So... Northern Ireland... where to begin?
Arrival to Northern Ireland
My flight to London, England was pretty uneventful - I watched Warm Bodies, finally, and it was adorable and awkward and hilarious, and I was halfway through Life of Pi when I totally passed out and spent the remainder of the flight hunched over, snoring and drooling like the complete and total fool that I am. I met a few cool people on the flight, though - I was sitting right next to this family from Denver. The parents are originally from India, so every summer the family goes together to a southern province of India to visit friends and family. I think that's awesome! I have a few Indian friends back home, and I think it's awesome how close ties are back to their "homeland" (shout out to Karishma and Anil, if you guys ever somehow find this!). Anyway, I landed in Heathrow on Monday (GMT) and sat around in Terminal 1 for about five hours trying to steal WiFi from people, but I mostly just ended up eating disappointing airport food and tried to write short story (which ended up being a fail). I got onto the flight from Heathrow to Belfast City Airport and sat next to a couple from Northern Ireland (they live about two miles away from the Giant's Causeway, which I got to see two years ago) who were actually returning from a two-week-long trip across the American Midwest - and they had started their journey in Denver, Colorado! What a coincidence!
So, after about... fifteen hours of travel, I landed at Belfast City Airport and got picked up by my cousin Scott Mitchell (who's actually kind of my third cousin). :) He's absolutely lovely, and he was the first relative from Northern Ireland that I ever really got into contact with! We went to a Chippy (which is a fast food kind of place - remember that "chips" in the UK are actually the American "french fries"), before we drove over to my Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Harry's (who are really my Great Aunt and Uncle) and hung out for a while with them and my Uncle Lee (who's actually sort of my second cousin). After that, we headed over to my Uncle Gary's (who's actually kind of my second cousin as well) and got to say hello to my cousins Aaron and Jaime (who are technically kind of my third cousins). They're all extremely lovely and Irish-sounding - but in the Northern Ireland kind of way, not like the South (with the stereotypical Irish accents... these accents that I've become familiar with over the last week or so are sort of a mix between the South and Scotland), and I think I got spoon fed about five cups of tea before I was finally allowed to go to bed after all of that nonstop travel. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to be able to come back to Northern Ireland to see my family again - I haven't seen them since about two years ago, which was the first time that I actually got to meet them in person. And, although I was apprehensive and a little bit awkward at first, I'm glad to say that I feel totally at home here - the Mitchell "clan" is practically direct family, the way that they treat me! Aunt Sylvia and Aunt Mandy (who's actually sort of my second cousin, too) make me breakfast every morning (delicious), sort of like they're my mothers across the Atlantic, and I'm involved in all of the family / town gossip. And the best part is... that most of the time, I actually understand everything that they're saying. Maybe it's because I've been exposed to it before, but I'm not so freaked out about those thick accents anymore - I'm absolutely in tune with what's going on - most of the time, that is. I can't speak for when I've had a few to drink, but that's an entirely different adventure - and a "grand" one at that. :)
|This is the street that Aunt Mandy, Aunt Sylvia, Uncle Harry and|
Uncle Lee live - also, Scott and Curtis! What a lovely day, too,
and it was SO HOT (24°C)!
The next day, I woke up at a strangely reasonable hour, and got to go to Antrim Castle. Fun fact about Northern Ireland - the country of Antrim, N.I., is where select scenes of HBO's Game of Thrones is filmed (kind of an awesome show, and if you know me, you know that I'm kind of obsessed), and Uncle Harry and Aunt Sylvia wanted to show me the place from the "bridge scene with the wee fightin' men" - i.e., the set of the scene from the episode where Jaime Lannister and Lady Brienne battle epically on the bridge in Season Three ("Dark Wings, Dark Words"). Naturally, I got excited (which is a casual way of saying that I totally threw a cow... which is a casual way of saying that I freaked out), and we drove to the castle and I got my picture on this really cool looking bridge...
... after Uncle Harry figured out the iPhone 4.
