What do 12 nights, 7 places to stay, 2 countries, 2 currencies, 2 parents, 1 brother, and 1 rental car give you?
No—not a logistical nightmare (although a ton of planning certainly was done). These are the ingredients for my May holiday. Fortunately, it was a recipe for success!
My parents, brother, and I visited both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The itinerary included nights in Dublin, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Cong, and Sutton and stops in other places.
It was a recipe for learning.
There are “peace walls” in parts of Belfast. These are long-standing, community-driven walls that divide loyalist and nationalist neighborhoods. Some of these walls have gates that are opened and closed at certain times to control access and maintain a sense of security for residents.
Derry or Londonderry—depending on your perspective—has walls too. It also has a natural division—a river that runs through it—which has served as a separation for loyalists and nationalists. In 2011, a peace bridge was built to join the east and west banks.
Having driven through the city, I was struck at how much the city needs bridges—literally and figuratively. There is one main bridge that connects the city center for all kinds of traffic. There’s another bridge much farther up the river, but it’s certainly not convenient for everyday commuting. The peace bridge gives pedestrians and bikers another option. I can only imagine how helpful this was in a basic logistical sense, as well as a way to facilitate integration.
The city is also famous for its murals that express political and social history in striking ways. In fact, my brother went on a mural tour led by a son of one of the people killed on Bloody Sunday.
There are walls in other cities throughout Northern Ireland too. Some of the walls and gates are starting to come down, but there’s still a long way to go. The war may be over in Northern Ireland, but it appears it will take generations before there’s real peace.
It was a recipe for discovery.
Part of the trip involved genealogy research. With the marriage certificate for my great, great, great grandparents in hand and a happenstance conversation with a grounds keeper at what turned out to be the wrong church, we ended up locating and visiting the church where my ancestors were married. A truly special find.
It was a recipe for fun.
Pubs are the heart and soul of Irish social life, and we visited a number of them. Of course, we ate traditional fare, like shepherd’s and cottage pies. One night, we enjoyed a music session—an informal jam session of traditional music.
We also explored Irish whiskey. And, yes, it’s spelled with an “e.” We had a spirited debate (pun not intended) about that fact. We’ll be sure to remind my mom of that conversation time and time again. We had a great tour and tasting at the Bushmills Distillery in Bushmills, Northern Ireland and the Irish Whiskey Museum in Dublin.
It was a recipe for beauty.
We drove from Belfast to Derry via the coastal causeway, maneuvering through seaside villages and stopping at the Giant’s Causeway—one of my favorite places of the entire trip. Mother Nature blessed us during our visit, and I swelled with emotion at the rugged and powerful beauty around me.
It was a recipe for reflection.
The Dublin famine memorials took on an added meaning for us. Our Irish ancestors emigrated because of the famine and risked their lives to sail across an ocean for weeks and weeks to encounter the hope of something better.
After visiting the Ulster American Folk Park, a living history museum, we had a much better understanding of the conditions and context for my family’s journey to the United States. It was overwhelming to realize what they and others were willing to risk and endure when they didn’t know what would be waiting for them. In fact, one of my great great great grandfathers died a month after arriving in the States. I can’t imagine how difficult and frightening a time it must have been for my great great great grandmother and her children.
It was a recipe for shared moments.
In addition to all of the moments of learning, discovery, fun, beauty, and reflection, there were other small yet memorable moments that we will carry with us and enjoy forever. My dad’s quest to find the best seafood chowder. My mom’s sudden appreciation of buildings that “look old.” My brother’s first afternoon tea. And then his infamous second. The one time we let my mom sit in the front passenger seat, which was also the last.
Our trip was definitely a recipe I would make again and again.