Belfast Beauty

My wellies have walked miles, my raincoat has been soaked, I’ve gotten in enough cardio for the entire year — and I couldn’t be happier! Yesterday I got back after exploring Belfast, Northern Ireland and pretty much fell right into bed. Some of you may be asking, “Sarah, what do you mean Northern Ireland?” The island of Ireland is technically two different countries. The vast majority of the island is The Republic of Ireland, which is completely separate from the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is the very tip of the island, which is a part of the United Kingdom under Queen Elizabeth. I know that is a little confusing, but I will get to explaining that later. I arrived in Belfast via train, and immediately set off to find C.S. Lewis Square. C.S. Lewis is an Irish writer I have been studying. He was born and raised in Belfast which is why there is a square dedicated in his honor. C.S. Lewis is well known for his series The Chronicles of Narnia, his novel The Screwtape Letters, and much more. I had read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a little girl, and only recently read The Screwtape Letters. In C.S. Lewis Square there are different sculptures and statues commemorating C.S. Lewis and the amazing world and characters he created in Narnia. There are pictures of those featured on my Facebook page with explanations of each character and their purpose in Narnia. However, one statue I want to talk about is “The Searcher”. This is a statue of C.S. Lewis himself, standing next to his famous magical wardrobe as he peers inside. It is titled “The Searcher” after C.S. Lewis’s character, Digory Kirke, who was in the first book of the series The Magician’s Nephew. Digory is the one who had the wardrobe made from an apple tree with magical properties, which helped open the doorway to Narnia and Aslan in the second book of the series The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis first thought of Narnia in 1939, and it would not be published until ten years later in 1949. Now there is always some confusion when it comes to the order of the series, and that is because Lewis did NOT write them in chronological order. In fact, the first book was the last to be published of the series — but don’t worry guys, stores usually sell them in order now. There are 7 books in the entire series (the original Harry Potter) and each bring forward the theme of children coming to Narnia to save the land from some sort of evil. This is a tie to one of the many Christian themes that Lewis wrote into his stories — the idea that children hold a pure innocence that evil cannot withstand. C.S. Lewis was a Christian, however many wouldn’t guess that for a time he was a dedicated Atheist. Lewis was raised in a Christian home, but went away to University and decided to become an Atheist after becoming interested in mythology and the occult. When the first world war broke out he was shipped to France to serve, and the horror of war only confirmed for him that Christianity was untrue. He was an Irishman through and through; he despised the English landscape and was W.B. Yeats’s number one fan. He loved Ireland and its people, once stating that he “would not gladly live or die among any other people.” After some years, Lewis converted to Christianity in 1931 after many debates with his Oxford colleague and friend, J.R.R. Tolkien. He was a steadfast Christian for the rest of his life, and his novel The Screwtape Letters, was renowned for its unique view on Christianity. I am a Christian and I was intrigued by how Lewis approached the discussion of our faith in this novel. The novel is written from the view point of the devil, as letters he is writing to his demon nephew on how to prevent humans from following Christ. The devil discusses the tricks of his trade and gives his nephew advice on how to keep his assigned soul from turning to God. The devil’s play book on how to win the war against God is laid out for the reader — but Lewis never once tries to force Christianity onto the reader, and that is the most important part of all. I HIGHLY suggest this novel to Christians, but also to everyone else! It is an extremely thought provoking text, and if you are just interested in religion and its many facets — this is a book to read. After C.S. Lewis Square, I ventured up (and I do mean waaaaaayyyy up) to Belfast Castle. The castle was built in 1870 and now operates as a hotel. The most interesting part of the castle was the use of cats in the castle gardens. Legend has it, that good fortune will come to those who visit Belfast Castle as long as the tradition of the “castle cat” is kept. The story goes that a white cat has always lived on the castle grounds and must always reside there for good luck. This superstition is taken so far, that in the castle gardens cats are worked into every aspect of the design. Nine different references are made to the white cat in the pavement, garden furniture, statues, and even the shrubs. I didn’t see the white cat itself, but I did have an amazing dinner inside the castle! The next day I got up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus alongside the Irish Sea, up to the Carrick-A-Rede bridge. You know how I said Belfast Castle was waaaaaayyyy up? Yeah, the rope bridge was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy up!!!!! Approximately 98 ft. to be exact. The bridge was initially made in 1755 by fishermen who were trying to catch dinner in the water below. Was I a little nervous to be crossing such an old bridge? Nah! All joking aside, it was a beautiful day, and pictures of the bridge can be found on my Facebook