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This is an online diary of my latest trip to Ireland.
Dennis J. Ahern

Friday, March 25th

Unlike the hostel in Dublin, there is no continental breakfast included in the price of a night's lodging, but the dining room has been completely redone since my last visit and they have a nice selection for breakfast. I settled for a croissant and a pot of tea for £1 45p Usually when you get a pot of tea they give you a little pitcher of milk to go with it. Once I've polished off my pot of tea, I always pour what's left of the milk in my cup and drink it. I'd rather see it go to my waist than to their waste.

As the cybercafe next door was not due to open until 10:00, I lingered over the remains of my breakfast and worked on drafting my blog using a clipboard and ruled pad that I carry in my book bag. A boy of about 11 came and sat on the other side of the otherwise unoccupied table and cast his eyes around as if waiting for someone to join him. Soon an elderly man with a cane and wearing slippers sat at the same table, but did not acknowledge me or the boy. I kept on writing, and nursing my orange juice and soon a couple who turned out to be the boy's parents sat down with their armload of breakfast things, cereal, fruit, juice, etc. From their conversation I misidentified them as Australian. Upon introductions I discovered they were from New Zealand, by way of England where they were staying for a year while the dad was on a work-study exchange program with a fire department there while an English fireman spent a year taking his place with the fire department in Jeffors [sp?] near Auckland. The elderly man, it turned out was the boy's grandfather. We got to chatting and it turns out he had been living in Cairo with his parents when WWII broke out and after the War had been in the British Police Force in Palestine when the state of Israel was struggling into existence. He found it difficult to speak sometimes as he had had a stroke and carried a wallet full of pictures and cards to explain certain aspects of his life. His family were originally from county Antrim and they had come over for the Easter holidays to see a bit of Ireland and his son had managed to learn something about where the family was from and they had been to the town. They would be leaving that day to go south and see some of the Republic. When they mentioned Kilkenny I told them about the hostel there at Foulksrath Castle and the boy was very excited about the prospect of sleeping in a 16th-century square tower with 10' thick walls. I wonder how the grandfather would do with the spiral staircase which was the only way of getting up and down between the men's dormitory and the toilets and kitchen facilities which used to be in a separate, adjacent building. It sounded like they would be staying in a new building adjacent to the tower that has been added since I was last there a few years ago. This was my son's favorite hostel in Ireland.

Speaking of my son, he and I stayed at the Belfast hostel once, a couple of years after I had been there for a 2-week stay. During that previous visit there was a very pretty young girl on the staff whose red-hair matched her spirit and we always had a lively banter as I came and went. As luck would have it, she was on the desk when I showed up with my son to check in and when she saw me she threw open her arms in greeting and said "Dennis!" which no doubt led my son to speculate on just how much genealogy I had really been doing on these visits.

I was somewhat annoyed to find that the Revelations cybercafe was not open at ten o'clock as advertised. Heading on down the street I stopped in at the cybercafe in the mall adjacent to the bus station, but the terminals there did not have telnet so I continued to my first stop of the day at the offices of the Ulster Historical Foundation. They were not actually open for business on account of Good Friday. The sign on the door said the bookstore was closed for stocktaking. I managed to get in the door just the same and asked if Dr. Trainor was about. He was in his office dictating the results of his latest research task so I didn't tie him up longer than it took to ask if I could use one of the office terminals to log on and check my email. I also subsequently got some advice about the research I was doing for one of my clients who had asked me to research the estate papers of the Harvey, Carey, and Cochrane families. I had found some of the Carey papers at PRONI the night before but there wasn't any mention of tenants. Off the top of his head Dr. Trainor was able to advise me that the Harveys never deposited any of their papers with the public records office and the Cochrane estate records were purchased by an antiquarian bookseller. There are Carey papers at the PRONI and that is what I was looking at yesterday, but Brian pointed out that those leases were from the Marquis of Donegal, which is confirmed by what I looked at. The good news is he tells me that the papers of the Marquis of Donegal are at the PRONI and include lists of sub-tenants, which is the only way Catholic tenants, would likely show up in the records.
While I was logged on at the UHF office I got an email from Paul Higgins in regard to our proposed luncheon date. It seems our options would be limited due to the pubs being closed for Good Friday. When my sister and I were in Belfast in 2001, Paul joined us and Fintan Mullan and Dr. Trainor for lunch at the famous Crown Liquor Saloon, which is just up the block from the UHF office. This famous pub was the setting for some scenes in the film "Odd Man Out" in which James Mason plays a wounded IRA man on the run in Belfast. We had a very nice fish and chips in the restaurant upstairs, but there would be no such repast today. A Shuttered Crown Liquor Saloon

