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Northern Ireland

June 20th, 2016

Welcome to my somewhat delayed account of our trip to Northern Ireland on the June bank holiday weekend. I know, you’ve been waiting anxiously.

I have been dying to get my little family to Co. Antrim since I had a wonderful trip there last year with some friends from a former job.

We set off late on Friday afternoon without the cat, somewhat to her chagrin.

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Traffic out of Dublin was dreadful. We decided to go for dinner once we were safely across the border. We stopped in Hillsborough where the children were suitably impressed by the phone boxes and the post boxes. It’s like going abroad, only not.

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We were staying outside Coleraine. When I mentioned this to a number of people they looked very dubious and my brother announced that “Coleraine is the dullest place in Ireland.” In fact the accommodation was fine. It was on a farm outside the town. Our host was very chatty and kept goats which the children were allowed to feed and, at her request, took the Princess on a full tour of the farm including seeing bags and bags of sheep’s wool which had been sheared during the week (very oily apparently).

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In fact the only problem with the accommodation was that the heating was set to what my friend from Bangor refers to as “Ulster Granny” levels and there was no real way to turn it off. Indeed, our host was quite keen for us to light the fire and gave us logs for that purpose. I am sure, most of the time, that is necessary but the bank holiday weekend was very warm and sunny. It would have been quite cheap as well but, despite my hopes, market nervousness about Brexit was insufficient to make any dent on the exchange rate.

The next morning we were up bright and early to go to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which we all enjoyed but it was very warm indeed. In fact, a bit too hot which, I suspect is not normally a problem for visitors to Co. Antrim.

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Then we went down to Ballintoy harbour for an ice cream. It features in Game of Thrones and I thought that the boys might be mildly interested. They were, very mildly. I hasten to add that they have not seen Game of Thrones but it seems to be seeping into the primary school culture.  Unnerving. Our host told us that our accommodation had also hosted Game of Thrones crew members. I’d say anywhere within a 90 minute drive of the Antrim coast can boast some kind of connection.

Then we went in to Bushmills for lunch and decided that we would do the touristy thing and take the train from there to the Giant’s Causeway. This was a mistake. The train is actually the world’s slowest tram. It was very slow.  And not very busy.  For reasons which became entirely obvious as we were overtaken by hikers en route.

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We got there eventually though. We emerged from the tram somewhat disorientated. We saw three locals with fishing rods and asked where the Giant’s Causeway was. They pointed in the opposite direction from where we were going. They were keen to emphasise that although it looked like you had to pay to get in via the visitor centre, access to the site was free via the underpass. I love frugal Northerners. We inspected the Giant’s Causeway. The children were a bit tired and underwhelmed. Herself and Daniel were grabbed by a Chinese woman who wanted them to be in her photo. They were surprised but willing and even now may be being inspected by this woman’s friends in China.

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There were busloads of Chinese tourists there. Although it was busier than it had been when I went there last year, it was not too dissimilar. Mr. Waffle, on the other hand had lasted visited in 1986 when he was there on his own pretty well and he found the crowds of people quite surreal.

Unfortunately, the last tram had left by the time we got back to the tram stop and we found ourselves reliant on Ulster Bus to get back to our car in Bushmills. We spent a tense enough half hour at the bus stop but, happily, a bus did come and return us safely to our car.

Mild highlight of the day was returning to our accommodation with a pack of Northern Taytos under our oxters and having a blind taste test as against Southern Taytos to see which was best. For the record, we found them indistinguishable.

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On Sunday we went in to Portstewart for Mass which was neither as full nor as long as I expected. After mass the boys went on a bouncy castle and the rest of us had a cup of tea. God, it was hot.

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While walking along the Promenade we found this product:

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There are no words.

We went to Downhill beach for a swim. This is an amazingly beautiful beach overlooked by Mussenden Temple. The scenery is utterly breathtaking. Our Northern brethern have chosen to let cars come on to the beach and park there. While I think that this is appalling and really, really wrong, a very small part of me has to concede that it is extremely handy to park your car and pull the stuff out of the boot and have it right beside you which seems to be the form locally.

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The Princess and I swam and Michael went in as far as his waist. The water was freezing but very clear and when you got out, the beach was absolutely roasting so you dried almost immediately, it was like being in the South of France. Except that the water was freezing.

For lunch we went in to Castlerock. We took ourselves to the only place that seemed to be open and it was quite rough, I thought. For the only time on the trip, I did feel quite conscious that we were Southerners and Catholic to boot. The man told us dourly to take “a wee seat in the wee bar for a wee minute” and we sat with the local, tattooed, beefy, hard chaws feeling a bit unnerved. We were seated speedily enough and our waitress was pleasant and the food alright and extremely economically priced but we were not tempted to linger.

