I arrived into Belfast City Airport on a Friday night and was swiftly through security and into a taxi towards Mal Maison Hotel to meet up with the oldies – Mum, Dad & Uncle War. Other than Glaswegian, (obviously) I thought I had learnt to understand all the accents that the UK had to offer – including Northern Irish…Nope!
Wade: Mal Maison thanks mate.
Cabbie: Furs Tam an Balfust?
Wade: Sure is! Are you from around here?
Cabbie : Oh Aye, I’ll tak yar out tanaght for a point and rat if ya warnt?
Wade: Ahhh… Wwwwhat?
Cabbie: A Point!
Wade: Pint, yep got that that…a Rat?
Cabbie: Yeah, a Rat!!
Wade: A Rat?
Cabbie: Yer, yah knar, a rat, where yah throow stanes.
Wade: Ahhh Stones! You are saying Riot… Sorry Mate, thought I could understand Northern Irish!
Cabbie: Ha ha ha nah yar carnt! Whey dya say ya stayun?
Wade: Mal Maison.
Cabbie: Ohh feck it, I thought ya said Radisson, I’ll tarn arund.
Wade: And you can’t understand Australia.
Cabbie: Ha Ha, Nah!
With the language barrier clearly broken, I was out of the cab and sat down in the bar for a pint with the folks. We had a great dinner at the hotel’s restaurant before meandering back to the bar for a couple more beers before an early night… You hear different things about Belfast and its history, so when we woke to see the news that a bomb had gone off the night before there was a little bit of trepidation before we headed out. But, we were here, so we ate breakfast before checking out, storing our bags and jumping in a Blue Cab for our Black Cab Tour. The tour takes you through a section of Belfast, explaining what happened before, during and after the Troubles. Before heading off, Stuie, our cabbie, jumped in the back, laughed at how cold most of us looked, and then told us about what it was like for him growing up during the conflicts. It was quite intense what he has been through, along with everyone involved, and you could tell it was quite hard for him to talk about as he has lost friends and families.
Without going into too much detail, as it is worth doing the tour yourself, he took us into West Belfast and into the Protestant area of Shankill Road where we wandered around while he explained a lot of the murals painted on the ends of the houses. One, of which, was of a marksman wearing a balaclava pointing a rifle and no matter where you stood, to the right, left or below, it was always aimed at you.
The guide was full of information, and was even able to get closer than most to the answer of Uncle War’s difficult question, “What type of grass is that?” pointing at the ground.
“Green,” was his response, “well that’s the first time I have been asked that!” Wise man!
Back to the Tour…
We were back in the car where he took us towards the “Peace Wall” on Cupar Way that still stands today to separate the Catholics from the Protestants. We were out of the taxi again where we all signed one of the biggest barriers I have seen. It was only after Mum gasped when she found out that Stuie was ‘stabbed’ about 17 times every day growing up, we realised the language barrier was still bigger.
“Stopped, not stabbed!!” we all said.
It did at least lighten the mood. Off again, and we were driven through the gates of the wall, into the Catholic side and to a Memorial on Bombay St. It was here we saw the “Belfast Conservatories” that protect the houses from damage been thrown from the other side and where Stuie told us of how Plastic and Rubber Bullets were used in the War. It was not until he pulled out samples to show us we realised the damage they can do and when he showed a picture of his friend being shot at point blank in the chest, dying instantly, we realised the extent of what was going on. It puts it into perspective on how good we had – and have it.
We finished the tour on Great Victoria Street just outside the Europa Hotel, “the most bombed hotel in Europe/World” being bombed 28 times during the troubles. It was time to relax a little, so we headed into the Crown Pub for lunch. It’s a cool old Pub included in the National Trust, where all the ground floor tables are fully enclosed booths where every spare section on the old wooden walls hat a mysterious metal sign that said ‘MATCHES’ Whilst he is still none the wiser with the ‘Grass Quest’, Uncle War was spot on when he said they were most likely used for striking a match. Not that we didn’t believe him, but we did have to check.
It was well before the kick-off of the last game of the 6 Nations between Ireland and France, but we decided, as it would decide the Championship, we should find a bar and get in early for a good seat. The bar that had the room was back at the hotel, so we sat down and enjoyed a few pints of Guinness and watched the game. With ten minutes to go and Ireland just in front, our taxi arrived to take us to the airport to pick up Sarah. Fortunately he had the radio playing it so we all jumped in to try and hear the final ten minutes. Unfortunately, the journey from the hotel to the airport is five minutes. As we pulled up at the airport taxi rank we made the driver sit with the meter running and the radio blasting as Ireland survived a no-try from the French and hung on to win the Championship for the great Brian O’Driscoll’s last game. I don’t think any were as happy as the commentator as he exclaimed when they won, “Bless their little green cotton socks!!” We met Sarah, picked our soon to be arch nemesis of a car and headed on up to Portrush to our next hotel. After a quick dinner, it was time for an early night as we were getting up early the next morning to see the Giant’s Causeway at Dawn.
Ahhh.. Dawn… you wake tired and bleary eyed, but we you come to you realise you have the whole day ahead of you to achieve whatever you want. Our plan was to get to the Giants Causeway, take some photos then drive back to Portrush, pick up the seniors for another look before heading on down to Galway for an ice cold Guinness by 4pm. It started well enough; we were in the car and on our way when about 600 yards from the Giants Causeway Hotel, a tyre decided to shred itself. Thankfully we were on a narrow road so had nowhere to pullover to pull out the Jack that didn’t exist to replace with the spare… that also didn’t exist. Luckily, it was 6am so there was no one to call so we had to crawl on up to the hotel and park the car to wait until the hotel opened. Instead of waiting, we decided to trek to the causeway and come back when it was a more appropriate time. We walked along the cliff tops before descending down onto the stones themselves. It was a fair bit smaller than what I expected but it’s still a cool thing to see. The stones are just bizarre. It was a good time to go as no coaches had arrived and there were only three people there, two of which were us.
The whole tyre situation was fixed after five hours when the car company, Budget, eventually registered the car for Roadside Assistance, finally agreed I was unable to drive for 1½hrs on three tyres and after someone drove from Belfast to swap it over. I had questioned the wear on the tread of the other three (different) tyres, so the repairer had a quick measure. Surprisingly, we had a phone call from Budget a couple of days, later asking if we could return the car to Northern Ireland as it was “coming to the end of its lease” Before we knew it, we were on our way to Galway and was drinking our Guinness by 8pm.