We’ve got an Amazon order coming to Belfast and mail arriving in Kilkeel and while we wait for delivery we’re spending a few days acclimating to a new environment and especially to a new language and culture. Right away we discovered that here in Northern Ireland people need only a smile and hello to launch into a wide-ranging conversation laced with humor, peppered with stories, and always including suggestions on places we must see and a litany of where they’ve been in America. We feel very welcome.
We’re reminded again how small this country is and a few miles hither or yon reveals a completely different view. Our ferry took us north of Belfast and we’re delaying driving south into the city until we get delivery confirmation from Amazon. A friendly fellow at our first randomly chosen parkup nominated a more scenic location two miles up the road and wouldn’t you know it, the next day he knocked on the door to say he was happy we found the new place. Do we feel stalked? Not a bit. We had another easy conversation before he and his dog meandered back down the beach. “See you next time,” he said.
It’s time for laundry and we need an ATM so we drove to Whitehead where we can park overlooking the sea, do the laundry, get some cash and pick up a few groceries. We couldn’t find the ATM and asked a passerby for directions. He didn’t know but instead of wishing us luck he enlisted others nearby and before long the committee sent us off in the right direction. I love it here.
We awoke to thick fog but after sitting in the van for a couple of days we need to stretch our legs. The Blackhead Lighthouse cliff walk will shake out the kinks and we set off as the fog started to lift.
If you search Google Maps for Blackhead Lighthouse in Whitehead, Northern Ireland, and activate Street View, you can take the same walk we did along the sea wall.
By the time we headed back to the van the fog had nearly burned off and we got to see the lighthouse in all its sunny glory.
We timed our arrival in Belfast to the delivery of our Amazon order but I have other reasons for spending time here. Like many Americans in the Mid-Atlantic region, I have a lot of ancestors from Northern Ireland. The relevant genealogical records available online are spotty and I’m hoping the archives in Belfast will help me break through a couple of family history brick walls. I warned Jack that I’d be spending some time in front of a microfilm reader and he’ll need to amuse himself for a while.
The archive is a beautiful building and I registered for a visitor pass — valid for ten years! — then settled in to the main research room with a notebook, my iPad and a pencil in a clear plastic bag. I love the rules and rituals of an archive. A few other researchers and a librarian helped me get oriented and I set to work. After plowing through the search-only catalogue and a dizzying six hours reading microfilm of handwritten 18th and 19th century parish records I came to the disappointing conclusion that I‘m not going to experience the joy of finding the exact records that bridge the gap between Philadelphia and Northern Ireland. I’m going to need a new strategy.
Back at the ranch, we found a fantastic parkup right on the water where we can watch the comings and goings of boats large and small and, of course, have lively conversations with anyone who passes by.