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Recalling St. Patrick’s Day in Belfast, Northern Ireland ~ March 2005

March 18, 2009 by · Comments Off on Recalling St. Patrick’s Day in Belfast, Northern Ireland ~ March 2005 

Scottish Ladies

Scottish ladies celebrate St Patrick's Day in Belfast

As related in a previous blog, my first trip to Ireland, a two-day adventure in Dublin, happened back in March of 2000.

In 2005, husband Jay and daughter Laura, then a 14-year-old, nabbed an incredibly low airfare to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.  (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are two different countries.) Older son Steve was not on this trip, but we toasted his birthday as we landed– early on St. Patrick’s Day. This time we arrived at our hotel before the parades started.

In fact, this marked the first year, since the end of the “Troubles,” in 1995 that Belfast even sponsored a St. Patrick’s Day parade. It wasn’t a huge event, some floats and bands, but the mood was electric and a feeling of unity filled the air.The concierge suggested we lunch upstairs at the Crown Liquor Saloon, so we walked over. Built in 1828,  the National Trust of Northern Ireland maintains this pub which glows with a gas-light Victorian atmosphere: gilded mirrors, stained glass, old black and white photos, a tin ceiling, and walls that have heard it all.

We passed a seated group of laughing Scottish ladies from the Highlands.  They explained that they gather annually to celebrate, always in a different Irish city. They were imbibing in grand style and had donned hats, supplied when “a drop of black,” or Guinness was ordered. Our waiter topped  Laura with one, too. We ordered and devoured burger-like sandwiches served with “Champ,” a combination of mashed potatoes, cheese, and chive.

When we walked down the hall, I was stopped by a local woman who overheard my American accent. She made a point of welcoming me to Belfast. I liked that.

Then, we squeezed downstairs through cough producing smoke into a room crammed as tight as Times Square on New Year’s Eve, and just as noisy. Everyone turned toward a telly to cheer The Gold Cup horse race. The lengthy steeple chase race runs through mud filled ponds, over hedges and across grassy fields. Strangely (at least to me) the horse in the lead lost his jockey, but ran on. Rather wild compared to our Kentucky Derby. We hired a “black taxi” as suggested by a guidebook to see the West Belfast Political Wall Murals. First we drove to Shankill Road, the Protestant side. Here, the bricks of working class row-homes were painted with large symbolic scenes.

Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands Mural in Belfast

Our driver pointed out the Crumlin Road jail across from the courthouse, which required an underground tunnel for prisoners’ safe passage to trial.  He said cases were heard by one judge, no jury, during these violent times. Then we cut over to the nearby Catholic area, Falls Road. We stopped as I photographed the mural of Bobby Sands, famous for his hunger strike to death. Although we tried to comprehend, our emotions were disquieted by these neighborhoods.  I would find it difficult, to say the least, to live with all the reminders.

Our driver/guide spoke poignantly, recalling his childhood fear of bombs.  He heeded warnings not to talk to certain children or adults, grasping that this division was reality.  “Not a good way, he explained, “it simply was the way.”

Now, he was proud of his capital city, her economic growth and unification.  He envisioned a happy future for his daughter in Belfast and with sincerity, thanked us for visiting and asked us to spread the word. We left feeling grateful for the opportunity.

Recalling St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland ~March 2000

March 17, 2009 by · Comments Off on Recalling St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland ~March 2000 

-0803_St. Patrick's Day009Even though I’m not Catholic or Irish, my family and I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day -it’s my son, Steve’s birthday. Why, we’ve even gone to Ireland for the special day-twice.

Debi, Jay & Laura 2000

Debi, Jay & Laura in Dublin- March, 2000

Back in 2000 Steve took a job in England. So, my husband Jay and I, and Laura, our then 9-year-old daughter flew to Dublin arriving on a misty morning. Lush, velvety green hills surrounded us, making it obvious why this country is called the Emerald Isle.

Our taxi was forced to drop us blocks from our hotel; the holiday parade swarmed over the streets. I felt self-conscious and out of place rolling my luggage down the jammed sidewalk to St. Stephen’s Green . There, at last, was our hotel.

Like so many other grand dames, The Shelbourne, boasts a salon for high tea and a reading room with leather chairs, which, to be honest, reeked of cigarette and cigar smoke. The hallway leading to our room included a few stairs and some odd turns, making me realize the building had been renovated numerous times.

But the place had an ambiance most welcoming and, on this day, most festive. Families reunited and embraced distant relatives and dear friends. Children scooted under foot and furniture and no one minded.

By the time we freshened up, the parade had disbursed and the crowds were off in the pubs for lunch. We joined them, but the lines now snaked out onto the sidewalk. While we waited, we discovered buffet presentations were the only choice of the day. That became a problem because Laura was, first of all, overly tired and second, not an adventurous eater. She turned her nose up at Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage, leeks and mutton. Surely the Irish cooked something she liked, but we didn’t find it that day.

By evening Steve, naturally, was ready to party but our young one was ready for bed. Jay and I took turns in the hotel bar meeting Steve and mingling with Irish girls and gents, their complexions as pale and smooth as creamy butter. The accents were distinctive to our ears, and charming. And oh, their glorious auburn hair was pretty enough to evoke poetry.

We raised a glass to Jay’s ancestors (his Mother–the former Patty McCormick), Dublin, Steve, you name it; but before long I also gave into sleep. Not what you’d call a St. Patrick’s blow-out.

In retrospect, I was astonished that the holiday centered so much on family, not drinking. I appreciated the honesty of celebration: the men wearing real shamrocks on their lapels, no tacky fake flowers; no green hair, face paint, leprechaun hats or other exaggerated decor. And certainly no green beer. A trusted friend and a pint of Guinness were enough.

Next day we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, walked down to the trendy Temple Bar area filled with colorfully painted pubs, and crossed over a bridge on the River Liffey. (Sounds much more quaint that the Liffey River, doesn’t it?) Thankfully Laura found an acceptable item on the menu–salmon.

Sheep in Ireland

Sheep in Ireland

We met chatty locals and whomever we asked for directions or assistance, always answered us with kindness. We departed Ireland with endearing memories.

…To be continued with a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, 2005.

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