It was hard to leave the wonderful city of Dublin after four days that felt like they went by in the blink of an eye. But we had to do so, in order to embark on a new adventure: driving across the island of Ireland on a Shamrocker Bus Tour. Along the way, I learned a lot about Ireland, from our tour guide, and from just looking around.
We spent most of the day today en route from Dublin to Belfast, but we made three stops along the way. The first two, Trim Castle and Loughcrew Estate, were in Ireland, and our final stop, for lunch in the city of Enniskillen, was in Northern Ireland, back in the UK. Loughcrew Estate was a hill offering a chance to look inside an ancient burial cave which was also used to mark the annual calendar, and beautiful aerial views of rural Ireland.
Our short stop in Eniskillen initially seemed insignificant, but it actually provided a cool opportunity to learn more about the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Eniskillen is just across the Northern Ireland-Ireland border–a border that is completely unenforced. The only signs that we were leaving the Republic of Ireland and re-entering the UK were a sign for the province of Northern Ireland we were entering and another sign indicating that speed limits would now be measured in miles per hour rather than kilometers per hour. There was not so much as a “welcome to the UK” sign, and no sign at all of any border patrol. This is my first time ever crossing an international border via land rather than air, but from what I understand, it isn’t usually this easy.
As our tour guide explained to us, this unenforced border dates back to the violent conflict called “the Troubles” that raged in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Before this bus trip, I only knew this conflict tangentially through the U2 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, and even then, I didn’t really know the details of the event the song describes. As I found out, Bloody Sunday was one of the most prominent events in a 30-year struggle between mostly Protestant loyalists and mostly Catholic rebels in UK-controlled Northern Ireland. The rebels wanted Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland, while the loyalists preferred that Northern Ireland stay within the UK. The resolution to this conflict, in 1998, involved establishing completely open borders between Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, according to our guide, there have been talks of re-establishing a border thanks to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.
This would certainly drastically change the experience of living on the island of Ireland. As it stands now, the border city of Eniskillen is able to incorporate elements of Irish and UK culture, in part because of this unique border status. In fact, a Boots pharmacy I visited there even accepted both Euros and pounds. While there, I received a Northern Irish 5-pound note, which looks different from the English notes.