From Mount Stewart House's beautiful gardens...
It's that time again. When Bill and I take trips, I like to sum them up with a "ten things I learned" post. Although we've been to Scotland three times and we visited Ireland last fall, this cruise on Hebridean Princess took us to Northern Ireland for the very first time. You wouldn't think there would be that much of a difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland... and, I guess, there isn't that much in terms of how it looks and how warm the people are. But we learned that there's still some tension over the fact that Ireland and Northern Ireland are divided. I will get more into that with this list. For now, here's the countdown in no particular order.
10. There are a whole lot of Presbyterians in Northern Ireland!
I was born and raised Presbyterian, although I am not really a churchgoer these days. To be honest, when I did used to go to church, I didn't know that much about it. I simply went because my parents made me. It wasn't until I was in college and worked as the cook at a Presbyterian church camp that I learned about what I was supposed to believe and realized that it's a very Scottish religion. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised to see so many Presbyterian churches in Northern Ireland, but when we visited Derry, our tour guide told us the story of Presbyterians in that large city. We visited the First Derry Presbyterian Church and The Blue Coat School Visitor Centre and I came to realize just how prevalent the faith is there.
9. There's still a lot of tension between British people and Irish people over Northern Ireland's inclusion in the United Kingdom.
I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that many Irish people would like to see their island nation reunited the way Germany has reclaimed its east. As we listened to our Irish tour guide in Carlingford talk about growing up in Northern Ireland and visiting the Republic, I got a firsthand account of a man's experience having to pass through checkpoints during a very volatile period in Irish history. I had sympathy for our Irish guide's viewpoints, although I admittedly don't know as much about the subject as I should.
8. Bill knows a lot about Irish folklore.
My husband seemed to impress a number of other passengers about how much he knows about Irish folklore. It's a special interest of his, since he has a lot of Irish ancestry. He took a course at American University when he was a college student and learned a lot of the old stories. It came in handy during our tour of Carlingford.
7. The city of Derry has a connection to Harvey's Bristol Cream, a favorite sherry of ours.
Although I'd be hard pressed to accurately retell the story as our tour guide told it, I was very surprised to find out how Bishop Harvey in Derry had a connection to Harvey's Bristol Cream.
6. If you visit an Irish restaurant in the Republic, you're liable to hear old fashioned country music.
Yes, I know country music comes from Scotland, Ireland, and the other isles up there, but I sure wasn't expecting to hear "The Ballad of Jed Clampitt" in an Irish restaurant as we were discussing Irish folklore. The music moved on nicely to "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" by Tammy Wynette and a number of other feel good classics from when I was a wee lass in the 70s.
5. I learned more about the plight of Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Although I had heard a little about Catholic oppression by the British when we were in Ireland last November, I learned a bit more about religious persecution on this trip. For example, when we visited Derry, our guide explained that the Catholics were mostly very poor and were forced to settle in a marshy area of the city. Because they were so poor and many people often lived in one home, they were underrepresented in elections. For years, only one person in a Catholic household was allowed to vote and they really suffered because of that rule, which only changed in the late 1960s.
4. Every year in Carlingford, people are allowed to hunt Leprechauns for one day.
Our tour guide in Carlingford, a man named Dermott, explained that the town of Carlingford has a fund raiser that allows people to go up in the hills and "hunt" for Leprechauns. It is technically illegal to hunt for them on any other day of the year.
3. Crossing the border into Ireland from Northern Ireland is a non-event... for now.
Dermott, our guide in Carlingford, told us that as a young man, he had to submit to extreme vehicle searches whenever he wanted to visit Ireland. Although he was born and raised in Northern Ireland, Dermott considers himself Irish and wants to see the island united as one country unto itself. He told us of having the wheels and seats taken out of his car when he was a young man as border patrols looked for bombs or other weapons. Today, one can cross into Ireland and not even notice. But if Brexit comes to pass, that may change.
2. Mount Stewart is a beautiful place!
Bill and I had the pleasure of visiting Scotland's amazing Mount Stuart House in Bute, Scotland, on our first Hebridean cruise. As the crow flies, Northern Ireland's Mount Stewart isn't that far away. It's also a very impressive place. I really enjoyed the gardens at Mount Stewart, although I think I like Mount Stuart's house a little more.
1. The Titanic Experience in Belfast is amazing... and amazingly crowded!
I really didn't know much about the Titanic, the ill fated cruise ship, before we visited Belfast last week. I still don't know that much about it because the Titanic Experience, while very comprehensive and impressive, is positively loaded with people. I overheard some passengers on our cruise saying that France's exhibit in Cherbourg is better. Perhaps we will visit there and see for ourselves.
We really enjoyed ourselves in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. I hope someday we will get to return. At the very least, I need to sit down and watch the movie, Titanic. I can't believe I still haven't seen it in the 20 years it's been out. Maybe this weekend...