Getting from Belfast City Airport to the Queen’s University is easy peasy; I’ve done it loads of times over the years. Not this time though! Went over a bridge and kept going instead of hanging a left. Ended up somewhere up the Newtownards Road (I don’t know east Belfast except for a wee shortcut from the City airport over to Queen’s via Short Strand!) and we spent a good thirty minutes quite lost until I thought I should look for Divis Mountain – that would give me an idea where to head, I thought. And indeed it did! In no time at all we where whizzing up the Ravenhill Road … and whizzing … and forgot to turn right! Ok, down this road and we’ll be fine; we’ll just take this here wee shortcut. Jeepers, got lost in the backstreets near the River Lagan bridge (and I know that area quite well) until we caught sight of the river itself. It took an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the university. All that stuff about taking the girl outta Belfast … it seems that you can also take Belfast outta the girl, after all.
But it was indeed lovely to be back in the town of my birth. Something about the water I think. But let me tell you, Belfast has changed and is changing right before your eyes. First of all, there are tourists. Loads of them. Everywhere. Even up the Falls and Shankill Roads in black taxis. They are taking pictures of the City Hall and Belfast Buildings. St George’s Market (a bit uppity now it has to be said since the stinky days when my Granny bought her fish there) is full of them eating oysters and swilling down fancy coffees. But the thing that took me to the fair was the number of wee lads (well, 20 somethings) strutting their stuff in skinny jeans and wearing face fuzz. They all look like that Fifty Shader Jamie Dornan to me. And do you know that thing about the Northern Ireland accent being the sexiest on the planet? That had to do with him too, I suspect. So now it’s cool to be a young beardy in Belfast speaking Norn Iron. Can you imagine? Gone are the days … Apparently the cops have gotten in on the act too with their eye candy recruitment poster guy (also sporting a beard)!
There are some places in the world where beards are something to fear. Afghan refugees, for example, are afraid because they are immediately recognised. But not in Belfast. I know now why there are so many wee girl tourists: they are all looking for their very own Mr Spanky! Good luck to them! The wee lads of Belfast will have drunk them under the table in two hours flat, so enjoy this while it lasts lads. Next week some other role model will have popped up and Norn Iron might not be so sexy anymore.
I don’t know why I needed to visit the west coast of Donegal via Coleraine and Portrush and Enniskillen but I did. North Antrim was simply lovely. A bit on the cold and windy and rainy side, but still lovely. And the rain does tend to be followed by a great sunset like this one.
Sheridan and Annabelle were great company and we enjoyed the third (the first with my aunt and the second with my bro) of my sixtieth birthday parties with them. Thanks folks for the craic and the lovely hospitality! From Coleraine to Enniskillen on the back roads was a sight for sore eyes after the city: lovely countryside. We stopped at the Ulster American Folk Museum and spent a few hours out of the rain moseying around their exhibits. I kinna enjoyed it but it was a bit too curated for my liking. Fermanagh was, as always, welcoming and rain sodden. Bernie and Anna laid on a great meal with lotsa gin and wine and craic, and a great sleep was had by all that night. I considered that my fourth birthday party!
And finally we were doing the bucket trip journey. I must add here that I don’t think I’m on the way out; I am just celebrating sixtiness by driving around places of the past! First night Killybegs. On the second morning we climbed a goodly part of Slieve League (1972 feet above sea level) up into the damp clouds and even damper terrain. Great views though. And you would never find this sort of thing just anywhere these days, certainly not in Uganda. I wanted to drink from it but Himself wouldn’t let me in case the sheep above had done a pee.
Too many tourists though, far too many in SUVs driving more than halfway up. Going through Teelin on the way to Glencolumcille I found the house where I stayed when learning Irish at Colaiste Aoidh Mhic Bhrice when I was fifteen; I had just turned sixteen when I was promptly kissed the next night at a ceile! Ah, such innocent memories! I came home and washed my mouth out with TCP – well I hardly knew the lad!
Over the Glengesh Pass to Ardara and up to Portnoo was the next leg of the journey. The coastline is superb and we stopped many times to ooh and ahh while the waves kept patiently hitting the shore and rolling back again. We were looking forward to the next part of the trip up to Dungloe of the famous Marys and then The Rosses through to Gweedore and Gortahork. Well, I could have cried. Those developers with pockets full of brown envelopes have but ruined that part of the Island of Ireland. Ruined. There are Daily-Mail-Book-of-House-Plan houses everywhere. And they are a blot on the landscape, an eyesore, a wart on the end of Sleeping Beauty’s nose, a boil on the cheek of the prettiest girl at the party … I could (as you know) go on, an on, and on! But then a bad thought popped into my head. What if they are all contaminated with that mica stuff that rots concrete and will fall down in about ten years time? That’s a thought to keep the spirits up. Except of course if they are real people’s homes and then it’s not such good news. Not in the slightest. Read about it in the Irish Times. But it is a pity. If they had built them in groups or small villages, it would have been ok, but they are scattered all over the place like confetti in a clean churchyard.
One thing that struck me as we drove into the Gaeltacht area in the north of the county: more signs are in Irish now than I remember from the old days. That’s not so bad because I can read them, but Himself, the map-reader, does not have the Irish (being a foreigner and all that), so it got a bit tricky at times, and I have to admit to a third incident of lostness (but only for a wee while). And then it was time for the final leg of the trip up to Downings. I bet a number of you readers will know of Downings, and I bet some even know Mrs Casey’s caravan site where hoardes of Norn Iron families fled for the twelfth fortnight every year. Sadly, Downings was not the same either: lots more Daily-Mail type houses so we didn’t even do the Atlantic Drive. I was so disappointed. But instead of a caravan or tent, this time we got to stay in the Beach Hotel. Horray! And that was the end of the childhood / teenage years memory trip. After that it was home to Culdaff for a quiet lazy week where I would have the fifth of my significant birthday parties. We visited Malin Head, now home to a coffee van at Banba’s Crown (Caffe Banba) and a soya cappuccino just had to be bought and drunk before the wind blew it out the the cup. EIRE is writ large up here so that German planes would know they weren’t flying over enemy territory.
The Carndonagh Cross was also re-visited. I loved David as both harpist and soldier:
That birthday party was had (and yet another one with my sis), all business and pleasure activities were done and dusted, and then it was time for sad farewells before the long and stressful journey from the Emerald Isle back to the Pearl of Africa for the seventh and final sixtieth birthday party. Sixty is definitely the new forty! Bring it on!