You get cities with aged, torn open streets.
The water, the mud; settling a black reflection of faces in puddles trapped inside these cracks.
Pink flower petals blown over sneakers, graffiti from the ignored seems surprisingly optimistic, sprayed over metal, sprayed over a Guy Fawkes masked hooded figure spelling, “Happy.”
“Pussy Power,” alongside it.
“Stand with Greece and resist austerity…”
Inside Northern Ireland, and inside the Republic of Ireland, you’re cold. I’m cold. The seagulls scream on wet slippery roofs and shit like machine guns that don’t exist in either place. The majority of locals that smoke out in public rolls their cigarettes on the corner, at coffee tables, along bar-tops at the pubs, or while walking down the streets. I saw it all. At the pubs, Irishmen manage to do most of the talking somehow when you both get to jiving. They drink all the beer too—yet I never minded ‘cause neither the words or the beer ever really ran out for either of us. I can bullshit too, you know? As described to me, the pub culture of this island began with different tribes coming together to drink and tell stories, passing them down through time in songs and conversation over some drinks. And for the first time in ninety years the pubs opened back up on Good Friday, something that was illegal for almost a hundred years. Locals, however, weren’t overly excited from what I could tell. “Just another day at the pub,” one of the bartenders said, blaming those of us sitting on the other side of the bar with a smirk on his face. He is having to work after all when he normally didn’t for the holiday. Some were a little more excited of course…
The journey began in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which of course isn’t part of the EU anymore due to Brexit, only it still remains part of the UK, which sets the precedent for its bloody, turbulent past. The Troubles they’re referred to as. Those who fought for Irish sovereignty from England. They didn’t fight only the British, they fought one another. Those who chose not to fight could still lose their lives from bombings, beatings, “the wrong place wrong time” circumstance, or as portrayed in In The Name Of The Father with Daniel Day-Lewis playing the role of Gerry Conlon, a man thrown in prison for a bombing that killed four off-duty British troops that he subsequently had no connection with. The Easter Rising of 1916 was an attempt to establish an Irish Republic. Irish Republican Brotherhood is a name to recognize in this first initiative, Sinn Fein another: the IRA, bombings, assassinations, many civilians dead from British guns. This was civil war, the undercurrents still swirling today, with the Irish Republic eventually establishing itself as separate from Northern Ireland in 1922. The Troubles picked up heavily through the seventies and even the eighties, then came the Peace Agreement in ’98. All histories are ugly at times. People fighting for what they believe in. Dying for it, killing for it. I came to visit, to experience with my own eyes, and most of all, see and learn some shit. I had a wonderful time.
Belfast was rather lovely. We stayed at a hostel in bunk beds for cheap. People are kind, have a friendly hardness I relate to. What I liked most about it was that it wasn’t super busy, not yet anyhow. The city is under plenty of construction, more tourism coming in slowly due to Game of Thrones surprisingly enough. Also, the Titanic was built here in Belfast. From around the 6th or 7th grade, the tragedy of the Titanic epic has held an effect on me, (the old hipster in me must say, this was before Jack n Rose) and a large memorial is placed in town that I strolled by to visit, also a small replica and history museum I didn’t get around to visiting. The Hotel Europa stands as a well-constructed monument, all in tact, in one seemingly solid piece, which should be a standard for most buildings, only this one is the “most bombed hotel in the world”. It’s only rivals existing in Beruit, Bosnia, and Baghdad. Together they assemble what some call the Four B’s. When we visited the Carrickfergus Castle on the coast, a 12th century Norman marker, the driver remarked about the flags placed in front and how people ask him why the flags are all at half-mast. “They’re not half-mast,” he says, “that’s as far as the ladder would reach.”
We toured the Causeway Coastal Highway which by all means is worth the trip. All over Northern and the Republic, there are remnants of shit-tons of castles. One called Ballycastle along the Coastal Highway, now a hotel, the guide tells us how a man kept his wife locked in a room, her escaping through a window only to fall to her death. Isabelle now haunts the castle, word has it that locals tell it, “there’s more ghosts than there are guests checked in.” At one point you pass Sheep Island where historically locals (myth or no?) would sacrifice sheep, placing sheep on this small off-coast island, in hopes that the Vikings wouldn’t come any more inland to raid them. Ohh, the Vikings. Raping and pillaging the best, for so long. Not that rape is funny in any way, only they definitely excelled at it. The Vikings came to Ireland in the late 700’s. They traveled by boats which was also something they excelled at: sailing and boat building. That’s the, if not the main reason they fucked so many people up due to so many of the raiders knowing how to construct boats. The Irish still defeated them a number of times in battle, yet they remained dominant for a few hundred years. We ended this coastal tour day at a pub called the Nook for a few pints following a visit to Giants Causeway. Why that name? It was built by Giants. That’s why…
Dubhlinn, (Dublin) or ‘Black Pool’ in old Gaelic, an old Viking settlement, or Baile Átha Cliath, meaning “town of the hurdled ford”, the latter being the common name for the city in modern Irish Gaelic, referring to an old Irish settlement of people just up the river in what is now Dublin. Call it whatever you wish, I’ll let the locals fight you or agree with you, though likely they’ll give a lengthy version of their own with a Guinness in front of ’em. Joyce strolled these streets till about the age of 23 or so until he moved further east into Europe. Some people “fucking hate Joyce,” a giant but kind mannered Galway fellow told me and my brother-in-law. (My sis and he met Jenn and I out here, a rare and special experience for me.) Galway was where Joyce’s wife Nora Barnacle was born. Galway’s a city near the west coast of Ireland, a straight shot across the island from Dublin, about two hours or so; a smaller town, gushing winds where the locals are a little less stressed about so many damned people like Dublin. The Cliffs Of Moher stand mighty in Galway, a powerful sight. The Aran Islands below these cliffs. You can get a Galway Hooker here, the beer I mean: but to ensure the edge to this piece, you ask the right people you can get you the other, probably. Further west from Galway there’s a National Park called the Burren consisting of mainly limestone, once also a lush forest of trees until Oliver Cromwell came to devastate it. Somehow remaining in the Burren, perhaps not for long due to sudden rapid decay, is Paulnadrone Dolmen, a Neolithic tomb older than the pyramids and Stonehenge. A number of bodies were found, a crossover burial sight, meaning more than one group of peoples spanning time buried their dead inside. Delicate rare orchids grow out here. The rampage Cromwell spread over the country is quite astonishing. There are eye-opening chunks of stone taken out of old Franciscan Friaries by swords hammering down. Church statues destroyed from Cromwellian horses stabled inside them. Along the bog area out towards Connemara Co., bog being wetlands that are acidic and low in nutrients, Cromwell is quoted as giving Irish peoples at the time a choice, “You can either go to hell,” meaning die right then, “or go to Connacht.” Much of it was a wasteland to grow food. Many stayed there for years and years to come, few by choice on land barely habitable. Along the vast area are miles of potato rows that can still be seen from when Irish Famine struck, this marking a separate famine from the Great Famine that came later, practically leaving much of the land ghostly knowing so many died of starvation or left to later emigrate. There are Celtic ringforts that remain out in that area too, hundreds to thousands our guide told us. We were lucky to see two or three that were noticeable. One had a Faery Tree in the center. Faery Trees locals will never chop down for they remain “portals to the underworld”. Not many necessarily believe them to be actual portals, but nonetheless, the Irish locals leave them alone, you know, “just in case.”
