Saturday, 8 August 2015

Northern Ireland

Before travelling to Belfast, I didn't realise how strong the link with RMS Titanic was there. I always associated the famous liner with Southampton, as that's where it sailed from, but it was actually built in Belfast Harbour and first sailed from there. A visitor exhibition called Titanic Belfast was opened in 2012 and has become Northern Ireland's most popular tourist attraction.

Titanic Belfast visitor attraction building

sculpture outside Titanic Belfast

SS Nomadic, a sister steamship of HMS Titanic, launched in 1911

Belfast City Hall is a surprisingly iconic building, and can be visited on a free public tour. The Lord Mayor’s Suite there is also known as ‘the Titanic Rooms’, as craftsmen who worked there went on to work on the famous ship.

a scale model of RMS Titanic at Belfast City Hall 

Inside Belfast City Hall

Ulster Hall, a concert hall built in the 19th century

One of Belfast's best known landmarks is the Albert Memorial Clock Tower, which was built in 1869.

Albert Memorial Clock Tower

Bigfish, on the riverbank, is a giant mosaic sculpture of a salmon whose tiles depict the history of Belfast.

Bigfish, 10 metres long

Custom House, built in 1850s

Another 'attraction' in the west of Belfast are the Murals, a symbol of the region's past and present political and religious divisions. The Falls Road area is Republican, while nearby Shankhill is a Protestant district.

an Irish Republican mural showing strike leader Bobby Sands

another Republican mural

Shankhill Road, Loyalist district

Shankhill Road, Loyalist district

Shankhill Road, Loyalist district

Cupar Way peace wall

On leaving Belfast we headed further north along the coast. As my husband is a Game of Thrones fan, we visited some of the series' filming locations.

Cushenden Caves (aka 'Shadow birthplace')

Dark Hedges (aka 'Arya's Escape')

Ever since I was in school I'd always wanted to visit the Giant's Causeway, an expanse of hexagonal basalt stone columns that are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.

Giant's Causeway

As a UNESCO world heritage site it's perpetually busy, and we were lucky to get photos with no people in them!

Giant's Causeway, close up

Giant's Causeway

We then headed to Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second largest city, and the fourth-largest city on the island of Ireland. The first thing you notice when you arrive is Hands Across The Divide, a bronze sculpture of two men reaching out to each other, symbolising the spirit of reconciliation. It was unveiled in 1992, twenty years after Bloody Sunday.

Hands Across The Divide sculpture

Elsewhere in the city a 1987 cast iron Anthony Gormley sculpture represents "the two communities divided by religion, culture and politics but united by faith and by being members of the human race".
Anthony Gormley sculpture

Derry is a city which I associated with the Troubles, and which until I visited I didn't realise had such a long, rich and interesting history.

Fountain housing estate in Derry - a Protestant community.

Derry is also a walled city, and its walls, completed in 1619, are 8m high and 9m thick, with a circumference of about 1.5km. Warring Catholics and Protestants led to a siege which began on December 7th 1688 and which was to last for 105 days. 

Derry city walls

When you walk the city walls today you can see reenactments of what life was like during the siege; people were reduced to eating vermin to survive.

Historical reenactment on Derry city walls.

In 2013 Derry was UK City of Culture and received somewhat of a makeover. One of the most visible legacies is the pedestrian Peace Bridge, which spans the River Foyle.

Peace Bridge, Derry

On leaving Derry we headed south across the border and into Eire for the rest of our trip.

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