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Northern Ireland; Belfast, Bushmills and the Northern Ireland Seacoast

Coast of Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

During our “Brian Boru pilgrimage” in 2014, we only made our way up to Northern Ireland briefly, to see the church where the high king was buried following his death at Clontarf. So, we looked forward to seeing this reputedly beautiful part of the island. It did not disappoint. And, though I already put in a good review for him on Tripadvisor, I want to put in a plug for our guide and driver, Mark and the Black Taxi Tours. In the space of a fairly long day, Mark got us to some of the highlights of Northern Ireland, with a fairly in-depth history lesson about the conflict over the past years. I highly recommend this tour, company and Mark!

Game of Thrones Studio
Belfast Port; Belfast, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Belfast became a substantial settlement in the 17th century after being established as a town by British administrator, Sir Arthur Chichester. It was initially settled by Protestant English and Scottish migrants. By the early 19th century, Belfast was a major port, paying a major part in the “Industrial Revolution.” Granted city “status” in 1888, Belfast was at one time, the biggest linen-producer in the world, as well as a major ship yard and rope-making center. The Harland and Wolff shipyard, which built the RMS Titanic, was the world’s biggest shipyard. This all made Belfast Ireland’s biggest city for a brief time. Belfast was heavily bombarded during WWII. This growth and prosperity was not, however, without strife. Throughout Ireland’s history, there has been significant discord, much of it over the issues of home rule, and independence. In 1886 Belfast was rocked by rioting over the issue of home rule, which had divided much of Ireland and particularly, Belfast. The problems would continue through to present day.

Game of Thrones Set
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

While Belfast’s run as a global industrial power ended after WWI, in 1945, it remains a major port today, with commercial and industrial docks, including the Harland and Wolff shipyard, dominating the Belfast shoreline. In 1920–22, Belfast became the capital of the new entity of Northern Ireland as the island of Ireland was partitioned, as a result of the Irish War of Independence in which the Republic of Ireland gained its freedom from Britain. Northern Ireland remained a constituent country of the United Kingdom, along with Great Britain, Scottland and Wales.

Game of Thrones Set
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The next 30 years were filled with – often violent – conflict (perhaps euphemistically referred to in Ireland as “The Troubles.” Any attempt here to explain this conflict would be feeble. I commend you to do some research and reading on your own if you are not already familiar with this period of Northern Ireland’s history. We heard a fair amount about it, and it really puts some of what we saw and heard into context.

Dry Dock
RMS Titanic
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We started our tour with a brief drive through the Harland and Wolff Shipyard, and in particular, a visit to the dry dock where the RMS Titanic was build and originally floated. That part of the port has also become currently famous as the set for some of the scenes in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

Dry Dock Pump Station
RMS Titanic
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Because Belfast was one of our shortest stops, and because of the nature or our tour, which focused on the Northern Coastline, we spent very little time in Belfast City. This was unfortunate, and I hope to return there one day and get a better feel for the city. Mark showed us a small area which he compared with Dublin’s Temple Bar area. It was early in the morning and nothing was moving, but it looks like a place to visit during the evening hours.

Belfast, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

During “The Troubles,” at some point, the British were called upon to intervene and British Troops were brought in. Each of the two factions lived in separate parts of the city. Among other things, walls were constructed to separate them and a curfew was imposed. There are doors and gates in the walls which were locked at night. They are still closed at night to this very day. Although the violence has pretty much subsided, it is still discomfiting to drive along those walls.

Signing the Wall
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our first stop out of town was an area of very old and majestic Beech Trees lining a short road between two farm fields. Known as “The Dark Hedges,” it is said to be the most photographed scene in Northern Ireland. I added to the tally 🙂 . This scene is apparently attractive enough that the Game of Throne producers filmed a scene (The Kings Road; Season 2, Episode 1) there, perhaps adding to its already popular cache’.

The Dark Hedges
Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Dark Hedges
Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We then headed up to another famous and popular scene at the northern tip of the island of Ireland; “The Giant’s Causeway.”

