Another Sunday in Ireland, I start the day of 8 February 1998 with a long walk to view the murals and sites of West Belfast. I start at Milltown Cemetery where many Irish Republicans including those who died as a result of the 1981 hunger strike are buried. I walk along Falls Road where there are a great variety of political murals, some covering entire buildings such as the headquarters of Sinn Fein. Compared to Derry, the murals are a shoddy and uninspired. At least many of the newer looking ones portray visions of a peaceful future. This is less true in Sandy Row, an adjacent Protestant neighborhood where the murals depict calls for violent action and “No Surrender!”
Bummed out by all of this, and feeling like a “terrorism tourist,” I head to the more cheerful environs of the Belfast Botanic Gardens. I don’t know much about plants but I love botanical gardens and visit them in any city I encounter them. Belfast’s is quite lovely with a couple of large greenhouses dating back over 100 years. I refresh myself in the warm, misty, lush surroundings.
In the afternoon, I departed Belfast and Ireland for good, setting sail on the SeaCat ferry – aka the “vomit comet” – to Stranraer in Scotland. Sharing my passage are a large number of drunken Scotsmen in kilts returning from the Five Nations Rugby match in Dublin. Scotland won so at least they were happy drunken Scotsmen in kilts. As the ferry picked up speed and the seas got rough, they spilled more and more of their beer on the deck. They took advantage of this by turning the ferry into a giant slip and slide.
I saw a fellow tourist trying to take a picture of a drunken, dancing sliding Scotsman but before she could the picture he lifted his kilt and showed us that he was wearing nothing but what God gave him. I talked with the flashee and learned that she was Charlotte, a Canadian traveling with an evangelical group called Youth With a Mission. After docking in Stranraer, I followed about a dozen of the young missionaries to the train station where the train was waiting empty and unlocked. We all just dumped our bags on the train and headed into town to find a chip shop for supper. Back on the train, we took our seats and ate, after a long prayer of grace of course.
An hour later the train steamed off to Glasgow. I arrived tired and dopey and stumbled to the SYHA Glasgow Youth Hostel. I’d been staying in independent hostels and avoiding the overpriced, overregulated HI hostels, but my Let’s Go guidebook listed this as the only one in town. After being charged for a sleepsack even though I brought my own, I was put in a room with two ruffians who stayed up all night smoking and shouting with the lights on. This was the most awful night of my vacation but somehow I fell into a fitful sleep.
This wacky mural on the Falls Road appears to have no political significance, but I like it very much.
The Irish Nationalist movement gains solidarity from people around the world involved in political struggles.
A moment of solace in the Botanic Garden.
One of the more sober kilted Scotsman on the SeaCat to Scotland.