Rediscovering the island of Ireland

Lord Bates

One of the consequences of the years of the troubles has perhaps been a reluctance of some to travel and explore the natural treasures of the island of Ireland. On a recent visit I was delighted to see that old images are changing fast.

The last time I was in the North of Ireland was in 1994 I was accompanying Rt Hon Sir John Wheeler MP who was then Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office and I was his junior bag carrier a.k.a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS). It was impossible at that time for us to travel around Northern Ireland without the assistance of military helicopters or armoured convoys.

Then came the transformational initiatives of the Downing Street and Good Friday agreements and the wider peace process. As a result the ‘peace dividend’ is that British and international visitors are being drawn back to rediscover the extraordinary natural beauty of the Emerald Isle.

I arrived in Dublin on the final leg of a 500 mile solo charity walk on 20th August : 

I made my way up through County Meath staying in Ashbourne, Kells, Navan and then into County Cavan staying in Cavan and Virginia (containing some of the best fishing in Europe), then to Enniskillen in Country Fermanagh, Castlederg, County Tyrone, Lifford County Donegal and ended up in Derry walking across the Peace Bridge across the River Foyle uniting the previously divided communities and even squeezing in a visit to Giants Causeway (pic above).

Perhaps the most surprising places were:

Enniskillen seeing how it has been transformed from a scene of one of the worst atrocities of the troubles in 1987 when a bomb was detonated at a Cenotaph during a Remembrance Sunday service in 1987 and which is now better known as the spectacular location for the recent G8 Summit at Lough Erne (pic) in June of this year.   

Derry/Londonderry which is now the vibrant centre for the arts as the current UK City of Culture. What impressed me about the City was how it hadn’t brushed over the past but it was using it to illustrate the progress that was being made across divided communities towards a better future.

It wasn’t a case of ‘don’t mention the war’ political correctness, it was more a case of ‘ don’t forget to mention the peace also’. There was a love of political debate, especially in the Republic of Ireland which is having a referendum on the abolition of its Upper House of parliament, the Seanad at which I objectively expressed the concern that it might set a worrying international precedent!

On both sides of the border two names were treated with particular respect: H M Queen Elizabeth II for her visit to Dublin and in particular her remarks following the visit to Croke Park and Prime Minster, Rt Hon David Cameron MP for his apology following the ‘Bloody Sunday’ Inquiry and his decision to bring the G8 to Lough Erne.

Without being at all disrespectful to my fellow English countrymen and women I managed to walk from London to Heysham in Lancs without being stopped or engaged in conversation unless I was asking for directions, food or accommodation. On the island of Ireland I couldn’t stop people talking to me. They were immensely proud of their countryside, cuisine and culture and delighted to share it with others, even English Tories. But don’t take my word for it rediscover it for yourself

11 comments for “Rediscovering the island of Ireland

  1. Bumble Bee
    09/09/2013 at 5:02 pm

    I managed to walk from London to Heysham in Lancs without being stopped or engaged in conversation unless I was asking for directions, food or accommodation
    One gemntleman recently was trying to do the LE-Jog without being seen at all, which, the way he was doing it, would have been a fine achievement.
    To try to avoid being seen at all is one of the skills of a hermit, but to be a hermit and on the road is next to impossible!

    It is hard enough at home alone when the temptation to go out and be seen is curious for its ‘animal magnetism’. After a time you throughly resent seeing or hearing anybody, for months at a time. Carthusian reclusion is not for everybody.

    I, by contrast to the peer of the UK, took the ride from Carmarthen to Swansea in my continuing pilgrimage from St David’s to Rome. I really must take my passport with me next time, to be franked along the way.
    Wales in good weather is sensational; last year I chose the only fine day and this year I chose all of them. Doing 50 miles by pushbike with a broken leg is such an achievement that it can only mean that it is not broken any more.

    Perhaps next year I shall get to Westminster and ask the Archbishop’s office at Lambeth to
    stamp the passport and send me happily on my way to Canterbury. then there would only be another 1400miles to go.

    So far I might have impressed John Bunyan for going round in circles, and figments of imagination, Cervantes for going no more than three villages on a campaign of improving others, but not myself, and not Mark Twain for sailing around the world drinking and gambling with a crowd of friends.
    Chaucer? Dear Chaucer. His time will come!

    A pilgrimage is a journey of self improvement on the way to heaven!

    • MilesJSD
      09/09/2013 at 7:01 pm

      I disagree: a pilgrimage is a protestation in favour of an holistic life on Earth that has fallen by the wayside of Civilisational Progress and become overdue for its tryst with Heaven (on Earth).

      The ‘self-improvement*’ part had set in long before the probationer-pilgrim decided to put his/her feet to work and adopt the full role of “pilgrim”, and do so more wisely than did the Bunyanian hymn’s model-pilgrim,
      “He knows he at the end will life inherit”, which flies in the face of JC’s educational insight that (“)the Kingdom of Heaven is already here around and between you all(“).

      It’s also quite like the Lady Diana embarrassingly big-issue :-
      how many better qualified nurses and doctors could have gone greater-missioning given Diana’s available wealth and business-expenditures ?
      * The English farming community has long since recognised the ‘unproductivity’ of ‘walking time’;
      it is therefore to be seriously challenged whether pilgrimaging is bottom-line environmental-lifesupports-improving,
      and thereupon how it can have any claim at all to be ‘self-improving’.

      • Bumble Bee
        11/09/2013 at 5:43 pm

        The English farming community has long since recognised the ‘unproductivity’ of ‘walking time’;

        The most likely explanation for that is that they don’t like people walking across their fields along recognized footpaths however long they have been in existence.

