|A proud Orangeman warily eyes a pair of thrill-seeking tour guides.|
Every month we feature funny or inspiring anecdotes from Rick Steves' tour alums. If you have a true tour tale to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a photo that illustrates it, please attach it. Don't forget to tell us which city and state you live in. We'd love to hear from you!
This month's tale gives us a glimpse of what tour guides do for fun between tours (haven't you always wondered?).
Tour Guides and Orangemen
Times have changed in Northern Ireland. Since the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998 (one of America's foreign policy successes) this divided society in the beautiful Northeastern corner of Ireland has made truly progressive leaps forward.
One example of this is the change of attitudes relating to the annual Orange Marching season. From Easter Monday to the first Sunday in September, up to 3,000 colorful and noisy marches take place across Ulster's streets and country lanes to celebrate the victories of Protestant King William over Catholic King James II in 1690. So many marches, in fact, that it's led some of Northern Ireland's Catholics to suggest that the Orangemen's calendar is January, February, March, March, March..!
Only a decade ago, these processions (organized by the semi-secret and exclusively Protestant Orange Order) brought Northern Ireland to the brink of all-out inter-community violence. These days, the Orangemen are trying to re-package their marches as tourist attractions and cultural pageants.
On the 12th of July, two of Rick Steves' guides — Andy Steves and myself, Northern Ireland-born Stephen McPhilemy — hopped the early morning train from Dublin to Ulster (on which we were practically the only passengers), venturing North on a 2-hour journey through idyllic and rolling green farmland, to the birthplace of the Titanic: Belfast. There we sampled firsthand the Orange Order's main parade, with an estimated 200,000 participants and cheering supporters from among Ulster's pro-British majority community.
Andy and I witnessed no violence, although we believe many tourists would be intimidated by the high levels of drunkenness and ultra-nationalism on display. Back in a Dublin pub later that night, over a couple of pints of Guinness, we agreed with sentiments expressed in the Belfast Telegraph's editorial: "The Twelfth is a huge cultural event, and while it can never be inclusive, there is no reason why it should not be enjoyable."
— Stephen, somewhere in Ireland
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