Monthly Archives: July 2022

Farewell, Ireland

Tomorrow we say farewell to Ireland and leave for home. It has been a fabulous trip, and we are looking forward to being home.

Yesterday we drove to the darling little seaside town of Newcastle and stayed at the Conlyn House B&B. I love the view of the Irish Sea from our window.

We had another small-world moment when we were checking in and our host told us she had lived in Clearwater Beach, about an hour from our home. After lunch we explored the main street of Newcastle, located at the foot of Sileve Donard, the highest of the Mourne Mountains.

After a lovely dinner at Great Jones, we had to have sticky toffee pudding one last time.

Golf at Ardglass

Today we drove about twenty minutes down classically-Irish narrow roads to golf at Ardglass Golf Club.

It has the oldest building used as a golf club house in the world.

The present building was first a fortified warehouse that operated as a safe haven for 15th century importers and exporters.

In addition to the stunning views and challenging roughs, a few holes have little white stone cottages. On the 16th hole, Paul’s drive, which missed the fairway by just a couple of feet, landed behind one of these cottages. The green is about 150 yards directly behind the cottage. His second shot bounced off the roof, shot forward more than I ever thought possible and Paul parred the hole.

Ireland really strutted her stuff for our last day, the warmest, sunniest day of our trip. The golf course was beautiful. And everyone we talked to was extra friendly. It was the perfect last day.

Final Thoughts

Fingers crossed that our flights tomorrow get us home without too much excitement. As we make our final preparations to leave, I have been thinking of all the things I love about Ireland. And there are a lot-amazing nature, complex history, sticky toffee pudding, long days, ancient ruins, and on and on. But at the top of my list are the friendly people. People that always have time to chat, who want to know where you are from and what you think about Ireland. People who can tell a great story and make you laugh. People who are always ready to welcome you to their country.

A comment from an “Ireland, Tips for Travelers” FaceBook group I joined when we arrived says it best. The writer gave 12 great tips, but it was #13 that powerfully spoke to the appeal of this glorious country.

Tip #13-“There is no way to be unhappy here. My husband has terminal cancer but despite that, we are having a great time. The people, the sights, the sounds, the sheep (not to mention cows and horses) just put a smile on my face. Ireland feeds my soul.”

Farewell, Belfast

After almost three weeks in Ireland, Paul had yet to have his favorite full Irish breakfast. On our last day in Belfast, he finally got his wish when we went to Brights, a restaurant recommended by our host.

Eating a full Irish breakfast of bacon, sausage, potato bread, eggs, beans, mushrooms and a tomato is a daunting task.

My vegetarian Irish breakfast was a bit daunting, as well.

Belfast City Hall Visitor Exhibition

Feeling like we would never want to eat again, we walked to the stunning Belfast City Hall to see the Visitor Exhibition. After Queen Victoria granted Belfast city status in 1888, the new city needed a magnificent building to reflect its new status.

And it got a magnificent building, indeed, when City Hall opened in 1906, at a time of “unprecedented prosperity and industrial might for the city.”

City Hall is known for having beautiful stained glass windows, but not all of them are in parts of the building opened to the public. As we walked down the north east corridor to the Visitor Exhibition, we were able to see some of the beautiful windows.

The Visitor Exhibition, opened in 2017, is organized around six themes, from Belfast’s past to the present. Information and displays related to the Titanic were in one of the 16 rooms dedicated to the exhibit.

Titanic clock designed by Phillippe Patek. The dome represents the domed glass ceiling above Titanic’s famous grand staircase.

Artist Anto Brennan presented a pewter chess set to the city in which the figures correlate to some of the passengers on the Titanic. The king and queen represent the owners of Macy’s Department Store.

I especially enjoyed the room dedicated to language. I loved the list of Belfast idioms and order of words. But my favorite was the list of all the words Belfast speech has for rain.

It Really is a Small World

We planned to go to Belfast Cathedral after the Visitor Exhibition, but it was closed for a private event. Missing out is a risk of leaving something for the last day. After looking at the back of the cathedral for the past week, we walked around it and saw the other beautiful sides, including the biggest cross in Northern Ireland.

As we were crossing one of the busier streets, we heard someone calling our names. Looking up, we saw Stevie, our Black Cab tour driver, waving and calling to us. I wanted to get a picture of him giving us a thumbs-up out his window, but the buses were honking at him and Paul told me we had to get out of the road. He waited at the intersection til I got to the other side of the road to take a picture. If you look closely, you can see his thumbs-up through the window.

