Northern Ireland: A nearby escape

Beach in Northern Ireland

Image courtesy of Blue Kulpa

When I think of Ireland, what immediately comes to mind is mist, rain, and never-ending green fields. I then think of thick accents, St Patrick’s Day, faery myths, and the past conflicts which took place. As an Englishwoman, I also question myself: “Will I feel out of place because I am English? Will people associate my accent with the troubles their home has faced?”

These were the thoughts I had before and during my first time on the island of Ireland; which was Christmas 2019. I did not stray far from the city centre of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Instead, I visited numerous amounts of pubs from ‘Lavery’s’ to ‘The Errigle’, and to a lovely place called the ‘Northern Lights’ which had plenty of beer and board games. I had definitely found the havens to which I could go and have a relaxing pint when needed. But of course, my main source of refuge was where I was staying, which was my boyfriend’s home. His two dogs and lovely parents instantly made me feel at ease. I soon felt that this was quite the place to be. It was a lively place compared to the small town where I came from, and it was also more relaxing compared to my accommodation at university. I was in a house that was not my own, meeting many new people, and in a city, I knew little about. And yet, I felt at home.

I experienced Boojum for the first time, and I have been hooked ever since. Boojum is a food chain specific to Ireland that is similar to America’s Chipotle (but better). They are a great place to go if you too struggle to find tasty vegetarian food when eating out. They offer plenty of meat options as well. And you can have a beer with your order. It is the healthy ‘fast-food’ alternative that they have. I am waiting on the day that the chain expands to at least London. Then I will not have to travel overseas just to buy their food.

For Boxing Day, we visited family in Derry and what a contrast it was from the city of Belfast. Much like cities in England, Derry had an array of shops that were run independently and a shopping mall full of the usual chains. All around the city, there were buildings that had a rich history, some through their age and others which were covered with political graffiti. I am a sucker for an old castle or relic of architecture. Going past many old buildings was a treat and there were plenty to be found here (there is actually an abundance of such buildings throughout Ireland). Derry’s rich history is something that I feel is not acknowledged or taught enough in our schools. There is so much to be learned about Derry that most of the locals and Irish people know well and hold close to their hearts; and yet we, or at least I, knew so little.

Throughout this year I have gone back and forth from Canterbury to Northern Ireland, and with each trip, I have slowly made my way around some of the places to see. Of which Derry is definitely up there.

The Giant’s Causeway was quite a sight to behold. The strange formation of the rocks was fascinating, and the myths behind how they were formed were even more so. Being a National Trust site, you were greeted by a welcome building that had a gift shop and café which were extensive and well planned out. It was the perfect refuge from the drizzling rain and wind which had picked up outside upon our arrival. The refuge even had a projector at one end of the building which showed a cartoon of giants building the causeway, which was most likely aimed at children, but I could not stop myself from watching a snippet of it anyway. Getting to the main site was only a short walk downhill, or a scary bus ride down the same hill which involved bendy turns (this bus is fully packed with people makes its path of travel all the more daunting). I found the number of people who were at The Causeway was surprising. Its reputation as a must-see tourist attraction had not hit me until I saw the crowds climbing the rocks and trying to get as high up as possible. There were even people on duty just in case someone fell or injured themselves; which must be a fairly common occurrence since the rocks were covered in mud and moss.

The highlight of this trip to The Causeway was finding coins that had been worked into the cracks of the stone formations. But most were rusted, forced together and of all sorts of currency. It reminded me fondly of a wishing well and I regret not adding my own coin to the collection.

In the summer we went on a short trip to Culdaff, a well-known beach area in the Republic of Ireland. The town consisted of little but houses, one corner shop, and a few pubs. It was very quaint and small with a sketchy reception. I found this all the more appealing since it drew more conversation out of those who loved disappearing into their phones. The beach was only a 10-minute drive away from our Airbnb in the town and it was not what I expected at all. Beaches in England are normally surrounded by shops and cafés like my beloved beach at home, Lyme Regis. This beach had none of that, only a derelict pub/hotel and some food vans parked up in the distant parking lot. Even with the lack of attractions, there were still plenty of people on the beach during those hot sunny days. There was not even a public toilet, yet everyone seemed very content with their day at that beach. The horse flies were something to note as they inhabited the fields next to this seaside attraction. They were all black and as big as your thumb (I heard they have a mean bite). The intriguing thing about these insects is that they have quite a big head. For someone like me, without glasses on and with a wild imagination, they almost resembled fairies. Maybe they are where the myths originated, maybe not. Or maybe that is just my being influenced by Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and the Irish mythology books I have read.

If you have not been to Northern Ireland yet, I think you should, at least once. The city of Belfast is lively and full of pubs that range from cool and classy, to cosy and historical. The architecture around the city is worth a look and the ongoing development of its expansion is something to admire. The places around the city and in Ireland are worth exploring, the variety of derelict buildings in the countryside piqued my interest immediately as an urban explorer but if they do not peak yours do not worry; there are plenty of other things to do. If you want to expand your exploration of such a place then Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland, should be on your list. It is a place I would like to see more of, but from what I have seen I would recommend going to the Guinness brewery. Even if you don’t like beer they have some entertaining and bizarre former mascots you can marvel at. And as previously mentioned, there is Culdaff.

But if you only want to explore one area at a time, start with Belfast, have a Boojum and possibly a pint, and work your way from there.

This article is part of our one-off edition of IQ Magazine, out from November the 29th 2019. Pick up the magazine on campus in our InQuire distribution bins in Keynes, Co-op, the Templeman library and other locations on campus.