Travel Journal: Northern Ireland
Still, the powerful effect of the familiar was not lost on me as I saw my mom drive up in a rented car on the 20th of September, looking sleepless and nervous. Although I had only been away from home for a week, seeing my mom in person (instead of via Skype) somehow put the previous week into perspective for me. Almost as though this injection of the familiar verified that my previous experiences in Belfast were real. Almost as though I learned how to miss home for the first time when home followed me to Belfast. And, ironically, this grounding through familiarity, family and home incarnate marked the occasion of another venture into the unknown, as the next week would be spent travelling around Northern
Ireland and the Republic.
Our travels took us down precarious Irish roads, a fantastically unhelpful GPS directing us to turn down wrong or nonexistent roads. But the roads that did exist outside the imagination of this maddening device were punctuated with castles and ruins. I am firmly of the philosophy that if you have ancient ruins in your backyard, your “private property” sign is null and void. I only had the opportunity to exercise this philosophy once, when we came across a somewhat dilapidated tower in a backyard rising above the coast of Portrush, on the way to Derry...
Or Londonderry...it depends on who you ask. Our UK GPS considered the proper name to be Londonderry, so it sent us to a random location in County Derry instead. I wouldn’t become aware of the politically charged ballet one goes through when deciding which name to use for this religiously divided city for another couple of weeks, so my mom and I were utterly bewildered when we arrived in Cookstown, Derry. To complicate matters even more, when I programmed “nearest hotel” into our GPS, we were sent down a backcountry road that was nearly a tunnel of low branches and ferociously expansionist undergrowth. After several turns on this road, we pulled into a gravel drive beside a dark house. What now? I noticed a slight movement behind an opening in
the drapes, and an old man hobbled out.
“This isn’t the hotel is it?”
“No.” He looked at the two Americans before him, the time already 9:30 p.m. (which is, apparently, late in Cookstown), with a mixture of skepticism and amusement.
“Our GPS sent us here...”
“Oh, they do that all the time. What you want is the Tullylagan. Just follow the main road.”
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