We ate our last Belfast dinner at Coppi, another wonderful restaurant on St. Anne’s Square, where our apartment is located. Once again, I had a choice of wonderful vegetarian options. The availability of great vegetarian options at every restaurant has spoiled me. I haven’t had to use my salad and fries fall-back restaurant option once on this trip.

Beautiful Belfast

I will be sad to leave this beautiful city. The people here are so friendly. Everywhere we go they want to chat. A few examples of the many wonderful encounters we have had: The security guard at City Hall wanted to know our impressions of his city. He was so enthusiastic about sharing what he loved about his country that he talked with us for about 15 minutes. When I told the checker at the grocery store how much I loved her city, she wanted to know what I loved about it.

Belfast has had its challenges and remnants of those challenges are still visible. But it is a vibrant city that is healing and moving forward. We saw signs of growth and creative energy everywhere.

Someone asked about the food here because their impression of Ireland was that the food was bland and uninspired. My experience has been just the opposite. There is an emphasis on fresh, locally sourced food, creatively prepared. And, as I noted before, there is always at least one great vegetarian option on the menu. Even the McDonald’s here promotes a vegetarian option.

A little research confirmed my impression that Belfast is a young city. Young people make up a third of the population of Belfast, making it one of the youngest cities in Europe.

In less than a week I have become a big Belfast fan. Hopefully, I will be back to enjoy this beautiful city once more.

Black Cab Tour

Today we took a Black Cab Tour, a private, guided tour focusing on the complicated history of the Troubles. The Troubles refers to a period of conflict ( basically between Catholics and Protestants) in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Stevie, our guide, presented an unbiased view of the conflict, its history and current situation. Knowing political and religious differences are sensitive topics, I appreciated his factual approach.

Stevie, our Black Cab Tour Guide

Like many conflicts, the roots of the Troubles go back hundreds of years. Stevie began the history of the troubles with the story of King William III, a Protestant. He defeated King James II, a Catholic, at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and ultimately aided in ensuring the continued Protestant ascendancy in Ireland.

He first took us to a number of spots on Shankill Road, the Protestant area. We noticed many Northern Ireland and British flags on homes and shops.

Then he took us to the peace wall that separates Shankill Road from Falls Road, the Catholic area.

The peace walls separate predominantly Catholic areas and predominantly Protestant areas. First built in 1969 as temporary barriers to protect people from violence, they remain standing today.

There are believed to be more than 60 peace walls in Northern Ireland, with most of them in Belfast. Probably the most well-known, the peace wall we visited today, is 800 yards long.

Stevie gave us markers and we were able to join the thousands of people who have written messages on the walls.

We then drove to Falls Road, the predominantly Catholic area, on the other side of the peace wall. On the Falls Road side, the walls were made of metal and not conducive to murals and messages. The houses we saw on this side of the walls had metal cages to protect them from items that might be thrown over the walls. Stevie told us there were similar cages on houses on the Protestant side of the peace walls when the houses were close to the walls.

We visited murals at other places on the Falls Road side of the peace walls.

One of the murals showed people who had inspired the civil rights efforts in Belfast. Recognizable faces on the mural included Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, Barack Obama, and Nelson Mandela.

Stevie’s tour was so unbiased that we ended the tour not knowing if he was Protestant or Catholic. Thanks to this wonderful tour, we will leave Belfast knowing a little more about the Troubles.

Duke of York

Before dinner, we went to the Duke of York pub for a drink. No one knows for sure how old it is, but it has been a pub for at least 200 years. It was blown up in 1972 when a bomb went off prematurely and had to be completely rebuilt. It is a charming place, filled with memorabilia from Belfast’s distilling past.

Good bar karma permeated the place. It may be a result of their motto: “Come in Soberly, Drink Moderately, Depart Quietly and Call Again”.

A friendly woman came to our table and offered to take our picture.

I have walked under the lighted umbrellas outside the Duke of York pub many times since we arrived in Belfast. But it wasn’t until we walked there tonight, huddled under our umbrellas, that I noticed their most appropriate sign.

It’s a Small World

The pub was pretty full when a couple asked if they could join us at our table. In the process of the usual introductions, we discovered that we lived about five miles apart. The husband had walked Shankill and Falls roads on his own to learn more about the Troubles at the same time we were taking our Black Cab Tour of the area.

