Visit the 10th century monastery of Clonmacnoice. In Belfast, embark on an iconic Black Cab city tour (whatever that means!)
08.08.2016 - 08.08.2016 17 °C
Hotel - Europa Hotel Belfast, Great Victoria Street, Belfast - Room 933
Had a great night's sleep at The G last night. The bed was wonderful and the down and feather pillows were DIVINE. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I just floated away into dreamland.
Our first stop of the day was Clonmacnoise Monastery, which is situated in the centre of Ireland, in County Offaly on the River Shannon. It was founded in 544 by St Ciaran (modern day name Kieran). Its strategic location helped it become a major centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade and by the 9th century, it was the most famous in Ireland, visited by scholars from all over Europe. The Esker Riada was a series of Drumlin which were hills left behind from glacial movement and formed a natural road.
The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches, two round towers, three high crosses and a large collection of early Christian grave slabs. The two towers were once one tower, seven stories high, but it was hit by lightning and when the top was knocked off, they were turned into two towers.
The site is quite stunning. The Cross of Scriptures in a four metre high sandstone cross and has carved panels showing scenes including the Crucifixion, the Last Judgement, and Christ in the Tomb. The original has been moved into the visitors' centre to preserve it from the elements. This is a replica.
All the other buildings are crumbling ruins, without roofs. A few of us walked to the Nun's chapel, which is a ruin as well.
My mother passed away on 16 May 2015 and she always said "Don't you dare put plastic flowers on my grave". Well, wouldn't she love this? They are all fresh flowers growing on this grave.
We stopped for lunch at a place on the motorway called Lusk. Tom was a bit embarrassed that we were stopping along the motorway, but it was really good and there was quite a selection of food. Phil had a pie, which he enjoyed and I had a sandwich.
We continued on to Belfast, arriving at the Europa Hotel at about 3.45 pm. At 5.20 pm we all met downstairs for our Scenic Enrich Black Cab ride around Belfast. We went in a cab with Karen and Lou; Jane and Gary; Shelley and Ed and our cab driver was Dave, who would be lucky to be five foot tall. He was a very funny Irishman with a very thick accent, but we basically understood what he was saying.
First he took us up to the Belfast Castle and even though it was closing, he was able to take us inside because his son works there. The gardens were beautiful but inside, he wanted to show us a poster of the American B51 bomber that crashed into the mountain in World War Two. After the crash, the Americans cleared away the bodies and all the debris, but years later an Irishman found some debris and a ring at the site and when they traced the owner of the ring, he presented it to the airman's widow. A very lovely story. He even dressed up as a Leprechaun and we all had our photos taken with him. He was a blast!
Then Dave took us into the Protestant and Catholic areas and told us many stories about the IRA days in Northern Ireland. We went to the Peace Wall, which is a huge wall built between the Protestant and Catholic areas and is locked at night and opened every day. These doors are closed manually. There is one gate that remains open, however, if there is any hint of trouble, an orange light will start flashing and the gate will close automatically.
There are lots of murals painted on this wall and a tribute to Bobby Sands, who died on a hunger strike in the 70s. We remembered that. It was sad and one wonders if he might have been able to achieve more peace if he had stayed alive, and fought on.
It was a most sobering tour and I find it very hard to believe that in this day and age, there is still a "Peace Wall" between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. It is almost unbelievable. Come on - this is 2016 - let's get with it and put all this hate to rest.
Dave was a great tour guide and kept saying "fooking" all the time, which was quite funny. Just as well we weren't "shrinking violets"! We had a great tour and we went an hour over time. I think we had the best driver.
Back at the hotel,
the eight of us went to dinner at a pub over the road from our hotel. Jane told us that her Mum had passed away in Australia today and understandably, she was upset but told us that she died at 8am on the 8th of August and when that was happening, we were at Clonmacnoice, and Jane was actually standing at the Cross of Scriptures with Charmaine, saying a little prayer - so someone must have known something.
One more night with this great group and then we have to leave them and go home. Tomorrow we are going to tell Tom that we want to come to Scotland with them. Please arrange it. Only joking.