A fast-paced tour of the six counties of Northern Ireland.
In 1997, British journalist Fletcher (Almost Heaven, not reviewed) was assigned by the Times of London to cover the peace talks between Irish Protestants and Catholics. While his family lived safely in Belfast’s suburbs, he criss-crossed the country. He begins along the east coast, where the population is declining despite the natural beauty and relative peace. Donaghadee, “a town as pretty as its name,” has lost its seaside tourist trade to the inexpensive beaches of Spain with their guaranteed sunshine. The eerie Mourne Mountains, which inspired C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, have a man-made 20-mile stone walkway at their base. Fletcher has a taste for the rich and famous. He visits Van Morrison's modest childhood home in East Belfast. He interviews touring flutist James Galway, who fled the Troubles to settle in Switzerland. At the Portora Royal School, he views portraits of Oscar Wilde and 1923 cricket-squad member Samuel Beckett. Inland, Fletcher finds unique Irish activities. In Portadena, he listens to large Protestant men beat 40-pound Lambeg drums, trying to pick up subtle differences in their resonances. In Armagh, he follows two road-bowling matches, during which men roll and spin 28-ounce iron balls from town to town in as few throws as possible. He goes eel fishing, a traditionally Catholic occupation, on Lough Neagh; the prized catch is frozen and shipped to connoisseurs in Holland and Germany. Few pages pass without reference to the Troubles. While the peace accord of Good Friday 1998 seems to be holding, mothers remember their murdered sons and husbands, communities mourn their lost children, and the wounded heal from devastating injuries. Lovely poetry from the famous and the obscure conveys the Irish heartache.
Innumerable anecdotes, scenic vistas, and local events, mostly interesting, punctuated by horrific car-bomb explosions.