Ireland - Derry/Londonderry
After waking at the hotel in Glasgow, getting ready to leave - off to the Emerald Isle, I skipped breakfast and headed to the taxi ranks for a ride to the Buchanan Bus Depot. There, I discovered two buses (different companies) boarding passengers for the ferry at Stranaer, crossing to Belfast. When I'd contemplated doing this 3 years ago, I didn't know about the bus, and would have had to get from the ScotRail train terminus to the harbor - it's easier now.
We left second, with fewer passengers, and two hours later were queued up to pull onto a massive Stena ferry. Once in place, up a few flights and a lounge with cafeteria style food, a bar, and lots of seating. I chilled for a bit, and then went exploring, climbing to the allowable top deck and out into the sea air. The Irish Sea was smooth as glass, the breeze was manageable, and land was always in sight.
About two and a half hours later, we docked, and after returning to the bus, the driver took us into Belfast to a drop point. Checking Google Maps, I wasn't too far from the Larne Railway Station, so I pushed and pulled my bags along. As I passed the St George's Market, I spied a cheesemonger, and detoured. Asking for his tidbits, I was offered tastes of several and left with wrapped morsels of 5 cheeses. At a neighboring baker, I got a piece of rough whole grain bread.
At the train station, I was able to get an earlier train to Derry/Londonderry, with a change at Coleraine. The rides were about 2 hours. Once in Derry (I'll use this, as it's shorter and will placate my (Irish) Republican readership), I had a fairly steep climb to push my bags up to get to Artillery Street. My reservation at Number 8 The Townhouse had been booked, but they had reached out and, once again, LifeStyles had not passed along the messages. Arriving just after 6pm on a Saturday, I was supposed to have the access code, as my key was hanging on a board. Figuring out how to make a phone call, I got access and then needed to get my bags up two flights of narrow, steep steps. A woman, parked and waiting in her car across from the door, saw me struggling, and we together got the bag to my room. Small, with no extra floor space, it was a juggling act getting organized.
After calling LifeStyles and ripping the agent and his supervisor new ones, I headed down the hill to the restaurant recommended by my savior, the woman in the car. Full up at 7pm, with nothing available for 90 minutes, I opted for The Bentley, a nearby eatery where I had cheesy garlic bread, a house salad, and a Louisiana chicken stack (two grilled chicken breasts stacked with sliced chorizo, cheese between, on a bed of mashed potatoes, topped tobacco onions and surrounded by a tangy cream sauce.)
A double Jameson's and a Rockshore (Irish lager) accompanied the water. I got the feeling that my whisky/whiskey options would be limited after checking out both bars. Too much food, but I cleaned my plate. The salad was undressed, with too many raw red onion slices (proving to be a persistent problem for me.)
Finished and full, I climbed up on the old wall which surrounded the original island city, and overlooked the Church of Ireland cathedral. Gated and closed, I got a few twilight shots, and noted cannons placed on the wall as I returned to the guesthouse. I was too full to dip into my cheeses, just doing a little email and heading to bed.
When I'd tried to enter the parlor the evening before (better seating than sitting on a bed,) it had been locked. Entering for breakfast, I learned the hiding place for the key, and then descended to the ground floor for breakfast, Hurrah! Bananas! Plus OJ and coffee, I passed up cereal and granola. Out, I headed to the Guildhall where I joined a guided walking tour which would focus on the period of The Troubles in Derry.
With two families of 4 (Wales, Northern Ireland), our guide led us through the old city and into the Bogside, presenting vivid depictions of nearly day-by-day gatherings and conflicts that he had experienced as a lad of 15 starting in 1969. He recalled his friends who had been injured and killed, as they stood beside him. At each place, there were memorial murals on walls, placques in the pavement, statues. It was immeasurably moving, feeling more real that when I'd been reading about it while at university.
The tour ended very near St Eugene's Cathedral, on a hill opposite the old wall city. I entered after getting my outside pictures, and a priest came up and chatted, asking where I was from and why I was taking photos. He invited me to stay for the Mass which would begin in 10 minutes. Finding a seat in a pew towards the back, I was surprised to see that the priest would slip a red "beanie" on and off his head.
At Communion, I walked down the aisle and when in front, crossed my arms as an X over my chest, and received a blessing. Speaking with the celebrant, I asked if he was the bishop, and he admitted he was, and had served there for 21 years. A real jolly friendly soul, this made my day.
I returned to "the City", hoping to visit the Cathedral of St Columb but again found the gates locked. Their service had been at 11am, while I was on the tour. No evensong in August. Returning to my room, I used wifi to try to call a number associated with a pub crawl in Derry (found on the internet.) No answer.
Back to the Guildhall, where I viewed the splendid windows in the large reception room on the main floor. There was an interesting exhibition which documented the period known as "The Plantation", a long period started by James I where members of the English and Scot population were encouraged to relocate to northern Ireland (which was then wholly controlled by the British.) Persisting from 1609, resettlement continued into the early eighteenth century. [I suspect my great-grandmother Sara Elizabeth Gray's family might have been part of this group, before moving to New Jersey.]