Mill/shop on the Bush River
Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The Dark Hedges were en route to our next destination, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway. I may need to clarify a bit here. “Bushmills,” contrary to some peoples’ first thought, is not Irish Whiskey (well, not entirely anyway 🙂 ). Situated on the Bush River, Bushmills is one of the prettiest little country villages I have ever seen. We stopped near the bridge into town, over the Bush River, to shoot this pretty little mill (today, I believe it is a gift shop/restaurant). Of course, we would be back later in the day, to visit the Bushmills Distillery.

The Giant’s Causeway
Northern Ireland Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

My image of the Giant’s Causeway is not the typical shot seen on a Google Search. There were hundreds of people climbing around on the rocks, and I just didn’t get anything I liked up close. This shot is more distant, as you begin the walk down to the causeway. This has become a major tourist attraction and park, complete with museum, gift shop, and pay-trolleys. For all the hype, Mark promised us more spectacular views than the causeway, and I agree with him 100%. I think you will, too.

We had an “appointment” with the good folks at the Bushmills Distillery, so we headed back there to do a little tasting. I am pretty sure I had never had even a sip of Bushmills prior to this day.

Bushmills Distillery
Bushmills, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The history and science of making “whiskey” (“whisky” in Scotland), is fascinating. Enough so, that I will devote a post specifically to our tasting experiences (coming soon). For now, suffice it to say that although I found the “standard” Irish whiskey a bit difficult to drink, all of the distilleries have begun to make more “craft” style whiskey – generally meaning it is aged in prior-used barrels (bourbon, sherry, cognac, etc.,) and that imbues the drink with more (subjectively “better”) flavors and generally a sweetness and more full body, which I enjoyed.

Northern Ireland Coastline
seen from Dunluce Castle
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

 

On the way to our tasting, we followed the northeastern coast along the Atlantic and the Irish Sea, back to Belfast. In 2014, we visited the famed “Cliffs of Mohr” and I made many photos of that dramatic seacoast. I don’t think I believed Ireland could have anything more impressive to offer. I may have been wrong. The opening image here, just south of Royal Portrush golf course – where “The” (British) Open is being played as I write, is a scenic view that is a dramatic and beautiful as I have seen anywhere in the world. Slightly further south, Dunluce Castle stands as a medieval monument to early settlement of the region. It can be seen from the golf course and has been shown numerous times during the telecast. It is mostly ruins, but is one of the most dramatic castles we have seen – largely because of its setting.

Dunluce Castle
Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Dunluce Castle
Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Dunluce Castle
Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Meandering further down the coastline, we stopped at a vantage point where we could see and photograph the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, now owned by the Irish National Trust. Our guide indicated that not only was there a fee to cross it, but generally a fairly long wait. We were content to photograph it from afar.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

All in, this was perhaps one of the best excursion days we have had in all the years of cruising, with a nice mix of sightseeing, whiskey tasting, and some Northern Ireland history. I hope to be back there one day soon.

 

 

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Cruising “The British Isles” – 2019

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our recent Celebrity Cruise was entitled “The British Isles.” So why did I lead with the Eiffel Tower? The cruise “title” is mostly accurate. One would generally think of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and perhaps a couple smaller islands as the British Isles. Our cruise included ports of call in LaHavre, France, Bruges, Belgium, and Amsterdam, Netherlands. But who is complaining? 🙂 . As I often do, I made several hundred images over a 2 1/2 week period. In coming weeks, I will give a more detailed accounting of each of the many new places we visited. Today, I wanted to give just an overview of what a huge territory, and vast subjects we covered.

Dublin Port
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I have mentioned a few times here, that my wife and I like to cruise. When we can find like minded companions, that just makes it all the more fun. There were 4 of us this time, and I am pretty sure I can vouch that we all enjoyed our time in Europe. When we go to a new destination, we like to arrive in the departing port city a few days ahead, to explore, enjoy, and get to know the city. Though my wife and I had been to Dublin before, we found many new things to see and do during  our 4 days there.

Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

When we were in Ireland back in 2014, we made a very brief trip into Northern Ireland, to see the Church where King Brian Boru was buried. This time we had a full (very full) day from our port of call in Belfast. Our driver and guide, Mark, was as good as we have ever had, and he had some surprises in store for us. As an “outdoor” photographer, I love a pretty scenic image. Northern Ireland did not disappoint. Indeed, as I have been processing images, it is “sneaking up on me,” that Northern Ireland may have been my favorite stop of this trip. I would definitely return and explore further, if given the opportunity.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The following day, we arrived in Liverpool, England, across the Irish Sea. We were scheduled for a Beatles Tour (what else would one do in Liverpool? – well; stay tuned, it turns out: a lot). For my Michigan friends, my quick research lead me to (wrongfully) conclude that Liverpool would be like Flint (maybe we need to organize a Grand Funk Railroad tour in Flint?) :-). Look for my upcoming post on Liverpool. It was eye-opening for me.

Cobh, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Next, we were back across the Irish Sea, and in the south of Ireland, at the tiny, but beautiful little port of Cobh. Cobh possibly rivals Northern Ireland in my view, for photographic potential. I made some nice images there, though at least one of them was one of those (perhaps hackneyed) “must do” shots that has already been done thousands of times. Known locally as “The Deck of Cards,” maybe I was able to make a unique “take” on the famous row of houses with the cathedral in the background. I will let you be the judge: again, in the weeks ahead. We overnighted in Cobh, and spent a day there, and a day touring Blarney Castle (site of the famed, “Blarney Stone”), and Cork City.

St. Pancras Train Station
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

By then, we had spent most of 8 days on our feet. Blessedly, the following day was an “at sea” day. It allowed for some much needed “R&R.” After our day of rest, we arrived in the British port of Dover. For reasons I will expound on when I get to Dover and London, a few weeks out, I might have planned this stop a little differently. But we took the train to London and had a day-long “Black Taxi” tour of London.

Champs – E’lysees
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our next port of call was LeHavre, France. We again overnighted there (this was unprecedented for my wife and me – two full overnight stops). We took advantage of an early arrival and a late departure 2 days later, and again rode the train to Paris, where we stayed overnight. A huge city, we spent 2 very full days there. That barely scratches the surface, but we saw a lot during our time there and I thought it was not only very worthwhile, but one of the highlights of the cruise. I will note in upcoming blogs, that both London and Paris really need multiple-day visits to do them justice. Unless a cruise ends or originates there, it probably they don’t really lend themselves to cruising.

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Again, not really the “British Isles,” we ended our cruise with stops in Bruges, and Amsterdam. Known for its beer and chocolate, I sampled a little of both in Bruges. It is an impressive, historical, and very small city, which was well worth the visit. In Amsterdam, we rode the canals, did the obligatory walk through the “red light” and “cannabis” districts, and generally saw some impressive sites. Amsterdam is, again, a massive city. We only got a little taste of the more touristic (as they say in Europe) parts of the city.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In the end, we were exhausted, but the trip served up many new places, and added to our list of places to explore in more detail in the years to come. The only “gear” I carried was the Sony small camera (RX100iv) and my small tripod (which did not see any use). On cruises, it is rare to be on location in early morning, late afternoon, or at night. The only possible “night” shot might have been the Eiffel Tower, but the timing and place were just wrong. If I were to make a longer stay, land based trip, I might rethink the gear. I love the lightness and portability of the small camera. But I find myself missing the versatility of the DSLR on some occasions. The coming weeks will cover each of the above – with images – in more detail.

O’Brien Wine Club Tour of Ireland; Day 8

Clontarf Castle Gatehouse; Dublin, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Clontarf Castle Gatehouse; Dublin, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The afternoon of the previous day was time for me to re-charge a bit. A brief nap, and then we walked to the downtown suburban area of Clontarf, a port for Dublin. We joined a few of the many “O’briens” on the trip at a restaurant for a nice dinner and then walked back to the Hotel.

An old castle, the Clontarf has been made into a magnificent looking hotel. But being a castle, there were limitations to work with. In Europe, we conspicuous consumption type Americans are often surprised by the small size of hotel accommodations. However, in our Ireland experience, all but one – this last one (which was ironically – I am sure – the most expensive of them all) were really quite spacious and comfortable. This one worked, but was by far the “tightest” we had. Still, a pretty cool experience to stay there.

