After such a fun night at the hostel in Ballintoy, it was difficult to wake up the next morning. This was also the last day of our Shamrockers Giant’s Rocker Tour and we were sad that this 5 day adventure around Ireland would soon be over. But our spirits were lifted when we found out we would be stopping at yet another Game of Thrones location! Hooray!
Welcome to the Dark Hedges
If you have seen Game of Thrones (you really should, like now), then you should recognize this stunning lane as the road out of King’s Landing. But this lane of enormous beech trees is also known to be haunted by the “Grey Lady”, which yes is pretty awesome. Lucky for us, we visited at the peak of the morning with the light filtering beautifully through the trees with no Grey Lady in sight. Darn.
WOW. Just… WOW.
Belfast Black Cab Tour
It was marvelous pit stop on our way to Belfast for the day. Upon arrival in this big and clean city, we hopped in Belfast Black Cabs for another sobering tour of the political troubles in Northern Ireland.
First we were taken around the Protestant and Unionist neighborhood and shown the political murals in this working-class neighborhood. Our guide lives in this area and gave his own personal account of the Troubles. It was interesting to hear that his own children have never met Catholic children before and that the division of people is still real. However, he talked about integrated schools and other ways the people are trying to move forward. Like our guide in Derry, he said that everybody in Belfast just wants an end to the violence and to live peacefully.
Next we left the Protestant area and headed to one of the Peace Walls that separate the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. First built in 1969, the Peace Walls have since increased in height and number and stretch over 21 miles in total. We learned that there is a plan to remove all Peace Lines by 2023 and that most residents of Belfast still strongly believe that they are necessary because of potential violence.
To see these walls in person was absolutely shocking and I found myself tearing up at the messages of hope and support that visitors had left behind. People just peace and this physical barrier is a heartbreaking reminder that they still have a long way to go.
We then hopped back into the cab and drove through the Peace Wall and into the Catholic and Nationalist side. There we met another guide from this neighborhood who talked about the Troubles from his point of view. It was so interesting to hear a different account of the violence and of events never mentioned on the other side.
St. George’s Market
We ended the Black Cab Tour emotionally spent and very hungry. So we headed over to St. George’s Market to get some lunch and kill time before our bus departed back to Dublin. In the beautifully lit building, we munched on falafels and coffees while browsing through stalls selling everything from antiques to chocolate.
And low and behold we ran into Carina’s art friend from college!!! He had been working in Belfast for a few months and this was his first time at the market! What a crazy coincidence seeing as our college is ridiculously small! Life is full of surprises right??
Soon it was time to get back to the bus, except we had no idea where we were. For the next hour we frantically ran around the city, asking random strangers for (misleading) directions while getting more lost and frustrated by the second. We were positive the bus would just leave, stranding us in Northern Ireland!! Thankfully, a kind bus driver gave us proper directions and we made it back just in time. YIKES.
Drive back to Dublin
Although the Black Taxi Tour was interesting, Belfast just did not hold my interest. I think in general that I prefer visiting places off the beaten path instead of big cities. However, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland and learn about the political history of a place I knew so little about before. It was an emotionally exhausting experience but was worth it in the end.
On our long drive back to Dublin, we stopped at a convenience store and my spirits were immediately lifted when Carina found “Roomie” Coke bottles and One Direction chocolate bars. Yay!
Yep I am not ashamed. I am a huge One Direction Fan. 1DAF FOR LIFE!! Let’s just say that although I was so sad that our amazing Shamrockers Bus Tour was coming to an end, I was pretty stoked to fly to London the next day and find some funny 1D souvenirs. You know… as a joke… hmmm. But Niall is from Ireland so of course my inner fangirl has already been partially appeased. Should I even be writing this? But I cannot NOT mention it. Sorry I’m not sorry.
We then settled back on the bus for the final haul to Dublin, trying to memorize the gentle green slopes outside our window and the warmth of the sun on our skin. I didn’t want to leave Ireland the next day. Not when I had fallen in love with this incredible country.
Good thing our new friends on the bus were all ready to go out with a BANG. It was going to be a night to remember in Dublin, and perfect farewell to Ireland. *cries*