Belfast City Downpatrick and The Mourne Mountains
The Black Velvet Band and Tell Me Ma, two well known Irish songs that share one thing in common which is their reference to Belfast City. It was in neat little town they called Belfast that an apprentice met the girl with a black velvet band that ultimately sent him to 7 long years in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) and the mother in Tell Me Ma is apparently the belle of Belfast City.
The journey began on a cold and wet morning on Suffolk Street where we were introduced to our driver guide, Shane, and boarded the bus for Belfast. As we left the city past College Green and Trinity College Shane gave us brief intros to the respective buildings, mentioning that College Green used to be the home of the Irish Parliament and that the doors of Trinity College were driven through a few years ago! As we made our way onto O’Connell Street he gave us a short version of the 1916 Rising and what we would expect out of today’s tour. He also included a few Dublin jokes mentioning how there is a rivalry between both sides of the river Liffey and that they have a few jokes to slag each other about!
As it was another early start it was time to catch up on sleep until just after Dundalk when he mentioned that we had now crossed into another country, Northern Ireland, and that there had been two states on the island of Ireland since 1921. He then went on about how Ireland was divided into four provinces which were Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster. For some reason he then declared that Ulster were the best rugby team in Ireland, he must double check that!
After a short stopover in Banbridge it was onto Belfast. As we headed north he gave us a brief history of Ireland, starting from the Stone Age right up until modern Ireland. We first headed for East Belfast and the famous Titanic Quarter. It was a real shame we couldn’t go into the Titanic Experience, which can take up to 4 hours to do, but you can imagine looking out onto the slipway where the Titanic was launched the clanging of steel, the hammering of rivets and the blood and sweat of the many workers needed to bring the Titanic to life. After this it was onto West Belfast and the Falls Road.
We pulled up on the Falls Road outside the Republican Museum where Shane gave us a talk on each of the murals in front of us before bringing us inside. Inside the museum there where pikes, muskets, rifles, pistols and machine guns that had been used by various Republican movements since the 1798 Rebellion. There was also British Army, RUC and Prison Officer uniforms as well as Orangemen sashes among the bibles and various medals. From here we drove through the Peace Wall where we got to walk along on the Loyalist side of the divide and onto the Shankill Road where various Loyalist murals were dotted around the place. After the Shankill Road we were dropped off in the City Centre for a 90 minute stopover to grab a bite to eat and maybe some shopping.
Outside the Belfast City Hall a Christmas Market had been setup and if it wasn’t for the never ending rainfall I would have stayed there for most of the day. While they had some nice stalls the highlight was the Dutch food stand which was selling strawberry waffles, how could one resist! After nearly getting soaked to the bone it was back on the bus for me. From wandering around the city you would be forgiven for thinking you were in the heart of a mainland British city, with it’s tall red brick buildings and towering old mill buildings still standing from it’s industrial heyday. The song “Northern Industrial Town” by Billy Bragg certainly comes to mind, a song that tells the story of how Belfast is similar to Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool or Glasgow. He wasn’t wrong that’s for sure!
As we made our way out of the city Shane mentioned a few famous people that called Belfast home including George Best, Van Morrison and just up the road in Ballymena, Liam Neeson. This was his cue to turn on a bit of Van Morrison and the Chieftains for our journey to Downpatrick. The rain was really putting a damp squib on the day as we darted to St Patrick’s Grave, took a photo, and ran back on board. Don’t worry though, Shane still managed to give us a history of St Patrick before we got to the grave. Apparently the stone was put on the grave to stop people taking handfuls of dirt from the grave! From the grave we made our way down to the St Patrick’s Visitor Centre where we got an audio visual on the life of St Patrick. A short wander around the exhibition followed before back on the bus for Dundrum Castle.
Dundrum Castle stands above the coastline with a commanding view out into the Irish Sea, despite the clouds hanging over us. The castle dates from the 13th Century and was constructed by John de Courcy, a powerful Anglo-Norman knight. He is also responsible for supposedly putting St Patrick, as well as St Brigid and St Colmcille, in the same grave in Downpatrick! After getting soaked taking as many photos as we could we boarded the bus for the return trip through the Mourne mountains, which included a stop off to feed some hungry pigs! As it was a long day we mainly slept on the way home, which included Molly Malone being played over the PA system as we came back into the city. After a long and tiring but enjoyable day Shane well deserved his tip that I dropped in as we left the bus! He was also nice enough to offer us discount vouchers as we disembarked for home, nice one Shane!
Discover Northern Ireland on this fantastic Belfast City and Northern Ireland tour