Clontarf, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Clontarf, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Clontarf appears to be a relatively affluent suburban area, and in the mornings, I walked the streets, looking for something of interest to shoot. One of the things we noticed (and it is a matter of common interest – note, for example, the cover of Rick Steves’ Ireland 2014 travel book) – particularly around Dublin, was the brightly colored doors in many of the row house buildings. Much of it is, of course, folklore and what they like to boast about, but Ireland seems to have a pretty strong cultural focus on drinking. We were told that the primary purpose of the different colored doors was so that you could get back to where you live after a lively night in the pubs. Good story – true or not. And even better, they make for wonderful photographic subjects. We found, for the most part, all of Ireland to be proud of the looks of their towns and buildings were well kept and well landscaped.

Colored Doors; Clontarf, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Colored Doors; Clontarf, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Today would be our last bus ride, and our only excursion into Northern Ireland. Again, we had a smaller group, with several electing to stay behind and see what Dublin had to offer. We had been in Dublin for a full day prior to the tour and had stayed near the City Center. We wanted to stay with the tour and especially, to go to Northern Ireland, so we boarded the bus for our final group trip.

Our destination that morning was Armagh, a small town in Northern Ireland just to the southwest of Belfast. Interestingly, as we crossed the border into Northern Ireland, the speed limit signs when from Kilometers to miles, and the currency (we found when we stopped for refreshment) to British pounds. There was also a subtle, but noticeable difference in architecture, particularly of the dwellings, to a less colorful and ornate look (more like U.S. suburban homes might look) – interesting. Most interesting was our driver and week-long guide’s description of trips up there just a few short years back (less than 10) when there was so much violent unrest in Northern Ireland. There were still heavily fortified police stations, and the few policemen we saw still resembled military more than what we are accustomed to seeing for civilian police.

St. Patrick's Cathedral; Armagh, Northern Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

St. Patrick’s Cathedral; Armagh, Northern Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The primary purpose for the trip up, however, was to visit the 2 St. Patrick’s Cathedrals: One built before and the other after, The Reformation. The churches were impressive and the differences both remarkable and fascinating. The post reformation church is a huge, ornate and probably very expensive monument. I will leave the reader to his or her own thoughts as to what it was a monument to.

St. Patrick's Cathedral; Armagh, Northern Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

St. Patrick’s Cathedral; Armagh, Northern Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The older, Anglican Cathedral was much less ornate and “in-your-face,” but nonetheless a marvel of architecture and art, particularly for the time it was built. From a photographic standpoint, I definitely liked the older church.

St. Patrick's Anglican Cathedral; Armagh, Northern Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

St. Patrick’s Anglican Cathedral; Armagh, Northern Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our ride back to Dublin was along the coast, along the Irish Sea between Ireland and England, and through the Portmarnock Golf Course, back to Clontarf Road and the Clontarf Castle. There were some beautiful roads and we even stopped at a cemetery where one of our members, a fan of the Dublin rock band, Thin Lizzy, searched and found the grave of one of the band founders, I believe, Phil Lynott. Of course the music on the bus, as we entered Clontarf, had to be “The Boys Are Back in Town.”

Dublin, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Dublin, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

We arrived back at the motel in time for our one “formal” evening (jackets required) banquet celebrating the O’Brien Clan Society (of which, of course, our gracious host, Bart, is a board member) and the Battle of Clontarf. We had some laughs and some good food that night and then got ready for our final day – all in Dublin, which was to culminate in a visit to – where else? Yup – the Guinness Storehouse. Next: “The O’Brien Wine Club Tour of Ireland – 2014; The Final Day.”

O’Brien Wine Club Tour of Ireland; Day 7

View of Countryside from Bunratty Folk Park; Bunratty, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

View of Countryside from Bunratty Folk Park; Bunratty, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Once again this morning, we had to have our bags on the bus, so I did not go shooting, but had breakfast and boarded the bus with the group, headed (eventually) for Dublin, with a couple of scheduled stops along the way. The first scheduled stop was the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. But before we headed for Bunratty (ironically, back in the opposite direction from Dublin), we stopped at another Castle which was reputed to have a connection to Brian Boru’, but is now a svelt, private hotel and golf course – Dromoland Castle. Since it was private, and the owners would most likely not take kindly to a tour bus driving in and dumping 40 tourists around, our stop was quick. There was a photo of all of the O’Briens on the trip taken, and we then re-boarded, headed for Bunratty. I did manage an image or two.

