Our daughter Hayley has been working on a master’s degree at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, since September, so naturally Chuck and I had to go visit her last month.
We landed in Dublin and spent a week touring both Ireland and Northern Ireland. What a gorgeous island. What a wonderful trip.
The scenery was spectacular: Emerald fields full of fluffy white sheep, stone walls and flowering trees, stately homes and castles, quaint villages, towering cliffs and sandy beaches.
The people were even better, so friendly and welcoming, and always with a joke ready to go – even the Irish TSA agents always had a smile and a quip.
We started in Dublin with a tour of the Guinness factory, which is mandatory for all tourists. After learning how Ireland’s iconic beer is made and enjoying a delicious made-with-beer lunch at one of the factory’s restaurants, we headed for Killarney.
Hayley was driving the rent-a-car and I was in the back seat – by necessity, it turned out.
Hayley wanted her father to sit back there so he could take pictures out of both sides of the car. However, I found the Irish roads quite unnerving.
For one thing, Hayley was driving. I know, I know: She’s an intelligent, accomplished adult now, but she’s still my baby.
And she was sitting on the wrong side of the car, and driving on the wrong side of the road, which added immensely to my discomfort.
Then there are the roads, which are incredibly narrow, often with stone walls on the side, and clogged with other cars, tourist busses, trucks, pedestrians, bicyclists, sheep and the occasional horse-drawn cart.
So I’d look out the window to the left, with my American brain expecting to see another lane of traffic going the other direction, except there was a wall. Then I’d look out the right side, expecting to see scenery, only here was a head-on collision coming right at us.
And I could not control my facial expressions, which ranged from sheer terror to utter horror, and which Hayley took as an insulting comment on her driving. That’s why I had to sit in the back.
From Killarney we headed down to Cork for dinner with former Monona Mayor Bob Miller and his lovely wife, Pam Hoffman. When they retired and moved to their home on the rural Sheep’s Head peninsula, Miller said, they agreed to give it a year.
But after two years, they’re still “living the dream.” Miller has taken up cycling with a passion, most recently competing a 653-kilometer, south-to-north tour of the island.
He’s also been named to the school board overseeing their town’s two-room school, and both are looking forward to voting in upcoming local elections.
The only downsides, he said, are the stultifying amount of monthly paperwork the Irish government requires from expats, and the near constant wind buffeting their ocean-view home.
After Cork, we headed up the western shore, called the Wild Atlantic Way.
We took a boat tour to Skellig Michael, an island featured in two recent “Star Wars” movies “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” but the seas were too rough for us to go ashore. (The island’s puffins refused to stay out of the film crew’s shots, so the moviemakers covered them up by superimposing the fictional “porgs” over the birds.)
We walked the Cliffs of Moher, the Giant’s Causeway and the Dark Hedges (from “Game of Thrones”) before ending up in Belfast, where we visited the Titanic Museum and took a “Troubles” tour.
“The troubles” were what the Irish called the decades-long civil disturbance between the Irish Catholics and the British Protestants of Northern Ireland, which is still a separate country even though there’s no border between the two.
However, with Britain threatening to leave the European Union, while Ireland will stay in, fears of a new “hard border” are rampant.
And despite the 1998 Good Friday agreement brokered by former President Bill Clinton, which both sides praise, there’s still some rancor between the two. Even now, Belfast’s Protestants are building multistory bonfires they’ll burn on July 11 to intimidate the Catholics.
Tradition runs deep on the Emerald Isle.
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