Giant’s Causeway has been on my must see list for quite some time, so a quick jaunt over to Belfast on our way to Finland was an absolute must! Northern Ireland has a tumultuous history with a civil war that lasted thirty years. The British ruled the island until 1921 when the partition split the island into two parts, the free southern part and the still British ruled north. With British rule, Irish Catholics were severely oppressed with laws in place to prevent them from voting, acquiring housing, or politically congregating. Starting in the 1960’s and onward, many Irish Catholics began protesting with marches around Northern Ireland. The British used police brutality to quell the marches, leading to even more persecution. The IRA, or Irish Republican Army (republican meaning for the Republic of Ireland) was then formed to help the fight. After internment of political prisoners, frequent bombings, and incredible levels of violence for thirty years, finally a peace agreement was signed. To this day, the remnants of the violence are still seen. Peace lines, or large fences and walls, are still in place around the city segregating it between the British Protestants and the Irish Catholics. Although many of the civil rights have now been achieved, there is still discrimination particularly in the availability of housing for Irish Catholics in their neighborhoods. With the now 18 years of peace, Belfast is now one of the safest city in Europe.
Belfast has quickly become a tourist hub in Europe, home to the Titanic Museum since the largest moving vessel in history at that point was built in the Belfast shipyards. Belfast also is the entry point for tours to Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and the Game of Thrones filming locations. Northern Ireland agreed to allow filming along the Causeway Coastal Route, as long as the show employed locals. Carnlough harbor’s steps into the sea were used in one scene of Game of Thrones.
The Dark Hedges was also used in many Game of Thrones scenes. The road was initially planted with the iconic trees to decorate a large driveway to an old mansion.
We drove along the Causeway Coastal Route to see the famous Glens of Antrim. Glenarm is the closest point between Ireland and Scotland, a mere 14 miles. As we drove through many small towns along the coast, either the British or Irish flag flew over the town signaling an either British or Irish majority. Celtic crosses are prominent in cemeteries along the way. The Celtic Cross dates back to St. Patrick’s conversion of local pagans to Christianity, combining the Christian cross with the pagan circle connoting their worship of the sun and the moon. Many caves along the coast were used as schools and secret masses for the persecuted Irish Catholics.
Carrickfergus Castle was built in 1177 in one of the oldest towns in Ireland.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was originally built by fisherman 250 years ago to access the small island off the coast for betting salmon fishing.
The stunning basalt hexagonal columns of Giant’s Causeway formed due to a volcanic eruption where lava quickly cooled in the sea, forming their odd shapes. Irish folklore states that the causeway was built by the Irish giant Finn as a means to get across to Scotland, so he could fight the Scotch giant.
We had fish n’ chips for lunch with a classic Guinness for Whitney.
Bushmills Irish Whiskey Distillery is the oldest whiskey distillery in the world, founded in 1608.
Belfast is quite hopping at night despite the early winter nights. We had a blast walking around and admiring the packed pubs and holiday decor.
The walls and gates below are the still standing peace lines that divide the British Protestant and Irish Catholic neighborhoods. Gates still close and lock every night at 10 pm. The house below is located right across from one of the most violent peace lines, hence the lack of windows.