Saturday, April 28, 2018

April 28th

Another morning where I could have slept longer, I had to get up and lead several members of the group over to Saint George's Market about a twenty minute walk from the hotel. I had coffee in my room before going down for breakfast and they were all waiting for me, ready to go.
When we got to the market, it was overflowing with people. There were vendors selling everything from original oil paintings, bog oak carvings, Celtic jewelry, to fresh produce, fish, meats, and very kind of baked goods you can imagine. Food from all over the world, just amazing. We had coffee and listened to live music. Ate the best Donegal oyster and a bag full of cockles. Tried a few mini Dutch pancakes too. I have never seen the quality of meats on display anywhere in the USA.
We returned to the hotel and twelve of us went to see "An Coleen Bawn", an old Irish melodramatic/comedic piece written in 1860. It was on at the Lyric Theater near Queens University, the theater where both Liam Nelson and Kenneth Branagh got their starts. A beautiful 400 seat space, about half full for the matinee and I knew one of the actors in the production. A lot of fun and fantastic acting and choreography.
It was a leisurely day really, and we got back in time for dinner. Tonight we had salmon roulade or tomato and mozzarella salad, followed by Shepard's Pie and Pasta Carbonara. All quite tasty. Some of the gang went out again tonight, on the town...for me "been there, done that"... We're up early in the morning and heading for Dublin Airport at 9am. Many of the group are returning to Los Angeles tomorrow and several are staying an extra few days and going on trips from Dublin. Looks like all my Ireland family are in Dublin this week and I expect I will see all of them...Brenda, Arthur, Fergus, Raymond and Martin...I'm flying to London for a few days this Thursday to see my sister Sandra and her family. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone before I fly back next Tuesday week.
It's been a very successful tour, I used that term because everybody is still in one piece and we had no mishaps to speak of. I will say that my tours are unique because I design and plan every detail, none of the major tour carriers go to some of the places I bring people.
Until next year, my friends...bon voyage if you're traveling, and think about a trip with me in the future..God speed.....Ken

Friday, April 27, 2018

April 27th

Nobody would ever attempt or be allowed to enter one of these "social clubs" without being connected or known to members. I have been there several times over the years and the members though, a little wary at first, welcomes the twenty Americans who arrived in on them. Some odd looks were sent our way, but don't forget these people are very wary of anyone they don't know for all the right reasons. Tha same can be said for the other Unionist Protestant side. The group totally enjoyed the mysterious and warm welcome they received and of course there is a bar n the premises and drinks were had by all. BTW Roddy McCorley was hanged on Toomb Bridge, not far from Belfast in 1798 and is remembered as a great hero in folklore and song.
We left after about an hour and this time drove down the Shankhill Road, through the Protestant stronghold and looked at all their murals, many of which memorialized their contribution to both World Wars and the men they sent off to fight in the British Army. There are also murals of their more modern Ulster Volunteer Force members who died in the "Troubles", the UVF, UFF, UDA being Protestant paramilitary forces. Thousands of people, many of whom were innocent, died in he late 60's and 70's and 80's in the conflict.
We arrived back at the hotel in time for dinner tonight which was roast pork loin and a beef stew over rice. Also the usual, new potatoes, green beans, carrots and turnips. We had shrimp cocktail to start.
It was a very long but extremely full and informative day and several still had the stamina left to go out to the Crown Bar built around 1690, the oldest pub in Belfast. Not me, I'm done for the week now, and tomorrow will be a much more relaxing day. Off to the four hundred year old Saint George's Markets for some Venice Beach street performers, swap meet and food court experience...after lunch we are going to see a matinee of an old Irish play "Noreen Ban" written in 1860. A friend of mine has one of the lead roles. 16 of us are going, it's at the Belfast Lyric Theater....catch up with the final blog tomorrow night...

April 27th

Our final driving day began this morning after another hearty "Ulster Fry" breakfast. We had a booked time at the Titanic Museum in the old shipyards quarter of Belfast and we arrived early and made our way through the self guided tour for over two hours. I had been twice before but there were some new additional exhibits to the tour including a three dimensional film of the decks from the engine room rising to the 3rd, 2nd and 1st class levels to the open deck. The whole experience was much better than I had remembered and is actually well worth the visit. There were samples of the crockery they had, samples of the carpets and drapes etc, and loads of photos and descriptions from the laying of the keel in the shipyard to her last moments before disappearing beneath the Atlantic Ocean on her maiden voyage..
I had prewarned everyone not to spend their money on the over priced, mediocre cafe inside and instead, we headed uptown to the commercial area around the City Hall. We parked next to the statue of Queen Victoria and split up for lunch. Our driver Paul and I had Subway, yes, in Belfast...actually quite good. As in other parts of Ireland, customers don't bus tables after they eat so the all the tables have previous diners crap all over them...the attendants must only come out occasionally to bus the tables.
We returned to the bus and we met up with our guide for the day, my old friend Mickey Gallagher who has lived in Belfast all his 81 years and has been well connected to the Nationalist side of the "Troubles" all of his life...that would be the Catholic Irish side, enough said. We drove up the Catholic Falls Road and stopped at many of the colorful murals painted expertly on the walls of buildings along the way, of the heros and events that took place over the last 100 years or so in the attempt to unite Ireland. We drove along the Peace Wall which was originally a large fence, like Trump's wall, that divided and kept the Catholics and Protestants apart from each other during the 1970's on up. There is definite talk about removing this wall but not yet as some people might remain vulnerable.
We also visited a monastery church in the area where secret talks were held by both sides prior to the final Good Friday Aggreement in 1998 being sorted out.
We went into Miltown Cemetary and looked at the graves of many IRA volunteers and all the graves of the Hunger Strikers who died in 1981. This, I suggested, is the Arlington National Cemetary for the Nationalist community inter North of Ireland though only about the size of two tennis courts. The Irish Tri Color of Green, White and orange flies proudly to their memories.
What some of our group decided was the most important event of our tour was my final surprise this afternoon. With Mickey's blessing we were allowed into Roddy McCorley's Social Club, a gathering place of mostly former active members of the IRA and the political wing of Sinnfein Fein . The building is a three story freestanding house once owned by family who owned the Belfast Celtic Soccer Club, long since gone by the wayside. The building was refurbished many years ago and opened as "The Roddy's". There is an amazing small museum on the third floor which houses all kinds of memorobelia from guns, to British Army rubber bullets, uniforms, all kinds of wooden items carved in Long Kesh prison etc. Some great old letters and photos.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

April 26th

Another moving day today. This time we were not under any pressure to be some place at a certain time so I told everyone we could have a leisurely breakfast and get on the road around 10am.
I went down and met several of the group in the dining room and we had the porters bring our bags down and loaded on to the bus in good time. I had scrambled eggs, Irish bacon, sausages, fried mushrooms, white pudding and "tatie bread" or potato bread. This is unique to Ulster the North of Ireland province and is made from mashed potato and flour and pan fried, it's thin like pita bread. Something else BTW, a "full Irish breakfast" is known in the North as "An Ulster Fry"..
We left Derry behind and once again a lovely sunny morning opened up for us as we headed east across the Antrim coast. It's actually quite beautiful, the countryside in the north, very different from the wild beauty of the west and south west. We arrived at the Giant's Causeway around noon and everyone except the driver and myself went down to see the hexagonal stone formations for which the causeway is famous. I have not been feeling my best since we arrived, and my concert last night ended with me quite tired vocally and exhausted. I stayed on the bus with Paul while the rest visited the stones and I felt better for it.
When they returned we drove a couple of miles to the town of Bushmills, famous for it's whisky distillery. No whisky for me, just a scone and coffee. After we all had lunch we drove along the Antrim coast to Carrickfergus and stopped to look at the 11th century castle and the statue of King William, who beat King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1689, and started all this sectarian crap in the North. The Antrim coast is beautiful and at one point you can see Scotland, nineteen miles away.
We arrive at our hotel in Belfast around 5pm and checked in. It's the Holiday Inn City Center and a very good location. I met a guy in the elevator who told me sixty members of "Game of Thrones" crew are staying in the hotel while shooting the final season.
Dinner was interesting...I heard the food was really good here..we had a choice of chicken or lamb, tuned out to be a buffet and it was actually quite good, very Irish style...New potatoes, carrots, turnips and gravy...I thought I left my watch in Derry, I called the hotel, they didn't find it, then I discovered it was on my wrist...I think I need a holiday after the to the Titanic Museum in the morning, should have good story tomorrow night...Later !

