Northern Ireland can be visited in a single drive of five hours or so.
I didn't do that... we only went to three places, all of them unique, interesting and totally diverse. Some people say Ireland is more green than any other place... I don't know about that. I do know I saw shades of green I've never seen before. The air is soft and so is the water. There is a toughness that is required to live there, I think. You live in a place that is still warring (we had to drive miles out of our way to avoid an armed check-point) and dealing with the 'Troubles'.
We went to the Giants Causeway, which legend has was built by Finn McCool, the giant. It looks to be man made, because it is so precise in it's design, in the formation of the rocks. We went to the Bushmill distillery where I bought a coin purse, and we passed on the tour. There was a huge sweep of sandy beach, surprising as it stood there between craggy rock. The ocean was a heavy grey colour, stretching all the way out, and I imagined how it was for my great-grandmother, who left these shores as a young girl, piled onto a boat deck, escaping the horror of the Famine.
I saw the old work house, re-made into a hospital. A ghost is there, whose been seen by many. You see the long dormitory rooms where up to 200 women slept on piles of straw in a room the size of my old dining room and living room combined. People came to the work house when they had starved for so long, their pride was gone in the face of hunger. Couples were broken apart, families sent in the direction of their sex and age, to not see each other again until they could earn enough money to buy their ticket to freedom; America.
I went to Derry, where the Troubles were intense and fierce and you can still see the signs painted on walls, "FREE DERRY". It used to have a man made wall around part of the city, with violence going on behind it. Big Ev was in the Army back then, and told us stories of a policeman who had his feet blown off when a bomb in his car only partly exploded...or of his friend who was buried under a building that was blown up and collapsed on him, and walked away with nothing more than a broken cigarette. He showed me where the police stations stand like fortified modern castles, and the police cars are unmarked, and have bullet proof glass.
Some things don't change easily.
There was the huge sweep of farmland, broken by gorse bushes that were breaking into yellow flowers. Homes dotted that area of farms and potatoes and sheep. The town he is in has 45% unemployment. Can you imagine? Forty five percent of the people have no job... it's frightening.
I spent time with a cat that tried to nurse on every bit of my shirt tail as I sat on the couch, drooling when you stopped him. There was Amber, the nervous Cocker Spaniel, who sought out scratches and her 'baby'.. and Big Ev and his delightful daughter who is tall and lean and beautiful and sweet.
Home now, picking up the dogs at some point... nice to have my 'own' bed back, yet, missing those long sweeps of green and heavy accents and a history that is still being created in violence and the sought after peace.
I'm in the hopes peace wins.
Our Neville Fact
The boat has a crew of pursers, maids and cooks. The young man assigned to Neville and Margaret's room is called Staveros, and he is very, very attentive to their needs. It seems he caught Neville coming out of the bathroom looking for his trousers, and saw the Great Package. Since then, he's continued to pop in without knocking, in the hopes of becoming a close friend of the Package. Neville is clueless, and can't figure out what happened to his best boxers...not realising Staveros has them under his bed pillow in his cabin, where he holds them and dreams.