H for Here’s Health to Your Enemy’s Enemies (Irish saying)

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter H

I was told one of the perks of being an exchange teacher is that sometimes events would occur in term time allowing me to be released from the schol. Unfortunately, this only happened once.  On the 27th March we left Chasetown at 5.00am in our Ford Focus looking for the prebooked carpark near Birmingham Airport.  After a short bus ride we were on the plane at 8.00 am and landing in Belfast at 9.00 am. I entered the Malone Lodge Hotel to meet the others while John continued to the Travelodge with our bags.

The morning consisted of presentations including: “The Northern Ireland Education System” and a panel discussion on educational issues.  John appeared as we left on foot for Queen’s University.  Lunch was supplied at the Great Hall, followed by a political overview presented by Fionnuala O’Connor, an economist correspondent for Northern Ireland who is also a Catholic married to a Protestant, giving her a broad view of the situation.

Dan McCall, a school inspector, gave a slide presentation on “Divided Loyalties, Differing Perspectives on Northern Ireland’s History and Culture, Murals, Flags and Banners”.  I was hoping to see some of the murals in the ensuing days.

Our hotel was only twenty minutes walk from the Belfast City Hall where we had drinks, a buffet, a speech from the Sheriff and a welcome from the Deputy Lord Mayor (the Lord Mayor was busy).  The building is “an ornate quadrilateral of Portland stone”, built to the same plans as the Cape Town City Hall.  The interior inspired the domes and staircases of The Titanic.

That is where John was off to the next day, to find where the Titanic was built.  Of course that was before the large museum was constructed in its honour but he found enough to keep himself amused at the shipyards.

Meanwhile I was off to Omagh.  At 7.30 I arrived at the Malone Lodge Hotel and seeing a mini bus already there I asked the driver, “Is this the bus for Omagh?”

When he said, “No, it’s the bus for Omagh,” I realised we had a language problem.

Omagh of course is known for the car bombing in 1998 carried out by a group called the Real IRA, an IRA splinter group who opposed the IRA’s ceasefire and Good Friday Agreement.  The bomb killed 29 people and injured 220 others.  The victims included both Protestants and Catholics, six teenagers, six children, a woman pregnant with twins, two Spanish tourists and others on a day trip from the Republic of Ireland. As a result of the bombing new anti-terrorism laws were swiftly brought into being in both the United Kingdom and Ireland.

With all of this in mind six years after the event we arrived at the Omagh Library where our guide Lynda was not waiting for us as expected.  Several people went off for a walk so that when she arrived they were missing.  Then a photographer turned up but one teacher had already been taken off to her school for the day.  After two professional photos were taken people starting lining up for a quick snap on their own cameras.  By the time all that happened and we were back in the mini bus a considerable amount of time had passed.  Before I arrived at my school we dropped people off at Greencastle, Laughmacrory and Carrickmore so that it was 10.45 when I finally arrived at St Columbkille’s Primary School.  All I had eaten that day was an apple given to me by a kind soul on the bus so I was delighted with my cup of tea and scone.  However I had to swallow it fast because Finola informed me I would be visiting her Year 3/4 immediately.  After that I went to Anne’s Year 4 and Emmett’s 5/6.  The children were well behaved and asked interesting questions like:

“Have you swum with Nemo?”

“Do people pray at Ayer’s Rock?”

‘Is winter cold in Australia?”

as well as the usual questions about snakes, spiders and crocodiles.

I showed them my toy stuffed platypus and talked about its amazing reproductive cycle.

They proudly showed me their paintings of sheep with little black legs.

An elderly priest was introduced to me by the principal as I was escorted along the corridor.  Apparently he had worked in Sydney, Australia in the 1970s.

“Aaah!  The terrible thing about Australia is all the orphans that were made by that Prime Minister of yours.”

I must have looked mystified because he continued.

“That Gough Whitlam!  He introduced divorce without cause and that resulted in thousands of orphan children losing their fathers.”

The principal, looked embarrassed and muttered an apology as we moved on.  He asked if I wanted a school lunch or to eat out.  I didn’t have to think long about that and soon we were in a cosy pub facing plates of fish and chips with mashed and baked potatoes for good measure.  When I failed to eat all my potato Peter sternly warned me that the Irish were very attached to their pratas and did I know there were ninety words in the Irish language to describe potatoes?

We also discussed the pros and cons of integrated schools, grammar schools etc and also the Irish language class at the school which I was very much looking forward to visiting after lunch.

The parents of the children support the learning of their traditional language to the extent that in this one class in the school all lessons are conducted in Irish Gaelic and no English is spoken.  It was a positive way to prevent the loss of language after centuries of attempts to eliminate it.  I was reminded of a similar situation with loss of Aboriginal languages in Australia.

On our way back to Belfast we passed Maze Prison where we were told 13 men had died in a hunger strike in 1981.

When I checked up on it later I found that ten had died but many others had lifelong physical effects from their enforced starvation.  I had to find out what it was all about and discovered it started in 1976 when the British parliament changed the paramilitary prisoners’ status from Prisoner of War to Criminal.

The second hunger strike was a showdown between the prisoners and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  One hunger striker, Bobby Sands, was elected as a member of parliament during the strike which was only called off after ten men including Sands, had starved themselves to death.  The strike radicalised Irish nationalist politics and enabled Sinn Fein to become a mainstream political party.

Much less stressful was our trip to the Giant’s Causeway the following day.  As our bus rolled on the sky brightened and the sun came out spasmodically.  We drove along a scenic coastline with cliffs rising up from the roadside reminding me of Lawrence Hargrave Drive north of Wollongong, now so far away.

Our first stop was Camlough or maybe Cushendall.  Anyway it had a little boat harbour and a good view of sand and pebble beaches along the coast.  We stopped to view the Carrik-a-Rede rope bridge but didn’t have time to cross it.

Stuart Yeates from Oxford, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

*Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. Taken on May 28, 2005. *Author: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/alphageek/ code poet] on flickr. *Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alphageek/20005235/ {{Cc-by-sa-2.0}} Category:Giant’s Causeway[[Cate

Soup and sandwiches filled our empty stomachs at the Causeway Hotel, after which we walked to a lookout and then up some steep steps to the top (about two miles).  The scenery was spectacular, the weather was fine and it was almost warm.  What more could you ask for?

12 thoughts on “H for Here’s Health to Your Enemy’s Enemies (Irish saying)

  1. I was so relieved that the Carrick-a-Rede bridge was close when we were there…not! I don’t like edges and drops.

    It would have been an educational trip for sure, but that priest!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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