Brief trip to Northern Ireland, May 2019

Old Feb 14th, 2020, 11:54 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 7,160
Brief trip to Northern Ireland, May 2019

I've delayed greatly writing this trip report. Lately there have been several questions about Northern Ireland, and I gave a long reponse to one of them:

Northern Ireland

Some of what I would have included in this trip report has already been covered in that reponse, which is based on various trips to Northern Ireland, where I have many relatives. This trip report covers some of the things that are specific to my latest trip.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Feb 14th, 2020, 03:48 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 7,160
The reason for this trip is that one of my favorite cousins had been quite ill, and I wanted to visit her. I have many relatives there, mostly in Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh, and go to visit them every so often. These two counties are really off the beaten path, although they are very beautiful and merit a visit.

We usually rent a car to visit this area, as it's a sparsely populated rural area, and public transportation isn't abundant. One of my sisters also visits Northern Ireland fairly often, and she usually relies on taxis and relatives to get around, but we prefer having a car. It would be possible to see many of the places I mentioned in the topic I've linked above without renting a car, but it would take some time planning.

There are buses from the two airports in Northern Ireland to to the central Belfast bus station, where you can get buses to Omagh (Tyrone) and to Enniskillen (Fermanagh). From Dublin, the Bus Éireann bus to Donegal stops at Dublin airport and in Enniskillen, and they also have a bus from central Dublin's main bus station to Omagh. Once in one of these towns, you can get local buses to some other places, but often you would have to arrange to have someone drive you. A good B&B should be able to help arrange transportation to wherever you want to go.

Usually I fly into Dublin and rent a car there. On this trip, I wanted to fly into Belfast and rent a car in Omagh. Since there are no direct flights to Belfast from Italy, we stopped over in the Netherlands, where I used to live, and spent four nights in Rotterdam. I was originally going to make one trip report for both destinations, but I decided to give Northern Ireland a separate report. You can see the now misnamed Rotterdam report if you like:

June in Rotterdam and Northern Ireland

It's also misnamed as to the month, which was May, not June.

On arrival in Belfast International airport, we took a bus to the central Belfast bus station, and got a bus from there to Omagh. One of my cousins kindly met us at the Omagh bus depot, and drove us to the Enterprise rental agency, where we got our rental car. I had a very embarassing incident there: when I pulled out my driver's license, it turned out to have expired several months previously. Usually I do all the driving in English-speaking countries, but it turned out my husband would have to do all the driving on this trip. He had driven in Ireland before, but it was a tense trip, with lots of raised voices when he felt I wasn't translating fast enough. On this trip it went much better. For one thing, the last time he drove in Ireland, about 15 years ago, we didn't have GPS. That helped a lot, because our Google Maps speak Italian.

The Enterprise agents in Omagh were very helpful, beyond the call of duty. They're a small office, and usually have a single agent on duty, but the agent told us to call ahead a few hours on our way back, and they'd make sure to have an extra agent there to drive us back to the bus station.

We had rented a room for two nights at the Mellon Country Inn Hotel, just outside of Omagh.

View from the Mellon Country Inn

My cousin was passing there on her way home, so we followed her that far. This is a popular spot for weddings, confirmations, and the like, in the area. One of my cousins' daughter will have her wedding reception there later this year. When we were there, they were getting ready for a big first communion lunch. The hotel is very comfortable and the restaurant is good. We were able to get together a group of about 20 relatives for dinner at the Mellon Inn for the following evening. A few years ago, we had an even bigger family dinner at the Mellon Inn, which was extended to my more distant cousins.

The first thing we did that day was to visit an elderly relative, my mother's first cousin, in Omagh. After that, the first day was over. In the morning, we took a walk on a country lane that ran alongside the hotel. It brought us to the top of a hill, where there was a great view, and we walked further along a road that ran along the ridge.

Country lane near Omagh

My Italian husband almost looks Irish, with his Donegal woolen cap.

