I guess the last time I wrote was a little over a week ago - when Cindy went home. Lots of stuff to report. I spent Fri and Sat mostly recovering from our whirlwind week, plus doing laundry (required quite a bit of effort), grocery shopping and I took a bus tour - one of those open top, double deck ones. It only rained a little :) I had been to most places, but I it was a good overview, and I'll make sure I get back to Kilmainham Jail to do the tour.
Sunday I went to mass in Latin and there was a boys choir - really beautiful and interesting. Then I headed to the National Library and the National Museum. The library isn't normally open on Sunday, so I didn't have my geneological stuff with me, but found a record of an ancestor, John Wilkinson, in 1861 (might have been 1833) that rented land near a lighthouse on Rathlin Island and had to pay £6 in taxes. After that, I caught some of the All-Ireland National Hurling Championship (I think it was Kilkenney-orange/black stripes- and Omagh-green/white/orange). The ones in orange/black won. The town was not nearly as wild as I expected for that. That night, I went to a sing-along screening of the Sound of Music. Very cute.
Monday I spent most of the day at the National Library looking for ancestors, with not much luck. Almost all of their records are from 1861 forward, and I already have at least that much for the 4 branches of my ancestrors I was looking for. I did find a few books on Rathlin Island, though, which I skimmed to get familiar with my next destination.
Tuesday I got on the train at 7:30am, and 3 train changes and 2 buses later I arrived in Ballycastle at about 6pm for the night. On the way, between connections, I wandered around Lisburn and then Portrush, and took a tour of the Old Bushmills distillery in, oddly enough, Bushmills. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous - rolling lush green fields separated by crumbling stone walls, with cows and sheep. It reminds me alot of where I grew up in rural PA (plus sheep, and more rain). The coast is very dramatic with lots of cliffs, similar to San Diego, but rocky instead of sandy cliffs (and less sunshine and colder). Supposedly Portrush is a surfing town, but you would have to pay me alot to get in that freezing water. Listened to some local Irish music (led by a Scotsman) and had a pint or 2 in the Angler's Arms.
Wednesday I caught the ferry to Rathlin Island at 'half 10' (10:30). Once there, I took a mini-tour over to the north end of the island, where there is a bird sanctuary. Apparently in the summer there are thousands of puffins nesting. But they left at the end of August so I only saw a few seagulls. A guy on the bus was a shipwreck diver, and he said there are hundreds of wrecks around this tiny island, because the sea can be so incredibly rough. The rest of my birthday I spent wandering around the SE section and much of the afternoon and evening with a very distant relative - Dolores Kyle. That night I caught a pint and played some pool at the pub, and stayed at the lone guest house on the island.
Thursday I rented a bike and went to the SE end - Rue Point. I interrupted the sunbathing of many seals, and again saw lots of sheep and a few cows. Then I decided to head to the lighthouse, but turned down the wrong road - seems incredible because there are only 2 roads to that side of the island! But I'm glad I did. I followed what I thought was the path after the road ended, but then that ended. So I just headed to the coast and pushed my bike along the edge. It was absolutely amazing - lots of little coves, some tumbeld-down abandoned farmhouses and again the lush green hills rolling to the sea. Tons and tons of pheasants - a sporting group sponsors a pheasant hunt a few times a year and drops a huge amount on the island. I also came upon the Bruce castle ruins, on top of a tiny piece of land jutting into the sea. I didn't see the cave where Robert the Bruce hid out for awhile, but I believe it was below the castle (sheer cliffs). Eventually I got to the lighthouse, hoisted my bike over the wall and rode back to town. That was a much less spectacular route, but still very pretty. I spent the rest of the day with Dolores, walking a bit, at the pub - met a few very colorful characters - and stayed that night at Dolores' brother Patrick's place.
Friday I caught the half 8 ferry back to Ballycastle, and had a lazy day walking around that little coast town and taking it easy.
Saturday I went driving around the whole area with someone who was working on Rathlin - Geard - a wonderful tour guide. We went to the Giant's Causeway and to the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. I'm running out of synonyms for 'beautiful', but you get the idea. Then we drove all around the coast and inland. Again, it reminded me alot of eastern rural PA. That night I stayed at a hotel in Cookstown, and went to an amazing huge club called The Opera - all the decor inspired by Phantom of the Opera.
Sunday morning I tried to catch a bus back to Dublin but much to my (temporary) extreme chagrin, very few buses run on Sunday - one to Dublin at 9:30a (which I missed) and one at 7:30p to Belfast. After calming down, I took a taxi to the closest reasonably big town, Dungannon. Amazingly, a bus was just leaving for Belfast so I got on. As I walked around, it reaffirmed that my favorite city so far is Belfast - I'm not sure exactly why.
The place I stayed Saturday night, Cookstown, is in the heart of the 'Troubles' area. In the surrounding towns as well, there were some seriously high fences and barbed wire, multiple layers of gates and lots of cameras around all the police stations and RUC headquarters. In Cookstown itself, there is an Army depot with blast walls in addition to the police station measures. I saw many British flags flying, and one Irish -which I was told should not be flying. In Belfast the courthouse was protected in this way, but otherwise everything was normal. There were 4 high schools in the Cookstown area - 1 each of 'normal' public/protestant and Catholic(St Pius X!) across and down the street from each other and then 1 each of gifted public/protestant and Catholic. There is a new very well funded integrated primary school which has some pretty ominous high fences. In one small town at a stop, Geard pointed out 4 major buildings that had been blown up by bombs a few years ago. But pretty much everything is rebuilt. There were some signs saying 'Disband the RUC' - apparently they are a pseudo-police arm and are very one-sided (I'm not sure which side). Also, I saw a bit of 'IRA' graffiti but it was all few and far between. All that said, I felt very safe and would definitely come back.
So I caught the train from Belfast to Dublin yesterday and cannot believe I only have 6 more days here! I have so much more to do!!!