Instead I met Paul at his office in Chichester Street, just a block or so past the Northern Ireland General Register Office and we had lunch at a sandwich shop nearby. I ordered a club sandwich and a pot of tea. The menu said the sandwich included crisps (potato chips) and amazingly enough it literally had crisps as a layer in the sandwich, along with the bacon (Irish), lettuce, tomato, and chicken. It was not the presence of potato chips in my sandwich that put me off so much, however, as the fact that it was on untoasted white bread. In the States, I believe it is almost a given that a BLT, or a club sandwich (BLT with chicken) would come in toasted bread. This is yet another example of how things are not always what you expect when it comes to food in foreign climes.
I wanted to check out the arrangement of the "Titanic Made in Belfast" exhibit that was due to open the next day in the Belfast City Hall and Paul decided to tag along before heading back to work. As we approached the front of the building we could hear someone speaking through a public address system. The voice was vaguely familiar. As we drew near we saw a group of men with their backs to the front gate. In the center was the white-haired figure of the Rev. Ian Paisley, the Unionist Member of Parliament who has been an outspoken opponent of Republicanism in the North. They were preaching not politics, but religion on this Good Friday, though the two are hard to separate in Northern Ireland.

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley
Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall
For all the years he's worked in the City of Belfast, Paul has never once set foot in the City Hall, so I dragged him inside. I had been here before a few years ago as part of the Ulster Historical Foundation's annual research tour when the group had a banquet at Belfast City Hall with the Lord Mayor himself. It's quite a spectacular edifice, inside as well as out, with many historical paintings and statuary inside and grand marble staircases. The school exhibits were being set up in the main lobby. We didn't try to go upstairs where the main exhibits were to be, as Paul had to get back and I had other errands to run as well.

One place I had to go was The Stationery Office at 16 Arthur Street (between Chichester and Castle Place) to get some maps of county Tyrone for one of my clients. They also had some books and I picked up a couple on the Titanic to donate to my local public Library in Acton. We have a special collection of circulating material on the Titanic in memory of Caroline Lamson Brown who was the last person to step off the deck of the Titanic into a lifeboat and later became a Trustee of the Acton Memorial Library. I then headed over to the Belfast Central Library to look at the newspaper collection. On the way, I stopped at what used to be the Northern Ireland Tourist Board office. It's still the offices of the Board, but the public tourist information office moved several years ago to Donegall Place in the heart of the shopping district. I had a long chat with the guard on the door and another fellow who was standing around. He had been to America and had seen Niagara Falls. I remember at my last job we frequently had overseas visitors in for training sessions that lasted some weeks. The first place they wanted to go as visitors was always Niagara Falls.

The newspaper collection is around the corner from the main Library. The last time I was there they had the bound volumes in open stacks and you could just wander around and open up a book of newspapers from some place and period that was of interest. Now both the microfilm and bound volumes must be requested through the desk. Looking at the catalog I noticed they had a microfilmed index of news items from the period of the Irish Civil War. I got that film and found several mentions of Aherns, including one William Ahearne, shot to death near Bishopstown, Cork, whose body was inscribed "Shot as Spy—I.R.A."

