Monday, April 24, 2006

Weary Traveller

I faced an interesting dilemma in Dublin - i couldn't get a refund on the coach to London that had been part of the package deal. So i could, in comfort, book a night in Dublin, get to the airport, fly to Edinburgh, spend a night there and then go off on tour. The problem was that without any specials being available this would cost around £80. There's a lot that I can think of to do with £80! Like going souvenier shopping on my last day :) [Still waiting on the travel agent to confirm when that will be]. Or - I could sleep on the coah back to London (thus getting free accom for the night), then catch a coah to Edinburgh for only £12 on an internet special. This sounded like a great idea, or at least like the kind of crazy story that every impoverished traveller should be able to come home and tell [and people do look at you like you're crazy!].

The problem with this was that the coach was packed and thus there was no room to spread out and we kept getting woken up by customs etc.... The police were all kitted out impressively at customs yet once again they'd lost the bloody stamp and thus my British passport is still utterly devoid of stamps! The ferry across the sea was once again luxury though and I had time to discover (since they lacked Baileys and Bourbon of any kind) that Southern Comfort and Ginger Ale go well together. I managed to pick up a shamrock charm bracelet in the shop & make friends with some Irish coppers from Dublin off to go racing cars in Wales.

I only got about two hours sleep on the coach though; crawled into Victoria Coach Station and sat around for two hours before jumping on the next coach up to Edinburgh! I was furious at this girl who shook me awake wanting the seat next to me - when there were still seats available elsewhere; she got off much much later that day but her departure (along with most of the bus at Newcastle) did mean that I finally had a luxurious three hours to stretch out and get some kip. With the bus practically empty not only did I get my two seats but I got to stretch my legs over the aisle to the next lot of seats too :)

Edinburgh looks grand once you get past the Coronation Street suburbs into the central city and can see the castle and all. I got in pretty late and spent ages trying to find a supermarket and organise laundry and all, so I haven't seen much of the city but I'll try and get some photos when we get back there from the tour.

In my wanderings though I did manage to find Edinburgh's resident geek shop (sadly closed for the day) so that makes Singapore, London, Galway & Edinburgh so far - I can't remember if I've managed to instinctively hone in on them anywhere else :P

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Jess, Kristen, Adam, Rachel, Kristy, Michelle, Nicole, Tracey

Final night in Galway

Northern Tour

That's pretty much all the major stuff that we saw. The rest was fields and such. The rest of the tour was really about the people.

No GAP year's this time, everyone was mid to late twenties bar Barrie and Katrina (but she was as good a time as any of us!). God he made us laugh. He was lovely but we swear he had the soul of a Japanese tourist inside him. He'd go out with his camera and scramble off the beaten path, he'd go in the opposite direction of everyone else and we'd spend ten minutes waiting for him to come back to the bus from taking pictures.

Joe was alright as a bus driver but not fun the way that Phil was. He also got distracted chasing skirt although we didn't give Angela too much flack for it when she stopped sleeping in her own bed. The 6 Dayers were moved to Don's bus today to get a lift back to Dublin while Joe took the ten dayers on and he was laughing about it as much as the rest of us. Joe had convinced him to bunk in with Phil last night so that Joe could 'have the room to himself' and didn't Don play him up for it.

Mind you, Adam did plenty of bed hopping himself. I swear you could tell the moment you met him that he'd already kissed the Blarney stone! Our first night together he manages to tease and cajole his way into Kristen's bed and they argued like three year olds in a sandspit 'Your knees in my back!', 'That's not my knee', 'insult', 'Feck Kristin, give me some pillow' etc..... In the end we were shouting down comments like 'Kristen, you have to shag him so he'll shut up and the rest of us can get some sleep', 'Do one for the team K!'. However, she had a boyfriend and Adam was gentleman enough to keep it to flirting for the trip although I imagine they both have different stories about who was coming on to who the most. Next night he was sleeping with Rachel and they were pretty cosy for the rest of the trip while Kristen looked daggers at her.

There were a few others being chased and a few running away. The gossip and the complaints, 'He's so hot why doesn't he want me?', 'Why the hell won't she leave me alone?', continued all week.

The others were just disappointed that we managed to find sleazy older men or little seventeen year olds but no appropriate Irish snapper for them to catch.