page. After the bridge we traveled back down and made a quick stop at Old Bushmill’s Distillery where I allowed myself a treat with a piece of whiskey cheesecake. It was surprisingly light and you could only taste the whiskey if you took a really big bite. The distillery has been in business since 1608, and they have a whiskey range that goes up to 21 years. From the distillery, we headed to Giant’s Causeway. Why is it called Giant’s Causeway? Well, the legend goes that there were two giants. Fin McCool, an Irish giant, and Benandonner, a Scottish Giant, were at odds. Fin challenges Ben to a battle, but a sea separates Ireland and Scotland and Ben can’t swim. Fin decides to build a causeway across the sea so that he can whip Ben’s Scottish behind. However, upon seeing that Benandonner was much larger and stronger, Fin runs back home to his wife and child in Ireland. Ben follows after him, but Fin’s quick thinking wife saves the day by disguising Fin as their baby. When Ben sees how big the “baby” is, he wonders how big and strong the father must be. Benandonner runs back to Scotland, destroying the causeway behind him. What is the moral of this Irish tale? Don’t get too giant for your britches. The scientific explanation for the remnants of the causeway is the slow cooling and crystallization of volcanic rock that crashed and fused together 60 million years ago. But I like the local legend better, don’t you? Once I returned to Belfast, I headed to dinner at the Crown Bar, built in the 1820’s. It is one of Belfast’s most well-known popular pubs and their food and drink are 5 star in my opinion. Unfortunately, my trip in Belfast had to come to an end the next day. However, before I boarded my train, I found a beautiful mural called “Building an Ireland of Equals”. This mural is in commemoration of those who fought for Irish independence or equal rights. There is a picture of the mural on my Facebook page, and if you google the name of the mural it will come up. On the far right is pictured Wolfe Tone, who was a leading figure in the 1798 Irish Rebellion. He is also considered the father of Irish republicanism. The Irish Rebellion in 1798 was for the end of British rule in Ireland and for Ireland to be established as its own republic. In the middle of the mural is Winifred Carney, who was an Irish suffragist, and an activist for Irish independence as well. Pictured on the far left of the mural is Bobby Sands, who was a member of the Irish Republican Army and who died on hunger strike while in prison. This leads back to what I was talking about in the beginning of this blog post, when discussing the difference between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland. The island of Ireland as a whole, is very old — America is a baby in comparison of age. However, The Republic of Ireland has only been a republic for 68 years, after it was established in 1949. Irish independence was reached to a certain point then— however, in Northern Ireland the issue of Irish independence is much more complicated. This came to the world’s attention when The Troubles broke out. Now, you can’t just walk up to someone in Northern Ireland and start asking a bunch of questions about it. It is a sensitive topic and for good reason. I was lucky to have met someone who was understanding to my little knowledge as an outsider, and he helped explain and educate me on the basics of this part of Nothern Ireland’s history. The Troubles is not a religious issue — a lot of foreigners think it is when they start to hear the two sides referred to as Catholic and Protestant. But it is actually political because really it is just a way to determine who identifies with which party. The Protestants are the Unionists, who believe that Northern Ireland should stay a part of the United Kingdom. The reason that Protestants are identified as Unionists is because the Church of England became Protestant, after Henry the VIII’s divorce in 1532. The Catholics are the Nationalists, who believe that all of Ireland should be a republic, making Northern Ireland free from the United Kingdom. The reason that Catholics are identified as Nationalists is because the religion that most Irish had followed since the 5th century was Roman Catholic, before the English church became Protestant. I know this is kind of confusing, but for a time there was a terrible violence in Northern Ireland because of this divide in beliefs, and it became known as The Troubles. It lasted from the mid 1960’s to 1998. It was a time when the Unionists and Nationalists were battling about this issue of Irish independence ferociously. Walls were built between neighborhoods to prevent people from running bombs across the street; they had to eventually make the walls higher so bombs could not be thrown over. These were called peace walls and many still stand in Belfast and Derry today. Fortunately, there has been peace in Northern Ireland for 20 years— but this should not be mistaken for agreement. England and Ireland have a long, ugly history that some cannot forget, and it influences this political disagreement. The two sides are still at odds but have put violence aside for the sake of the people and communities of Ireland. The Irish are the most resilient and hospitable people in the world, and it is because of this that their rich and beautiful culture has survived. I am very grateful to have this experience and to be learning so much. With another wonderful journey in the bag I got on the train back to Galway and I am resting up for my last 10 days here in the Emerald Isle. Bye for now everyone, but not for long! :)

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