Through my eye

A sometimes caustic view of things.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

In a city recovering from ages of smoke and soot, as was Glasgow; one could see the true age of the older buildings. I got the impression of old stones over old bones and the feeling remained as I crossed the channel between Scotland and Ireland to Belfast.
But first, the journey:

We took a combo ticket, bus, ferry, bus from Glasgow to Belfast on the 18 of June, 2007. I won’t try to spell the port we left from, but we went on the Stena line riding a catamaran jet-powered ferry. Quite posh it was and full of shopping, eating and drinking facilities. Bags had to go through a search and destroy, just as on an airlines, but without as much hassle. The ride was just over an hour and the sea was quiet. Of course the sky was overcast and drizzly as most days continue to be.

Once in Belfast, we were dropped off at the central bus station just in time for the bus to Larne, where we had reservations at the Derrin Guest House. As it turned out the bus dropped us off directly in front of the Bed and Breakfast, as it turned out to be.

The nice but distracted hostess seemed to be constantly confusing us with someone else—someone with a car, perhaps—because she gave directions and distances as if we were driving whenever we asked about places to go. The breakfasts were fabulous, as they were in Scotland. Farm egg, as you like it, sausage link, piece of bacon (unlike any American version, sort of a cross between North Carolina country ham, Canadian bacon and our own bacon), beans (essentially vegetarian baked beans), a potato pancake section and a half slice of tomato with some mushrooms or a mushroom cap.

The main reason we came to Larne was because I planned to take a few pictures for the Jurgita web site of the Spring Model winner Courtney Le Roux. She and her family were originally from South Africa. The father, Peter, bought a business in the area and the whole family moved from the sun and vastness of Africa to Northern Ireland.

Courtney was a delight to work with. She is a natural in front of the camera and has a great smile and nearly flawless skin. Still, she is 14 going on 15, and her family is very aware of the dangers lurking on the net. Courtney has already received some strange offers, including one of marriage. Her mom got a laugh out of that one.

Pictures are in my blogs. On Jurgita and the MySpace site for advaitin.

After the shoot, we became tourists. Getting the big red bus around Belfast and seeing the botanical gardens. We took another tour up the Antrim coast which took us to the famous rope bridge and the giant’s causeway and past a desolate ruin of an old castle.

On the 21st we took a regular bus that carried us past all the same sights without stopping as we journeyed toward Londonderry (or Derry to the Irish nationalists). Derry, which is easier to type, is centered about the walls of the original city. It was and, perhaps, still is as strong a flashpoint between Ulster loyalists and Irish nationalist as in Belfast.

Both cities have dividing lines, visible and not so visible, posters and murals and strong feelings. Everywhere we’ve been there have been piles of scrap wood being prepared for bonfires to celebrate this or that in relation to the tensions.

Apparently Larne is supposedly pro-Ulster and pro-British, while most of Derry seems pro-Ireland. Yet, when we ran across a group of women celebrating a "girls night out" (a batchelorette party, if you will, they said they were in the sisterhood of the Red Hand, which we take to mean they were protestant and Ulster unionists (union with the UK). We also met a fellow who, quite drunk, told us he was IRA.

It’s a mix, let me tell you. Both sides have their stories and both seem to be unwilling to listen to each other. From long experience, I have to say that both sides have developed a mythos that verges on dogma they are unwilling to admit is baseless. They’ve spilled too much blood over propaganda to allow reason to replace it. Just having a look at the nationalist murals shows nearly unbelievable views of the current world situation and the Bush presidency. Yet the average Irishman that we have run across so far accepts it all as fact.

Then there is the Diaspora, Gaelic-style. There are long memories in both Scotland and Ireland of all the people, including my own ancestors, who were forced by circumstance and the British domination to emigrate to elsewhere. Here in Derry, near the Magazine Gate of the old walled city is a poignant monument to those times. It depicts in bronze a family about to part forever. A father leads his wife, daughter and son toward the river where the boats waited, The father is facing forward, as is his barefoot little girl. She has her hand out toward the dock and seems excited. Her mother has turned to look back over her shoulder and the son has stopped and faces back to see one last glimpse of what they are leaving behind—their grandparents, great with years and too old or too poor to go, stand forlorn, their hands stretched out as if to touch the very sight of them for the last time in their lives.

Go ahead, wipe away the tears.

Old stones over old bones
Not one foot of soil is untouched
No building nor planting is new
For man has borne the ages here
And wept tears and shed blood
Before a stone was set or a wall built
Each turning of plow or shovel will reveal
The dust and grit of those here before
Who lived and loved and fought and died
To hold green glens against winter’s wind
And through summer’s brief glory
Against the might of great empires


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