A lot of the group were set for drinking, pubs and dancing every night. The first night was pizza and punch. Joe made it in these huge tubs; gallons and gallons of the stuff. It tasted of juice and lemonade and you could sort of taste the sparkling white wine and multiple bottles of white spirits in it. It was deadly. Joe was coming round while we sat in front of a roaring fire so we'd skull back the glass, he'd refill it and then he'd be back again... Most of the group ventured out into the night and then drank a couple of bottles of schnapps upon their return. Some of managed to be suitably ill in the privacy of the hotel and felt much better by morning; others were still sick as dogs and Nicole was proud that she was the first (and only so far) to keep stopping the bus to spew into the roadside bushes. It was impressive and she got much sympathy and good natured groans and cheers from the spectators on the bus.

Belfast was good. I went to the movies for the first time in months (and it was cheaper than home even with the exchange as it was their specials night!), got lost, finally got back to the hostel and then went to the bar with the others. We dance till close and it was great.

Westport was good though the pub we went to sucked. We had these huge female only and male only dorms. Dale was the story for that night as he managed to drunkenly sleep walk, piss in two different parts of the room, try and climb into someone else's bed & finally find his way back to his own. He had no memory whatsoever of all this but Adam had been awake for the whole thing.... Poor hostel staff.
We did a huge group cook-in there for dinner and breakfast. Oh, it was so good. No cereal or white toast for breakfast. Real toast, eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, baked beans... it was heaven.

Galway, the equivalent of Dunedin (the student capital), was our final night altogether. There's a pub on the square that does fantastic huge plates of food and has curly fries. Some went off to bet on the dogs and most of the girls headed back to shower and do makeup. A few drinks and much dancing around the mirror we headed out. The King's Head was good, it was packed but we still got a table, the music was thumping so that you could feel it right through you.... But the guys were apparently sleazy, too old and a few of them were shaking up beer bottles and spraying the crowd. Jess got hit on, had her back soaked in beer and was generally not happy. We were only there an hour though before we had to go meet the others.
The bar was dead. Forty minutes later they still hadn't shown up. We'd got stamped by some girls down in the shopping district so we headed up into Cube.
It didn't open till 11pm and we were in at 11.30 so fair enough it was dead. But the top floor stayed dead and the second floor could have been busier. It was filled with seventeen year olds and first year uni students. It was, as Jess put it, like the Loaded Hog on a quiet Wednesday night complete with slappers in hipster white pants. The dance floor was a depressed circle with banisters above it that the guys were leaning on like vultures. It was a meat market and the music was standard clubbing music but the girls were gutted there was noone there to pull and the age group was definitely a lot younger than us.
So everyone was furious at Joe for recommending the place & for not showing up with the others (turned out he was at a pub only meters away but he had other objectives that night). Out into the night we went and to add insult to injury Maccers was closed and the guys at the kebab store completely ignored us yet served the drunk locals who came in after us.
We got home at an early 2am or thereabouts and Barry was still up reading in the lounge (so we went to bed before him!), then Katrina started snoring soooo loudly and so badly. We went to wake her up just before Jess walked in and in the end we had to laugh at how bad the night had been and kept Dale awake talking etc...

Galway was pretty in the sunshine. The park's finally open after a couple of years of renovations and on the fiest Friday of semester it was packed with students sunning thmselves. The harbour had a flock of wild swans - 90+ I counted! The cathedral was so beautiful.

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Castle was built by Mitchell and Margaret Henry and took four years to complete (1867-1871). Mitchell had inherited a fortune from his father, a Manchester cotton merchant, and used the money to construct a magnificent castle, complete with a walled garden, paths, woods, and he developed the 13,000 acre Kylemore Estate. He was a good landlord respected by the local people whom he employed and whom he would represent in his political career. His good reputation was renowned and helped him to win a seat in the House of Commons.

The land was eventually sold and sold again etc... It is now the home of the Irish Benedictine nuns. Their income comes from tour groups and from a girl's boarding school run on-site. It is of international acclaim (and Madonna's daughter goes there).

The parklands are beautiful. We had the most beautiful sunny day that Ireland has seen all year. It was picture perfect serenity. There were school kids on tour sitting down by the lake, little oar boats bobbing on the water, birds singing in the woods. It was gorgeous. We only had an hour and a half there but it was the sort of place that with the right weather you wanted to spend a whole day there picnicking and reading a book by the lake.

The Walled Garden

Five Virtues

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey and Garden

Famine Memorial

Famine Memorial. Fleeing Ireland in hopes of a better life they would book passage to the New World. They were usually crammed into hulls without food or sanitation. The trapdoor would be closed and locked and not opened until the destination was reached. The bodies of the dead would then be disposed of. Very few survived the journey of many that sailed.