Check out the slideshow below of Antrim Castle - I've got a ton of awesome pictures of the castle there, ranging from the actual ruins to Aunt Sylvia trumping off after Uncle Harry on his epic quest to find the Antrim Castle graveyard.
Later, however, we realized that the bridge that we thought was the bridge from Game of Thrones was not at Antrim Castle, but at Shane Castle - the castle that was right next door. And when we go there, some scary security men were guarding our way, so we couldn't go in and actually explore. But that was okay... I caught a glimpse of the film set, and the fact that I was less than one hundred yards away from Time Warner Cable was good enough for me! Besides, Antrim Castle was beautiful anyway - we definitely don't have castles in America. Shame.
|Shit is about to get real at Planet Bingo.|
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Crazy train from Dublin, Republic of Ireland - there's Gaelic|
written on the side, as well! HOW AWESOME!
Wednesday rolled around and I decided to hitch a train down to Belfast to visit my cousin Karly, who had "tech" that morning (which is sort of like school, but for what we Americans would call a trade profession. Karly is training to be a hairdresser, and she's almost done with tech and out working in the real world!). A cool train was in the station from Dublin, which was a nice little throwback to summer of 2011, when my family and I went to Dublin for about two days and saw all of the incredible sights that the Republic of Ireland's capital city had to offer. It was apparently a novelty for the Antrim train station, as well - how many trains from "the South" come this little town, anyway? People were taking pictures and trying to read the Gaelic written on the side, which was kind of fun to watch. At any rate - I GOT TO RIDE A TRAIN TO BELFAST, and it was awesome! I seriously love train rides, I'd do it all of the time if we actually had them back home! <3
Not only did I finally get to hang out with Karly before I left (I almost thought that I wasn't going to be able to see her - sad day), but I got to visit Belfast for the first time! It's a pretty cool city, with a lot going on. Of course, this could just be the suburb girl in me being incredibly excited about going to see a new, exciting and bustling place, or it could also be the fact that Belfast is where the RMS Titanic was built and where it took off for it's maiden (and last) voyage - and this is back when it was still called Queenstown. Or it could be all of the history behind the city, history that has been expounded upon in my brain after taking "Revolution and Nationalism in Modern Day Ireland" last semester for my upper-division history requirement... but seriously, Belfast is pretty cool. :)
The only regret that I have from my visit to Belfast was that I didn't get to see the RMS Titanic memorial / museum / dock stuff. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm kind of addicted with history to the extreme, and the RMS Titanic is definitely an obsession of mine - ah, well, more motivation to come back again (not that I need anymore, with such awesome family there!).
Check out the slideshow below of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It's mostly candid shots of the city itself (at least the portion that I go to see), which is pretty nice! Very cool, very European, very old city with a very long, beautiful and sometimes deadly history.
The Mitchell Clan
I should probably talk a little bit about these cousins that I'm sure I've all talked about so much to all of you guys reading. Long story short, they're awesome. Every time that I've come here, I've stayed with Aunt Mandy (Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Harry's daughter) and her two sons, my cousins Scott and Curtis. They're just awesome in general. Aunt Mandy is simply lovely, and we laugh and have good times together - and I actually understand her the most out of everyone, I think! She also makes incredible breakfasts, and is one of the nicest - but toughest - people that I've ever met. Absolutely lovely. <3 Her boyfriend, Geoff, is also awesome - what a gentleman! I never really get to see Curtis, but I actually got to go and get drinks with him and everyone else this time around, which was awesome! Didn't get to say goodbye though ("Goodbye, Curtis!" There, done). Scott picked me up from the airport and dropped me back off again, and he's the one that I mostly talk to over Facebook with, which is awesome, seeing as he was kind of the first Mitchell that I ever really got in contact with. Also, he's an awesome person. Seriously. Just... awesome. Loved talking with him, whenever he wasn't being a badass at work and such. And his girlfriend, Kristine, was awesome, too!
Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Harry are just adorable together. They're the cutest old couple that I've ever met. Uncle Harry has tattoos on his arm (one of of the Union Jack... figure out what side he's on, haha!), and I think that's pretty badass for an old guy! He's always laughing and smiling and winking at me when he makes little fun quips at Aunt Sylvia, who is a lovely old woman who takes care of me like I'm her own child, always making sure that I'm taken care of and such. The way that they interact is just adorable, too! <3 Aunt Sylvia always goes, "Oh, shut up, Harry," but in a joking, loving kind of way, and he just smiles, laughs, and then gives me a little wink. :) Their son, my Uncle Lee, still hangs around their house quite often, so I see him all of the time - he's a good craic, haha! I had a lot of fun talking with him, and also dancing to "Thrift Shop" with him at the pub. Good times, haha!
Uncle Gary is Aunt Mandy's brother, and he's totally cool. :) He's always making jokes at us, and making good burgers and such - and what a hard working lad, working two jobs on top of raising three kids! He does the whole Uncle Harry thing where he smiles and winks at me, too - what a goof! His girlfriend Elaine is also incredibly kind and lovely, and they're quite lovely together, as well. Aaron, Gary's son, is one of my other cousins, as well - he's kind of the bomb. He has an INCREDIBLE voice, and is learning how to play the guitar right now, so he's going to breaking some hearts soon enough, haha! Last time 'round I didn't hang out much with him, but this time I actually got to spend some quality time with him on the last evening in Ireland, and he's just fantastic! I'd totally hang out with this dude even if he wasn't my cousin - which might actually happen, seeing as he might come to America! Karly, Aaron's sister, is lovely to hang out with, as well - I didn't get to spend much time with her, but she's a right blast, I loved window shopping in Belfast with her and getting to drive around listening to loud music - and the pub was incredible, too! :) What a riot! Jaime is their younger brother, and he's quite the character! I didn't get to see much of him because he was at school / playing video games, but he seems like a pretty rad little guy! :) Growing up super fast!
In short - everyone's freakin' AWESOME! :D
It was all fine and dandy, and was a very lovely, wonderful trip with a lot of relaxation and spending time with the lovely Mitchell family - relatives that I wish I lived closer to. Again, last time around I hardly got to spend time with them, and when I did I was always a little awkward / nervous / uncomfortable, having been a pudgy high schooler with little self esteem. But, now, I feel totally at home with the Mitchells. They are my family, despite the fact that this was only the second time that I was able to see any of them in person (most communication thus far had been via Facebook). Much like they made my feel comfortable in their lovely, little British homes, I will always have an open bed and warm breakfast for any Mitchell clan family member who may wander back to America one day (if I actually end up living in the states - the UK look ever more promising). But, along with visiting my living relatives, I came back to Northern Ireland to visit a relative that I was never given the opportunity to visit in real life... my grandmother, Charlotte Ester McManus - formerly Charlotte Ester Wilson.
Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Uncle Harry, Aunt Sylvia and I's trip over to Londonderry (County Derry), Northern Ireland was long enough to give me some time enough to reflect on all that I had seen so far and all that I had learned this past semester in my history class - and it was probably the perfect precursor to one of the most powerful overarching themes that I encountered in Northern Ireland - and that is of it's very violent, sad and often destructive past. For anyone who doesn't know about "The Troubles," have fun trying to research it all in one sitting (Wikipedia won't be enough to cover this conflict, my friend - not really, not in depth) because it is one of the most defining factors in my family's history - and the history of Northern Ireland (and the Isle of Ireland) - as a whole. But, to be incredible, painstakingly brief... here are a few bullet points that you need to review:
- For hundreds of years, a Protestant/Anglican-dominated England ruled over the predominantly Catholic isle of Ireland. England (the then most powerful empire on the face of the planet) was industrial, economically successful and educated, while Ireland was poor, illiterate, and generally "barbaric" in cultural and religious practices.
- And what happens when one "race" believes that they are superior to another...?
- The northern part of Ireland (Ulster) becomes progressively more Protestant and unionist (pro-England) while the south remains dominantly Catholic and republican (pro-Irish Free State). They don't like each other very much. Que agrarian violence, bitterness, hatred and the beginnings of Irish terrorism. Make this last for a few hundred years or so. Anger build ups...