Booze. Writing. Some Food.
Smithwicks Irish Red is a tasty beer, also Ireland’s oldest brewery. Killkinney Red throws down a little harder with this creamy texture, maybe my favorite pint to end with. Guinness only tastes good over here to me, and what I didn’t know, it’s not black. A dark, dark reddish stout. Hold it to the sunlight next time you’re shamelessly drinking during the day to see the reddish tint towards the bottom of the glass. Even though I tried a few whiskeys, didn’t have a favorite out of the bunch other than a sip of Jameson Black I really enjoyed. Sips are hardly opinion worthy. We had a few pints at Mulligans where Joyce would sit and write sometimes, even though he lived most of his life outside of Ireland. I love James Joyce. No matter how much of an asshole he could be or his pretension to many aspects of society–one of his statues in Dublin is referred to as The Prick With the Stick–yet his appeal isn’t all by choice. He inspires me is all. I just feel it. Ulysses, I’ll put most emphasis on. His approach and accomplishment to that novel ‘does it’ for me, even though I lulled through much of it, honestly finishing the last number of chapters on audio. Joyce broke rules many couldn’t do with so much wit mixed in with style, like making up his own words, taking us into our minds in a poetic fashion to describe how we experience the world in reels of thought when we aren’t talking out loud. His sentences stitched fabric-like in description. Wonderful, really. I can’t say he’s my favorite, and I couldn’t tell you who is, but Joyce did whatever he wanted with a virtuoso swagger, whether you dig his stuff or not. But that’s not all folks. Dracula came from Ireland through Bram Stoker. W.B. Yeats came from here too, most poets having at least heard his name. Oscar Wilde, heard of him? George Bernard Shaw? Samuel Beckett is another that did some abstract, totally respectful weird things I’ve become a fan of recently.
Lest we ye weewee then step into the realm of Bangers and Mash, Fish n Chips and smoked salmon. I’ve had to Google differences between salmon overseas and salmon back in the U.S. to attempt to comprehend why I’ve never, ever liked it back home. Differences of widely produced farm-raised salmon in the U.S. and freshly caught ’round here appears to be a piece to the puzzle, also the smoked part. Sausage everywhere you turn here. Literal with no innuendo sausage parties in most restaurants. ‘Bout all there is to say about them other than you should get ya some when you come here. And gravy, my friends. My Irish Gods, the gravy.
To bring it all around, I really loved Ireland, and the more I research the more I come to find that my bloodlines reach out to these lands going back generations. The pub experience here is communal and society can use all the community it can get. The people are overall kind, eager to point you in the right direction, eager to connect in some form or fashion, I think. The history speaks for itself, the tours are worthy with the right research of which ones to invoke. I had not one bad meal the entire time. This punk ass sixteen or so year-old stuck his head out of a bus and told me to get a haircut while flipping me off outside a Sinn Fein gathering we ventured out to see, probably talking like his old man. I had the chance to ride around randomly with a local in Belfast who was raised around the IRA, driving me around telling me some things I’d have never heard otherwise. The tensions are still high up and around, however ironically it sounds, the Peace Wall and Shankhill St. between Catholics and Protestants. As a tourist, they assured me I was fine, and I felt fine. This local who gave me a small tour at random, saying this without a brag in voice, knew a sniper for the rebellion who had twenty confirmed kills from those times. That’s serious shit. One story I can’t not end with came from a tour guide who was a fine ‘gent. He mentioned going from the Republic one time on a ride with some people to a pub in the North, a known Catholic Pub. He noticed this guy looking at him on and off, the guy glaring in his direction, finally making his way over to him. The guy asks, “My buddies and I have a bet goin’ on. We’s wanna know if you’re a Catholic or a Protestant?” The guide telling this story says he spat back quickly, “I’m a Buddhist,” in an attempt to ease some tension with some personality that few Irish lack. The guy makes his way back over to his buddies. Only a while later, the same guy comes back with another question. “So, my buddies and I have another bet goin’, we wanna know if you’re a Catholic Buddhist or a Protestant Buddhist?”