Croagh Patrick - the holy mountain where St Patrick fasted for 40 days & 40 nights. They still hold mass on it's peak once a month and people climb it barefoot in peance. We wanted to climb it but there wasn't time.

St Patrick

St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland

St. Patrick is one of the world's most popular saints. It is unclear exactly where Patricius Magonus Sucatus was born, but it is almost certain that this great Irish saint was not born in Ireland. As a child Patrick showed no particular interest in religion, and as a youth he practically renounced the faith of his family. His parents, Calpurnius and Conchessa, were Romans living in Britain. The French like to claim that Patrick was born in Gaul, but most other accounts agree he was born in Kilpatrick near Dumbarton, Scotland in the year 387.

Sometime in his mid-teens Patrick was kidnapped in a raid, taken to Ireland as a slave, and put to work as a shepherd. In the despair of his captivity he turned to God in intense and desperate prayer, drawing comfort from the Christian faith that he and so many others of his people had abandoned under Roman rule. Therefore, through divine providence, the years of Patrick's captivity became a preparation for his future in ministry. He learned the language and customs of the Irish people who held him, and even while he practiced devotion to Christ he also became very familiar with the pagan and druidic practices that were popular throughout Ireland at that time. After six years as a slave he was told by an angel in a dream to run away to the coast. He travelled over 200 miles from Ballymena to Wexford and escaped on a ship that was taking dogs to Gaul (France). After landing in England he was recaptured and returned to slavery, but this time he escaped again after only two months and traveled around Europe seeking his destiny.
Patrick spent 15 years as a disciple of St. Germanus of Auxerre, and was ordained about the year 417. There is still a strong cultus of Patrick in France, especially around St. Patrice, a town named for him. St. Patrice is only a few miles west of Tours, and the local people firmly believe that Patrick was the nephew of St. Martin of Tours and served as a monk in his uncle’s great Marmoûtiers Abbey. At Marmoûtiers today there is a stone bed alleged to have been slept on by Patrick. St. Germanus consecrated Patrick bishop about the year 432, and Pope St. Celestine I sent Patrick to succeed St. Palladius, who had been the first bishop of Ireland.

Patrick landed at Slane in 433 and soon entered into conflict with regional chieftains by lighting his Easter Vigil fire in a manner contrary to the wishes of the King. The local druidic priests, who were apprehensive about the meaning of Patrick’s arrival, prophesied that “this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished.” The fire continued to burn miraculously in spite of all physical and spiritual efforts to put it out, and as a result Patrick was granted permission to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Eireann. In essence, the druidical prophecy was true and is still being fulfilled: the sacred fire kindled by St. Patrick in Ireland has never been extinguished.

The form of early Irish Christianity planted by Patrick is much more joyful and celebratory than its Roman predecessor in its approach to the natural world. It is not a theology of sin but rather a theology emphasizing the goodness of creation. It is intensely fleshly and incarnational. The conversion of Ireland is the first example of the Christian faith thriving in a culture that celebrates rather than abnegates the natural, a culture in which there is a sense of the entire world as holy. In Celtic theology, the whole created order is Book of God—filled with healing mystery, and fraught with divine messages.

Patrick set up his see at Armagh in approximately 435. Many wonderful stories are told about this period in his life, including the legend that he drove the snakes from Ireland, that he described the Trinity by referring to the shamrock, that his preaching was supported with frequent glorious miracles, and he was single-handedly responsible for the conversion of the entire country. But the Patrick of historical record is just as compelling as the Patrick of legend. Two brief documents, Patrick's Confession and his "Letter to Coroticus," generally accepted by scholars as authentic, are the basis for what we know of the historical Patrick. He was the first real organizer of the Catholic Church in Ireland by dividing the church into territorial sees; he raised the standard of biblical scholarship and especially encouraged the wider teaching of Latin; he travelled throughout the country preaching, teaching, building churches, and opening schools and monasteries; and he converted countless people of all social classes, and inspired many to become monks and nuns. He not only shared God with the people of Ireland, but also grew in his understanding of God through them.

