Monday, 19 March 2012

So Long Dublin... Belfast Here We Come!

Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin
I'd thoroughly enjoyed staying at Buswells Hotel these last three days.  By chance I'd wandered onto their website last year & managed to book an early bird deal for $NZ115 [$US85] per person, per night including breakfast.  It was a good deal & well worth the treat of staying somewhere 'a bit posh' for a few days.  The hotel is beautifully decorated in a Georgian style & has a cozy warm feeling about it.   Conveniently, they also have their own bar & restaurants & the food was superb. 

Buswells Hotel Bar, Dublin

As well it was perfectly located for us as newbies to Dublin & was handy to so many landmarks on our tourist trail.  I was sad to leave, but leave we must for today we were heading off to Belfast.

Just a few metres from Buswells Hotel is the grand complex of the National Library of Ireland.  And I am interested to learn that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is the member of the Irish Government responsible for the library.  Now that would be Mr Jimmy Deenihan who, if you've been following me since I arrived in Ireland, you might remember, was the minister who presented me with my Certificate of Irish Heritage at Ross Castle in Killarney just over a week ago.

Now I'm embarrassed to say, I never stepped foot inside this magnificient building to my great regret.  Next time!

Every year thousands of people visit the National Library to carry out their family history research.  Despite not having any links that I know of in the Republic, I didn't have any need to visit the Library to use the wide range of services available.   This however, was no excuse.  Just to see inside this beautiful building should have been enough to draw me in.

The Entrance to the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin

Especially to view the impressive domed Reading Room. It is horse-shoe shaped and almost 50 feet high in the centre. It is lit by a large central dome and side windows high in the walls.  As I write this, I feel somewhat annoyed with myself that I didn't visit this treasure when it was so close to the Hotel. 

The National Library, Dublin

We ordered a taxi to take us back to the Europcar Mark Street depot to pick up another rental car & on the way,  asked our friendly taxi driver to make a detour to Custom House Quay so I could get out briefly to take a look at the Famine Memorial.

The Famine Sculptures, Custom House Quay, Dublin

The Famine sculptures are a haunting & sobering commemoration of those forced to emigrate during the famine of the 19th century

The gaunt figures of the famine sculptures, Custom House Quay, Dublin

During the time of the Great Irish Famine, 1845 to 1849, more than one million men, women and children died and nearly two million were forced to emigrate. The famine was a result of the potato crop failure, the main source of food for Irish people at the time. A memorial of six life sized bronze figures looking starved & desperate & clutching small sacks filled with their worldly possession, is situated near the customs house quay as a reminder of the hardship they endured. 

The famine memorial, Custom Quay, Dublin
At the Europcar depot to pick up our car, we asked to have 'Aoife' back [our trusty Sat Nav] but were told all Sat Nav's had departed with their new owners!  Desperate to have a Sat Nav, we pleaded for them to go check to see if 'Aoife' had hidden herself away somewhere and sure enough having been forced to get off his cozy seat, he found her! 
Our car is a Kia & much much smaller than the Opel Corsa we’d had on the first leg of our journey, but it is driving well & we’re thinking it will be just fine despite it’s crampness & the fact that we look like two telly tubbies sitting in the front seats!

Once out of Dublin we stuck to the M1 which was well signposted all the way into Northern Ireland & on to Belfast.   One thing you notice or don't notice as the case may be, is that there are no signs telling you that you've now left the Republic & entered Northern Ireland. 
You're first clue that you've entered the UK is the change in road signs from kilometres to miles.

As you drive into the city of Belfast, there are two large structures that catch your eye.  The first is a large structure called 'Rise', known locally as the 'Balls on the Falls'.  It is the biggest public art sculpture in Belfast.   The globe-shaped, white and silver steel sculpture is a representation of a new sun rising to celebrate a new chapter in the history of Belfast.

The second structure you notice is the towering presence of the two yellow Harland & Wolff cranes which dominate the skyline where ever you are in the city.   Affectionately referred to as 'Samson & Goliath', the announcement that the cranes were to be built [in the late 60's & mid 70's], was very important at the time.   It signalled that one of Northern Ireland's largest employers was to expand at a time when the country's Troubles were at their worst.

The Giant Harland & Wolf Cranes, Belfast

Between 1900 and 1930, Harland and Wolff was Belfast's biggest employer.  Thousands of people worked in the ship yards as the demand for ocean liners was huge.   The Harland  & Wolff  Shipyard, the largest dry dock in the world,  built over 70 ships for the White Star Line.   The Titanic was the best known of these.

Goliath, the smaller of the two stands at 96 metres (315 ft) was completed in 1969 , while Samson , the taller of the two, stands at 106 metres (348 ft)  was completed in 1974.   Each crane has a span of 140 metres (459 ft) & lifts loads of up to 840 tonnes to a height of 70 metres (230 ft), making a combined lifting capacity of over 1,600 tonnes, one of the largest in the world.

The view of the newly built Titanic Museum &
the large 'Paint Hall' film studio directly behind it.
Another building visable as you drive into Belfast City is that of the newly built Titanic Belfast museum, awaiting its grand opening in April 2012.  On an 8 acre site behind Titanic Belfast stands a huge building known as The Paint Hall.  It is Northern Ireland's film studio facility & the largest in Europe.   In times gone by, it was part of the Harland & Wolff shipyard here & served as a 'paint hall' for component parts of ships.  The building has four cells, each of which is 16,000 sq ft & 90 ft high & is now home to the TV series Game of Thrones.  Using The Lord of the Rings tourism in New Zealand as a model, Irish Tourism is developing a Game of Thrones tour, which it hopes to have ready by the time season three airs.

Finally, we found our way to the home of my distant cousin in Helen's Bay.   We'd not met before but when we arrived, the welcome was warm & genuine & it wasn’t long before I felt like I’d know her all my life. 

Belfast Lough, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Before settling in for the evening, we went for a quick walk around Helen’s Bay to get a view of Belfast Lough, quite possibly the very same Lough that my great grandmother Lizzie  would have sailed out along in 1885, as she bid farewell to her homeland. 

Belfast Lough, Northern Ireland
Helen's Bay, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Helen's Bay, Belfast

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