Monday, 2 July 2012

Time for Some RELAXATION

So yesterday, after a long but exciting week in the North of Ireland, doing research, conducting interviews, and being constantly stimulated, I was able to GO FISHING! Fishing is like therapy for me, there is nothing better than getting out on a lake, feel the waves lapping against the boat; you're trolling along, you feel that strike on the end of your line and then you're into a fish.

Yesterday, I went with my friend David O'Neill, who I met last time I was in Ireland and had went with before. We left Dublin early in the morning, driving to Lough Lene, in County Westmeath. David grew up around Collinstown there, and has fished this lake ever since he was a boy. Before that, his father fished it, and before that, his grandmother loved to come down while her husband was off fighting the Black and Tans, and throw a fly or two.

Early Morning on Lough Lene

We put in, and we were after pike, so we trolled several different runs that David knows hold pike. Not a minute in to trolling I hooked into our first fish, which was soon off. It was not too much longer though when another hit, and I wrangled him to the boat-- a nice 26 inch "jack" pike.

The action was quickfire all morning-- we hooked into a fish at least every ten minutes, which is some great action when you're trolling for pike! The pike are much more acrobatic here than in Canada I found, with almost every one of them doing some tail walking for us, and jumping on the fight into the boat.

The action was quick, and David doesn't like to have the fish out of 
the water too long so it was hard to get too many pictures of 
our pike-- David doesn't like to bring them in the boat if he doesn't 
have to, so we typically just gilled them and undid the 
hook right at the side of the boat-- it certainly adds to the challenge!

Around ten o'clock while we were trolling along the western reed banks, I was hit by a big silver trout on my pike lure, and it was great fun getting him in; jumping, running deep and all. We netted him, and he was a beauty- four pounds, a nice clean silver fish that looks like a miniature version of a King Salmon. We kept him for me to take home and eat, since he was bleeding and such a nice sized fish, but other than that we released all our fish for the day.

Beautiful Silver Trout in the bottom of our boat

Like any good Irishmen, we stopped on the shore for tea and biscuits around noon, with plenty of milk and sugar. We boiled the water with our Kelly Kettle, an old Irish contraption that has an inner chamber for the fire and an outer chamber for the water. After our respite, we returned to the lake, where we hit a few more nice pike along with a few brown trout (I got two and David got one, none were very big).

Our Kelly Kettle, for our shore-side tea

The rain clouds and wind came in around 4:00 o'clock, so our fishing ended a bit prematurely for our liking, but we couldn't complain, we had had a great day o f it out on the water. None of the big pike were feeding, though David did lose one at the boat that would have reached 15 pounds.Overall though, we had boated 15 decent pike, ranging between 25 and 35 inches. My best was a 33 incher on a Savage bait lure, and David got a 35" beauty on an orange Yozuri. On top of the pike, we had landed 3 brown trout, and one silver. It was a great day of fishing!

You can see by our outfits that it was neither warm or dry, but with such heated action, it was well worth it!

Bill and Freda and I greatly enjoyed our Silver Trout last night. I gutted it, slitted it along the outsides of both sides and stuffed the slits with fresh thyme, parsley and salt. Rub it with a bit of olive oil on its sides and inside of its rib cage, and throw it on the grill with a bit of lemon. It was delicious!

Dinner is served! Nothing better than fresh fish

Saturday, 30 June 2012

King Billy's On the Wall!

Yesterday evening, I went out of my element to go and see firsthand the Ulster Protestant celebrations surrounding the Williamite history and July 12th. In Northern Ireland every year, and in pockets across the world, the Orange Order and the Protestant Unionist community celebrate their "Britishness" through the celebrations of July Twelfth. This day historically marks the Battle of the Boyne, when Prince William of Orange (soon to become King William III of Great Britain) defeated James the Second, the Catholic monarch of Britain at the time. The victory is seen by Northern Ireland Protestants today as a great victory for their ancestors and religion against the despotic Catholic Irish. And so, to celebrate every year, they parade, and march, and have large bonfires commemorating the event.

Last night, the Protestant Sandy Row district of Belfast staged their annual Orange Order march, leading up to July Twelfth, and I decided to brave it and go see for myself these highly contentious and triumphalist parades. 

There were ten Orange Lodges that participated in the event, from around Belfast, and each lodge also has its fife and drum bands which march. Supporters lined the streets in preparation for the march, waving Union Jacks and Protestant Ulster flags, and singing Unionist songs. The police and security forces had to block of the streets around Sandy Row to prevent any clashes that could potentially occur with Irish Catholic nationalists out in opposition to the event, but I was able to get into the area and find a front row position to watch them gather for the parade and then march. I was a little intimidated, and it probably wasn't the smartest place to be-- the working class Protestants of the Sandy Row district are generally a bit edgy about outsiders, and the Ulster Volunteer Force (one of the Loyalist Paramilitaries) is still active in the area. I did get a few dirty looks when I pulled my camera out, and one skin-head looking guy with a bunch of pro-British tattoos did say something to me at one point, but I just moved away up the street from him and didn't have any issues. 