The manifold virtues by which the early Celtic saints were distinguished shone forth brightly in the life of St. Patrick. When not engaged in the work of sacred ministry, much of his time was spent in prayer. He wore a rough hair-shirt and made hard rock his bed. Converts of high rank would offer him their precious ornaments, but Patrick was not interested in material wealth. Some followers even revere Patrick as a mystic because the major events in his life are preceded by dreams or visions, he never relaxed his penitential exercises, and his intense prayer life reflected a deep awareness of the precious nearness of God at all times.
In the far west of Connaught there is a range of tall mountains, which, arrayed in rugged majesty, bid defiance to the waves and storms of the Atlantic. At the head of this range arises a solitary peak known as Croagh Patrick, or St. Patrick's mountain, and it is honored as the Holy Hill, the Mount Sinai of Ireland. It is said that St. Patrick, in obedience to his guardian angel, made this mountain his hallowed place of retreat. In imitation of the great Jewish legislator on Sinai, Patrick spent forty days on its summit in fasting and prayer, and other penitential exercises. His only shelter from the fury of the elements was a recess in the solid rock, and the flagstone on which he rested his weary limbs at night is still pointed out. The whole purpose of his prayer was to obtain special blessings and mercy for the Irish. It is believed that his prayers were answered: through his unconquerable love of heavenly things, his unremitting penitential deeds, and his unceasing prayers, Patrick obtained extraordinary favors for the people of Ireland whom he loved and evangelized.

Not surprisingly his own experience in captivity left Patrick with a virulent hatred of the institution of slavery, and he would become the first significant figure in Church history to speak out unequivocally against it. His time in captivity also increased in him the ability to suffer and to understand what other people’s suffering is like. As a result Patrick has been adopted as one of the great patrons of the downtrodden and excluded, or for anyone living on the fringes of society.

Women also find a great advocate in Patrick. As one scholar said: “It is clear that the man who wrote the Confession and Letter to Coroticus is deeply and sensitively open to women and womanhood. He does not take refuge in the pretentious asceticism, nor in that neurotic fear of and contempt for the feminine that has entered so deeply into the attitudes and structures of the Christian Church. In this respect he is a complete man.” Elsewhere in his writings Patrick lauds the strength and courage of Irish women: “It is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most—and who keep their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaids; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone.” Unlike his contemporary, St. Augustine, to whom actual women seemed more like personifications of the temptations of the flesh than human persons, Patrick's Confession speaks of women as individuals. Some feel he was the first significant male Christian after Jesus to consistently speak well of women.

For 40 years St. Patrick continued to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded in all the provinces in Ireland. He comforted the faithful in their difficulties, strengthened them in the practice of virtue, and appointed pastors to continue his work among them. It is recorded that he consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops. Near the end of his life, St. Brigid came to him, bringing the shroud in which he would be enshrined. When St. Patrick and St. Brigid were united in their last prayer, he saw the whole of Ireland lit up with the brightest rays of Divine Faith. St. Patrick prayed that the light would never be extinguished, and an angel came to him and announced: “Fear not: your apostolate shall never cease. Such shall be the abiding splendor of Divine Truth in Ireland.” Patrick died at Saul on Strangford Lough, in Downpatrick, where he had built his first church. His remains were wrapped in a shroud woven by St. Brigid's own hands.

And so it was that a young Briton named Patricius died an Irishman named Patrick, and neither Ireland nor Christianity was ever quite the same. By the time of his death, or shortly thereafter, the Irish stopped slave trading and never took it up again. Human sacrifice had become unthinkable. His countrymen never stopped making war on one another, but war became much more confined and limited by what we now call the rules of warfare. In the modern classic How the Irish Saved Civilization, it is said that Patrick's conversion of Ireland made possible the preservation of Western thought through the early Dark Ages by means of the monasteries founded by Patrick's successors. When the lights went out all over Europe, a candle still burned in Ireland. That candle was lit by Patrick. And since it was Irish monks who served as the bridge between classical Christianity and the Middle Ages, medieval Christianity as a whole tends to reflect the celebratory nature of Irish spirituality rather than the gloom and sin-centeredness of its classical predecessor.
In art, Saint Patrick is represented as a bishop driving snakes before him or trampling upon them. Sometimes he is shown holding a shamrock, or standing before the Paschal Fire. Almost everyone knows that Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, but not as many are aware that he is also the patron saint of Nigeria, a country that was evangelized primarily by Irish clergy. Like St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, Patrick is one of the few saints who is widely loved and admired in the secular world as well as within the Church. His name occurs widely in prayers and blessings, including the common salutation, "May God, Mary, and Patrick bless you." St. Patrick died on March 17, 461.

Pretty scenery

Day 4 - we stop to visit the grave of Yeats

The fort

View of ireland from fort

Griann Ailligh - ancient stone fort

Statue of William of Orange in random town when we were searching for the Ranger's memorial for Tony

View from the island

Dale, Rachel & Michelle traverse the chasm

Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. "Traditionally salmon fishermen have erected this precarious bridge to the island over a 30m-deep and 20m-wide chasm."

