Galway, Belfast, Dublin
Apeteceu-me vaguear longe de casa! Assumi que queria passear, simplesmente ir, disparar o obturador, demorar-me onde calhasse e regressar (o regresso faz sempre parte da viagem). Foquei-me na Irlanda já antes secundarizada por outras escolhas. Suportei-me nas abençoadas previsões meteorológicas e nos interessantes preços da época baixa... Nunca paguei o aluguer de um carro tão barato!
De Dublin, onde aterrei, conduzi “à inglesa” até Galway. A habituação ao volante do lado direito não é demorada mas o carro “escorrega” inevitavelmente para a lado mais sensato da estrada (o direito)!
A primeira impressão de Galway contaminou-se por um pormenor que negligenciei antes da partida: os dias são curtos. As horas de sol escasseiam e cedo o dia se transformou em noite. Encontrei a cidade escura, sem pessoas e com poucos estabelecimentos abertos. Algumas almas exibiam-se pelo mercado de natal na Eyre Square apesar da época natalícia ainda não ter chegado.
Regressei de manhã para não gravar aquela imagem na memória. As ruas estavam finalmente poluídas com trânsito, as pessoas tomavam o pequeno-almoço apressadas e as lojas começavam lentamente a despertar. Faltou sal na cidade estudantil anunciada pelo guia digital. Não demorei a sentar-me no carro e apontar para os Cliffs of Moher que optei por visitar em alternativa à zona de Connemara a norte. Na viagem, atravessei The Burren, uma área rochosa, e passei por Doolin, onde não encontrei uma bebida quente.
Os Cliffs of Moher mereceram a visita. Os penhascos são, especialmente pela sua extensão, belos. As varandas para o mar não cansam e prolongam a caminhada. Mas a beleza natural não tem acesso livre: é bem paga. Não é possível parar o carro fora dos parques vedados (como honrado português obviamente tentei) e a entrada no estacionamento inclui o bilhete de acesso à área. É um roubo mas a simpatia sexagenária do atendimento desincentiva o protesto... É assim, assim seja... Talvez com mais uns cobres construam um passadiço para evitar a lama.
Aproveitei a luz natural, enquanto existiu, e demorei-me. Iniciei o trajecto até à Irlanda do Norte apenas com paragem para jantar, abastecer e comprar um balde de café aguado que me acompanhou à pendura. Após uma noite rejuvenescedora, em Belfast, rumei a norte com destino à Giant’s Causeway que é maravilhosa. Repetiu-se o estratagema do estacionamento ganancioso mas desta vez beneficiei de uma visita guiada razoavelmente interessante.
Demorei horas, não sei quantas, a saltitar entre as colunas de rochas, umas quase hexagonais outras nem tanto, sem reparar no frio. A paisagem é matematicamente fabulosa e a sua entrada no mar fez-me desejar mergulhar nas profundezas. A justificação científica para o fenómeno (que se repete pelo mundo) é complexa mas o resultado final é simples e deslumbrante. Existem lendas que simplificam a explicação e que denunciam uma rivalidade milenar com os escoceses.
Ainda na costa norte tentei visitar a Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge e segui para Cushendun onde cheguei já sem sol. Regressei a Belfast e jantei pelo centro escuro.
A deambulação por Belfast, no dia seguinte, foi assombrada pela ameaça de chuva que nunca se materializou além de uns chuviscos. Depois da zona central, com mais um mercado natalício na Donegall Square, passei pelo subdesenvolvido George’s Market que se intitula “UK Best Large Indoor Market”. Não há motivos que justifiquem eufemismos: parecia uma feira da década de 50 (do século passado) de uma cidade periférica.
A oferta turística de Belfast não é vasta e rapidamente se salta da Victoria Street para o Albert Clock Memorial. Aborrecem os repetitivos convites para o Titanic Tour que naturalmente não me seduziram apesar do sugestivo slogan: “built by the irish, sunk by the english”.
O fascinante da cidade encontra-se nos bairros que durante anos abriram noticiários. A rivalidade entre católicos e protestantes é muito mais do que uma questão religiosa. A divergência principal reside nas bandeiras içadas entre os que defendem a permanência no Reino Unido e os independentistas que se sentem mais irlandeses.
