Fifty years ago I saw my grandfather Sam Annett off on his trip to his homeland after 63 years. I was pleased to hear that his grand nephew, another Sam Annett and his wife Lily, would host me on my visit to my grandfather’s former home in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland.
I boarded my British Airways flight in Calgary on May 29. My cross Atlantic journey was not the ordeal I was expecting. Support stockings prevented my feet swelling. I enjoyed a supper meal, a long night of broken rest and breakfast before we landed. The buses that transfer passengers between terminals at Heathrow were timely. I wasn’t afraid to ask for a wheelchair to get me through the lines to my Dublin departure on time.
I had a room at Stanley Park Inn in Dublin for two nights. The first morning I couldn’t get my telephone to work. There wasn’t a clock in the room and I hadn’t changed my watch. I missed breakfast because slept until 11 a.m. I had lunch in the bar.
After paying 35 Euros to get from the airport to my hotel I knew I had to start using the city train called Luas Red or Green. I tried two bus stops before I was directed farther down the street to the right stop where I could buy my ticket before I got on the Luas. I found the train station and Abbey Street. I found Wild Rover Tours Office and booked an evening of supper, Irish music and dancing at the Arlington Hotel. It was called “Celtic Nights.”
I had time to go on a hop on hop off tour in a double decker bus. It was a two day ticket so I stayed on to see as much of the city as possible.
I had to check out Fleet Street which was across the O’Connell Bridge over the River Liffey. It was a happening place. I could have taken part in the bars and entertainment there. It would be a fun place for young people. I got a Thunder Road Cafe Dublin fridge magnet. The Hard Rock Cafe was there but the best bar had traditional Irish music and an enthusiastic crowd.
The Arlington show was a lot of fun. I was a single and got to my table first. They sat me right beside the stage. I was joined by a tour of women from the States. Their driver came too. I think he was the only Irish resident there. He came from Cork, which is close to the southern tip of Ireland.
I had a green drink called a Leprechaun. The five musicians played spirited tunes and I brought home a CD. The dancers kicked high and over our table. I made up a press release stating: Canadian tourist kicked in the chin by Irish dancer at the Arlington in Dublin. We were thoroughly entertained by the dancers who had amazing energy and skill.
The next morning I pulled my heavy suitcase on its wheels down a slightly sloping street to the Luas. An elevator took me up to the train station. I bought my ticket and had a snack before my train was due. I needed some assistance getting my suitcase settled for the ride. A strong young woman who was selling pop and snacks helped me.
A young student sat beside me. I enjoyed seeing the countryside. There was plenty of room on the train even though it was a bank holiday.
I was given the right directions to get the train within walking distance of the Belfast Holiday Inn. They said it was a 10 minute walk and I would know the street because the BBC building was on the corner. It was walking distance and all downhill on a curving street. I couldn’t see the building until I was right there. I decided 10 minutes is much longer in Ireland.
The Giant’s Causeway tour bus picked me up at my hotel. I was able to learn a great deal about Belfast and felt the tour guide was informative and diplomatic in describing the troubles that Ireland has experienced. There is history everywhere.
The Titanic Museum provided information about the country at the time of the building of the Titanic as well as interesting details about the ship and it’s construction. The visual details included: individual bedrooms, dining rooms and a staircase. I heard a man in Dublin say that there wasn’t one Catholic that participated in the building of the Titanic.
After my visit to the Museum I caught the tour bus and continued my tour of Belfast. I got off to have tea at Belfast Castle. I forgot my Titanic souvenirs on the bus. Information at the castle phoned the tour company and the owner brought them to me while I had tea. Another bus took me to downtown Belfast where I tried to buy a pair of runners before the store closed at six. I caught a taxi back to the hotel. When the cabbie told me the fare I didn’t understand because ‘eight’ sounded more like ‘hate.’
I found a Portuguese/African restaurant around the corner from my hotel. The first night I ordered too much food. I liked this restaurant because I was paying too much for huge helpings of food in other places. At this place I could order three meaty chicken wings and a salad. There was a selection of smaller items.