Raising up young Ulster Protestants to be just like their Orange Order fathers... I'm not sure that's a good thing.

"King Billy's on the Wall"

There's a famous unionist song associated with the Twelfth that the people of the Sandy Row were singing last night as they prepared for the parade- 

"Well there's a famous painting that everybody knows
It stands upon a gable wall over at Sandy Row
In memory of King William and brothers who did join
They fought for our deliverance at the Battle of the Boyne.

King Billy's on the wall
King Billy's on the wall
He stands so high, he shines so bright
He lights up the Falls (referring to the Catholic Falls Road)
There's millions come to see him, they stand and gaze in awe
They remember 1690, King Billy's on the wall."

Thursday, 28 June 2012

History Being Made

Yesterday, I got to be in Belfast as history was made. Queen Elizabeth arrived on Tuesday in Northern Ireland as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour throughout Great Britain. On Tuesday she first made history by visiting a catholic church in Enniskillen while visiting this historic town. Yesterday, the Queen arrived in Belfast to meet with Martin McGuinness, and other dignitaries at the Lyric Theatre, in South Belfast. Michael D. Higgins, the Irish president, and the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, were also present, but the spotlight was on Martin McGuinness and the Queen as a significant step forward in peace process. Martin McGuinness, as well as being Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, served as the IRA Commander during "The Troubles." Her majesty and Mr. McGuinness had never met before, and there was obvious tension, seeing that he had been responsible for the death of the Queen's own uncle, Lord Mountbatten, when his yacht was blown out of the water near Donegal Bay in 1979. Martin McGuinness and the Sinn Fein party had refused to recognized the Queen's visit to Ireland last summer as well, in a political statement against continued occupation of the North.

The two put differences aside yesterday, however, as they met and shook hands. It is reported that McGuinness went so far as to greet the Queen in the Gaelic Irish, and something about the Troubles and the Peace Process was said in passing. The stipulation of the meeting was that it was not considered to be part of the Jubilee festivities, as Sinn Fein does not recognize that the Jubilee should be celebrated in Northern Ireland. The meeting went well, however, it was completely closed off from the public for security reasons on all sides. A mile perimeter was maintained from the public around the venue of the historic meeting, as extremist loyalists and republicans were both upset at the step forward. 

There was no getting around the police barricades around the 
meeting with Mr. McGuinness

The venue of the historic meeting- Lyric Theatre

Later in the day, the Queen went on to Stormont, the seat of government in Northern Ireland, where she celebrated at a Diamond Jubilee event attended by 20,000 people. In this location, it was thought safe enough for her to appear publicly, as all the people admitted had been screened before being allowed in and the secluded nature of Stormont in general.

Many were excited for their Queen's visit:

Houses were decked out to the tune of "Rule Britannia" 
throughout the Loyalist areas of the city

Cheering Crowds welcomed their Queen in the streets 
of Belfast, despite her inability to appear publicly, due to
security concerns

Others were very angry about the Queen coming to Belfast:

Graffiti along the walls of the Falls Road District- the Irish Catholic
 neighborhood segregated by the Peace Wall

For those who can't see close enough, it reads "Send the Brit
Queen Packing, Back to the Depths of Hades- You're Not Welcome
Here." These banners were up all over the Irish Nationalist areas, on 
telephone poles and held up by protesters. 

Protesters outside City Hall, asking about the lost victims 
of the Troubles

Protesters along the main route that the royal entourage would 
have had to travel

A very moving image could be seen on the hillside above 
Belfast, near the spot where the United Irishmen first met to
discuss the dream of an Irish Republic in the late 1700s. 

It reads ÉRIU IS OUR QUEEN. Eiru is the ancient personification of Mother Ireland, and beside the giant coloured Irish flag, it was meant to be a symbol to be seen from anywhere in the city as well as from the air. 

Regardless where your religion or politics lie, whether Irish Nationalist or Ulster Unionist, Catholic or Protestant, the day marked a historical event in the move forward for Northern Ireland, as the leader of the Sinn Fein party and the Queen of Great Britain were able to meet and be cordial to one another. There is hope that the situation will maintain its stability to a point where a lasting peace is possible. Still a long way to go, but there is hope. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A Hostel Environment...

