The last kilometres in the UK – impressed by ‘The Troubles’ history

On 21/07/2022 we took the ferry from Cairnryan (Scotland) to Larne (North-Ireland). The ferry drive only took 2.5 hours. As North-Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, there was no real passport control in both harbours. Since Brexit happened, we expected a border between North-Ireland and Ireland including at least a passport control. However, there was nothing, we just passed a bridge and entered Ireland straight-away. Not even an Irish flag was seen. We were quite disappointed to be honest.

Talking about flags… We cycled 2 full days in North-Ireland and saw more UK flags than in the complete UK itself. Besides, flags of England and the orange protestant flags were everywhere as well. Also the queen was celebrated largely in Northern-Ireland, even much more compared to some UK regions. (The platinum jubilee of the queen was a few weeks before we arrived in North-Ireland, so some decorations were still present). We learned more about ‘The Troubles’ and carefully asked local people some questions about it. Even though the civil war is history now, you could tell it ended not that long ago. The politic discussions about the future of North-Ireland due to the Brexit are probably not helping either.

For the people who are not entirely aware, here the description of Wikipedia of ‘The Troubles’:

The Troubles (Irish: Na TrioblĂłidĂ­) were an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted about 30 years from the late 1960s to 1998. Also known internationally as the Northern Ireland conflict, it is sometimes described as an “irregular war” or “low-level war”. The conflict began in the late 1960s and is usually deemed to have ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Although the Troubles mostly took place in Northern Ireland, at times violence spilled over into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England and mainland Europe.

The conflict was primarily political and nationalistic, fuelled by historical events. It also had an ethnic or sectarian dimension but despite use of the terms ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ to refer to the two sides, it was not a religious conflict. A key issue was the status of Northern Ireland. Unionists and loyalists, who for historical reasons were mostly Ulster Protestants, wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Irish nationalists and republicans, who were mostly Irish Catholics, wanted Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland.

As we mentioned that the marks of the past war were still alive, we will try to explain how. First of all, it was the atmosphere in specific neighbourhoods; difficult to explain, but easiest is to call it ‘cold’ and silent. There were no colours in the streets, no plants, gardens were only functional (most of the time to park a car. Lastly, we saw several road signs where gun holes were spotted. But as for everything in life, there are two sides of the stories. The first night in Northern-Ireland, we knocked on a farmer’s door. Result: joined a family dinner where we ate a lot of food & slept in a crazy comfortable bed. (That night, the village in the valley (3km away) got flooded due to heavy rainfall). During the family dinner we got to know that half of the family lived in Northern-Ireland, the other half in Ireland. So officially, 1 part of the family was part of the EU, the other half not. We carefully asked for some more information on their opinion on ‘The Troubles’ and the future of Northern-Ireland. It was a very interesting evening, where we especially learned a lot about some parts of the history. In the Instagram post below, this story is partly covered as well.

After crossing North-Ireland, we left the United Kingdom officially. 75 days of cycling through the country and we LOVED IT. For us, this was the best country to start our Europe cycling tour, we will for sure come back! In the summary below, we summarised the things we noticed in the UK in different categories. We are very thankful for all the people we have met. Even if the British are internationally not known for their hospitality (based on stereotypes), they earn the golden medal with regard to this aspect (our negative experiences can be count on 1 hand).

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