“is féidir leis an ghaoth a bheith i gcónaí ag do chúl”

Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall

Belfast has a long history — its original settlement was at least 5,000 years ago. Linen production put it on the map in the late 19th century after the American Civil War caused a cotton shortage. It has also been a center for shipbuilding and other industrial uses. It now has a burgeoning film industry with the Game of Thrones filming there. Pictures in this post are from Belfast and the countryside in Northern Ireland.

The Albert Clock, AKA the leaning tower of Belfast
The Albert Clock, AKA the leaning tower of Belfast
Ulster, the province of Ireland that became Northern Ireland when the British partitioned it in 1920, has a proud, ancient history and was very likely the first part of the island settled. While the rest of Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, Ireland played an integral role in safeguarding ancient texts and may very well have saved Western civilization. Thomas Cahill wrote an intriguing book on this topic – I recommend it.
For a little decay chic, here's the former Courts of Justice building, nearly destroyed by arson a few years ago.
For a little decay chic, here’s the former Courts of Justice building, nearly destroyed by arson a few years ago.
I mention these contributions because I think it’s valuable context – as an American, I am familiar with the many ways our countries overlap due to the large Irish emigrant population in the States. However, I think a lot of assumptions about modern Ireland are either based on stereotypes or on The Troubles. Someone I met in Belfast last weekend said it’s entertaining when people find out you’re from Northern Ireland – they give you a wide berth because they think you’re some kind of terrorist.
Northern Coast of Northern Ireland, near Ballintoy Harbor
Northern Coast of Northern Ireland, near Ballintoy Harbor

I studied the Irish language for a while before I left DC, and my Irish teacher recounted her experience on St. Patrick’s Day last year, originally a religious holiday in Ireland. She said after one drink (on a weeknight, no less), her American companions criticized her for not drinking more as an Irishwoman. She was taken aback at this.

Bushmill Distillery, the oldest whisky distillery in the world, north of Belfast.
Bushmill Distillery, the oldest whisky distillery in the world, north of Belfast.

Later, when she was telling us the story, she explained how seriously St. Patrick’s Day was taken in its religious context when she was a girl and how it’s been co-opted by American and British party tourism. This struck me as very sad – like when people think Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day or that it’s some sort of pass for shameless Mexican stereotypes (gringo wearing the sombrero, I’m looking at you).

Beacon of Hope sculpture, erected 2007. Promptly nicknamed
Beacon of Hope sculpture, erected 2007. Promptly nicknamed “Nuala with the Hulu,” “Thing with the Ring,” and “Belle on the Ball,” among others.

The Irish language itself is a good example of assumptions gone horribly wrong – Irish very nearly died out as a language. This difficult language of warrior-poets almost didn’t make it because the English associated it with low-class people, so no one wanted their children to learn it. It’s seeing a resurgence now, and indeed is the official language of the Republic of Ireland. I’m curious to see what the next 20 years will bring as the younger generations bring it back in the North and South.

Rows of houses in Belfast
Rows of houses in Belfast

Aside: many Americans think the Irish speak Gaelic. The Irish word for their language is Gaeilge, but Irish is a different language than the Scots-Gaelic spoken in parts of Scotland. They are in the same language family (Celtic > Goidelic) so there are similarities, like between Spanish and Italian, but the languages are distinct. Interestingly, the Ulster dialect of Irish is closest to Scots-Gaelic. But again, they are different languages. /aside

A bit of the industrial section of Belfast, along the Lagan River
A bit of the industrial section of Belfast, along the Lagan River
More industrial Belfast, along the Lagan.
More industrial Belfast, along the Lagan.

Almost everyone in Ireland (North and South) speaks English – there are little pockets of Irish language spoken – these are called the Gaeltacht regions. Visit Ireland and Northern Ireland – see the culture, enjoy the gorgeous countryside, meet the warm and kind people. You won’t regret it.

St. Anne's Cathedral, with the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland
St. Anne’s Cathedral, with the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland
Title quote: “may the wind be always at your back” i Gaeilge, Traditional Irish blessing
Leaving Belfast Airport. I love it when we get to board the plane from the tarmac.
Leaving Belfast Airport. I love it when we get to board the plane from the tarmac.
Buoys commemorate the importance of the sea to Belfast life and livelihood - these are actual buoys that have been retired.
Buoys commemorate the importance of the sea to Belfast life and livelihood – these are actual buoys that have been retired.
Parliament Buildings, where the Northern Ireland Assembly meets
Parliament Buildings, where the Northern Ireland Assembly meets
I'm at Cushenden in this shot
I’m in Larrybane in this shot. The famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is behind me.
Also at Cushenden
Shoreline and this cool plant at Cushenden
Mural in West Belfast
Mural in West Belfast
Sheep and gorgeous coastline on the northern coast
Sheep and gorgeous coastline on the northern coast

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