Then we went to look at Mussenden Temple which was quite beautiful and in the hands of the resolutely middle-class and safe feeling National Trust.

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I have to tell you that the Earl Bishop of Derry was, however, completely nuts to build a library right on the North coast. Even on the spectacularly warm day we visited it was pretty damp. Apparently in its heyday there was always a fire burning in the basement to keep out the damp.

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The big house is a ruin but quite a recent one. It seems to have been pretty much intact up to the end of the second world war.

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While Daniel and Michael played in the ruins of the house, the Princess and I rushed to see Hezlett House which was a traditional cottage (price of admission covered by the ticket for the main house). It was quite interesting and we pretty much had it to ourselves. As we arrived, the guide gave us a laminated card and told us that it was a “wee self-guided tour”. He had to say it three times before we understood though. The accent can be challenging for those of us unfamiliar with it.

The next day was the bank holiday Monday in the South but the previous Monday had been the bank holiday in the North. See my cunning? I took us to the Titanic museum in Belfast and it was reasonably empty. It wasn’t totally my cup of tea but I think that the children liked it and it was certainly interesting in parts. It really tries to reset the narrative to focus on shipbuilding in Belfast rather than the ship that sank. It is only partially successful in that regard. A small tender, the SS Nomadic, the last White Star Line boat in the world is available to visit also and we found that mildly enjoyable. Toilets were something of a highlight for the more juvenile members of the party.

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And there was dressing up.

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And then, back to Dublin. I would definitely go again. It’s really beautiful in Antrim and far more accessible from Dublin than West Cork or Kerry – where the scenery is also pretty impressive. It’s also, busloads of Chinese tourists notwithstanding, generally far less touristy than the South. I think we’ll be back.

Trials and Tribulations

June 19th, 2016

Herself had her oral Irish exam before finishing school the other week. She found it trying. The teacher asked whether she had any siblings. She said that she had two brothers. The teacher asked whether they all got on. Herself said that her brothers could be annoying; the teacher asked how. And, as she said to me, “Mum, I knew when I was trying to say ‘fart gun’ in Irish, I was doomed.”

Yes, the fart gun continues to be much loved by Michael, why do you ask?

Returned Safely to These Shores

June 18th, 2016

Herself was returned to us last Wednesday after a wonderful week in London. Her aunt and uncle were very kind and she had all manner of treats and excitement including a trip to the ballet to see Swan Lake which she absolutely loved.

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Although the weather was a bit mixed.

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She was due to arrive back on Wednesday at 5 but her flight was delayed unbeknownst to me. I was stuck a bit late at work and rang Mr. Waffle to see whether our heroine had returned. “No,” he said, “and I am at the airport, so who is going to be home at 6.30 to relieve the childminder?” I flew home like the wind calling the childminder to tell her that I was going to be late. No answer. I rang the land line at home. Daniel answered.

Me: Hi sweetie, can I speak to K (childminder)?
Him: Yes, but do you want to know my news?
Me: Yes, of course, but can I speak to K first?
Him: It is interesting news.
Me: OK, sweetie, tell me your news first.
Him: When we came home from school the hall was full of blood and feathers.
Me: Oh God.
Him (with relish): Yes, and we found a dead pigeon in the corner of the drawing room.
Me (yelping): Oh God.
Him: Yes, and it’s still there.
Me: What??
Him: Yes, K has a phobia of birds (really, really is this a thing?). Michael and I locked the cat into the utility room. I hoovered up the feathers in the hall and Michael mopped up the blood. K showed us how to turn on the hoover from the kitchen. But we were too scared to deal with the body.
Me: OK, I’ll deal with it when I get home.

Return to the house. I readied myself with a shoe-box and a plastic bag. I went into the drawing room to see feathers, blood:

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and a corpse in the corner:

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I ran out again. Maybe not my finest hour [Daniel took the photo above]. Then the phone rang. It was Mr. Waffle. Herself had returned and they were wondering could they get a lift from the airport. Absolutely. I sped out, leaving the boys at home on corpse watch.

I picked Mr. Waffle and herself up outside the airport.

Me (to daughter): Welcome home my darling, did you miss us?
Herself: Um, no but I did have an amazing time.
Me (to husband): I have slightly unwelcome pigeon news.