- ... until Ireland gains independence from England in 1920... but Ulster (except for Donegal) remains a part of the United Kingdom. The newly formed Irish Republic is not happy about it.
- The I.R.A. (formerly the Irish Volunteers) get mad about the whole situation - so they kill British soldiers, and when that doesn't work they start bombing cities and cars - including London, England, ironically enough. Protestants, unionist terrorist organizations also form.
- 3,500 people die over several decades of intense violence, mostly situated around Londonderry - or, as southerners call it, Derry (they don't like the "London" part).
- Finally... 1998, The Good Friday Agreement - peace is called between the north and south.
- ...but that doesn't mean that people are content and happy about it.
|Northern Ireland, the road to Londonderry - June, 2013.|
That is fresh paint.
The road to Londonderry was already a little strange for me - I felt like I was kind of stepping into the past - and not only from my trip to the grave two years ago, but to my grandmother's past, and the past of my family. I thought about my heritage a lot this past semester. I also thought a lot about my grandmother and how I never got to meet her in person but how influential she's been in my life, in a really weird kind of way. The fact that someone spray painted over the "London" on the way there was just enough to set me on edge and make me quiet for most of the ride up there, much to the confusion of my Aunt Sylvia (Grandma Edie's sister) and Uncle Harry. The fact that, only 10 minutes later we encountered another "Londonderry" sign with the "derry" spray painted off didn't help much, either.
And the fact that I was raised as a Roman Catholic would never do me any favors.
|In the middle is my Great Uncle Tommy,|
who died of multiple sclerosis when he was in
his early 30's.
|My Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Harry, back in the day.|
Check out these pictures of Londonderry - so much history and epicness, what an interesting city, steeped in so much history it's hard to even take it all in!
I could almost imagine my Grandma Edie living here, all of those years ago, but it's still kind of weird thought to think about, considering that I never met my grandmother. She died when my Dad was in his early 20s, from some kind of throat cancer. But, even though I never met her, I feel like she's still a part of me, in a way. <3
|My grandma Edie - Charlotte Ester|
McManus (maiden name: Wilson).
But the fact remains, also, that one day she randomly met this American Navy guy - some Irish Catholic named James Patrick McManus. My grandfather. And she fell in love with him. And they wanted to get married. But that wasn't okay in Northern Ireland, or any part of Ireland, for that matter. If they got married there, they'd be killed, no questions asked. So...
|My Pop Pop, James Patrick McManus, and my Grandma|
Edie in their car. Location unknown (predicted to be
somewhere around New York).
Anger and bitterness and sadness still remains an integral part of much of Northern Ireland - from its history to the present day, where many people who live in Northern Ireland are beginning to find trouble identifying themselves as either "British" or "Irish." Even though the younger generations - my generation, for example - don't seem to care as much and seem to be generally less volatile and don't mind being identified as "Irish," the fact remains that the "Real I.R.A." still remains. The fact remains that two British soldiers were shot dead two years ago in front of Antrim castle, by Catholic republicans. The fact remains that a woman with pro-unionist ties set off a small explosive while I was in Northern Ireland in protest of Sinn Fein. The fact remains that while I was there, I saw countless graffiti messages splattered across the walls defaming both Catholic and Protestant political figures, and no one seemed too keen on taking them down. The fact remains that my Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Harry were physically uncomfortable driving through "Free Derry" to show me the murals. The fact remains that I still felt uncomfortable every time "Stormont Tonight" came on the tele to update us on the newest unrest in this small country of only 1.3 million people.
|The lady on the left is my Great-Great Aunt Francis. The lady|
on the right is my Grandma Edie. The little girl is my Aunt Mo
(Maureen McManus) and the little boy is my Dad, James T.
The fact remains that... well, history in Northern Ireland is important, but it's not as important as the present or the future.
Check out the graveyard pictures of the Londonderry cemetery. Not very many, but, then again, taking photographs at graveyards is incredibly awkward, anyway.
