Eurotrip: Ireland

From Derry I went back into the Republic, specifically Galway. It’s a little funny; I’ve been near Galway twice, but never been … even though it’s consistently a place that people rave about.

After visiting, I kinda get it. It has the amenities of a bigger town like Dublin, but it’s still tiny and less harried. The city centre has some busy pedestrian streets, and it’s riddled with lovely old canals. The people were friendly and the music was good; it has basically everything people come to Ireland looking for.

Galway was also awesome because I have a friend who moved out there a few months back. It was really good to catch up. I’ll keep in touch!

Uh, stuff! I took a bus tour through Connemara. The highlights were Kylemore Abbey and the ruins Ross Errily Friary, but the whole thing was great. It’s a horrible landscape for farming and raising animals, but beautiful nevertheless. The driver also talked about the effects of the blight in the area. It was a good tour.

Otherwise, I wandered around Galway. Lots of coffee, lots of pictures. A reasonable amount of beer (I went to listen to some trad the first night). Lots and lots of tea, courtesy my host through airbnb (she was lovely). Good times!

Onto Portmagee! Meaning Bus Éireann from Galway to Limerick, then Killarney, then Cahersiveen, and finally a taxi (!!) to Portmagee, a tiny village on the Ring of Kerry. Why would I ever go to such a place?

The Skelligs, of course. Two little islands off the coast of Ireland. From Portmagee (and some other towns, admittedly) you can hire a boat to take you to Skellig Michael and visit the ruins of a sixth century monastery. Unfortunately, when I got there (Tuesday night, I think?) the people I talked to said that they hadn’t been able to visit the island for several days because the sea was too choppy.

I lucked out. 😀 The last boats made the crossing on Saturday; on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday it was closed; on Wednesday (the day I went) the boats were able to cross; on Thursday, it shut down again. The boat ride out lasted an hour and a half. It wasn’t too bad, but I couldn’t imagine what it must’ve been like for the original inhabitants and pilgrims rowing across the open waters. At the landing the boat bobbed up and down three or four feet, making getting on and off more fun than usual. The tour guide said we were the first boat since Star Wars had left the previous weekend, and that when the sea was choppy water would flood across the landing from both sides.

Anyway, the island in brief. Very craggy, with lots of exposed rock jutting out everywhere. There are two peaks, with a grassy “saddle” in between. The monastery is near the top of one peak, on some terraced land protected from the wind.

Here’s the thing: The place went virtually untouched after being abandoned in the 11th century. You can see what it was actually like. Most of the buildings and walls were built using drystone construction; that’s to say, they placed the rocks there without any mortar to hold things together. There’s no source of fresh water on the island, so they had to construct cisterns to catch the rain.

Definitely worth visiting.

After that, I hung out in Portmagee for another few days. There was a nice pub in town. I walked over the bridge to Valentia Island, and walked over and around Bray Head. I might’ve spent a day catching up with stuff I had to do on the computer.

Finally it was time to leave Ireland. I took the taxi-bus-bus combo back to Limerick, then one last express bus to Dublin. One of my friends hosted me (thanks, dude!); I had one last going away party.

Then I left.

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Eurotrip: Northern Ireland

Alright, now for travel updates. The trip began with a journey from Dublin to Belfast by bus. It was a bit of a weird start to the trip, honestly; I think that was my fourth or fifth time visiting. I stayed at the Travelodge near Hotel Europa, wandered up to the botanical gardens, visited the Ulster Museum, and took a tour of city hall.

The next day I took the bus to Derry. It’s officially Londonderry, ever since London corporations invested in plantation and established the city in the early 1600s, but the settlement that was there before was known as “Derry”, or rather “Doire”. People there call it “Derry”; all signage referring to it in the Republic calls it “Derry”; in the North the signs all say “Londonderry”, with the “London” part frequently crossed out. Like a lot of things in the North, it’s complicated.

The big selling point of Derry as tourist destination, in my mind, is the city walls. As I said before, Londonderry was established in the 1600s as part of plantation, and they immediately went to work building strong city walls to protect it against invaders (or, to be more honest, the native Irish). The city was famously besieged by King James II in 1689, only to be rescued by the navy. It’s the only city in Ireland whose walls remain (almost entirely) intact. By virtue of never being successfully invaded, it’s called the Maiden City.

