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Days 3-4 // Northern Ireland (+ The Hill of Slane)

northern ireland // a thousand threads
I’ve always liked to think of myself as a fairly well-informed world citizen… or at least informed at all. Not so charmed as to think that every country is like my own. But I’m ashamed to say that prior to visiting Belfast, I had no idea just how real Northern Ireland’s decades-old, and decades (I thought) dead conflict still is, both in the minds of those who lived it, and in the lives of those who continue to live it today.

While the Good Friday Agreement may have transformed The Troubles into a different beast, waged on the political stage and behind closed doors, on the streets of Belfast, much of the violence still remains.

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On our first day in Belfast, we wandered to a nearby restaurant situated over a bar. Sitting and blabbing about everything and nothing in our loud American accents, we managed to attract two even more distinct accents to our table — two Scottish men in town for an upcoming parade. They explained that Scotland has always been supportive of the Irish, and that they themselves had always been involved — they felt more Irish than Scottish at this point — and that oh by the way we were sitting above a Republican bar and shouldn’t wander too far off in the wrong direction.

And maybe if we did find ourselves in a situation we should at least go ahead and pretend we were Canadian.

America and the UK are allies, of course. Not to mention our strong alliance with Israel.

On the hill overlooking the city stood big white letters spelling out, “Viva Palestine.” Something like a slightly more ominous Hollywood sign, letting everyone know that Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast, is still very much split into its respective camps.

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On our second day in Belfast, we scheduled a Black Cab Tour to learn a little more about the city. We were paired with a Protestant driver who recounted his violent childhood. He told us how he learned to throw a petrol bomb at twelve, watched his neighborhood burn, and fought with other children almost every day.

He told us how good his kids have it today, how lucky they are to live in a world that is less violent than the one he knew, but he also detailed the beatings and shootings still happening on the streets. He pointed to the chicken wire on Catholic windows residing in Protestant neighborhoods, meant to keep the petrol bombs from coming in. He showed us murals commemorating those who’ve died, and are still dying, long after the peaceful ink is dry.

I felt stupid for thinking that what was once a deadly conflict had been reduced to something akin to a football rivalry in so few years. And as in so many situations overseas, I felt lucky (and a little guilty) for having grown up in a country so safe and so fortunate as the US.

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Outside the city, folks are less consumed by politics. They don’t bring the issue up. But that’s not to say that you won’t get an earful if you ask.

The issue is still very much alive in Northern Ireland, and I’m so thankful to have had the chance to experience just one tiny sliver of what is still a very complex situation firsthand.

After Belfast we visited the gorgeous coast, stopping in Portrush for lunch and visiting the Giant’s Causeway, but sadly missing the last tour at Bushmills (next time).

… oh, and we visited these lovely cows, who were actually not in Northern Ireland at all, but in Co. Meath at the Hill of Slane on our way from Dublin.

Keep reading for a few of the things we loved most on days three and four of our Irish road trip, and as soon as you have the chance, go on a Black Cab Tour in Belfast… hopefully it will be as amazing and eye-opening for you as it was for all of us.

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WHAT TO DO
(Keep in mind this list is limited, we didn’t have time for some major stops like the Titanic Museum or the Bushmills Distillery. Consider adding both to your list.)

Black Cab Tour
Whatever you do, don’t miss out on a Black Cab Tour. It was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip. Must-see sights include the city’s many murals and Northern Ireland’s impressive Parliament Building.

The Giant’s Causeway
Lots of tourists, but well worth the trip.

Hill of Slane
Actually pretty fascinating, and just a quick stop-off between Dublin and Belfast.

Portrush
Such a beautiful little coastal town. Stop off for a casual lunch at Ramore Wine Bar and treat yourself to one of their ridiculously huge desserts.

WHAT TO SKIP

Sadly, we had a hard time finding good food in Belfast — largely because we were there on a Monday and nearly everything is closed — so if you have any recommendations, be sure to let us know for the next trip.

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