The other Ireland

The Battle of the Boyne was fought in Ireland between William of Orange and James II in July 1690. It was the last time two crowned kings of England, Scotland and Ireland faced each other on the battlefield. William of Orange won a crushing victory, which secured the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland for generations. It retains huge symbolic importance in Northern Ireland, where it is celebrated by the Orange Order every 12 July.

Today we took the steam packet from the Isle of Man to Belfast for our first venture into Northern Ireland, travelling very intentionally on 13 July.

In almost 20 years, Belfast has gone from being a war zone to being ranked on of the top 10 tourist destinations in Europe. Everyone hastens to advise that the city is extremely safe – as long as you don’t go into certain “interface” neighborhoods (where the two sides are too close) after dark. No problem!

We started with lunch in the Crown Liquor Saloon  – a famous Victorian pub now under the care of the National Trust. The interior is wonderful and the snug we occupied for lunch, with its gunmetal plates from the Crimean War for striking matches and great sense of privacy, were quite special.

Our next objective was one of the Hop On buses, just to get some orientation to the city. Those famous wall posters were all around.

And then there were numerous symbols of peace and hope.

I’m not sure whether to include the “Peace Wall” in that category, since its intention is to keep people on either side of it to keep from killing each other. Even at this point, most residents do not want it removed. (Please note that this is the height of the wall that a certain politician wants to build between the US and a southern neighbor.) The lowest sections come with lovely barbed wire.

Between the bombings of WWII and the self-inflicted wounds of The Troubles, Belfast could not be called a picturesque city. It has a long way to go to restore a sense of elegance, or even a feeling of completeness, to its center. But at one point, it must have been quite lovely.

Don’s Food Corner

Since we were having lunch in an old-timey Unionist pub we thought it best to have some old-timey Unionist food — namely, mac&cheese and beef and Guinness pie. Excellent choices. The rich (and not greasy) beef and Guinness pie filling was encased in flaky crust and came with a mound of mashed potatoes and a big portion of green beans and peas. The best part, however, was a little pitcher of heavy brown gravy, just perfect for pouring over everything. The mac&cheese featured pure Cheddar throughout. It might not have been exactly as good as version we had the other day at the Parliament pub in Liverpool, but it was a close finish.

We had a booth, with a door on it, all to ourselves. A perfect setup with just the right food for what we would consider a rather blustery day but which might not be all that uncommon for the people who live here. On the bus tour, the guide pointed out the home of what he called the most optimistic family in Belfast: They had an outdoor pool.


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