When I finally got to visit my Grandma Edie's grave again, it was a far different portrait than the first time. When we first saw Grandma Edie's grave two years ago, it was only for about five minutes. I remember that, beforehand, my Dad said that the only time that we would ever see him cry was when he was going to see his mother's grave... but he didn't. I don't really know why, but he didn't, and that seemed to make the whole experience a lot less sad and a little more... intriguing. Curious. And, to be frank, it was raining so hard that we didn't really want to stick around for long, anyway. :) But this time around, it was just myself, my Aunt Sylvia and my Uncle Harry. We drove past the rows of marble graves, the white poles from where the I.R.A. members are buried, and finally found my grandmother's grave, right next to the line that divided the Protestants and the Catholics to their own, "appropriate" sides of the cemetery. It was hot - abnormally hot for Northern Ireland - and the sun was shining. Aunt Sylvia wanted to take some awkward pictures of myself standing and smiling next to the grave and, if anyone knows me, I'm extremely strange with death and found the entire experience a little uncomfortable. But she insisted, and I don't argue with an insistent Aunt Sylvia (I learned my lesson watching Uncle Harry trying to get his way). I kissed her name goodbye, too, because that somehow seemed appropriate. Aunt Sylvia sang "Danny Boy," seeing as that one of Grandma Edie's favorite songs. The I.R.A. flagpoles were bare, but I know that on certain days, the tricolored flag of the Irish Republic flies in their honor. Her grave overlooks this incredible scene - of the green, luscious landscape of Ireland, the river, the Bogside and of the center of Londonderry. I can even see the factory where she worked, and Aunt Sylvia points out where their house used to be.
And, somehow, all of this - mixed with all that I had learned this past year and all that I now realized that I have been given from the grandmother that I never met - made me cry. Because even though I never met my grandmother, I love her. I really do. And she'll always be there for me, even when I feel conflicted between who I am and who I want to be - or be with. She's still my Grandma Edie, and she always will be.
|Uncle Harry caught this moment in time on my iPhone.|
I don't know what I was doing, probably just looking at the view,
but... I don't know. It was unexpected, but beautiful. <3
Last Day in Northern Ireland
*NOTE: I'll get the videos of Uncle Harry and Aaron singing up as soon as possible, Blogger was being a prat and not processing them properly!
The next day was my last day in Northern Ireland, which was... an extremely somber experience. It was a great way to end an incredible week in Northern Ireland, though, a week that I didn't want to end in the first place. <3 In the morning, I want to Ballymena (hey) with my Aunt Mandy, and I ended up busking with a random guy next to the train station! It was awesome - Aunt Mandy even caught it on video, haha! We sang "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz, and then "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" by Green Day - an oddly appropriate song for the occasion. What was so crazy was that I learned that his name is Lee and that he actually lives in Manchester. Hopefully, I'll be able to meet up with him while I'm in London sometime so that we can jam again! He was a really cool guy, and also an incredibly talented singer! :)
Check out the photographs below of my last night in Northern Ireland, along with some fun portraits of Northern Ireland itself - absolutely gorgeous, by the way, pictures can never do this country any real justice!
We played guitar, talked, sang, ate and drank the night away! Darren and I got to do an awesome cover of "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons, while Aaron did a wonderful rendition of "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men (with little harmonies here and there by yours truly). But the real craziness began when Uncle Harry grabbed a guitar and starting singing away - he had no idea what the chords were, but he knew how to play and sing like a total pro! Who knew!?
Needless to say, it was the best possible way to end an incredible week with the relatives. I didn't really need to do anything that crazy to have a great time in Northern Ireland, anyway - I just wanted to hang out with my family, and, really, it was the times that I spent with them that were best. I'll definitely be back for more "happy days." The goodbyes I had to say at the end of my incredible journey were... hard, but not as hard as I thought, because I have total and complete conviction now that I will be seeing the lovely Mitchell clan again soon. If not when Aaron comes to America, when I find a way to get back there. If you're reading this - I love you guys! <3
And Now to London, England...
|The view from my plane heading back to Heathrow, gazing|
down on the Strangford Lough. Beautiful!