Thursday, February 12, 2009

In the Occupied Counties

In '99 I was invited by the Brit government tourist authority to come to Northern Ireland to attend a series of travel development meetings. Hard to turn that one down as they were paying air both ways, hotel, and all expenses, including a train ticket to get me to Dublin for my next commitment. I had been considering developing a trip up into Occupied Ireland for some time and so the offer appealed me to me. I went.

But things weren't altogether smooth in the Six Counties at that time and since Americans tend to be pretty wimpy travelers I shelved the plans for trip development. Politics smoothed out a bit and the following year I decided the time was right and so planned a reccy trip up there again, right after one of my regular Irish (Republic) trips. I had a great time. The people were terrific, most of them, but there was a terrible tension in the air, despite the peace having held for a good while.

Unfortunately, the first night I was in Belfast I heard a dull roar that shook the windows in my room and I knew there would be no trip that year. The bombing started again. The next night a journalist was killed in Armagh and I knew there would be no use in planning a trip for that year.

But I stayed in the country and wandered around, as I like to do. The picture above was taken in South Armagh, an IRA stronghold and not a place to be spouting Brit sentiments, which I don't anyway. But it really brought home the tense, jittery mood of the place. The feel of NI was so different from the Republic. Edgy, fearful, dark.

To date I have not done a group trip to Occupied Ireland. But maybe someday.

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