Há um muro imensamente alto, a Peace Line, que permanece erguida mas cujos portões estão agora abertos entre as duas comunidades. De um lado, ao longo da Falls Road, os católicos semeiam homenagens às vitimas da luta pela independência. Do outro, na Shankill Road, as fachadas dos edifícios pintam-se com as cores da Union Jack e com imagens da rainha inglesa. De ambos os lados existem extremismos e como sempre a virtude estará no meio termo. As vizinhas avenidas, quase paralelas, são incomparáveis e valem uma ida a Belfast.
Terminei a estadia na cidade com uma tentativa de visita ao Belfast Castle. Nem era um castelo, nem estava no topo de uma colina, nem estava aberto... Abasteci e apontei as agulhas do GPS para Tallaght, nos arredores de Dublin, onde pernoitei.
Vagueei por Dublin ao amanhecer. Comecei com uma caminhada pelo St. Stephen’s Green (evitei o mercado de natal), segui para a Merrion Square, passei pela National Gallery e pelo Trinity College e misturei-me com a multidão nas avenidas O’Connel Street e Henry Street. Finalmente encontrei gente! Subi até ao Garden of Remembrance para depois descer até ao famoso Temple Bar... Percorri a zona envolvente e caminhei para a Guiness Storehouse encontrando pelo caminho o Dublin Castle e a catedral.
Tentei, em vão, visitar a prisão Kilmainham Gaol: entradas esgotadas. Alimentei-me num bar, para acompanhar o pint de Guiness e despedi-me do dia e da viagem a fotografar as cores da ponte Samuel Beckett.
Deslumbrei-me, durante a viagem, com a promoção turística irlandesa que com poucos ovos cozinha imensas omeletes. Não se destacam abundantes pontos de interesse mas as cidades adornam-se com as jóias que possuem e exibem-nas com um orgulho de louvar.
Apesar dos 1.296 quilómetros carburados no Ford Fiesta (quase o dobro do programado) criei a imagem de uma Irlanda pequena, mas orgulhosa da sua identidade (com destaque para o incompreensível idioma gaélico).
Northern Ireland (wikipedia.org)
Northern Ireland was created in 1921, when Ireland was partitioned between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland by an act of the British parliament. Unlike Southern Ireland, which would become the Irish Free State in 1922, the majority of Northern Ireland's population were unionists or loyalists, who wanted to remain within the United Kingdom, most of whom were the Protestant descendants of colonists from Great Britain; however, a significant minority, mostly Catholics, were nationalists or republicans who wanted a united Ireland independent of British rule. Today, the former generally see themselves as British and the latter generally see themselves as Irish; some people from both communities describe themselves as Northern Irish. Historically, Northern Ireland was marked by discrimination and hostility between these two communities.
Good Friday Agreement - 10 April 1998 (wikipedia.org)
The Agreement was made between the British and Irish governments and eight political parties or groupings from Northern Ireland: the Ulster Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, the Ulster Democratic Party and Labour. The Agreement acknowledged:
i. That the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom; that a substantial section of the people of Northern Ireland, and the majority of the people of the island of Ireland, wished to bring about a united Ireland. Both of these views were acknowledged as being legitimate.
ii. The agreement reached was that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. Should that happen, then the British and Irish governments are under "a binding obligation" to implement that choice.
iii. Irrespective of Northern Ireland's constitutional status within the United Kingdom, or part of a united Ireland, the right of people in Northern Ireland "to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both" (as well as their right to hold either or both British and Irish citizenship) was recognised. The two Governments also agreed, irrespective of the position of Northern Ireland: "the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities".
The Troubles (wikipedia.org)
The Troubles, starting in the late 1960s, consisted of about thirty years of recurring acts of intense violence between elements of Northern Ireland's nationalist community (principally Roman Catholic) and unionist community (principally Protestant) during which 3,254 people were killed. The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the discrimination against the nationalist minority by the dominant unionist majority. From 1967 to 1972 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, modelling itself on the US civil rights movement, led a campaign of civil resistance to anti-Catholic discrimination in housing, employment, policing, and electoral procedures. As early as 1969, armed campaigns of paramilitary groups began, including the Provisional IRA campaign of 1969-1997 which was aimed at the end of British rule in Northern Ireland and the creation of a new "all-Ireland", "thirty-two county" Irish Republic.