The other big draw is… The Troubles. Derry was the second most affected place, after Belfast. The Catholic Irish weren’t allowed to live in the city walls, and mostly settled on Bogside. (Originally the city was built on an island in the River Foyle. One side was marshy, and eventually they filled it in to become Bogside, whereas the old city is Cityside, and the other bank of the Foyle is Waterside.) Your usual stuff continued from there — gerrymandering to prevent the Catholic majority from gaining political power, preferential housing for Protestants, etc. In the 60s, inspired by the civil rights movement in the States, activist groups sprung in the Bogside campaigning for equal rights. Add in the IRA, the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and boom. I took a Bogside walking tour with a guy whose father was killed during Bloody Sunday. There are your murals, monuments, all that fun stuff. I hit my limit in the Museum of Free Derry, which was fascinating and depressing and had this horrible audio loop from Bloody Sunday that started with marching chants and progressed to screams and it just kept going.

Anyway, Derry! Interesting place, well worth seeing.

Other stuff I did there (in brief):

  • The Tower Museum. It’s mostly the history of Derry, plus a wing about the Spanish Armada.
  • Went through the plantation exhibit at the Guildhall.
  • Had a cheap pint at Wetherspoons.
  • Explored St. Columb’s Cathedral.
  • Walked across the Peace Bridge, only to discover that the brewery on the other side was closed for a private event.
  • Was given a tour of the Freemasons’ Hall. I’m pretty sure one of the guys there was a Knight Templar.
  • Tried out a Oculus Rift headset at the BBC Culturefest tent.
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Life Updates

*taps mic*

Hey out there. As of just over a month ago, I’ve finished my position in Ireland. Since then I have

  1. Gone to YAPC::EU in Granada, Spain;
  2. Cancelled my utilities and given up my apartment;
  3. Said “goodbye” and “see you again” to far too many people;
  4. Hit the road.

I’ll have to elaborate in further detail at a later point. At this moment I’m in a hotel room a decent walk west of the Zurich hauptbahnhof. Tomorrow my plan is to visit Liechtenstein; on Monday I’ll tour around Zurich a little; and Tuesday I’m heading Budapest for a few days. After that, who knows?

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I wrote this the day of the referendum:

Today’s the big referendum in Ireland! There are two things being voted on: 1) whether to reduce the required age for candidacy for the office of president from 35 to 21; and 2) add the following text to Article 41 of the Constitution:

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

It was only in 1993 that homosexuality was decriminalized. The fact that this is being voted on, and that all the parties are supporting it, is a sign of how much influence the Catholic Church has lost in the last few decades. (The separation between church and state in Ireland is complicated. Even now 90% of primary schools are Catholic.)

The organizations lined up against it are Mothers and Fathers Matter, who argue that marriage is about procreation and the rights for children to have a mother and a father; the Iona Institute, who are fighting the increasing secularization of Ireland; and (of course) the Church.

I can’t say much about MFM, all I know about them is that they started putting up signs a month ago. Amusingly, the family on the “Children Deserve a Mother and a Father” billboard was taken from a stock photo, and were appalled to discover they were the face of Vote No.

The Iona Institute first popped up on my radar when they successfully sued RTE when local drag queen Panti Bliss called them bigots on air. This led to her famous speech at the Abbey Theatre last year. I think they’re trying to promote an extremely conservative version of Catholicism. The parody twitter account is great.

As for the Church, some priests have actually spoken up in favour of marriage equality. There was a pastoral letter urging people to vote no, which led some people to walk out during the homily. We won’t really know how much influence the Church still has until the results are in.

I’m optimistic, but I’m in the Dublin bubble. Recent polls suggest it’ll pass, ‘tho support is falling. When the ban on divorce was repealed in 1995, the polls suggested 70% support; it ultimately passed with 50.28% of the vote.

That might be why Irish from around the world are converging on Ireland to vote.

Wish us* luck!

(* Disclaimer: I’m not actually Irish and can’t vote, but I’m here, and I really want this to pass. YARRRRRR!)

And it passed! In the end, the only county that voted against was County Roscommon. I can’t hold it against them, I thought it was going to be much closer than it was.

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Two luchadores in front of a rainbow burst

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(OK, this last one is not related, yet somehow so appropriate.)

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