29 June 2000

"Over to Bangor and down to Newcastle"

Day 4

Our day again began with breakfast at The Old Inn. We both started out with juice and toast, with Jeremy ordering 2 soft-boiled eggs. I decided that I would try an "Ulster Fry" breakfast. When it arrived, it came with eggs, bacon, tomatoes, a potato cake, soda bread, mushrooms and sausage. It was a lot more than I was used to for breakfast, but the whole meal was very good. When we completed breakfast, we went back to our room to finish getting ready and then went out into the entrance lounge to wait for David Bleakley. (Clicking here opens a new window.) When he arrived, we noticed that many of the people at the hotel seemed to know him. We sat and visited for about 20 minutes in the lobby and then left in his car headed toward Bangor. 

David was very friendly, being both talkative and also very informative. He told us that he had come to know C.S. Lewis personally while he was a student at Oxford just after World War II. We heard how they had sometimes traveled together on the ferry from Liverpool back to Belfast during school vacations. Like Lewis, David had been born in Strandtown in East Belfast. But unlike Lewis he was born to working class parents. Several in his family had worked in the Strandtown area as servants in the "Big Houses" like "Little Lea." According to David the two had first met in the ĎCadenaí cafe at the Oxford Cornmarket when Lewis overheard David ordering coffee and asked him what part of Belfast had given him that accent. From that point their friendship over the years grew very close. Though David did tell me that this friendship had never really brought him to the place where he felt comfortable enough to call C.S. Lewis by name "Jack," the name that family members and many others close to him had come to call him. I do remember David referring several times, though, to Lewis as "my good friend." Before coming on my trip, I had read Davidís book, C.S. Lewis - at Home in Ireland (Clicking here opens a new window.), and already knew much of what he told us. But actually meeting him and hearing him tell the stories was still a very marvelous experience, and seemed to make them even better.

Just as we were leaving the parking lot at The Old Inn, David pointed to "The Postage Stamp," a coffee shop just next to the parking lot and told us that Lewis and his life-long friend,  Arthur Greeves used to meet there for coffee each morning. From there they would then walk up the hill on Ballymauran Street to house #21, "Silver Hill," where Arthur lived after he had moved from his family home at "Bernagh" in East Belfast. David said that both Lewis and Arthur also used to walk up to Bangor, several miles away, resting on a bench in front of Bangor Castle and looking out over the sea. This was the same castle to which we were now headed that had become the Bangor Heritage Centre. As we continued our drive to Bangor, David told us that Lewis and his wife, Joy Gresham, would take the train between Bangor and Helenís Bay, sometimes worshipping at the Anglican church there in Helenís Bay. We had also known about the church at Helenís Bay, the Church of St. John the Baptist. I had forgotten to mention in yesterdayís journal that on the way back to Bangor on Wednesday night that we had gone through Helenís Bay, missing the church sign and passing it as we drove all over town looking for it. The funny thing is that we stopped our car near another car to which a man had just returned and asked him if he could tell us how to get to St. Johnís Church. He asked us back if we meant the local Church of Ireland, and we said, "Yes." He said, "Iíll do better. Follow me and Iíll take you right to it." He did and we followed him, with me getting out and taking some pictures. Thatís also how I discovered where the church sign was. This whole incident reaffirmed for us how here in Ireland everyone had been so friendly and helpful.

Back on our trip Thursday with David we found ourselves approaching Bangor with him pointing out to us two church steeples in the distance. One belonged to the church of Bangor Abbey that was first built around 555, and still is operating. The other steeple belonged to the Presbyterian Church. When we arrived in the city itself, we went to the Town Hall, originally built as Bangor Castle by the Ward family. Along with the official town offices there is a Heritage Centre museum, gift shop and restaurant currently inside the building. 

David knew and was known by most of the people at the Heritage Centre. It was our privilege for him to give us a guided tour of the various galleries. I was most impressed by the discussion of Celtic Christianity and the above mentioned abbey that had early been in Bangor, including a copy of an early map of the known world, called "Mappa Munde." He showed us where Bangor was listed on it.

In the next room we watched a 1959 black and white video of several families taking a chartered summer holiday trip from Belfast to Bangor. It was about 30 minutes long, somewhat humorous in spots and brought back to me memories of that year in my own life. Greatly influenced by American rock and roll, the background music on the video program reminded me of the popular songs from my first year in high school. We also recognized many of the places in the video like the marina area and the Pickie Fun Park which we had visited over the last two days; only the pictures were 41 years ago.

After watching the video we went over to the restaurant, really a cafeteria, that was in another part of the Town Hall and David graciously treated us to lunch. Jeremy had some ham and potatoes with vegetables, and I had filleted fish with potatoes and cauliflower. Both of us had tea. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable time, and David shared with us more about himself and his relationship with C.S. Lewis, his own burden for reconciliation in Ireland and some of his past political and church activities. Before attending Oxford he had been an engineering apprentice at the Harland and Wolff shipyard where his father had been a bricklayer and trade unionist. After attending Oxford he came back to Belfast and began his political career, eventually becoming a Labour MP and later serving as Minister of Community Relations in the Stormont Government in 1971. He described himself to Jeremy and me as a Christian Socialist, meaning someone, who out of Christian motivation, wants to make use of the state to bring social assistance to people who are homeless, unemployed and in poverty. Jeremy and David had a friendly disagreement over the role of capitalism. I also shared my concern about one generation after another being on welfare and not having the motivation to get off of it as long as they saw a handout coming each month in the form of a welfare assistance check. David has also written widely on peacemaking, has served as General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches and as President of the Church Mission Society. He is currently working on an autobiography to be titled, 50 Years Hard Labour.

