June 7,8 & 9
Our next destination was Sligo, a sea town. We expected it to be a bustling town, but found it to be a sleepy town.
We came to Sligo in the afternoon around 2:00PM, and booked into Sligo Park hotel just outside the city. It was a reasonably good hotel, just outside the city. From outside, the hotel looked more like an office building. In the evening, we went to the city looking for a place to have dinner. The shops have already closed and the city deserted except for restaurants. There was nothing much to see in the city. We had dinner in a small restaurant and came back to the hotel. We thought we will stay in the hotel and take a rest for a change.
The next morning, after breakfast in the hotel, we got out early to visit Belfast. We drove through narrow country roads and avoided big towns. At the same time, we were keen to visit the Belleek pottery factory in Belleek. It was established in 1857 by John Caldwell Bloomfield 155 years ago. The ceramic products of Belleek pottery factory has made a name for itself in Europe, America and Canada. They may not be well known in Australia.
We took the road that takes us to Belleek from Enniskillen, but there was a diversion on the road. We were directed to a very narrow road that goes through farm land and a few villages. At the end of it, we found Belleek, and the Pottery factory, a reasonably big building. There were many tour buses which brought tourists to visit this place. When we arrived at the factory, one factory tour has just started and the next factory tour was in forty minutes. We had no choice but to wait. We went to the display area and Mala and I walked around looking at some of the display cabinets. There were some items specially designed for various occasions. One display item was a replica of an item that was presented to queen. The factory staff told us that all the items on display are exclusive items and available for sale only in this factory.
There was one special item that took our attention. In 2012, the factory was celebrating it’s 155 years of service. They issued a limited edition of 155 items called Castlecaldwell Basket in celebrating this event. It was quite expensive, but we decided to purchase it. Then to our surprise, we found that the item on display was the last remaining item. We wanted to make sure the item was not damaged. The girl who was at the counter was very helpful. She took it inside to show it to her manager and get it tested for any flaws. She later confirmed the item was tested and found to be flawless. It was very well packed by her and finally we bought it along with a certificate of authenticity. We have to think of a way of carrying it in our hand luggage.
The next morning we were heading to Belfast, a very cosmopolitan city in Ireland. Belfast is the capital and also the largest city of Northern Ireland. The city's history has been marked by violent conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities which has caused many parts of the city to be split into 'Catholic' and 'Protestant' areas. In recent years the city has been relatively peaceful and major redevelopment has occurred,
This is the first time we were visiting Northern Ireland. We expected some major changes and some sort of border crossing when we come to Northern Ireland. There was no such thing. The only difference we noted was the change in road signs after we crossed the border. We did not know we were crossing the border. Suddenly the speed limits changed from kilometres to miles. We stopped at a small shop in a small town after crossing and found they use British pounds not Euros any more. UK still uses pounds. Most other countries in the European Union have converted to Euro.
Belfast is well known for it’s graffiti walls in the city. You can see graffiti everywhere on the city walls. They prefer to call them murals rather than graffiti. During the troubles, both sides painted large murals on buildings. These murals were drawn to incite hatred and animosity. Lately, after their peace accord, more and more murals have been drawn to promote political or religious beliefs. Some of them are advertisements for local businesses.
We checked into our hotel Tara Lodge, a good hotel. The only problem was the limitation in parking. We were going to be there for two days. The hotel was very close to the city centre, but not in a busy area. We managed to find a parking slot in the hotel car park, but parking was on a first come first serve basis. We talked to the hotel staff and found that driving in the city was not difficult, but parking could be a major issue. There were very few parking stations and street parking was almost impossible. We decided to take a city tour on a hop on-hop off city tour bus. You can buy tickets for these buses from the hotel. Our tickets included a visit to Titanic Experience. A small vehicle will pick you up from the hotel and take you to the place where they start these tours. The bus stops at all the interesting places. You can get off the bus, spend any time you like and then board the next bus that comes along. Our first stop was the Titanic Memorial.
The ship Titanic was built in a shipyard of Belfast. The people of Belfast had a special connection to Titanic. A fair number of crew and passengers were from Belfast. Titanic Memorial has been built where the ship was built. We visited this place and took the tour inside the building to understand the process that went into building this enormous ship. It was a story of many heroes who sacrificed their lives and the pain felt by many families who lost their loved ones.
Most of the films based on the tragedy of Titanic may not have created the right impression upon people. Most people who saw the films came to consider it as a romantic tragedy and the stories were built around some fictional characters. Visiting the Titanic memorial and doing the tour helps you to learn the true story of the people who died and the few people who escaped to tell their story.
We came out of the building and took the next bus that came along. It was a good day to visit places, sunny but windy. Our next stop was at Belfast castle. It is a small castle, but in very good condition. The owners of the castle have sold it to the council and presently this place is used as a venue for parties and weddings. There were two weddings on that day and some of the places were not available for visitors. We went around the castle and took some photos and had tea in the restaurant and then took the next bus that came along. We then got off the bus in the city centre main shopping area. Mala bought a few items form the shops and finally we took a cab back to the hotel.
Our next destination is Galway. We are going there again for one night to see the Irish show “Trad on the Prom”.