Ireland’s a beautiful place to visit and is home to some amazing sights spread out to the four corners of the country. The problem… how do you explore them all without running out of time, money or falter due to distance? You take a day trip of course. I recently took a day trip to Northern Ireland with Wild Rover Tours from Dublin as it covered two big-ticket items on my to-do list, namely the Giants Causeway and the Black Taxi Political Tour in Belfast.
Having visited the Giants Causeway in Scotland earlier this year I was keen to see what the other side looked like in Ireland. And like many others who’ve grown up knowing of the unrest in Belfast but never really knowing the full story I thought the Black Taxi Tour was the perfect way to learn first hand from people who’ve grown up with it.
The first stop on the tour is obviously Belfast where you can either take a tour of the Titanic Museum or jump in a Black Taxi like I did. Learning about how the English created Northern Ireland and the political and strategic power plays so to speak that followed to make sure the protestants kept governing power over the catholics was slightly unnerving. Those very first acts sets the scene for how and why so many people would rise up against the English and why still in 2013 there are walls separating the city.
Growing up it was always reported in the news from what I can remember that the IRA were the baddies out of all of this yet now it’s quite clear it was bad on both sides. For an interesting look on what it was like for everyone I really recommend you check out the movie “In The Name Of The Father”, it shows how corrupt it had become during that time.
The tour first takes you through the catholic side as you drive down Falls Road past the many political murals that line the street. Also stopping at Bombay Street where you are face to face with the reality of how many live near the wall, their backyards are caged to prevent items being thrown into their yards. I asked our guide why don’t the people just leave, his answer? This is their home, this is where they grew up, leaving is like letting the others win.
Continuing on you pass through one of the gates in the wall (that are still closed each night for safety) over into the protestant side and down Cupar Way and into the Shankill area. Along Cupar Way people from all over the world and all walks of life have come to sign their name on the wall and hope for peace between both parties.
The Shankill area has its own murals but the most haunting of them all is that of the gunman who follows you no matter which angle you are facing him.
I was amazed at the noticeable divide between the two areas. On the catholic side street signs are written in both English and Gaelic and for the most part looks like the rest of the Republic of Ireland. While on the protestant side its like any street in London with flags and bunting everywhere. Suffice to say it still feels very much like the two sides won’t be getting along anything soon.
Following the tour the bus heads off along the north coast, known as the Antrim Coastal Drive and it’s nothing short of amazing. Passing through small coastal villages and wooded glens as the road sweeps around the country getting within 25km of the Scottish coast at one point before arriving at the Giants Causeway, the second major stop on my day trip to Northern Ireland.
The Giants Causeway for those that don’t know is made up of hundreds and hundreds of basalt columns that were created during a volcanic eruption many years ago. Each column is shaped like a hexagon with many surprisingly perfect in shape, as if someone had created them that way (certainly lends itself to the story that giants build it).
It’s not just the causeway that people come to see however, the views from the cliffs above are worth the trip alone. I’d imagine with a clear blue sky you could sit for hours just admiring the views.
if you plan to visit I’d recommend you to skip the visitors center on site as they charge 8.50 pounds to enter and this just gives you entrance to the cafe, tourist shop and allows you to hire audio guides. Instead, to get the most out of your visit walk up across the top of the center and along the cliff walk above the causeway until you reach the walkway down. Then return back along the paved road stopping to climb on top of the causeway itself of course.
The last stop on the day tour is to the famous Dun Luce Castle which is just minutes from the causeway. Unfortunately we were short on time and even shorter on decent light for my iPhone to capture it but I can assure you its worth a look.
For those of your interested in taking a day trip to Northern Ireland with Wild Rover, the tours departs Dublin city center at 7am and returns around 8pm that night. Cost is $55 euros which if you tried to replicate yourself by hiring a car or getting buses it would be at least double that price. There are no set lunch breaks but the bus does stop once on the way to Belfast and again on the way home at a service station that stocks a decent range of options. There are also food choices at the Giants Causeway (Northern Ireland operates in Pounds not Euros so be conscious of that) but it does eat into your time there so I’d suggest packing lunch to take with you.
While all views are my own, my participation on the tour was provided free by Wild Rover Tours.