County Dublin -> County Meath -> County Armagh -> County Down (Northern Ireland)
Woke up at 6:30am but this difficulty was soon forgotten in the wake of the best breakfast I’ve ever experienced. I got to try honeycomb, which I’ve always wanted to do, and both black and white pudding, which I did not actually want to do but survived. Dad asked one of the staff what was in the black pudding and she made a moue as if the last guy who asked that ending up vomiting on her shoes.
“Um,” her mouth said. “Are you sure you want to know?” All this while her eyes said, The last guy vomited on my shoes.
Dad nodded eagerly.
“Pig’s blood and oats,” she said quietly. Her eyes were fearful.
“Thanks, oats, really? How odd!” My dad continued to eat it. Possibly with more exuberance than before.
“You’re a lot more accepting than most people,” said her mouth. Thanks for not vomiting on my shoes, said her eyes.
I just continued eating piles of smoked salmon and toast with Irish butter.
Then it was on to the bus for a languorous drive to Belfast. On the way our tour guide Brendan made a lot of groan-inducing jokes. I thought we’d finally outsmarted him when he asked “Does anyone know how many shades of green are in Ireland?” and at the same time Ithaca and I both exclaimed “All of them!” Stunned, Brendan was quiet for a moment before saying, “Well, the answer was forty shades of green like the song by Johnny Cash.” He then sang the whole song. It was wonderful and I just what I was hoping for in Ireland. (Americans touring are not without their stereotypes, I’m afraid.) I only hope that on his next tour he shares our answer.
Our first tour stop in Northern Ireland was Down Cathedral in DownPatrick. Joy, the wonderful lady there in charge of all the things, told us all about the history of the cathedral and how things have changed since its initial construction. (It is also, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, where St. Patrick was buried.) I didn’t realize until we went to the St. Patrick Centre just at the bottom of the hill how important he was, so it was a fascinating trip. I also acquired postcards and a wool sheep keychain.
I dragged Mom and Dad and Ithaca to a tacky chain pub. Because none of us had pounds sterling Dad paid with a credit card, but because of the ten pound minimum, Dad and I ended up with a Guinness and a Jameson each because for some reason Mom and Ithaca don’t believe in day drinking. The bartender explained why Guinness has its own glass (the bottom stops the carbonation, so regular beer goes flat. “If a bartender gives you beer in a Guinness glass, give it back and ask him for a real glass,” she advised).
Then we hurried back to the bus and were off to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Brendan pointed out a large statue of a lady in a traditional Irish dance outfit and introduced her as his girlfriend. The Museum itself is slightly past Brendan’s tall girlfriend and is less like a museum and more like a ton of acreage with a collection of old buildings. Most of them were taken down, moved, and rebuilt brick by brick, but a few others were replicas. When we passed the Church of Ireland, one sassy member of our group asked if the gravestones covered bodies that had been exhumed. With typical Irish dark humor our folk park guide expressed a wish that that were the case because it would be much more interesting, but the headstones in question were only taken from deconsecrated ground. Then she told him where to find a real cemetery on the land, presumably to prevent him from exhuming any bodies on his own.
We then walked around the buildings and saw old homes and shops and ate fresh soda bread that was baked over a peat fire that was smoking into an enormous chimney where the original family would smoke their own meats. Mom asked Dad when he was going to build her one of those.
On the way to the Hilton in Belfast we passed the hill that looks like a giant’s face that inspired Gulliver’s Travels. We also passed a statue of a lady holding a large circle. We asked if this was Brendan’s other girlfriend, and he said yes, you need a girlfriend in every city. Just like Dublin, all the statues here had nicknames as well. This one was the Nuala with the Hula, and here’s the list of names if you think I am making this all up.
Dinner at the hotel was delicious but the service was about what I would expect if I were a prison inmate. I read before arriving that, when at a pub, you should always order your next beer when the one you are drinking is half full, because by the time your next drink arrives you will have finished the first. I thought this was a joke, but it is true.
We went for drinks at Fibber Magee’s, which I terrifically misheard as Flibber McGee’s and my mother misheard as Flipper MacGee’s, so we were off to a great start with listening to accents. Drank Smithwick’s and listened to two mediocre musicians cover popular songs, and watched the Most Efficient Man in the World stack pint glasses all the way up his arm as he cleaned. Everyone was drinking out of pint glasses — I didn’t see a single mixed drink. I was Flibber-gasted.