On his return, he disposed of the corpse. What a man. Glad to have our firstborn back and despite herself, I think she might be a little glad too. And she brought us all presents.

Spreading her Wings

June 8th, 2016

The Princess flew to London alone this afternoon. Well, when I say alone, that is not entirely accurate. We booked her in as an unaccompanied minor with Cityjet (thank you City Jet for offering this service which is not readily available*). She tells me that she was accompanied by 8 different individuals from the moment she was entrusted to Avril in Dublin to when she was handed over to her aunt in London (on production of photo id). That’s some service, in fairness.

We spoke to her this evening from London; this was her first flight alone and a week will be the longest she has ever been away from home without us. She was accompanied on the flight and she is going to stay with her aunt so it is not entirely a journey into the unknown but an adventure all the same.

*Needless to say no favours were granted by Cityjet for this plug. Alas.

In entirely unrelated news, we were in Northern Ireland for the weekend and it was amazing*. Full details to follow in a later post. Hold your breath.

*No favours etc. More’s the pity.

Hoist with my own Petard

June 4th, 2016

We have a French priest in the parish. After months of missing him, I finally got to chat to him in French one Sunday after mass. Since he was French, he was utterly indifferent and unsurprised by my knowledge of the French language but I felt a (probably sinful) sense of smugness.

Then a couple of weeks afterwards, the Princess and I met him in mufti on the street just after emerging from mass (which had been said by the parish priest not him, keep up there). He started chatting away to us in French and, I suppose, understandably enough, asked how mass was. “Fine, fine,” I said vaguely. “What were the readings?” he asked. Whatever hope I might have had of dredging up vague memories of the readings in English, I had none at all in French. An awkward silence followed. “How was the sermon?” he asked filling the gap. Alas, I had no idea and no recollection of that either. There’s a moral here somewhere, I feel.

Weekends – Rounded up

June 3rd, 2016

We have had my niece’s communion. Looking at pictures of her Christening, we discovered to our horror that Mr. Waffle is her godfather. How many extra special presents has she got from her godfather to date in her young life? None as both he and I had completely forgotten that this was the case. I note that at one point in 2008 I was definitely aware of this but it seems to have slipped my mind in the interim. Well, we know now, I suppose. The following weekend, I also attended the school communion as Daniel was singing in the choir and he wanted me to stay and listen (and very good they were too). Nevertheless, I am a bit communioned out.

A couple of weeks ago, we went out to look at the bird sanctuary on Bull Island and took our binoculars and wellingtons. The children all enjoyed wading about the mudflats until, inevitably really, about half an hour after our arrival, one of them fell over and covered himself with that particularly gloopy, smelly mud which is typical of that kind of environment. As I tried to clean Michael off with a muddy sock rescued from the bottom of his mud-filled wellington, I realised that we had no option but to return home. We did.

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One weekend, we cycled for miles along the canal and saw a heron and, I think, a gannet.

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We cycled out along the seafront on Clontarf yesterday which was a moderately successful outing though slightly hair-raising in parts. It was nice on the sea front and in the park where there was segregated cycling provision. Otherwise not so much.

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Will Dublin ever get decent joined up cycling lanes? There are times when I slightly despair about how cyclist and pedestrian hostile the city is. I suppose it can only improve. Right?

Felix Felicis

June 2nd, 2016

The Princess has been enjoying herself of late. At the end of year prize-giving extravaganza at school she won the best student of her year and all round best student in the school. She read at the end of term mass. She has been re-selected for the student council next year. Her poem has featured in the annual school magazine. She has just got notification that her school tour next February will take her to Paris and Brussels [she is keen to go]. She has joined the games club; she was told to read the rules in advance and, being her, she did. She was therefore able to wipe the floor with the boys in the club who had not done so (she is their first female member) and, as she said happily, “I just kept throwing double sixes”.

A big parcel arrived at the door for her. It contained extensive Disney merchandise for the film “The Jungle Book”. As we looked at the anorak, the chair, the lamp, the torch, the water bottle, the poster and sundry other items, I asked, “Why on earth did you get this?” “Remember,” she said, “there was that “Jungle Book” competition in the library and Michael and I entered; I must have won. You had to say what kind of animal Baloo was. I didn’t know, actually, Michael told me.”

Her three month summer is shaping up nicely. She will spend a week in London with her saintly aunt and uncle and she is going on an exchange to Paris. One of her friends’ mothers, who is a saint, has said that she is going to try to devise an arts programme for her daughter and friends over the summer.

Meanwhile, we have booked her brothers into a sports camp for a week in July. They are feeling a little hard done by.


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