Monday, May 4, 2009

Horatio Nelson!

Well the rain predicted by Margaret last night has hit. After breakfast we gave Stuart some little Australian gifts to recognise his birthday which, although is officially tomorrow, they are celebrating today as there is no school. Chat a bit more with John and Margaret and then head into Derry City to take a look around.

As the weather is damp and getting damper we thought that it might be an idea to buy a 24 hour ticket on the Hop On Hop Off red bus and maybe do one or two of the tourist sites. Nice idea, but not only are the schools closed, we are informed that everything else is as well! Where are we? Maryborough??! Oh well, I can certainly understand people wanting a day off - no matter what the industry they are working in.

So armed with a map from the Visitor Centre, we head off in search of the Derry Murals. Like the Belfast murals, many of these are found in residential areas and tell the story of the religious and political conflicts that have plagued Northern Ireland. But the areas in which they are located are much better kept and there are wreaths at the memorials that seems to suggest that there is a higher level of pride here. The murals themselves are mostly professionally done and therefore present a unified face - albeit with less of the emotion than in Belfast.

Back in town we see more murals of a commercial advertising nature - all are good though. We take a drive through the walled part of the city - yep, another walled city and get to The Diamond - right in the centre. Although it is raining lightly, Michael decides to take a bit of a walk - me? I'd rather stay dry so I wait for him in the car. Of course, while he is out on foot the rain gets heavier and so he gets back soaked.

The Diamond is a cenotaph to Derry's fallen, and it is from here I decide to start my trek to mount the city walls. It is from the Ferryquay Gate where I climb the stairs to the gates mount, and it is apparent that Derry was indeed a garrisoned city. The walls' walkways are quite wide, at least with a width of 30'. This is unusual as with the walls of the other cities we have see, the width of the raised parapet is 6-8'. The anomoly is soon answered as I walk along the wall I come to the New Gate bastion with three 20lb muzzle-loading cannons.

This feature is repeated at various vantage points around the city walls, bastions and barbicans, which can only confirm Derry's troubled past. However, the walls' significance has drastically changed from offensive to providing the visitor with an uninterrupted panoramic platform. The views from Derry's walls are spectacular, yes and even in the rain. As with the walls in York, one has the opportunity to leave the wall and investigate an apparent landmark.

Such was the case where the cathedral of St Columba loomed ahead. As with most of Derry's' businesses, the Cathedral was closed as well! This of course did not hinder my curiosity to explore the grounds, at least! Like most Medieval and post-Reformation structures, the architecture is quite spectacular. Completed in 1633 in the Planter's Gothic, the cathedral became the Mother Church of the Church of Ireland. It is now the repository of many original documents dated from the Siege of Derry (1688-89), original portraits of William of Orange and the original keys to the old city of Derry. However, what is interesting is the inscription above the cathedrals' porch: "If stones could speake then London's prayse should sound Who built this church and cittie from the grounde". It was time to leave the cathedral and continue my promenade along the walls, before the falling rain became heavier.

I came across the O'Doherty Tower (now the Tower Museum), which was originally a lookout, is situated outside the city walls. Regrettably, this museum was closed as well, so with the rain increasing I decided it was prudent to return to the car and continue this exploration some other day....maybe.

With little else happening we think that the movies might be in order - the new X-Men Origins: Wolverine is out now. Park the car in the council (paid) car park and walk through the shopping centre (which is open) only to find the movie theatre closed - can you believe that?? A captured audience day and they are shut!

So that plan thwarted we go for a drive out to Buncrana on Lough Swilly which means crossing into the Republic of Ireland and driving in kilometres rather than miles for the first time in months. Still raining, but it is starting to ease now. This is the second largest town in County Donegal and has a population of 5,500 - so now we are starting to feel like we are home in regional Australia. Nothing open so back we head. On the way out, we had passed a graveyard that advertised a named cross, so we pull in to Fahan to have a look. The cross is carved in a slab much like some of the others we have seen recently in Wales and Scotland. Given the movement of people between the two lands, this is to be expected. BUT what wasn't expected was to come across the grave of HORATIO NELSON! No, not that one, but another with the same name, born in the same Norfolk town as that General and died in the same year - spooky isnt it.

By now it is almost 3 pm and we are hungry. Just this side of the border we see Harry's Bar & Restaurant - on the highway almost in the middle of nowhere. Did I say border? What border? Most Irish consider it all one country and recently voted against a bill put by the government of the Republic of Ireland to introduce border controls between the two. Anyway we pull into Harrys for a meal. And are very pleasantly surprised by what we see when we open the door. Very tastefully decorated and much bigger than we realised from outside. Our waiter shows us to a table and leaves menus printed on paper before rushing away to take one order and deliver another - they are busy and I guess with nothing else much open, they are getting plenty of business.

The menu again is surprising. And modern. Noted on the top of the menu is the citation Bridgestone's Top 100 Restaurant 2009. We make our choices and place our order for:
We each had Baked Local Garlic Mushrooms, Glebe Brethan Rarebit, Tomato & Onion Chutney
Slow Cooked Local Lamb Shoulder, Mediterranean Style (Michael)
Baked Pollock, Prawn, pea and fennel hollandaise (Maria)
served with sides of creamed potato (soooo smooth and creamy), cauliflower, brocolli and cheese baked rosemary potato.
I could not manage one but had a mouthful or two of Michael's fabulous Chocolate Orange Cheesecake.

The food was sublime - to put it quite inadequately! Our waiter turned out to be one of the owners, Donal, and he was most helpful. We had to ask what pollock was - a white but strong flavoured fish often used as Cod or Haddock. It was delicious. And Michael told Donal that the lamb was "climbing the charts". Turns out that this is the first year that they have been named in the Top 100 Irish restaurants - a fact that Donal is rightly proud of. So, well sated we headed back into Derry.

A drive past the theatre one last time shows us that YAY it is open and there are hundreds of people milling around. So back into the car park and down to the theatre just in time to get tickets and find a seat in the packed auditorium to see the movie. Very good if a little predictable - but well worth seeing.

So we are now back at Groarty House/Manor. Stuart's birthday party was in full swing when we got back - so nice to hear young ones enjoying themselves. We look out our window and one minute you can hardly see anything for th rain, and the next minute it is clear - hope tomorrow dawns brighter - we are heading back to the Giant's Causeway! Right now at 9:30 pm twilight is falling and the city lights are bright. Go figure.

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