It was a misty day, and we ended our walk when the mist turned to rain. Later we had tea with a different cousin at the hotel.

The next morning, a Sunday, we went to Mass at a nearby Catholic church. They were having a First Communion. I was surprised to see how dressed up the children were.Little boys in suits and ties, little girls dressed like brides. In Italy, the children wear their ordinary school clothes, and the priest gives each child a little white surplice to wear over their jeans and tshirts.

After the ceremony, the priest posed for photos with each child, and gave each of them a little cherry tree in a pot, which they were supposed to plant, and to take a photo next to it to show him at their confirmation (four years later). It was a sweet gesture, but I wondered what would happen to the poor kid whose tree died before then.

Another cousin who lives in Wales, whom I had never met before, just happened to be in Tyrone at that time, visiting his aunt. We had lunch with them at a very nice restaurant, whose name I can't remember. Afterwards, we went to the aunt's house and visited for a while.

After lunch, we headed off to Enniskillen, where we stayed three nights at the Tilery B&B, in Florencecourt, just south of Enniskillen, and about a mile from where my father was born. This is a very nice B&B, owned by the Stranney family, who welcomed us warmly with tea and pastries.

This is a genuine family-style B&B, a rare thing these days. We were invited to join them in the evenings in front of their turf fire, and they joined us at their delicious breakfast. We opted not to have a full Irish breakfast, which is more than we might usually eat in a day, but we were happy to have porridge, Irish bread, eggs, cakes, tarts, and whatever wonderful things Claire Stranny had baked that day.

Not many of my father's family remained in Ireland. All of his siblings, and many of his aunts and uncles, left for England, Scotland, Australia, and the US. My cousin Maureen is my second cousin. Her father and my father were first cousins. I have another few cousins in the area who were from my paternal grandmother's family. In between visiting these cousins, we also did a little sightseeing. The area around Enniskillen is very beautiful, and there were a number of things I had never managed to see, (There are still a few other things that will have to wait until the next trip,)

The first day we were in Fermanagh, we visited the Marble Arch caves, which people have been telling me I shouldn't miss. This cave is part of a cavern sytem that stretches over several counties and two nations, Cavan in the Republic, and Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. It's part of a Unesco Global Geopark that one of two in Northern Ireland. (The other is the Giant's Causeway.) The Marble Arch site is partly underwater, and part of the tour is by boat. The boats can't operate when the water is too low, or too high, but when we were there, the water was just right. As a cave, the Marble Arch isn't spectacular, but the surrounding landscape is very beautiful. To enter the cave, you have to descend on a steep path through a forest glen. The drive through the park is also very beautiful, mostly heath and rocky terrain. The park includes Cuilcagh Mountain, where there are many hiking paths. A much-contested boardwalk has recently been constructed, to allow people to ascend the mountain without damaging the fragile bogland. Apparently, this has greatly increased the number of visitors, and many think it has destroyed the natural beauty of the landscape. On the other side of Cuilcagh Mountain, in County Cavan, the Cavan Burren Park offers more spectacular landscape.

On the next day, we took a boat tour on beautiful Lower Lough Erne, to visit Devenish Island. This is a trip I had taken long ago, in 1986, with my two children, and I had always wanted to go back, because I remembered it as a magical spot. The island is uninhabited, although there are sheep grazing there. From an early monastic site dating from the 6th century, to an Augustinian priory from the 15th century, there are ruins of the past all over the island. The most spectacular things are a 9th century round tower, and an Irish high cross, but the whole island is amazing.

Later that day, one of my cousins took us on a drive to see the border area. We went to Blacklion in the Republic, just across a little river from Belcoo in Northern Ireland. She showed us where the customs house used to be before both parts of the Ireland became part of the EU, when customs checks were no longer necessary. She took us to the middle of the bridge which marks the border, and showed us the speed limit sign which was in km/hour, and was the only indication that we were passing a national border. She didn't make any remarks about Brexit, which has the potential to undo all that's been accomplished in the way of peaceful coexistence, but I though her feelings were implicit in this little tour.