I enjoyed bus travel to Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. I would never be able to drive on the left side or find my way in Ireland. There are very few trucks on the road and the cars are all small. I thought the drivers were polite. I sat in the front next to the bus driver so it was like I was driving myself. I could see everything. I returned home with many photos of coastal scenery and vegetation. A young man helped me climb the rocks of the Causeway and I met interesting people along the way.
When I was ready to go to Kilkeel I called a cab to take a few blocks to the bus depot. I thought this trip might be uphill. It was a sunny day and I admired the silver Mercedes as he lifted my bag into his trunk. He asked me where I was going on the bus. He offered to drive me at a reduced rate and I really enjoyed the drive. One of my relatives picked me up from Kilkeel and I was visiting their farms and enjoyed seeing their fields, sheep, cows, horses and chickens. The stone “ditches” were so interesting. In Canada we would call them stone fences. I understood the skill required to build them. The stones came from the mountainside and were very rough. They seemed to grab on to each other.
I spent six days meeting and getting to know the descendants of the brothers and sisters of my father’s parents. I was interested to see that many of them have continued farming the land. In some ways their farming practice is similar to the way my father and grandfather farmed. The land is so wet it has to be drained by making rock filled depressions below the fields.
The weather for my Kilkeel experience was wonderful. Each day was as sunny as the yellow bushes that bloomed everywhere. I stayed at a bed and breakfast provided by my relatives. It was on land that was supposed to be my grandfather’s inheritance. Sam’s Cottage was a fully restored stone cow barn. The sun shone in the kitchen window as I made breakfast from the generous provisions. The deep window wells showed me I was in a stone building. A traditional fireplace was available if needed. Cattle and sheep pastured in the fields beside me and my relative Sam came in his car with a sack of feed for his sheep although I thought they had ample green pasture. I could look up the hill and see the house where my grandmother grew up.
Each morning one of my relatives would arrive by car to take me on another adventure. I was taken to my grandmother’s family’s house and enjoyed a day of meeting the relatives on her side of the family.
I was delighted to be in the homes and at the farms of the people my family left behind a century ago. There was a big draft horse, border collie dogs and a beautiful burgundy rooster.
The most thrilling part of my trip was participating in a wedding where the guests were my family and meeting all these people who have made their lives in Ireland while my family was growing in Canada. It was so special to meet each person and feel that family connection.
At the wedding I met Sam’s seven sisters. They were all older than him. He was the only boy in the family. He was two years old when my grandfather visited. My grandfather’s only surviving sibling was in the hospital dying when he was there. He stayed in her home on a cliff above the ocean so two of Sam’s sisters kept him company. The next morning he had gone down to the ocean to find some food for breakfast. I was able to see this cottage that is another bed and breakfast.
The wedding took place in the Mourne Presbyterian Church where generations of my family have been interred in the graveyard. We went to Hanna’s Close for photos and there was more history there. It was built in a time when the people gathered and built the houses in a circle for safety. The houses had small windows on the outside.
The Mill at Ballydugan in Down Patrick accommodated tea on the main floor, a reception meal on the second floor and a dance on the third floor. When we got to the third floor I was able to visit the balcony that overlooked the field, stream and parking lot. The photographer had taken a group photo of over a hundred people from that balcony. The Mill was an old stone building eight or ten stories high and operates as a bed and breakfast. I was thinking of the hundreds of workers manufactoring goods at the time the Titanic was built.
The Mourne Mountains were so close to my host family’s farm I could almost reach up and touch them. I could see the famous Mourne Wall built as a boundary for the 9,000 acres of catchment area for water for Belfast. I learned more about this wall when I walked the trail to the dam at Silent Valley. The Wall is visible from Sam’s farm. It was built before the dam and work began in 1904. It stands three meters and one meter wide. It stretches 22 miles and runs over 17 peaks of the Mourne mountains. This stone structure was constructed by men skilled in granite cutting over a period of 18 years.
We took a picnic lunch and spent a day at Ulster Folk Park at Cultra on the outskirts of Belfast. Actual buildings have been moved and restored. We were able to sit inside the city houses, stores, and country homes. There were three working mills complete with a full size water wheel.
When I paid the taxi for my trip back to Belfast City Airport I found 60 pounds was the going rate. My first trip was only 30.