Travelogue: Ireland, part 2

Dublin to Belfast and back again

Monday, September 26th

Today I had some breakfast and took the train to Belfast. I got a ride to my hotel in one of those old fashioned black cabs. The driver put me in the front seat, somehow packed four Newfoundlanders and their luggage into the back seat, perched my suitcase on the lip of the open trunk, and strapped it to the outside of the car. When he dropped me at my hotel, he said to the Newfoundlanders in his beautiful brogue, “This is where the millionaires stay.”

I’m not a millionaire but I am treating myself to a night in a fancy hotel called The Merchant. Everything is gilt and tasseled. I haven’t formed an opinion on this crazy headboard yet. I keep going back and forth.

Yes? No?

Thursday, September 27th

Today I had a modest breakfast of coffee and porridge in the most opulent dining room you’ve ever seen.

Living that patrician life

Now I’m staying with my Northern Irish picture book comrade, Oliver Jeffers, outside of Belfast. After breakfast Oliver’s brother, Rory, kindly took me around the city. We went to a museum, had a nice lunch, and visited an antique mall.

I texted this to Colin at 6 am Portland time
and he was like, TOO EARLY

There’s an old cemetery nearby where I walked around in the rain trying to draw things in my damp sketchbook with my cold hands. If this sounds gloomy, it wasn’t. Drawing in a drizzly cemetery overlooking the Irish Sea is exactly the sort of thing I flew half way around the world to do.

Wednesday, September 28th

Today we drove up to the north coast of Ireland. It was so beautiful. I don’t have the words.

We rode around all day and Oliver patiently answered my questions about Irish history, the Troubles, Catholics vs. Protestants, republicans vs. loyalists, brexit, St. Patrick, Van Morrison, etc. etc.

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At one point we stopped at an inn and had a pint of Guinness by a peat fire. I wondered aloud why we don’t burn peat in America and an Irish woman in her sixties appeared out of nowhere and gave us an impromptu lecture on the history, harvesting methods, and uses of peat. A peat nerd! I loved her. Actually, I love everyone I’ve met here except the lady who scolded me when I got in the wrong customs line at the airport. Other than her, Irish people are the sweetest, funniest people on earth. She might even be sweet and funny too when she’s not working at the airport.

Friday, September 29th

En route to the train station, Oliver drove me by a bunch of political murals and patiently answered more questions.

Do you know why there’s a red hand on the flag of Ulster? Legend has it that long ago some chieftains were racing in boats to claim it. The first person to touch the land would rule it, so the guy in last place chopped off his own hand and threw it over the heads of the others. When his blood-soaked hand hit the ground, he won Ulster.


Now I’m back in Dublin. It’s my last day in Ireland and I’m tired. I walked to the oldest Irish bookstore, Hodges Figgis. In my naivety, I had envisioned an ancient, dimly lit hole-in-the-wall crammed with leather bound books, but it was actually a spacious three story Waterstones.

I regret not buying an Irish language edition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I don’t speak Irish but it would’ve made a good souvenir. I somehow didn’t know that C.S. Lewis, the author of my favorite childhood books, was from Belfast.

I spent a little time looking at paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland (It’s free!) and did some drawing in the courtyard before completely running out of steam.

On my way home I passed, by chance, the ancient, dimly lit hole-in-the-wall I had been hoping for. It was Sweny’s Pharmacy, the real place where the fictional Leopold Bloom buys a bar of lemon soap in Ulysses. I couldn’t figure out what this business was, but the windows were full of James Joyce ephemera so I peered inside.

About six people were sitting in a circle with open books on their laps, solemnly listening as one of them read aloud. It seemed like something was happening that I shouldn’t interrupt so I didn’t go in, but I looked the place up when I got back to the hotel and discovered that it’s a James Joyce visitor center and they were having a reading. I totally could have gone in. I could’ve bought Colin a bar of Sweny’s lemon soap for his birthday. We’ve been reading Ulysses this year, on the centennial of its publication. I really regret not going in. Lots of regrets today.

Joyce in front of Sweny’s - the facade is unchanged

Well, that’s all for me. I head home in the morning and you don’t want to hear about the long, boring journey back. Look for me in the massage chairs of JFK. Thanks for a good time, CBI and Jeffers family. Thank you, Ireland - Northern and the Republic of. As the Irish say, it was class.

I’ll leave you with this drawing of Colin reading Ulysses that I made earlier this year.