the props from those ads. There was, of course, the kangaroo and the toucan, as well as the cycling fish and some very interesting clocks. My favourite ad was from 1995, showing an Irish guy waiting for his Guinness to be poured and settle, all the while doing a mad (and drunken) dance. Along the way there is a small tour where you get a taste of the good stuff before the bar - a little aperitif if you like. We had to line up, but not wait that long, before we were let in. The first room you go in, the Guinness 'smell room,' has four white obelisks with vapour coming out, each with the distinct smells of Guinness - barley, roast malt, hops, and brewers yeast. AS you wander around the room and sniff, the tour guide is chatting away (nobody was listening), but more importantly someone else is pouring baby Guinesses! 1/8th of pint, a pure miniature of the original, is a very cute sight - it also pours, settles and tastes the same. As you stand there with you baby pint, you're told how to taste it, drink it properly and how to really enjoy it, much like a wine taste. Tempted as I was to nick this tiny glass cutie and add it to my full-size collection of pint glasses, I'm sure there were cameras and guards waiting for an opportunity to nab a sticky fingered tourist. The pint at the top is what it's all about though and we'd finally arrived! You can pour your own on another level, even get a certificate if you do a good job, but I've poured my fair share of pints over the years so I just wanted the drink. Sitting up there, way above the city and with a 360 degree view is pretty cool - nearly worth the price tag. We sat and enjoyed looking at and drinking our pints, took some photos and enjoyed where we were - it was a real welcome back to Ireland but it also marked the end to our Dublin visit even though there was much more to see. Time to head North.

Tick followed Tock... and it was time to say goodbye to Dublin.

Howth harbour.

St Mary's Abbey, now in ruins.
Waiting for a stray chip!
Before heading out of the city, we stopped briefly at the Famine Memorial on the riverside. Build in 1997, these bronze statues commemorate the Great Irish Famine (1845-1849) in which 1 million people died of starvation and another million emigrated from the island, many to America and Australia. The cause of the famine is thought to be a potato blight, the vegetable that a third of the population depended on. Some people also blame the English - Ireland, being part of the British Empire, were forced to send their produce abroad, and so mostly went without. Either way, these statues were extremely haunting and although I was glad to see them, not something you want to look at for too long. The first place along the road north of Dublin to stop was a place called Howth, a very beautiful seaside town on the Howth Head Peninsular, 13kms north of the capital. We parked the car and walked down to the harbour, passing the Parish church and the ruins of a the St Mary's Abbey, and straight to the 'Beshoff Bros' fish and chips shop. Good fish and chips are a must in Ireland or the UK, and even Australia - there's nothing like freshly battered fish, crispy chips, covered in tomato sauce and vinegar as well as tartar sauce (or even horseradish!). We sat down on the harbour and had our feast, watched closely by the local wildlife. There was a brief shower, but it blew away quickly and the sun was back. After lunch, we gave the crumbs to the waiting gulls and went for a walk around the pretty harbour. The name Howth is thought to be of Norse origin, perhaps being derived from the Old Norse Hǫfuð ("head" in English). The area was used as a base for the raids into Ireland and was built before Dublin was founded by the same vikings. The foreigners stayed here until the middle of the 11th Century but was later conquered by the Anglo-Normans in 1169. Today it is a beautiful fishing town, the little harbour holds quite a few trawlers, all with rusty stains down their sides from their catches. The prominent feature of the harbour is the stone lighthouse that sits right on the edge of the harbour. Howth Lighthouse was built in 1817 after the harbour was upgraded, it is quite a sight and many people come here for this alone, with it's stone walls and bright red door. The lighthouse also had a defensive purpose, a circular wall alongside defends a gun position. The lighthouse keeper’s house  is attached to the main tower but it converted to unattended electric lighting in 1955. You're free to walk right up to it and look around, but we didn't as the wind had picked up and I feared being blown into the sea.

Rusty fishing trawlers in Howth.
The beautiful lighthouse at Howth.

The seagulls are HUGE!
A quaint tea store.
We'd left the town of Howth behind and were now in Northern Ireland. While there is no real border separating The Republic of Ireland and this separate country that is part of the UK, road signs change from kilometres to miles and the money also changes from Euros to Pounds Sterling. The State, if I can call it that, of N.I. was created in 1921 with the Government of Ireland Act in the previous year. While the southern part of the country declared independence, most people in this area were unionists and protestants and wanted to remain with the Crown. There are basically two 'factions' up here - The Loyalists and The Republicans. The former consider themselves British and subjects of Her Majesty and are, of course protestants. The other group want Ireland to be unified in a republic and are mostly catholic. Everyone has heard of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the troubles, and to some extent this tension between the two groups still lives and causes many problems despite the disbanding of the IRA back in 2005. On the surface, everything seems fine business as usual, the change as far as landscape and buildings go, it just looks a little more like The UK. I was here not just for sightseeing, but to see a friend who works at the New Lodge Youth Centre here in the city. I know Paddy Doyle, a key member at the centre, through ICDM, the organisation I worked with in South Africa. I hadn't met him in person yet and my visa there ran out just days before his arrival. He did some great work down there and also here in Belfast and I was eager to meet up. A drove into the city and found the centre and sat down and had a chat with Paddy. We talked about South Africa, what he does at the centre and for the community - a wonderful man and a real community worker. It was only Tuesday and we decided to come back to Belfast for a proper catch up and spend all day Friday and Saturday in the city, as it was better for him. So, we headed out of the city the next morning, but we'd be coming back to find out all about this troubled city. Now, it was up the coast towards the Giant's Causeway - hoping the weather will stay kind to us!

Goodbye Euros! Hello Pounds!

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