As grateful as I was to John and Joanna for inviting me to join them on their tour, the events of 4 February 1998 confirmed the benefits of car-free, independent travel. For one thing, they got very annoying. For another, they kept getting lost and wouldn’t listen to my suggestions for navigating. Other than that though it was a lovely day.
First we visited Dunluce Castle, rugged ruins by the windswept coast. The highlight of the day was Giant’s Causeway, the mysterious basalt columns jutting out into the sea. I went a bit snap-happy with my camera here. On John & Joanna’s suggestion we went in search of the Glens of Antrim, zipping along the windy coastal roads at 70 mph. Finally we visited Dunhill, the remains of the Bishop of Derry’s estate house. I wondered if any fully-standing castles and estate houses survive in Ireland. John wanted to refurbish ruined castles and make them available for artists’ studios.
John and Joanna kindly drove me to my next stop, the city of Derry. They actually let me look at the map and give directions so we got there without any detours. We passed through towns where all the curbs and light posts were painted blue, red & white and towns where all the curbs and light posts were painted green, white, & orange, so we would know the political inclinations of the residents. They dropped me off at Steve’s Backpackers Hostel in Derry, and went off to see Donegal in the dark.
I was immediately set up by the hostel staffer Brett with a number of other hostel guests for a pub crawl. These included a California art student named Bailey, an Irishman named Mickey who told great stories, and a German woman named Jutta who was very devoted to the Irish Republican cause. We stopped in first at the River Inn Cellars and talked about tourism in Northern Ireland, The Simpsons, rioting in Derry, the Derry snog scene, and buying and selling drugs in Amsterdam (I obviously played no part in that last conversation). At The Strand, a band called Against the Grain played folk-rock renditions of “Republican songs” to a rowdy crowd. I walked back with Jutta who was upset that she forgot her jacket which had a Bloody Sunday pin given to her by the wife of Sinn Fein chairman Mitchell McLaughlin.
My traveling life had suddenly grown more intense, but I was happy to be among a friendly group at a cozy hostel.
Joanna and I at Dunluce Castle
Standing atop Giant’s Causeway