We finished our evening with a wonderful dinner at 7 Spices, a Bangladeshi restaurant on the same square as our apartment. The food was wonderful and the service was exceptionally gracious.

The owner brought us adorable little after-dinner drinks. We thought he said, “Would you like a baby Guiness on the house.” But when the drinks came, they weren’t Guiness. We aren’t sure what they were, but they were very good.

It was a lovely ending to a lovely day.

Titanic Belfast

Oh, wow! Titanic Belfast, the maritime museum dedicated to the famous ship that sank on April 15, 1912 is amazing. Located on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was designed and constructed, the beautiful museum does a fabulous job telling a tragic story.

We walked the thirty-minute route from our apartment to Titanic Quarter where the museum is located. About half way there we crossed the beautiful Lagan Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge.

Standing on Donegall Quay before we crossed the bridge, we could see two beautiful examples of the great public art in Belfast. Bigfish, the sculpture next to the bridge, tells a Belfast story on each of its scales and contains a time capsule of information, images and poetry of Belfast. Across the bridge we could see the shining Beacon of Hope, the 64-foot sculpture called “Nuala with the Hula” by locals.

Walking along the River Lagan, we arrived at the museum. Titanic Belfast is a dramatic building. Covered in 3,000 individual silver aluminum shards, it shimmers in the sunlight. The design replicates four 126-feet high pointed hulls, the same height as the Titanic’s hulls. The building was completed in time for the April 2012 centennial of the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

The museum masterfully guides visitors through the exhibits. Starting with the industrial and ship building strengths in 19th century Belfast, the exhibits detail the building, launching, maiden voyage, sinking and aftermath of the Titanic.

A panoramic film experience provides a look at each deck and an almost-real sensation of actually being on the Titanic.

Design Elements

I am so thankful we also took the Titanic Discovery tour in the afternoon. Many design elements of the building and grounds reflect some part of the Titanic story. Jonny, our guide, pointed out the significance of many of these features.

Located on the site of one of the former slipways, a memorial garden honors passengers who did not survive. Each of the four proportionally-sized grass plots represents first, second, and third-class passengers and crew. The wood between the grass plots proportionally represents the survivors in each category.

An outline of the Titanic is marked on the adjacent slipway where the Titanic was built and launched. I couldn’t resist having a Kate Winslet moment.

Benches depicting the dots and dashes of the Morse code distress message that was sent from the Titanic form a circle around the museum.

Looking down from the second floor we could see a tile map of the Titanic’s route and the countries where she docked or picked up passengers. Launched in Belfast, she picked up most of her passengers in Southampton, England. She then proceeded to Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland to pick up more passengers, crew and supplies before heading to New York.

Friend Time

Our great day got even better when we spent time with friends from Sarasota who now live in Belfast. Yvonne and Jean picked us up after our tour and we drove to Donaghadee for a little stroll, wonderful dinner and great conversation.

The restaurant where we ate is currently used as a setting for an Irish TV series.

After dinner we walked to the lovely little lighthouse.

Ah, another great day in Belfast.

Welcome to Belfast

We arrived in Belfast last night and settled in to our apartment on St. Anne’s Square, in the heart of the city. The far building is Belfast Cathedral, also know as St. Anne’s Cathedral.

After unpacking, we walked to the grocery store to get supplies for our stay. The streets were filled with young people out for a fun Saturday night. As our guide told us the next day, we were in the heartbeat of Belfast night life. The positive energy was contagious, and I just felt so happy to be here. Looking down Commercial Court, I saw the the umbrella lights outside The Duke of York pub.

If Buildings Could Talk

We started our first full day in Belfast with a wonderful walking tour, If Buildings Could Talk, with Barney Gribbin. Barney escorted us around the city, pointing out historic buildings and sharing interesting stories about them. Much of his information felt like “the rest of the story.”

Barney was a great guide, combining knowledgeable and humor. At the end of the tour, he took a group photo and sent us a copy.

Interesting Buildings on the Tour

The story of the Northern Bank (now Danske Bank) robbery of 25.6 million pounds in 2004 was one of the most interesting. Standing in front of the ordinary looking building, one would never guess it was the site of the largest bank robbery in Northern Ireland and one of the largest in the United Kingdom.The case remains unsolved. The inside scoop from Barney is the police know who did it; they just can’t prove it.

We walked by Ulster Hall where Led Zeppelin first played Stairway to Heaven. Although critics regard the song as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, the Belfast crowds did not like it.