After our meal we visited the gift shop and then went outside and walked around to the front of the building that looked out over the sea. David showed us a bench with a plaque on it dedicated to C.S. Lewis, mentioning to us again that Lewis and Arthur Greeves used to walk up to Bangor, to this very spot, and sit and look out over Belfast Lough. The dedication plaque also had on it a  definition of heaven that Lewis had shared with David during one of their walks in Oxford: "Heaven is Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of the County Down." Jeremy and I took pictures of both the building and the bench.

David next took us to visit the Bangor Abbey Church whose steeple we had seen on our way into down. After parking and getting out of the car, we  discovered that the doors were locked, but we still walked around and took some pictures of this church whose origin went back to 555. As David was driving us back to Crawfordsburn, he drove us by his own home on Thornhill Road and invited us to come back that evening and join him and his wife, Winnie, for tea. He also encouraged us to use our last afternoon there in Northern Ireland to drive down the eastern coast along the Irish Sea, returning about 7:00 p.m. to be with them. This sounded like a good idea, so when we arrived back at The Old Inn, Jeremy and I expressed our thanks, went to our room and relaxed a little while we discussed what we were going to do. I also discovered that the inn allowed its patrons to use their internet hook-up to send and check e-mail; so, I spent a few minutes sending a message out to Stephen, asking him to send me instructions to Crawfordsburn on how to access my e-mail on the KIH.net server from Great Britain. We then left the inn and headed east and south down what is called the A2 highway.

Most of what we saw at first was the beach along the Irish Sea. At one point we stopped along the coast and took some pictures. It reminded me a lot of being back home in Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay. When we reached Portaferry at the entry to the Strangford Lough, we had to take a ferry across the lough. I think it cost us about 5 pounds to travel a few hundred yards. We then headed back for Downpatrick again and stopped to check out some of the shops there. Since we had made good time to Downpatrick, Jeremy asked me if I wanted to go on down to the Mourne Mountains near Newcastle. I told him that since he was doing the driving, that it was up to him; so, we got back on the A2 headed that way. We were originally looking for the Mourne Mountains Countryside Centre, but could not find it. Since it was already past 5:00 p.m. when we arrived in Newcastle, their Tourist Information Centre was closed. We drove on around for a while but never could find the centre we were looking for. Finally, we stopped by the road and took some pictures of the mountain-side as it sloped down to the sea. The sky was hazy, but the view was still very beautiful.

As we were making our way down the coast, I had been reading the brochure that David had given to us, telling Jeremy as we drove, about the various attractions we might visit along the direction we had taken. On the way back to Bangor we decided to look for and possibly visit a castle located along the coast in Dundrum. When we turned off of the main road and found it, the groundskeeper, let us go in free because it was after 6:00 p.m., but both Jeremy and I made a small 20 pence contribution for a little guidebook about the castle. The place name Dundrum actually means "fort of the ridge" with the castle having been built on a prominent ridge that overlooks Dundrum Inner Bay. The original part of the castle went back to the Normans, having been built in 1177. It was then captured by King John in 1210, but was eventually spoiled by Cromwell in 1652. It was not excavated until 1950 and was placed in state care in 1954. Both Jeremy and I walked up to the keep and then went into it and up its narrow stairs and took several pictures all around the castle area until we had to leave to go back up to Bangor. On our return drive to Bangor we decided to drive on the other side of Strangford Lough, just so we could go back on a different road. As best as I can remember we arrived back at the Bleakleyís a little later than we had planned, somewhere around 7:30 p.m.

David and Winnie Bleakley turned out to be a delightful couple. She had been a teacher in the local school system and he, as I have already mentioned, was in politics and ecumenical church work. I also discovered that evening that they had both served a stint in Africa in Tanzania: he, doing college teaching and she, working in the YWCA. We began our visit just by talking about many subjects - one thing leading naturally to another- from their reconciliation work to C.S. Lewis. Sometimes it was hard to follow the details about some of the local political issues, but we understood and enjoyed most of it. After about an hour or so David said that he wanted to show and give me some things. As he was doing this, Winnie brought in tea. Along with the tea itself we were also served large crackers covered with vegetables and several kinds of cookies. It was all very delicious. We then finished reviewing the several things that he wanted to share with me, and that was when I gave him a copy of The C.S. Lewis Readersí Encyclopedia. He seemed very pleased, and I was able to show him some information that he needed from it. David also gave me a small autographed book that he had written back in 1972, Peace in Ulster. (Clicking here opens a new window.) I also asked him if he would autograph my copy of his recent C.S. Lewis book that I have already mentioned. He told us that someday he would like to have a place in Northern Ireland where people could come to study the life and works of C.S. Lewis. The four of us actually ended up talking together until around 11:00 p.m. Then, we closed it all by having prayer together. Jeremy and I said goodbye to them and we returned to The Old Inn.

At The Old Inn Jeremy went on to the room, but I stopped by the office to check to see if Stephen had sent me an e-mail. Yes, he had, and in it he shared with me what I needed to do in order to access my e-mail at KIH Online. I then also took some time to check out the obituaries in the Lexington Herald-Leader on the internet, went back to the room and was so tired that I fell asleep going over some of the papers that David had given to me. All in all, it had been a very wonderful day - seeing the sights and especially getting to know both David and Winnie.

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Last Updated: Sunday, September 02, 2001