I don't ask any of my relatives in Ireland what they think about Brexit, just as I don't ask my relatives in the US who they voted for in 2016, or who they would prefer to vote for in 2020. I know of one family, in Tyrone, who told me they voted for Brexit; and one family in Fermanagh, who were vocal in their opposition.

The first time I was in Ireland, in 1986, the border crossing was like the crossing from the West Bank into Israel. Actually, it was maybe worse. When our bus arrived at the border, police with machine guns got on the bus and checked everyone. At the ferry port in Belfast, there were armed forces everywhere. In the city centers, you couldn't park a car. If you stopped your car to do some shopping, someone had to remain in the car. (People took elderly relatives with them to stay in the car while they shopped.)

On that first boat trip to Devenish, in 1986, I was sitting in front of two local women who were commenting on the beauty of Lough Erne. One said, "It's a shame that the lakes of Killarney attract all the tourists. Our lakes are every bit as beautiful." The other said, "The weather is better in Killarney, though." I wanted to turn around and say, "They also don't have soldiers with machine guns everywhere in Killarney."

During the troubles both Omagh and Enniskillen suffered major violence. In 1987, a bomb in Enniskillen killed 11 civilians and injured many more. In 1998, a bomb in Omagh killed 29 people and injured many more.

Now there is a risk of a regression to armed conflict. There are people on both sides who are spoiling for a fight, partly because the armed conflict was in its way profitable to some. It had some aspects of a mafia clan warfare. I don't feel very optimistic about the way that Brexit will affect Ireland, but I certainly hope that the worst will be averted.

Last edited by bvlenci; Feb 14th, 2020 at 04:14 PM.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Feb 14th, 2020, 04:35 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 7,160
The next day, we returned to Belfast for our trip home. Before we left, I took a short drive to see the little townland where one of my great-grandmothers was born. Her grandmother (add two more "greats" for me) lived for 111 years, and was well-known enough to me mentioned in some London papers. I had never seen this spot. When we got there, we stopped at the church where she was baptized, and I saw a gravestone of a family with the same last name. The latest member of this family buried there died in 1991, but the grave is well cared for. I think I'll try to look this family up.

Finally, I stopped at the cottage where my father was born. I have had no luck trying to contact the present owner, although my sister met her on one of her trips. It's a second home for her, and it seems she rents it out to anglers who come to this area for the sport fishing. If it ever comes on the market, we'd like to at least have the right of first refusal. I don't know what we'd do with it, but both my sister and I would love to have it back in the family.

My father's birthplace. In his time, the part to the left of the chimney hadn't been added yet. When I first saw it, in 1986, it had a thatch roof.

We drove the car back to Omagh, and turned it in. As promised, there were two agents at the desk, and one of them drove us to the bus station. We spent the night in the Maldron airport hotel. Our trip home was uneventful, with a stopover in Amsterdam. We arrived in Bologna, and took the train to Le Marche.

I begin to feel as though I want to go every year, or at least every other year, to Northern Ireland. My husband isn't as enthusiastic. To be honest, it's a bit of a strain on him, all that socializing in the English language, and he isn't accustomed to the accent.

I hope I've whet the appetite of some of you to visit these beautiful spots that don't get many visitors. In Fermanagh, there are lots of sportmen who go for the boating, or the fishing. In both counties, there are many hikers and cross country walkers, and more every year. However, on places like Devenish island, one of the most beautiful spots I've seen in Ireland, most of the visitors are local.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Feb 15th, 2020, 04:57 PM
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 127
Thanks for the interesting read. We were able to visit the area a few years back, and I agree it is a pretty place to spend time. The genealogy center in the Enniskillen castle was great. A volunteer tracked down the tiny spot were my family home use to be, using tax maps from the 1880's we were able to see where their place use to be. Nothing there now, but still nice to drive through the area.