Barney many stories about the history of the Europa Hotel, known as the “most bombed hotel in the world”, after enduring 36 bomb attacks during the Troubles. In 1998, the owner of the hotel hung a huge “Yes” banner on the front of the hotel. He hoped to encourage people to approve the Good Friday Agreement that would end most of the violence of The Troubles. According to Barney, that banner played a huge role in getting a majority to vote yes.

He told us stories about three historic Irish bars, known as the Belfast Triangle, because you can lose a weekend there. I wasn’t sure if the Belfast Triangle part was true or part of Barney’s humor.


Along the tour route, we saw some of the beautiful murals that are all around Belfast. Popular ones, like the one below, may be left up for years.

Less popular murals are whitewashed over and new ones painted. The one below is only a few months old.

Some have powerful messages like The Son of Protagoras by MTO, a famous international graffiti artist, depicting a dove representing peace being killed by opposing religions represented by two red arrows. This mural has been up for at least five years.

Some murals are in new locations. The owner of the building below reluctantly agreed to host a mural and was surprised and pleased to have this beautiful work by a French artist on the side of his building.


The Metropolitan Arts Center (MAC) is on the same square as our apartment. After our tour we stopped for a coffee and wee treat at their cafe and visited the Claire Barclay exhibit. She is a visual artist recognized for producing large-scale sculptural installations.

There are so many highly recommended restaurants on our square that we never need to go farther than a few steps for a great dinner. Tonight we ate at Buba, a Turkish tapas place. Buba is Turkish for baby, and the owners named the restaurant after their daughter. She just turned 18 but is still their baby. I totally get that.

Portstewart to Belfast

Although we had been in Portstewart for a week, I was no where close to being ready to leave. At the same time, I was excited to get to Belfast and worried the time there would be too short. Perhaps that is part of a great trip-wishing you could stay longer.

We spent our last full day in Portstewart golfing at Royal Portrush Golf Club, the home course of PGA tour winner Graeme McDowell. It is a lovely course, and all I can say about my game that day is I am glad Ireland doesn’t have wood ticks.

On the Road

We had time for one visit on our drive between Portstewart and Befast. Deciding what to visit was hard because there were so many appealing choices. We chose the walled gardens at Glenarm Castle for three reasons-the visitor center rep in Ballycastle recommended it, I love visiting gardens, and it was just a little detour from our route.

Irish Soup

Although it rained the entire time we were driving to the gardens, it began to clear as we arrived. Before touring the gardens, we ate lunch in the lovely little tea room. I had my favorite Irish lunch-soup and bread. This time the soup was potato and leek. I have become a bit of an Irish soup expert on this trip and have decided Irish soup is the best. Most of the soups I have had are creamy, flavorful vegetable soups without cream. It’s like a healthy indulgence.

Rain Gear

After a week in Ireland I realized I needed better rain gear. Firmly believing the adage there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing, I bought two items that made a huge difference in dealing with the weather-water-proof pants and a water-proof jacket with a hood. After experiencing a failed rain hat, I was ecstatic about how much better my jacket with a hood worked. As we prepared to tour the gardens, it looked like it might rain, so I put on my rain pants and hooded jacket. Bring on the rain-I was ready.

My rain gear worked its magic. Once I put it on, the sun came out and the gardens were bright and sunny. Maybe there’s a Murphy’s law about rain gear and rain.

Glenarm Gardens

Glenarm Gardens has an interesting history. Dating from the 18th century, its original purpose was to grow produce for the castle. Later, in the 1930s, the 11 garden staff ran the garden on a commercial basis, selling its produce at a Belfast market. During WWII much of the produce was used to feed the 2,000 troops housed on the estate.

Following WWII, the garden fell into disrepair until Lord and Lady Antrim began restoration in 2001. After four years of work, they opened the garden to the public in 2005. In addition to beautiful flowers and shrubs, herbs and fruit trees echo the original purpose of the garden.

Herb garden
Fruit trees

Although the castle was closed to visitors while we were there, we could see it across the garden walls.

A beautiful woodlands garden was on the side of the formal gardens. Walking it made us feel like we were back in northern Minnesota.

Although the garden was smaller than we expected, it was lovely and serene. There were not many people visiting. At times we would have an entire garden section to ourselves. It provided a lovely pastoral balance to the excitement and energy we are anticipating in Belfast.