Our first afternoon’s introductory walking tour of Belfast’s city centre made a wet start to our holiday – but later on Irish weather overall turned out to be much kinder to us than this.
The following day our elegantly designed programme did include sunshine for us to experience the spectacular beauty of the Antrim Coast.
And we were lucky enough to have only occasional rain when we got the opportunity for some healthy exercise inspecting the unusual geology of the Giant’s Causeway.
Safe inside at Bushmills we learnt – and then experienced a little – of what makes Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery world renowned.
Helping make our time in the Province particularly special was our evening with seven fellow Probus members from a Belfast club. We were privileged to be joined by Dr Gerry Cleary a historian from Queen’s University who gave us a much appreciated background brief to the realities of Ulster’s past and present.
He explained that inherent differences between communities in Ireland have long been very deeply embedded.
Carrickfergus Castle, established back in the 12th century, is evidence that once the Normans had consolidated their 1066 invasion of most of England, Wales and Scotland, they realised that sorting out the feuding Irish was also a priority if they were to expand their influence further.
What Gerry had to say helped us better understand the enormity of what was achieved seven centuries later in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Our visit the following morning to the city’s colourful and considerably intimidating Peace Wall reminded us that there’s much more still to do.
There had been a hope that these barriers would be removed in 2023 but the Wall is still very much in place with its spikes and gates. The pressure to retain all this has come from locals who believe this is an important reminder of what they have lived through and from those who regrettably believe that such defensive measures are still needed.
There has also been, we were assured, some lobbying from Ulster’s tourist industry which profits from the thousands like us who have come to see it.
Belfast’s visitor numbers are certainly on the rise, helped by the impressive combination of creative art, advanced presentational technology and spectacular architecture in the telling of the story of the Titanic.
We experienced it all including its very recently added immersive attractions.
The Ulster Folk Museum gave us a more down to earth impression of life here around the time of Belfast’s important contribution to British shipbuilding.
Here we were welcomed by an enthusiastic troupe of skilled craft specialists, each blessed with a talent for the famous Irish craic – delivered here as if in a time warp.
We got a flavour of life at another end of the social scale when we called in to Mount Stewart. Now in the care of the National Trust, it’s still a home to descendants of a family who moved here from Scotland in the 17th century.
They came as a result of James 1’s policy of organised colonisation of this part of his kingdom. This was a land the king, who had recently united England, Scotland & Wales under one crown, felt still needed to be reminded of how the monarch wanted his Irish subjects to behave.
Today Mount Stewart is a stately home in the grandest of styles featuring a spectacular Arts & Crafts garden.
Several of us in the group felt that our chance to appreciate today’s Nothern Ireland really couldn’t miss out catching sight of Stormont.
To our surprise Ian our coach driver seemed to have no difficulty in arranging an unscheduled drive through the security barrier together with approval to pause at the top of the drive for a quick photo or two at the ideal viewpoint.
Perhaps it was the end of the working day but the lack of obvious activity around this magnificent administrative and governmental centre opened in 1932 surely left us all wondering how long it will be before this land has the confidence to do away with the barriers and the memories that still linger on here.
Before our final evening meal together Paul and Andrea Walker gave us a chance to show our appreciation to Paul and Britt for our memorable few days together with some mementos of Northern Ireland from all of us.
Britt looked terrific trying out her locally produced shawl. Paul we know will be proud to wear a shirt from the Belfast branch of Liverpool FC –
– but quite how the Walkers managed to squeeze a shopping expedition out of the Tiller’s tight daily schedule of Ulster experiences we can only guess.
Straight across the road from our hotel is Fibber Magees, a haunt of local musicians – and, for four nights only, a number of familiar Moleside faces in the crowd – demonstrating that there’s nothing like a glass or two and some foot tapping tunes to send us all to bed – eventually – ready for whatever tomorrow may bring.
Thank you to Paul and Britt – and to Margaret, Peter, John, Nita and all the others in the party who helped put together a substantial collection of photographs. Those presented here are just a taste of the album that I hope will be shared as widely as possible just as soon as your Communications Team can get to it.
We returned from Northern Ireland in time to catch the first episode of a BBC documentary Union, presented by historian David Olosuga. Described by The Times as a ‘history lesson that feels long overdue’, it’s a programme that may now be of particular interest.
For our reports on previous years’ Moleside holidays click on the Tags button below.