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

April 25th

Our first morning in Derry began with a guided walking tour of the famous "Derry's Walls" and the Guild Hall area. We met our wonderful tour guide Ronan MacNamara, whose mother is Chinese and father is Irish. He claims to be the only Buddhist in Derry. He gave us great incite into Derry's history, from the Jacobite wars of the 17th century, King James against King William on up to the infamous Blood Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972, which really rocked the North and brought on a civil war between Catholic and Protestant not finding peace until 1998.
We were rained on a couple of times but the sun came through for most of the rest of the day. Our driver Paul and I had discussed a surprise visit to an ancient fort Grianan Aileach in Co. Donegal just across the border from Derry. After an hour break we set out on the bus into Co. Donegal and gave the group a splendid experience that few tourists ever see. Paul told us most busses will not risk the assent and turns but we did. Ken O'Malley goes where nobody else goes.
Built between the 6th and 7th century on top of a much older defensive structure, the fort stands at the top of a hill overlooking the counties of Derry, Donegal and Tyrone. You can see for miles in every direction, truly spectacular.
We arrived back to our hotel mid afternoon and some went on another walking tour of the Bogside and the Bloody Sunday history. For myself, I took a rest prior to my impromptu concert in my suite at 6pm. Fourteen of the group showed up with drinks from the bar and I sang and talked for an hour. By then it was time for dinner in the restaurant and catch the second half of Bayern Munich losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League soccer semi final, on the hotel TV. Time to retire and write my blog...catch you all again tomorrow night from Belfast...

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April 24th

This morning we were all up early, as it was a "moving day". We had our final breakfast at the Nuremore Hotel and the porters had brought down our luggage and loaded it on to our coach. We headed north into the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland where not only the atmosphere changes but so does the currency. No more Euros for now, we are using the Sterling pound.
Once we cross the invisible border, we leave behind kilometers and we are back to miles. We arrived at the Ulster American Folk Museum in Omaha, Co. Tyrone situated on the original property of the Mellon family, as in Carnegie Mellon. Andrew Mellon left this homestead in 1721 and arrived in Pennsylvania with his family. They were poor farmers but his mother recognized his potential, packed him off to school and after becoming a lawyer, he eventually got into the banking business and you know the rest.
It was very interesting, we got to see re-enactments of blacksmiths in a forge, weavers making cloth, shop keepers selling the wares of the periods of the 18th and 19th centuries. At one point we boarded a ship bound for America, saw what the passenger quarters were like and then disembarked onto American soil to see what the Irish emigrants saw when they arrived in the New World. All of the little cottages and work shops had turf fires burning and as our weather was drizzling rain and damp, it could not have been more appreciated.
We had a nice lunch in the museum's cafe and then headed further north into the City of Derry, the second largest city in N. Ireland. We are staying at the City Hotel on the bank of the river Foyle which flows through the city out into the North Atlantic Ocean. The river divides the city and the two communities of Catholics on one side and Protestants on the other. The city has suffered through the "Troubles" which boiled over in the North in the 1960's until th Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1993. There still remains the spectre of sectarianism in the North and we can only hope peace will prevail.
We checked into the hotel and wouldn't you know I was given the Presidential Suite. Finally my state in life has been recognized! We had a nice dinner this evening and about twelve of us went to a local pub to listen to Irish traditional music. I stayed about an hour and came back to my palatial suite to write to you all. Another full day, and everyone has declared they are having a wonderful time.
Tomorrow we have a walking tour of Derry's Walls and some of the interesting and historical sites in the area before I plan a couple of surprises in the afternoon, weather permitting....see you later...time for my bath, massage and peeled grapes, yeh right...

April 24th

Toay was what we refe to as a "moving day", getting luggage down from rooms to the bus by the porters and having our last breakfast at the Nuremore Hotel.
Our tour today was to take us north into the United Kingom of Great Britain known as Northern Ireland. For me personally, the world changes as we pass across the border, where for almost twenty five years there has been no barricades, road blocks, police or soldiers manning the crossing points from the Republic into the North. I don't have these feelings when I'm in England, it has to do with the fact that historically, our island of Ireland has been divided and ruled for so long by the Crown of England, but the land belongs to Ireland. The North, since 1921, has been partitioned from the Republic because the ruling class Unionists and their followers refused to be a part of Ireland as one country, hence the name Unionist with the UK.
As many of you know the "Troubles" boiled over in the 1960's and it was not until 1993 that the "Good Friday" Peace Agreement brought a continued peace to this day, that still delicately holds the Catholic and Protestant communities together. Time will still tell.
We arrived at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omaha, Co. Tyrone where we were treated to live demonstrations of Irish life in the 18th and 19th centuries. Why emigration took so many Irish people from all parts of Ireland to the United States in those days. We saw a blacksmith hammer horse shoes into shape, weavers making cloth, shop keepers selling the wares of the time. All of these old homes were on the site of the original Andrew Mellon's, as in Carnegie Mellon, family home.