Northern Ireland in a Cup

Originally posted on October 23, 2012


I saw the North Coast through the eyes of someone who adores it. That’s a special thing. It’s rare to experience somewhere alongside a friend who calls it home and boasts in deep appreciation of it. And we call Southerners hospitable? Try again. Head to the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. Head home.

Cup | Murphy’s Stout at “the rugby”: Ulster vs. Glasgow
Lauren and I hurried off the ferry, into her parents’ car, and straight to Pharoh’s, the family’s favorite chip shop in Belfast. We ate our fish ‘n’ chips by grease-soaked handfuls while power-walking to the stadium and shuffled into a standing spot as we joined the Ulster fan’s hallelujah chorus, “Stand uppppp for the Ulstermen.” (aka: SUFTUM, listen to this.) Lauren and I drank half pints of Murphy’s Stout as we rallied. Within my first hours in Northern Ireland I was eating fish ‘n’ chips, watching “the rugby” (as her dad called it), singing the anthem, and drinking an Irish stout. Needless to say, I was in good hands.

 

Plate | Chicken Fillet Kebab at The Wine Bar
Oh boy, this was the best meal of my trip. But I have to admit, I was just a few sips of Sauvignon Blanc away from not remembering it. Luckily, the food was that good. And so was the company. Lauren, Zara, and I met two of Lauren’s friends at The Wine Bar in nearby coastal Portrush. We waited two hours to be seated in a modern, red-lit dining room with order-at-the-counter service. We absolutely feasted. My chicken fillet (apparently pronounced fill-IT, not fill-AY) kebab came out on a hanging skewer dressed in my favorite Indian spices and dangling over a sampler platter of veg house salads. Cheesecake piled high with fresh berries for dessert, and I ate the entire thing. (I’m still a little bit confused about how I managed to do that. The idea of “sharing” somehow didn’t occur to any of us.)

 

Table | Gathering at The Rock, Portstewart Baptist Church
On our way to the Giant’s Causeway, Lauren took me to her church’s cafe that serves scones, buns, tea, and coffee on a donation-only basis every Saturday morning. The building beside Portstewart Baptist, Lauren’s church, used to be a pub, and it has seen quite the metamorphosis. Lauren, her Dad, and I sat down to be met by her mom, aunt, and “Nana” as we ate homemade scones. (Apple cinnamon for me.) Warmth oozed out of this place, and I caught a glimpse of why Lauren never quite feels at home in Scotland. Because she’s walked into this on Saturday mornings, and now I have too. This was true communion– scones and coffee, the elements.

 

Sight | Giant’s Causeway & White Park Bay
It was surreal to jump into a car and drive up the coastline to the Giant’s Causeway. I just forget that life still goes on around travel destinations, communities neighbor the Great Wall and some couples might go for a morning walk to the Grand Canyon.  In this case, Lauren lives on the Antrim Coast and drives friends past castles en route to the Causeway– a volcanic playground that’s on thousands of bucket lists and travel top tens. We walked across the hexagonal columns and up the cliff steps to a windy view of the rock-studded blue water. Later, we “paddled” (walking barefoot and ankle-deep) along White Park Bay, a beach that I could imagine Aslan walking down; it was quite Narnian. We walked up the hills on our right to wipe our sandy feet on that iconic green, green Irish grass. I laid down in a small sinkhole in the grass; it was a natural cradle.