        Mr JSD’s definition of pilgrimage sounds rather like the SAD/JW definition of the Bible. It entirely depends on MEANING, and has little to do with Tyndall or James 1st.

        • MilesJSD
          12/09/2013 at 9:10 pm

          Actually no, Bumble:
          the farmer was very necessarily concerned economically about the walking-time of his labourers who, although since time immemorial have always been multi-skilled, nevertheless take time to walk from one side of the farm to the other;
          such as when a breach in a hedge half a mile away has to be mended, by building back-in a few boulders taking only five minutes, but the walk there and back takes 20 minutes,

          the farmer’s budget-brain rightly calculates a dead-loss of 5 cows worth of milking time
          (and by hand this was; and nor was there any on-the-other-hand making a more positive allowance for the “in-one-small- space mere sitting-time”,

          nor for the secondary comfort of the weather-beaten ‘labourer’ gaining ‘free-warmth’ from leaning his face against the cow’s flank the while).
          In turn, just as Dr Joad used to be able to bring new vibrant scrutiny-energy to the surface of the BBC Home Service’s ‘Brains Trust’, by remarking facilitatively “It all depends what you mean by (pilgrimage)
          (or by ‘Bible’ – 66 Books ? and now should we include the three further ‘books’ recently discovered, as ‘Gospels’ [the word merely meant ‘news’] of Thomas, Mary-Magdalene, and Judas respectively ?))”

          and ensuingly
          (“)how can a definitional meaning, in mere words, yield up any actual body-sense and time-and-emotion experience or ‘imprinting’ [not in the ‘scientific’ Konrad-Lorenzian ‘sense’ but in the fleshly and neural sense of having been ‘conditioned’ by, caused to deeply register in one’s body-cells as ‘sensory- memories’, and caused to ‘real-life-integrate’ with, and ‘adapt’ to, the ‘thing’ or ‘event’ that in a separate timeframe is being [merely] verbalised ?

      • Bumble Bee
        15/09/2013 at 10:22 am

        I disagree: a pilgrimage is a protestation in favour of an holistic life on Earth that has fallen by the wayside of Civilisational Progress

        Miles is confusing the “Hitch Hiker’s guide to the Galaxy” with a pilgrimage. Idiotic! The guide, possibly like Lord Bates guide to planetary walking for charity, is only a guide; it is not a Pilgrimage at all. there is no sense of improving oneself, except perhaps in the sense of “faith, hope, and charity” being the main virtues, Charity is the highest. It goes nowhere fast!!

        I did see somebody in a Ford Prefect yesterday, but ‘Prefect’ is a human personality in ‘Hitchhiker’, so I did not even consider that the owner of the car was on a mission of self improvement to anywhere, and he was certainly only driving for his own pleasure. Allegorical charcater he may be, but that does not make Galactic travel a pilgrimage, far more a farce!

  2. MilesJSD
    09/09/2013 at 7:19 pm

    So the Irish are friendlier than the English ?
    Actually they have for thousands of years enjoyed prime benefit from their nearestness to the Warm Weather Conveyer Current, or Gulf-Stream; that is why they have such a positive “life-spirit”;

    and plainly shows, at least inductively if not categorically, that the more remote English have been blessed (French blesser = to wound) with less “spirit” to share.

    • maude elwes
      11/09/2013 at 10:43 am

      From my point of view, the Irish are better placed, in the round, to address the pros and cons of modern European lifestyle and cultural issues because they continue to have a basic sense of acceptable morality, driven by the continuing underpinning of their still thriving Catholicism. They remain distinctly Irish.

      Steeped in expectation of their continuing cultural norms. They may well be seen as having less ‘wealth’ (consumerism) as opposed to city fat cats of US and other incomers of the UK, but, that is only a facade used by government to pretend we are seeing ‘growth’ and an increase in the economic pie flaunted as proof of their worthiness to rule. How they believe the man in the street is going to suck on that old lollipop bears witness to a lack of connection to the ruled.

      The Irish retain that essence of basic normality long lost in the UK. Our culture has changed to such an extent we no longer have any sense of civility toward our fellow man, let alone a welcoming atmosphere to visitors.

      Politics in Ireland are far less PC and you can still speak more or less freely on matters that mean a great deal.

      Not to mention the rugged beauty of the place still as wild and free as it was when David Lean filmed on the coast of the Dingle Peninsular, sometime in the 70’s, to make Ryan’s Daughter.


  3. Senex
    12/09/2013 at 4:32 pm

    Ok, enough already of the Irish outreach!

    Guided tours of the Houses of Parliament are available free to UK residents when booked through an MP. You can also buy tickets for Saturdays all year round, and some weekdays during the Summer Opening period.

    Ticketmaster are offering a 20% discount for tours of Parliament from Tue Sep 17 to Fri Oct 4. Enter code MSE20 in the top left ‘enter offer code/password’ box.

    I wonder who the guides are; clerks on a break?

    Ref: Saturday and Summer Opening tours

    • maude elwes
      16/09/2013 at 12:16 pm



      Don’t be gone too long. You are too good to miss.

  4. Bumble Bee
    13/09/2013 at 6:39 pm

    I was sorry to hear of the death at fairly grand age of 88, of Barney, Lord Heyhoe whom I counted as a friend in the 1980s. He was just rather older than I, my being post war bulge, so had more sway with getting the jobs he wanted to get!

  5. Nazma FOURRE
    15/10/2013 at 4:46 pm

    Dear Lord Bates,
    So glad to hear you have been to Ireland and as far as I can deduce you fairly admire the sparkling Ireland. However,I hope someday, Irish Lords could help to rule the House of Lords in order to promote a united policy for both Northern and Southern Ireland for a better ruling of the country .

    God bless the United Kingdom. God save the Lords and the Queen.
    Nazma FOURRE

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