My father died when I was 7. He was a writer, but his sport was heavyweight boxing. After he died, Muhammad Ali became a huge hero for me - an ersatz father figure if you will. I followed his career, and even saw him fight (The Fight of the Century*), against Joe Frazier. It was his first fight since emerging from prison for protesting the Viet Nam War. He represented all the hopes of the young, and the burgeoning anti-war movement. He went a full 15 rounds - and lost. He'd spent 5 years of his precious fighting life in prison, a martyr to The Establishment (as I saw it). I mourned. I wrote him an impassioned teenage letter. I didn't get out of bed for two days.
I doubt I will ever meet him. This monument may be the closest I ever get. Here it is:
But first we meet Catherine, one of our guides, who gets on the tour bus mic and wastes no time giving us the Irish version of Irish history - the one most Americans never get to hear. I'm ashamed to say, it comes as a shock to Yours Truly. Yes, I knew about The Troubles. But I didn't know about the bloody and determined rebellions for Irish rights dating back to 1534. I didn't know Oliver Cromwell, someone I always thought of as a hero, is considered a war criminal here. I didn't know Irish peasants could not own their own land until 1922. Think of it. I didn't understand that the potato famine was a virtual genocide by Britain, which could have stepped in any time, but whose government basically wanted Irish land for themselves, and closed their eyes while one million people starved to death.
There is so much information I can't take it all in; I want to take notes. Yet amazingly in this litany of suffering, Catherine manages to tell it all with truth, irony and humor - characteristics that can be found in the Irish psyche if you get a chance to talk to anybody. And here again is a difference between Back Roads and VBT. The VBT guides are always local. This is a priceless plus.
The Cliffs are spectacular (North Side):
An hour or so later, we meet back at the bus which takes us to Sheedy's Country House Hotel** where we will be staying for two days...