With Troubles over, Northern Ireland thrives

“Where They Went,” by Diane Daniel, published April 12, 2009, in the Boston Globe

Trish Gannon (left) and Jean Mello (right) with Paddy, Black Taxi Tour driver in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Trish Gannon (left) and Jean Mello with Paddy, Black Taxi Tour driver in Belfast

WHO: Trish Gannon, 43, of Winchester, and Jean Mello, 43, of Dublin.

WHERE: Northern Ireland.

WHEN: Three days in October.

WHY: Gannon took the opportunity to visit Mello while Mello was living in Dublin as part of her job for a Boston-area bank. The two have been friends since attending College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

GIANT STEPS: Because the weather was nice when Gannon arrived in Dublin, they decided to head right away to Northern Ireland, where one of their prime destinations was Giant’s Causeway, a lunar landscape of interlocking basalt columns and the country’s top tourist destination.

COASTING: ”We booked a coach tour that took us up the coast of Antrim and stopped at sights along the way,” said Gannon, whose ancestry is Irish. “We stopped at castles and sea villages. The coastline was really dramatic.” About half the travelers were American, including US soldiers visiting from their post in Germany. “About 2 miles from Giant’s Causeway, our goal, this nice new bus ran out of gas.” Luckily, they were at the crest of a hill and coasted a mile down to Bushmills, home of the 400-year-old Bushmills Distillery. “We went straight to the gas station and filled up,” she said.

Trish at Giant's Causeway, Antrim Coast

Trish at Giant's Causeway, Antrim Coast

MILITARY INTERVENTION: ”Apparently when any vehicle, especially diesel, runs out of gas, it’s hard to start. It turned out one of the military folks was a maintenance guy for Apache helicopters, and he got it going,” Gannon said. “We took a vote on the bus and decided to skip the distillery and head straight to Giant’s Causeway. Luckily we got there before dark. You could walk all over the formations. It was really amazing.”

Trish Gannon at Belfast Botanic Gardens

Trish Gannon at Belfast Botanic Gardens

BANKING ON TOURISM: The friends stayed at the Hilton Belfast in a newly redeveloped waterfront area. Having visited the city briefly a decade earlier, Gannon was impressed with the progress made in Northern Ireland since the peace accord. “It’s officially a tourist destination now. It’s so hopeful and encouraging. They’re even capitalizing on being where the Titanic was built. There are a lot of new hotels and restaurants, but also the city has a lot of beautiful Victorian buildings, including banks converted to hotels and restaurants.” One of their favorites was the Merchant Hotel. “It was so opulent I couldn’t believe it had been a bank.”

TROUBLES SIGNS: They took a Black Taxi Tour to see political murals and other sights around West Belfast, the center of the Troubles, the decades-long conflict between the country’s nationalist (mostly Roman Catholic) and unionist (Protestant) communities. “It was good to see that some of the murals have been painted over with more contemporary political issues. Many of the schools are integrated now, and there’s more integration in the workplace.”

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2 Responses to “With Troubles over, Northern Ireland thrives”

  1. karel Says:

    Sorry for skipping the Bushmills-visit. But buying a bottle and sipping a glass of this, will lessen the pain. But the Giants Causeway is unique.

  2. george clake Says:

    http://www.belfastattractions.co.uk was a great help in finding the best taxi tour in this changing city Belfast.

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