Speaking of reading material—when I was at Paul's office waiting for him at the reception, I picked up some magazines that were there on the table. One of them was a monthly about business in Northern Ireland and I read a brief item about a proposal to preserve the remnants of the security barricade at the entrance to the Donegall Place shopping district. When I first came to Belfast in 1993, this barricade was in place to protect against bombings. I rode a bus through this checkpoint once. The first barrier would be raised to allow the bus to enter the screening area where it was blocked from going further while a security officer got on the bus and went down the aisle checking people out. If he was suspicious of anything he could ask you to display the contents of a parcel, or ask you for ID. Once he was satisfied, he would get off the bus, the second barrier would be raised, and the bus proceeded on its way. You can still see parts of the gate in place and some people feel it should be removed as an unwelcome reminder of the bad old days, while others feel we need to remember that the bad days are not that old and to remain vigilant. In the same magazine I saw an ad for Guinness which was illustrated with sketches of three U. S. Presidents, Clinton, Kennedy, and Reagan, all shown in their prime and sharing a pint in a pub. The caption was "The American Dream". I'm not sure whose dream this would be, but it was an Ahearn who arranged the photo op of President Reagan hoisting a pint in the Eire Pub in Boston in 1983. This same Ahearn, Frederick to be precise, may be familiar to many as the guy wearing glasses holding the limo door open when his boss took a slug from Jodie Foster's "boyfriend", John Hinckley two years earlier.

Before heading back to the hostel in Donegall Road (which should not be confused with Donegall Place, which is the main shopping district) I went around the corner from the Library to locate the Linen House Hostel where I would be staying Saturday night, not having been able to book all three nights at the "official" Youth Hostel Association hostel. The most direct route between the two hostels would be back through College Square (where the Ulster Historical Foundation office is located) to Great Victoria Street and on to Shaftesbury Square, but I had to go around this big shopping centre called Castle Court Centre and in doing so lost my bearings somewhat. I don't like to stand on street corners reading a map if I can help it, so I just sort of angled off in what seemed like the right direction until I picked up some landmarks. The UHF office has a 2-story high banner hanging off the side of the building advertising their September research tour. I'd really like to know just how those things are printed.

Stopping at the cybercafe for a quick email fix, I dropped off my books at the hostel and hustled over to the Queen's Film Theatre for the 6:30 screening of the new Woody Allen film "Melinda and Melinda" which stars Will Farrell in the Woody Allen role. You know, the character that has all the quirky dialogue delivered in Woody's characteristic style. It's not one of his better films. In fact, I'd say wait for the video. As with all of Allen's films, it was rather short and I had more than an hour before the showtime for "Mickybo and Me" which is a film about two little boys in Belfast in 1970. I hadn't had any supper yet so I wandered down Botanic revisiting the window menus of the Chinese and other restaurants. Again, I couldn't decide and finally settled on a coffee bar where I had a coffee Americain with poured cream and a scone with butter and jam. Both the coffee and the scone were huge and I ended up with about half the scone left over, which I carefully wrapped in a napkin and put in my bag for breakfast.

"Mickybo and Me" was hilarious. These two kids, one a Catholic and the other Protestant, are from opposite sides of the track, but their neighborhoods face deeper divisions than the railroad cut. The economic disparity, the size of their respective families, are but two differences in the lives of these boys, but the main difference is territorial. Micky knows if he can outrun the bullies and make it over the bridge to the "enemy" territory he will not be followed past the invisible line at the midpoint of the bridge. And John Joe is drawn to the drama of Micky's turf with it's burnt out bus carcasses and soldiers leaning men against the wall to be frisked and interrogated as a matter of routine. Sneaking into the pictures they become hooked on "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and keep going back to see it again and again, taking on the personas of Newman and Redford's characters to the point of going on the run and holding up banks. Well, one bank anyway. It's a great movie. I hope it makes it to the States so you can all see it. It stars Adrian Dunbar and Cieran Hinds as the fathers of Micky and John Joe respectively.

Back at the hostel I find that the Russian skinheads have moved on and the room is now filled with a bunch of Indians who are together. I call their attention to the electrical cord that will be across the floor in front of the door so they will not trip on it in the night. And so to bed.

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