Angela, Lachlan, Kristy, Nicole, Rachel, Me, Adam, Kirsten, Dale, Jess, Kristina, Dale, Katrina. Joe (driver), Michelle, (girl from other tour), Barry. Tracey taking photo. And two others still in the shop!


Barry, Adam, Dale. Kristen, Kristy, Rachel, Michelle.

At G.C.

G. C.

G.C. - A series of hexgonal rocks in an upthrust crystalline type formation

Kat, Craig, Jess, Me, Nicole

G. C.

Jess, Katrina, Me, Tracey

Walking to the G. C.

Going down to the Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway

You remember I was telling you about Finn MacCool when we went to see the Sleeping Giant? Well the bridge that Benandonner built from Scotland to Ireland is located in the North and is known as the Giant's Causeway...

Random windswept castle

H & W - the shipyard that was hired to build the Titanic. It was constructed in Belfast and stories about it's construction were interesting. Apparently approval has been given for an exact reconstruction of it to be built, all berths are already sold & it will set sale on the centennary of the Titanic's maiden voyage.

The Salmon of Knowledge (built to scale)

The Salmon of Knowledge

The Salmon of Knowledge was a mighty fish and whoever tasted first of the Salmon would know all things, be wiser than man and know how to get themselves out of any situation. Finegas was a mighty poet who searched for many years to find the salmon. One day he was out fishing with his apprentice, the warrior Fionn, when they spotted the greatest salmon they had ever seen swimming in the river.

The men caught the salmon and Finegas set it to cook. He warned Fionn not to eat it until after he had returned. Fionn had the minding of the salmon while it was cooking and watched over it carefully. The fish began to blister and he was greatly upset. He burst the blisters with his thumb and got badly burned. In surprise he stuck his thumb in his mouth and sucked on it. Thus he tasted the juices of the Salmon of Knowledge and became the wisest man in all of Ireland. Great was Finegas's disappoinment when he learned what had occurred but he forgave Fionn for it was not purposefully done.

The Titanic memorial

City Hall (note Queen Vic)

Mural Walls

IRA mural walls in Belfast

Sinn Fein - the political front for the IRA

The H Block Hunger Strikers

Kristy, Me, Adam, Rachel, Dale, Craig (Michelle & Jess)

One of the defence walls has been turned into a international cry for peace with murals and messages and signatures from travellers from all around the world.

He killed 14 Catholics, including a fifteen year old girl, most of them innocents as a member of the Shankill Butchers. To the U. F. F. he's a hero.


Belfast - the Protestant paramilitary groups


We did the Black Cab tour in Belfast and it is well worth doing - again by locals although they try to be neutral in telling you the stories. They take you out to the Protestant areas and show you their paramilitary areas. You hear a lot about the IRA on the BBC etc.. but you don't tend to hear so much about the Protestant military groups that were equally vicious but were loyal to the Crown. You see the IRA controlled territory and the murals that they paint. You hear a lot about the hunger strikers. Maggie (Thatcher) waited till ten or eleven had died under Bobby Sands before she agreed to treat the men who had been arrested without trial (some innocent and some guilty) as political prisoners and grant them the righ to civilian clothing, to post, to an education. I won't write up a lot about it as it can be accessed fairly easily online or in books. Hearing it there and seeing everything that we saw though, it was hard-hitting.

The defense walls are still up; the security gates are still monitored. Some of them are now open all the time but others are still opened and shut for business hours each day and don't open on the weekend at all. The police still travel in heavily armoured plated vehicles and the police station has a three storey high wall after a missile got launched at it.

The crime rate is now reasonably low and they tell us the streets are safe. Mind you, they tell us that's because pretty much every copper is aligned with one of the military wings of either the P. or C. factions and pass on information about callers and complaints. One example given to us was this -

Johnny is dealing crack to kids on the street. The appropriate people find out and he is kindly warned, as a brother, that this is a family city and that what he is doing is wrong. So Johnny stops for a few weeks. But he really needs the money so he starts up again. Shortly one of three things will happen -

Johnny receives a rubber bullet in the post. He has 24 hrs to get out of Ireland or is dead.

The lads come round, hold him down and smash up every bone in his legs so that he'll never walk again.

Or, they're in a good mood and only smash his kneecaps so that he can never stand fully straight again.

Listening to this as we drove around was pretty scary stuff for the Aussies & Kiwis on board, it was like something out of a movie but it's a daily reality there. An informant was killed just two weeks ago.


Catholic Derry

Catholic Derry. The army used to bring in gas...

The graveyard in Bogside with those killed during the Troubles

Protestant Derry

Protestant Derry