There are a few stark differences between Ireland and the UK. For one, Britain has always ‘had money’ (comparatively), and it shows very clearly in the maintenance of roadways, castles and manor homes (to start). In this way, Scotland has had a financial advantage over Ireland.
Many generations ago, Scotland yielded itself begrudgingly (STILL begrudgingly, so you know!) to the ‘Union of Crowns‘.
The sacrifices Ireland has taken for independence have been great, human and financial. The result? On a surface level, from a traveller perspective (and saying nothing of the human cost) – the castles are primarily in ruin and mostly closed to the public (you could climb a fence onto private property, if you were so inclined – not that I am condoning such behaviour!).
Without an organization for assistance and the money for repairs, the responsibility for maintenance fell primarily upon owners who were in as much financial distress as everyone else – you are not worrying about castle and tower maintenance when your communities are starving.
Additionally, many of the roadways have NOT been retro-fitted for modern vehicles and are barely a lane wide. It was while in Ireland that we hit a pothole so deep that our car tire was completely shredded.
For a moment we thought about returning to the rental company to waste half a day (or more) dealing with getting a new car or tire, but instead we decided to put on the mini spare, and drive strictly at the speed limit it requested – below 80 km per hour (or 50 mph), and continue on with our tour.
A fort was developed in the area in the early 1100’s – and it didn’t always belong to Ireland – at one time in the 1400’s the Irish were not even welcome!
On a previous tour I took (alone) to Ireland, my guide explained to me the history of the stone walls. Some are ancient while others were built during the great famine of 1840. During that time, the region of Connaught was hit the hardest.
The Government (in London) had purchased food from America to disperse to the starving, but did not want to give ‘hand outs for free’. So they put the starving men to work building roadways and stone walls.
Work that the men generally felt was meaningless and degrading, but necessary so they could provide their families with meagre food rations handed out at the end of a ‘productive’ work day.
They would call these the ‘famine walls’. From en.citizendium.org;
“At the same time a board of works would embark on a massive new road construction programme to provide employment for the rural poor – this eventually culminated in the much despised ‘famine walls’ built up throughout the country, but particularly in the hills and mountains of the west of Ireland, where walls were built solely to provide work to peasants in return for food. More often than not these stone walls provided no economic or infrastructural benefit, but were built anyway.”
As beautiful as they are, many Irish look at the stone walls with disdain and negative emotion. Truly they are a reminder of a very difficult time that will not soon be forgotten.
There are a few side benefits of Ireland’s historical financial struggles, the same ‘benefits’ can be seen in a few communities here in Canada as well – some of the architecture has remained virtually unchanged since being built.
In our local town New Westminster BC (which also experienced a long financial crisis), there are subdivisions of beautiful, original 100+ year old homes still standing (OLD for Canada!) – where other, more prosperous neighbourhoods in nearby cities, were torn down and replaced in the booming (architecturally hideous, if I may say so) 1970’s.
For Ireland this translates to original 400 year old thatched roofs – which we were about to see a lot of!
Additional photos in the slideshow.
- Irish famine (en.citizendium.org)
- History of Galway (wikipedia)
- Formation of the UK (wikipedia)
- Tourizm Maps (Ireland-map.co.uk)
- Belfast (IRL ’10 Prt 1) (habitualrunaway.wordpress.com)