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It great to see Belfast but it was also so cool to get out to the country and meet Karen’s family. We took a bus out to her small town and her brother picked us up from the bus stop and we grabbed a few bottles of wine. (Conrad is a sweet guy with a thick Irish country accent, her younger brother, a gym rat and welder who appreciates the simple country life). The Henry’s have a lovely house and farm just an hour out of Belfast. Karen gave me a tour of this house she grew up with her 5 younger siblings and the big yard and patio with a cosy stone worked set up. Her parents, Gerard and Clare, and youngest brother of 7, Oisin, arrived back from a weekend visit to the coast and we ate some Chinese food and started in on the wine. Karen’s childhood friend Jeanine came over too, who lives in Liverpool now but was home for the week, and we sat in the living room with her parents and chatted well into the night. Her dad has a thicker Irish country accent, but I followed along pretty well. We talked about travelling and Ireland and really anything and everything. Her mum even had a necklace with a shamrock charm all ready to give to me! So sweet. We started talked about music and they played a bunch of traditional Irish music for me and kept finding songs for me to learn on the guitar. We were up until almost 3am, it was such a lovely evening.
The next day, Oisin took us on a tour of the farm. He showed us all the different buildings and tractors and machines, the little lambs he kept, and the field of cows. We were surprised to see a man in a bright green jumpsuit walking through their field, and he said he was an electrician and often startled people as he walked about 8 miles a day doing his work. It was funny to observe how much an outsider is noticed. I didn’t think much of it but Karen was quick to tell her parents and siblings about the strange man. Its such a small community that anyone different stands out. Its a big deal to see someone unfamiliar because everybody knows everybody! We went on a small hike to a spot Karen used to go by when she was younger. It used to be much more forested and overrun but many trees were cut and Karen’s dad had cleared the pathway and made it more accessible. It was a nice little view of the countryside and Karen and Jeanine found some crickets to snapchat and we hung out there a bit before heading back to Karen’s house. A man with a dog passed by us on the way home and Karen was quick to tell her dad about him, too, and Gerard knew who it was, of course. Jeanine remarked how everyone we passed had to stare at us as they wondered about where I was from and why we all were just strolling around the small town.
We hung around the house a bit longer and Gerard made us Irish stew and Karen took pictures for Clare with Jonathon’s nice camera for her life coaching website. Her brothers sat with us for a while and Conrad talked about visiting America with his girlfriend and maybe going to Florida. It’s apparently a popular destination for the Irish, that and New York and Vegas. Her other brother Finbar, mentioned briefly his weekend in Bristol for a house party, but told us he wouldn’t say any more than that. He attends a deaf boarding school there for computing. Karen’s other brother, Cormac, is teaching in Korea currently and will be back in the states shortly. It was great to meet this adorable Irish family and watch how they all work and live independently and together. Gerard drove us back to Belfast that evening, which was really nice.
The next day it was pretty rainy so I sat in and tried to figure out a plan for my upcoming travels. I had a nice evening in with Karen and Jonathon as we had dinner and watched a film. The next day I got up early to hike Slieve Donard in Newcastle and get a good view of the Mourne mountains. It was a great 4 hour hike and a lovely day. It was funny to see the Irish even more excited about nice weather than we are in Chicago. Everybody I passed going up or back down the mountain said hello or asked how it was going, and if they didn’t I immediately assumed they were foreigners. It was a bit difficult of a hike but quite worth it when I got to the top and I had my lunch and made my way back down. One guy who ran passed me on the way up was passing me again on the way down and complimented my ink and asked to take a picture to show his tattoo artist. I set up my hammock in the forest before heading back to bus and it was a real nice view and rest stop. I treated myself to some ice cream while waiting for the bus back to Belfast and had a few beers back at the apartment before settling in for an excellent night’s sleep.
I tried to do some more planning and at least settled on a weekend to meet my new German friend, Jules, in Budapest. I talked to my sister, Esther, for awhile and she told me about Africa. It was a beautiful day so I was anxious to get outside but had a slow start after that morning. I tried to figure out the Belfast bike sharing but was having trouble so I ended up just wandering down to the city center and was looking for wifi so I could make a call about whether or not I could rent a bike without a UK number. I saw a nice patio with a sign for free wifi so I went to have a drink there. The owner ended up giving me the Guinness I ordered on the house and then after I sat reading for a while, he joined me and we chatted some more. He offered me some sangria, as it was a tapas bar actually, and then he ended up calling over some other gentlemen who were just passing by. A father and son joined us, the father actually an ex-cop who was telling us about a crime thriller he wrote that was due out in October. The retired cop gave a good itinerary of what to do for my following week around Ireland. Another gentlemen joined us, too, a lawyer, or barrister rather, and I don’t think any of these gentlemen planned on stopping at this spot for a drink but because the owner had beckoned to them and they agreed to one drink, we all got a little bit stuck. They were all very cordial initially and it was interesting to talk about American politics, Irish history, and the troubles in Belfast with these men of different perspectives. Karen and Carol found me and joined us and it was really interesting to see these different generations discuss these topics as well. The ex-cop still had a good amount of animosity about things and the lawyer was being polite but it was obvious they had quite differing opinions, especially after a few bottles of wine. The son escorted his drunk father away, leaving the lawyer with most of the tab (after the owner had left with his plastic bags full of cash and booze), but he could afford it from the way he spoke about his family and the land he owned. The lawyer told us a great story of how the farm he owned now had hosted some German soldiers one Christmas day during the war and he really wished his brother would make a movie about it. His aunt had actually fallen in love with one of these soldiers and never married after that. He went to the next bar with us and, quite drunk, started asking me for advice about this girl he had had an affair with years ago and was taunting him, so he felt, through social media, even though she was remarried and it had been years since their dalliance. I was so taken aback by this but I just told him straight up that he has to live with the consequences of his actions and he should focus on his family and his wife and that he’s just going to have to deal. Altogether, a very random evening.
An interesting introduction to a mix of Irish country life and Belfast city living.