Bobby Sands (wikipedia.org)
In 1972, Robert Gerard "Bobby" Sands (Irish: Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh; 9 March 1954 - 5 May 1981) joined the Provisional IRA. He was arrested and charged in October 1972 with possession of four handguns found in the house where he was staying. Sands was convicted in April 1973 sentenced to five years imprisonment and released in April 1976. Upon his release from prison, he returned to his family home in West Belfast, and resumed his active role in the Provisional IRA. Sands and Joe McDonnell planned the October 1976 bombing of the Balmoral Furniture Company in Dunmurry. The showroom was destroyed but as the IRA men left the scene there was a gun battle with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Leaving behind two wounded, Seamus Martin and Gabriel Corbett, the remaining four (Sands, McDonnell, Seamus Finucane, and Sean Lavery) tried to escape in a car, but were arrested. In 1977 the four were sentenced to 14 years. Immediately after his sentence, Sands was implicated in a ruckus and spent the first 22 days "on boards" (all furniture was removed from his cell) in Crumlin Road Prison, 15 days naked, and a No. 1 starvation diet (bread and water) every 3 days. In prison, Sands became a writer of both journalism and poetry, with work published in the Irish republican newspaper An Phoblacht. In late 1980 Sands was chosen as Officer Commanding of the Provisional IRA prisoners in Long Kesh, succeeding Brendan Hughes who was participating in the first hunger strike. Republican prisoners organised a series of protests seeking to regain their previous Special Category Status which would free them from some ordinary prison regulations. This began with the "blanket protest" in 1976, in which the prisoners refused to wear prison uniform and wore blankets instead. In 1978, after a number of attacks on prisoners leaving their cells to "slop out" (i.e., empty their chamber pots), this escalated into the "dirty protest", wherein prisoners refused to wash and smeared the walls of their cells with excrement. The 1981 Irish hunger strike started with Sands refusing food on 1 March 1981. Sands decided that other prisoners should join the strike at staggered intervals to maximise publicity with prisoners steadily deteriorating successively over several months. The hunger strike centred on five demands: 1. the right not to wear a prison uniform; 2. the right not to do prison work; 3. the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits; 4. the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week; 5, full restoration of remission lost through the protest. The significance of the hunger strike was the prisoners' aim of being declared political prisoners (or prisoners of war) as opposed to criminals. Sands died on 5 May 1981 in Maze prison hospital after 66 days of hunger-striking, aged 27. The original pathologist's report recorded the hunger strikers' causes of death as "self-imposed starvation", later amended to simply "starvation" after protests from the dead strikers' families. The coroner recorded verdicts of "starvation, self-imposed". The announcement of Sands's death prompted several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people lined the route of Sands's funeral. In response to a question in the House of Commons on 5 May 1981, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, "Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims".
Participants who died on the 1981 Irish hunger strike (wikipedia.org)
Bobby Sands - 1 March to 5 May - 66 days; Francis Hughes - 15 March to 12 May - 59 days; Raymond McCreesh - 22 March to 21 May - 61 days; Patsy O'Hara - 22 March to 21 May - 61 days; Joe McDonnell - 8 May to 8 July - 61 days; Martin Hurson - 28 May to 13 July - 46 days; Kevin Lynch - 23 May to 1 August - 71 days; Kieran Doherty - 22 May to 2 August - 73 days; Thomas McElwee - 8 June to 8 August - 62 days; Michael Devine - 22 June to 20 August - 60 days.
Legend of Finn McCool (wikipedia.org)
As the Legend of Finn McCool goes - Finn was a giant of a man who protected Ireland against all invaders. The Prince of Ireland had a Scottish rival, a giant by the name of Benandonner. One day Finn McCool decided that he would challenge his rival in battle so he decided to build a causeway to Scotland. When the work was completed, the Giant Causeway stretched from North Antrim to Staffa. Benandonner, the Scottish giant, accepted Finn McCool’s invitation to walk across the causeway and fight for supremacy. As Benandonner appeared over the horizon, Finn McCool realised to his horror that he had taken on a rival much larger than himself. He panicked and raced home to his wife, Oonagh and asked her what he should do. The quick thinking Oonagh got a vast cradle made, disguised Finn as a baby and got him to curl up in the enormous cradle. As Benandonner approached, he saw this huge ‘child’ and took fright. “My God”, he said “if the babies are this size, what would the rest of them be like!” Benandonner thundered back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway along the way. Behind Every Man is a Smart Woman!