Dromoland Castle; County Clare, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Dromoland Castle; County Clare, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park looked (and was) like a “commercial tourist” park.  But it was still fun and pretty interesting. I have said before, that if I were planning my own trip to Ireland, I would not have used the travel company used here, and I would have opted for some less touristy and more picturesque places, and/or more time in some of the Irish cities (Limerick is a place I would have spent more time). But as photographer that is how my “travel” mind works. For others, this may have been just perfect – and we were fortunate to be with this group, with everything planned and done for us – so not complaining; just “observing.” 🙂  In the same light, however, we also were scheduled to stop for a couple hours at an outlet mall on the way to Dublin. Really? (Just saying). After a threatened mutiny, our poor bus driver drove us straight to Dublin, dropped the “shoppers” off in City Center, and took the rest of us on to our hotel, The Clontarf Castle, for some much needed downtime.

Bunratty Castle; Bunratty, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Bunratty Castle; Bunratty, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The current Bunratty castle, built around 1425, is actually the 4th castle in Bunratty, and was eventually overtaken by the O’Brien clan. The interior of this 15th century stone structure was fascinating, and after a short introduction by a tour guide, we were pretty much given the run of the castle. Climbing the spiral staircases was interesting. The castles all have narrow, counter-clockwise spiral staircases, with the walls tight to the right. As the guide noted, the vast majority of Europeans are right-handed and this made it virtually impossible to draw, or swing a sword. On the other hand, if you were defending, you had a relatively clear shot, and if you were first up the stairs you were probably left handed, and probably beheaded. According to our guide, it is where the saying “heads will roll” (as they did, down the spiral stairs) came from.

Tapestry; Bunratty Castle, Bunratty, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Tapestry; Bunratty Castle, Bunratty, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

There was also a tapestry that was over 800 years old, hanging in the great room. It looked like it might have been 20 years old. It is pretty amazing that some of the things in the castle have lasted as long as they have. Of course, today, they are temperature controlled, and shielded as much as possible from light (and human contact). I was also amazed at the detail in the wood work. Art was obviously a huge part of the life of at least the noble men living in the castle living quarters.

Table; Bunratty Castle, Bunratty, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Table; Bunratty Castle, Bunratty, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Detail, Table, Buratty Castle Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Detail, Table, Buratty Castle
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The view from the top was also impressive. As a photographer, I always enjoy the ability to get up high and get the “birds-eye” view of a place. Here, I shot the river, as it might have looked to a castle lookout, defending from a Viking invasion.

Ralty River from Bunratty Castle; Bunratty, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Ralty River from Bunratty Castle; Bunratty, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

A walk around the grounds of this place was equally interesting. It is supposed to reflect living in Ireland in the early 19th century. There were peasant huts and a small village street with a post-office, apothecary, some nicer “homes” and some more rural, as well. It is difficult to know how much of it is real from years past and how much is “Disney.” There was clearly an old farmhouse (Hazelbrook House) that was once a real feature of the village—but was actually reconstructed there in 2001. And in the village, there were also a number of “tourist” souvenier stores mixed in with the mock-ups. Still, I would recommend this site as a worthwhile visit. The Hazelbrook brothers were apparently famous for ice cream making and there was some very interesting looking machinery in the barns area of the house near a nice walled garden.

Machinery; Bunratty Castle; Bunratty, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Machinery; Bunratty Castle; Bunratty, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Due to time constraints, and lack of pre-planning, I missed the real shot of this castle, which is from across the stone bridge which crosses the small Ralty Rive, a tributary of the River Shannon, with the bridge leading into the castle scene. Maybe next trip? Of course, the views of the countryside were spectacular – and Green! I probably took away one of my 5 favorite images of the trip from the folk park—a shot of the ancient Ardcroney Church. This church was actually moved, stone by stone, from County Tipperary, to be a feature of the folk park. But it is beautiful; both in setting and in architecture.

Church, Bunratty Folk Park; Bunratty, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Church, Bunratty Folk Park; Bunratty, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Next, we were off to Dublin, for the final “leg” of the trip, with a 3 night stay in the Clontarf Castle, in the Dublin suburb of Clontarf.

Clontarf Castle Hotel; Dublin, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Clontarf Castle Hotel; Dublin, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards