A few weekends ago, I traveled with IES Abroad from Dublin all the way to Northern Ireland. Over the span of 3 days, we visited Derry, Belfast, and stayed two nights in the coastal town of Portrush.
Friday - We departed Dublin around 8:30. I was sleepy, but excited to get out of the city for a while. The total drive to Derry took just over 3 hours. Though the ride was long, I really enjoyed getting to watch the countryside go by. The landscape here reminds me of New England, but it all feels so much bigger, and older. We mostly passed cows and sheep, with the occasional llamas or alpacas.
We finally pulled into Derry just around lunchtime. Driving into the Bogside, you are welcomed by a giant slogan, painted on a white wall once attached to a building—‘You are now entering Free Derry.’ Everyone on the bus immediately whipped out their phones to get a picture.
After grabbing some lunch, we went to the Free Derry museum. We got to listen to a presentation given by a family member of one of the Bloody Sunday victims, and saw the whole exhibit on the history and modern day effects of the Troubles in Derry. We finished off with a walking tour of the city, and got to walk along the city wall.
Saturday - Another early morning. We left Portrush around 8:30, this time for Belfast. We started at the Titanic museum, where the Titanic was built and began its journey. The exhibit was really cool, organized chronologically from before it was built, all the way to when it was found in 1985. My favorite part was getting to see some real artifacts, including the violin belonging to Wallace Hartley, one of the musicians playing as the ship went down.
After the museum, we went up to the city center and got to explore for a little while before meeting up for a taxi tour. We got to learn more about the Troubles during this tour, and they showed us all of the walls and gates still existing in Belfast. Our guide even showed us homes in a historically Catholic area that still had grenade fences up, to prevent things being thrown over the wall into their yards. Though they are mostly there to remind us of the history now, he said that there is the occasional rock or odd item thrown at people's homes. Combined with the Derry museum, it was really powerful to see all the modern impacts of the history of Northern Ireland, and to learn from people whose lives have been so impacted.
We finished the tour by signing our names on one of the Peace Walls, then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Ulster Museum and Botanical gardens.
When we arrived back at Portrush, some of my classmates were crazy enough to put on their swimsuits and jump in the ocean. It was 40-something degrees, rainy, and windy, so I cheered them on from the shore, then made a nice cup of tea back at the hotel.
Sunday - To end out the weekend, we went way further back in time. We started our morning hiking around the Giant’s Causeway, a crazy stone beach formed by interlocking basalt columns. My favorite part was that you could walk down the rocks, real close to the water, and feel the ocean water whip at your face. The wind down there was so strong that it became difficult to stand up in places—especially with the wet rocks. After hiking out of the causeway, we drove over to Dunluce Castle. This castle was built on a cliff overlooking the sea to the north. It’s kind of crazy to me that they were able to build such a structure without modern technology to transport materials over the cliffs. They also had a number of archeological finds from the site on display, like some coins, dishes, and broken clay pipes.
Finally, we ate a huge lunch back at the hotel and hit the road. As I’m writing this, we have about two hours until Dublin. And though the north was a lot of fun, right now I can only think of my warm bed and not sitting on this cramped coach bus anymore.
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Hello hello! I am a junior at Mount Holyoke College, studying music and theater. This summer, I got to work an internship in a professional costume shop! In my free time, I love composing music, cooking, working with kids, and exploring outside.