Cuilcagh Mountain, is the boardwalk called 'The stairway to heaven?' We visited the caves and pretty sure the same walkway. The views were very nice, so I was happy that it was built.

bdokeefe is offline  
Old Feb 15th, 2020, 07:35 PM
Join Date: Jun 2016
Posts: 3,514
Great report. I have heard some crazy stories from the times of the troubles. Do you watch Derry Girls on netflix? It is wonderful. One lady told me that when they went into the bathroom in Belfast the toilet paper was orange. I do hope there is a United Ireland. The last time I was in Belfast they said it just simmers.

I hope you can get your Dad's birth home.
Macross is online now  
Old Feb 16th, 2020, 02:06 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 7,160
Macross, I've watched a few episodes of Derry Girls. I enjoyed it, although I felt as though the characters were a bit two-dimensional. However, I only saw the early episodes, and maybe they were better developed as time went on.

I never saw any orange toilet paper, but when I first visited Florence Court House, the toilet paper had "Property of the National Trust" printed on it. I took a few sheets as a souvenir.

I myself would like to see the island united, but it's a very difficult situation, and I would not want any solution that might lead to new violence and terrorism. There seems to be still a very slight majority in the north in favor of the British union, and any unification would have to result from a majority vote in both parts of the island. The UK has said they would respect the results of such a vote.

I've suspected for a long time that the UK wouldn't mind being rid of Northern Ireland, and that the Irish Republic isn't very keen on taking them on, although it wouldn't do for either party to say so.

A crazy idea occurred to me not long ago. Let's say Northern Ireland doesn't fare well in the Brexit negotiations (as it seems it won't). Then lets say Scotland votes in a few years for independence. Northern Ireland's link with Great Britain mostly passes through Scotland. Northern Ireland would then be doubly isolated from the rest of the not-so-united Kingdom. Many Scots people have always worried that their small population would make independence difficult and expensive. They also would not be shoo-ins for membership in the EU; Spain, with an eye on Barcelona, might veto its entrance. So let's say Scotland decides to develop closer ties with their nearest EU neighbor, forming some sort of loosely federated union. The unionists in Northern Ireland would find it much more palatable to join a union which included Scotland than just uniting with the Republic of Ireland. It could be a loose federation of three largely autonomous nations, and they could call it something like the United Goidelic Republic.

Remember, you heard it here first.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Feb 16th, 2020, 08:59 PM
Join Date: Jun 2016
Posts: 3,514
That sounds like it might work. Some of my relatives fled Scotland for Ireland. So interconnected. Poor old Isle of Man.
Macross is online now  
Old Feb 17th, 2020, 10:11 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 53,263
Thanks for taking me with you to Northern Ireland, bvl - not only because of you lovely writing and photos but because I've never been, and I've only been to RoI once on a family holiday about 15 years ago. So what I know about it I know mostly from The Troubles and like you, I worry what Brexit has unleashed. I'd better not get too political in case it gets this thread moved to the lounge, but i wonder if you have heard of Johnson's idea to build a bridge between Scotland and NI? Like most of his ideas it's pie in the sky but in theory it might provide a solution to some of the questions you raise.
annhig is online now  
Old Feb 17th, 2020, 01:15 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 7,160
Originally Posted by annhig View Post
Thanks for taking me with you to Northern Ireland.... I'd better not get too political in case it gets this thread moved to the lounge, but i wonder if you have heard of Johnson's idea to build a bridge between Scotland and NI? Like most of his ideas it's pie in the sky but in theory it might provide a solution to some of the questions you raise.
I've read that experts say it's impraticabile for various reasons. Maybe it's just a distraction to draw attention away from the effect Brexit will have on Northern Ireland.

If it could be built, it would be very popular in Northern Ireland, I'm sure. As Macross said, there are very strong ties between Ireland (especially the Northern part) and Scotland, going back millennia.
bvlenci is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Do Not Sell My Personal Information