From the Guildhall I walked across the square to the Tourist Office. I met a charming young woman, and broached the pub crawl activity. Not on their radar, she tried calling without getting an answer. Then I set out for the address of the rendezvous point. It turned out to be a pink row house. Up the street looked like one of the historic pubs that would be on the crawl, so I walked in and had my first Irish Guiness at The Derby. No one at the bar knew of a possible crawl. By the way, the barkeep's name is Mickey Rooney, and he pulled my draft.
At breakfast I'd discovered that the locals eat early and kitchens close early. As it was approaching 5pm, and I had the Walled City Brewery on my itinerary, I walked down to the River Foyle, walked across the Peace Bridge and up to the brewery's restaurant. Opting for a tasting sampler, I had a Foyster Lough Oyster stout, Wit wheat beer, and The Agreement, a golden ale. This accompanied my starter of lemon grass and ginger spiced fish cake. My preference was the golden, and the fish cake was tasty, with a red pepper kick. Getting a dram of Redbreast 12 whiskey as the Irish lamb rump showed up, I was enjoying my meal. Pink lamb, tender with good gravy/au jus; the veggies were peas, asparagus, mushrooms and zucchini. Wanting more beer, I tried the other 3: Kicks, a Derry lager; Boom, a Derry pale ale; and Stitch, an IPA. I preferred the latter, but Kicks had more flavor than most lagers I'd tasted. For dessert I ordered the Beer Float, with Foyster's, Morelli's double cream vanilla, Oreo pieces - the beer was on the side. Ice cream was superb.
Back to the guesthouse, I collected my Chromebook and descended to the parlor. I completed and posted the blog for Iceland, and started on the first for Scotland. A new guest arrived, Philip from near Frankfurt, who came down from his room to chat, and I shared some of the Oban whisky that I was sipping with some pecorino and pepper cheddar. When I got back to my room, I'd accumlated 11,870 steps.
Breakfast downstairs, and then off to the Foley Street bus station, only to discover I had left my Nikon back in the room. So instead of catching an early bus, I collected the camera and returned, leaving 2 hours later for Letterkenny, County Donegal. While waiting I visited the tourist office and collect my hat pin and watched a 3-minute animated film on Amelia Earhart's landing after her solo flight in 1932. Checking the Guildhall, I was allowed to climb to the reception hall and see the organ and delightful windows. (All had to be replaced after a bomb in 1972, which also blew off the fingers of a statue of Queen Victoria in the entry.)
The bus took me over the border into Letterkenny, a forty-minute ride through great countryside. The town center is up a hill from the BusCentre, and then Cathedral of St Eunan and St Columba is up yet another climb.
It is a huge building, quite elaborate both inside and out with a super single tower. The organ pipes, all engraved and painted, fill the right transept. I marveled at the stain-glass, and the elaborate carvings for the stalls and bishop's chair. The Lady's Chapel is along the ambulatory, behind the main altar.
As I walked down the hill from the cathedral, I window shopped with the idea of a light lunch.
The Eatery at An Grianan Theater had a small cafe where I had the quiche of the day, goat cheese and red pepper tart. Continuing afterwards, I waited at the buscentre while the driver gabbed with his buddies.
Onward again by bus to Raphoe (which I still am mispronouncing.) There, the Cathedral of St Eunan sits just up the street from "the Diamond", a large triangular space in the town center.
A small, dark church with a stolid clock tower at the street entrance, I found the single-aisle church, with a single pointed arch delineating the nave from the quire to be simple yet solemn. The windows were narrow, featuring a single saintly figure with more untinted glass than not. The patterns of the floor tiles were probably the most striking element in a cathedral without ecclesiastic pomp.
There was an hour and a half from when I finished to catching the bus back to Derry. Popping into the Diamond Bar for a Guinness, I proposed that if I could get a driver to take me to (and return from) the stone ring, I'd lay out twenty pounds. The local taxi was called, and we were soon rolling through roads buffered by hedges, and pulled into parking. I rapidly walked up the hill through a tunnel of trees, a field to my left and a dense forest to my right. At the crest I climbed through a stone wall and walked to a field where rough standing stones were positioned in a circle I took pictures from without, not wanting to disturb any magic. I'd heard that the forest was known as the witch's woods, local lore passed along to children for decades.
Two passengers (including me) on the ride back to Derry. As I rode I realized, I'd crossed a national border (twice) without papers, and had left both my ATM card and euros at the guesthouse. (It wouldn't be the first time, nor the last.) While walking to the Townhouse, I stopped and booked a table at Fitzroy's. In the room, I finished charging the Chromebook and had a bit of cheese with a wee dram of whisky. Dinner started with a double shot of Redbreast; the seafood chowder followed. Lamb shank: Clonakilty black pudding mash, red wine jus, tobacco onions was the main, with a rocket and parmesan salad to finish. Both the soup and the lamb were spectacular.
I skipped dessert as nothing screamed, plus I was full. I took a few last rwilight shots from the city walls.
Back at the lodgings, I collected my Chromebook to backup the day's photos and then work on the blog - writing and slipping photos, all in the parlor. My notes say I was about 75% done. Back to the room, I was packed and ready to slide my bag down multiple sets of stairs, and the watch said I had 12,543 steps for the day.