We had built in time in Northern Ireland for research purposes, in case the trail from our research indicated that County Down was, in fact the correct place to find information about Brinsley Barnes. Downpatrick, being the governmental center of County Down, was where we planned to go on this day.
Except for one little detail. It’s a Sunday. A bank holiday Sunday, to be more precise.
We went to the bus station, and looked at time tables, and given that we’re looking at a Sunday, it takes a bit over an hour to get there from Belfast. It’s not a large city, which put the likelihood of records-type places being open were slim to none, meaning that it would probably be a lot of bus for very little to show for it. I had originally had this idea of seeing both the St. Patrick’s Cathedrals, and hiking to the place where the famous Saint is said to be buried. As we stood in the very quiet bus station and debated the trip, which was a mere £9, our enthusiasm for going anywhere just sort of dribbled away. We decided, instead, to see more of Belfast.
Because it was still the off-season, we had hop-on/hop-off tour companies genially competing for our custom, which lead to something of a bidding war, both in terms of places visited and discounts off the cost for three tourists in search of something to tour. In the end, we picked the tour company that promised cemeteries, when the other companies did not. Also, they gave us like a 25% discount.
I think we were mostly not interested in the “hopping-off” part of things. Laziness, perhaps was ruling the day, or maybe we mostly enjoying all the sitting involved in the staying on the bus, and completing the tour.
We also soon realized that Belfast is much smaller than we’d had in our brains. Like, this is the view from the “farthest” out point we went on the tour, and while we are on a hill, looking toward the shipyards, it’s clear that when they were building the Titanic, you could pretty much see it from anywhere in town. If you’re not convinced, just look for the big, yellow Harland and Wolf building cranes in the top right of the picture just to the left. Of course, I’m just now realizing I hadn’t posted a picture of the cranes in the previous post, so, maybe I ought to post a picture of those. Then, you should be able to spot them easily.
From the castle, we went to see the murals and the neighborhoods at the center of The Troubles. The murals are hard to capture in one frame, and as we drove past backyards full of happy children playing, and people walking about, I didn’t feel much like taking photos. The were some really sad signs of a that time, and it feels like a barely scabbed-over wound. In the picture below, the empty areas separated by fences are dividers between parts of this neighborhood. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but, there were remains of buildings with battle scars in them on the left side of that chain-link fence. on the opposite side of that lot, is a wall of murals.
I could barely look at the murals as we drove by them. They seemed so disconnected from the reality of the homes around, where the scars of the past still screamed to be heard. Those broken walls and empty lots filled with trash, so different from all the rest of the city, were much more powerful than falsely cheery images painted skin deep on a white-washed wall. The reality of the pain is not so easily glossed over.
Our guide was carefully neutral, and noted that there was blame to be had on both sides, but, like the damaged neighborhood, there was much more in what he didn’t say than what he did say. His tone and demeanor were much more relaxed when we had gotten out of the residential area and were on our way back to the city center.
As we got the edge of the city center, the guide pointed out this painting, which naturally denoted the border of the part of the city loyal to the crown. It is, of course, a portrait of William of Orange, the Dutch king, who is known informally as “King Billy” in these parts. He invaded England and deposed King James in the “Glorious Revolution,” taking the crown as William III. This is the William of “William and Mary,” and the Victor of the Battle of the Boyne. Basically, if you’ve never heard of him, you have lots of reading to do.
Waving farewell to the King William, we turn to see the Europa Hotel looming just ahead. Our hotel is a mere two blocks from this large hotel, with the dubious claim to fame as “The most bombed hotel in the world,” during the turbulent times in Belfast history, this was a common target because the international press corps stayed here.
If you are wondering when I am going to come to the cemeteries, since they were the selling point for this tour company, well, it turned out to be a disappointment. We did, indeed, pass by a cemetery. It was walled, and nothing particularly interesting was visible from the road. It was not a place where they had a “hop-off” stop, so, there wasn’t even the option to extend the visit.
The website for the city of Belfast is actually really good, and we had, before we left, downloaded the walking tour of Belfast’s cemeteries, so, if we found some time later, we could get ourselves back.
We were dropped off at the Europa, and we did some meandering around before we moseyed back to our hotel for the night, to get ready for the bank holiday Monday the next day.