      It really is something, living in one of these backpacking hostels. You get the strangest mix of people you could ever imagine. I'm currently staying at Lagan's backpackers hostel, near Queens University, South Belfast. I'm in a bunkie room with several other people, then there's the all girls bunkie down the hall.
      An Afrikaans immigrant named William is running it; he's a white Boer who left after the fall of apartheid, so that tells you something. Then, the residents... There are two Canadian girls backpacking through the British Isles all summer, a French couple doing something similar, a girl from Cork up for a few days of sight-seeing, me, doing my interviews, a few Germans, and then one other dumb American who didn't realize that he couldn't take a bus to Scotland from here. There are a few other young people from the States who have "forsaken the American way" and are touring Europe on their parents' credit cards for six months. The hipster type that hate "the system" but couldn't explain what that meant if you asked them. 
      Overall, its always interesting to stay in one of these student/backpacker hostels for cheap. You never quite know what you'll get. Typically, there are the Europeans, touring for cheap and sightseeing along the way, and then there are a few pseudo-intellectual American students that talk about philosophy and occupying Wall Street. I try to differentiate myself from this latter group as much as possible, but it is always an experience. On the upside, our friend William serves a hot breakfast of eggs and sausages, and there is internet to post on the blog. Also, its in a good location for a lot of my interviews, and in a non-sectarian district of the city, so I don't have to worry about that. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Into the North

Back in bleak Belfast again, and true to form it is a cold, miserable day in the capital city of the Troubles. I met with the head of the Parades Commission for Northern Ireland this afternoon in Ballyclare, north of the city. It is a Ulster Unionist Hotbed, with Union Jacks flying from every household and pictures of the Queen in every window. Now I am back in Belfast for a night, staying in a hostel along the River Lagan. Another busy day tomorrow of research and interviews. Cheers!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Final Day in France

The third and final day that Alex and I were in Paris, we packed in another full day, trying to get as much in as possible. After waking up we caught the metro line up to Saint-Denis and the basilica there. This basilica is famous as the final resting place for most of the French monarchs and sits on the sight where the patron saint of France (Saint Denis) was laid to rest. After a full morning of touring the abbey and the church, we returned to the center of the city for one last Parisian meal. After lunch, we went to the National Residence of the Invalids-- a large complex that was originally built to house and care for veterans of Frances wars, but now serves as home to the French Military Museum and the mausoleum of Napoleon Bonaparte. After touring this museum complex for the afternoon, we had to rush to catch our bus back to the airport, picking up some baguettes as a quick and cheap substitute for dinner. Safely making it back to Ireland and the O'Deas, I saw Alex off the next morning as he flew on from Dublin. It was a great trip to France, Paris is quite the city and I really enjoyed seeing some of the highlights there for a few days. 

The Basilica of Saint Denis

The basilica and abbey at Saint-Denis has served the royalty of France as a mass mausoleum since the time of Dagobert I, when this Merovingian king of the Franks was buried there in 639 A.D. Since that time, the vast majority of French monarchs and their spouses have been interred at Saint-Denis.

Tomb of Dagobert I

The monarchs interred at Saint Denis are held in beautiful cadaver-tombs, with their effigies represented on the stone lids of these sarcophagi. 

King Louis the Sixteenth and his queen, Mary Antoinette, were not initially buried at Saint Denis after their execution by the French revolutionaries, but their remains were eventually gathered and re-interred in the basilica with the rest of the monarchs.

Louis XVI and Mary Antoinette

The history of Saint Denis, however, goes back further than the royal necropolis there. Denis, the patron saint of France, supposedly chose this spot for his own burial site. As the legend goes, he was the Bishop of Paris around 250 A.D. Angering the pagans in Paris at the time, he was seized and beheaded on the hill of Montmartre. After his decapitation, however, his body reached down and picked up his head. He carried it in his hands to the site that would become Saint Denis, where he finally collapsed and died. The head and heart of this patron saint are said to be held in the high alter of the church, while his body lies below its foundation. 

The High Altar of Saint Denis

The Residence of the Invalids and the National Military Museum

The National Military Museum of France, located in the old veterans' hospital and resident complex, displays many artifacts and weaponry from France's glorious military tradition, dating from the Middle Ages, through the Bourbon Era, the Napoleonic Wars, French Imperialism, and the World Wars. It was very neat, I really enjoyed it, and saw some very great stuff in there, including many of Napoleon's personal effects.

Above: Several of Napoleon's uniforms from his various campaigns, Napoleon's 
swords, and his own telescope. The grey coat and hat in the center were worn
by Napoleon during his great defeat at Waterloo. 

Chapel altar (right)

Tomb of Ferdinand Foch (left)
The Chapel at Invalids is also the final resting place of many of France's most famous generals, including Ferdinand Foch of World War One fame, Turenne the Sun King's lead man, and Vauban, the famous defense strategist. The chapel also houses the Bonaparte brothers, Joseph and Jerome. Their more famous brother's tomb is located in the center of the building.

Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte