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ReportsSaturday, 7 July 2001
Galway (IRL) --> Dungiven, Northern Ireland (UK) After my third night in Galway, it was time to move on again. My next destination would be in another country: Northern Ireland, however part of the United Kingdom. On the road in a bus, this time.
My Dutch host Onno told me I’d better get a coach/bus to go there, because it was just too long to hitch. And he insisted to pay for it.
Around noon I said goodbye to Onno and got on the Irish Bus up north. So I passed the west coast city Sligo and the bus went all the way along the Northern Irish border and crossed the border all the way in the north near Derry (only by English called Londonderry).
Just before the bus crossed that border, the bus had a breakdown in Letterkenny. Fortunately the bus just left from a bus stop and it was not in the middle of nowhere.
The driver kept on trying to get the bus started again, but it would die away every time. He came up to the ten passengers left on the bus and said: “Sorry, but you’ll have to bear with me. Another bus will be here in twenty minutes.”
And nobody made a big point of it, even though the bus had travelled over 4 hours. It was a good time for everybody to have a cigarette break. Nobody had a rush or anything.
The bus driver even told me that this bus has problems every three weeks. It gets repaired and back on track again. “I think this bus just doesn’t like roads,” he said.
Twenty minutes later another bus came over and we reloaded the luggage from the other bus. Everybody got in and the trip continued as nothing had happened.
In Derry I got off the bus at 6.10pm (over 6 hours later) and within twenty minutes my host from Dungiven collected me from the bus station.
His name is Brian, and he is the warden of a hostel in Dungiven. Actually the manager Johnny invited me, but he was away for the weekend.
Within one half an hour we neared our destination and it was on the little motorway towards Dungiven when Brian pointed at a hill. “Do you see that castle?” Yes, I said.
“That’s where we are going.”
Yes, as we drove upon the parking lot at the back of the castle I could really believe it. I would stay as a guest in the Dungiven Castle!
The history of the castle begins in the 1600s’ but very little of the original stonework remained and the existing building dates back from 1839. And during the World War II the castle provided living quarters for American soldiers and it was a popular dance hall.
However in the early 1980’s it had fallen into ruin and was due for demolition. A local petition luckily prevented this and in 1989 the community took it over, later applying for funding to restore the building.
With money from the European Union and even of the National Lottery the renovation work began in 1999 and was completed in 2000.
From April 2001 the castle is now a low-budget, self-catering accommodation, offering 40 beds in various rooms in the castle.
And I was really amazed when I carried my backpack inside and Brian gave me a little tour. There is a Reading Room, Dinning Room, a Living Room (with television), one big fully equipped kitchen.
I got a free king size bedroom in one of the towers, with a breathtaking view across the valley and towards the Sperrin Mountains.
Just along the castle in the front garden three fantastic wooden sculptures depict the story of Finvola the Gem of the Roe.
I might be promoting this castle hostel too much, but I have absolutely all reason for that. Have you ever stayed in a castle before?
In the warden’s area in the castle, I met Brian’s wife Eileen. After some I calmed down because of the impressiveness of it all, Elena made a great meal for dinner.
After dinner a reporter of the local Dungiven newspaper came over and have an interview with me. He was a real Northern Irishman, talking vry fst (very fast). He really gave me a hrd tme t undrstnd, but eventually he could make a good story out of my stories.
Brian and Eileen couldn’t leave the castle as they were the wardens of it, but they encouraged me to look around town that evening. So what started of with taking a outside breath for some thirty minutes, ended up four pints of Guinness and three hours later when I left the closed premises of the local pub, the Arcade Bar.
I walked along the main street of Dungiven and with the 10 Irish Punts, which Onno had given me with a pack of cigarettes, I liked to visit a local pub and have a drink.
I heard live music in the Arcade Bar and got in. It was not fully crowded, but pleasant, one man and a lady where performing popular music. They had the music coming out of their mini discs and sung with it, so it looked like they were very professional karaoke singers. But the man’s Tom Jones imitation sounded pretty good.
I got myself a pint and sat down on one of the benches there, looking at the singers and glaring at the youth public at the pub.
After a while I was invited to join a group of them at this table and they got very interested in me as I was somebody from Holland! When they heard that I was travelling around the world for free, the story just had to go around in the pub.
The guys were very smashed by the alcohol and having a lot of fun, they must have been in here for a while. And one big brother of one of the young guys was looking around with sleepy eyes and leaned on the high round table.
A girl from the group shared a round of drinks and passed me another pint. I saw the big guy next to me wake up and finish the last drops of his previous drink. But he totally had it and placed the glass on the table that it broke in million little pieces of glass. BANG! I was happy I looked away at that moment, but as I could see the glass was made of safe glass, like car windows.
The drunken guy had moved backwards and looked at the situation he had created and then noticed his wrist was bleeding heavily. The glass wasn’t that safe for him…
From his arm is glowing eyes went to me, as I caused all that. In the ten seconds I expected to be knocked down by him, his younger brother pushed him away which made him fall on the ground.
The breaking of the glass, the blood and the fall had waken some steady customers in the bar and most of them were already clearing the area and trying to settle things out.
With Drunken Guy on the floor, the group I had joined on the high round table excused themselves for the situation and left the pub, probably too embarrassed or just scared of what was going to happen.
With all the glass around, I just moved a couple of seats and ended up at the bar.
The barmaid, named Lisa, asked me – fully concerned – if I was okay, which I was. I was only very surprised about what just happened. The maid told me that this happens only once a month and it was a pity I just had to experience that.
During the whole thing the singers kept on karaoke-ing and playing their mini discs, even singing music from the Vengaboys in Irish accents…
The rest of the night was very interesting. I talked around with the steady customers and enjoyed to see the Local Limp dancing on with another Local Drunk on this square metre dance floor.
It currently is a tensed time in Ireland. On July 12 the Protestants of the Orange order start to do their marches through the cities. The Protestants celebrate the King of Orange’s defeat of the Catholics (centuries ago!!!) and the Catholics just have to live with that. Add a little bit of alcohol and the most unexpected things can happen in a blink of an eye.
Around 2 o’clock the bar was closed and the moustached little manager of the bar created a lock-in, where the bar still serves to everybody who is inside. I joined a group of elderly who started to sing songs and of course I had to join them.
Together with the Local Limp, who had become the Local Fully Drunken Limp, I sang The Wild Rover, the only Irish drinking song I know a few words from…
It was time to go back to the castle again, just a few blocks up the hill. The streets were empty and the moon was shining bright. Even though something exiting happened, I had a great night at the Arcade!
Back at the castle I crawled into my tower bed and slept like Cinderella would have done…
Good night Dungiven!
A sign behind the bar in the Arcade:
“Please do not ask for credit as refusal may cause offence.”
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