Monday 16 September 2019

Edinburgh & Glasgow: A tale of two cities

Damien Corless visits Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland's twin flowers.


Ten years ago, in the light of a slight drop in the numbers of British people visiting Ireland, Bord Failte did a survey asking why this was the case. The answer was that the Brits thought that Ireland was "not foreign enough".

Perhaps that factor is in the mind too of Irish holidaymakers today when planning their next venture, that Scotland is somehow not foreign enough. But that line of thought would be mistaken. One of the fascinations of the country is that it provides an alternative vision of how Ireland might have turned out if history and geography had been tilted just a tiny bit.

A bit of history ...

For a start, Scotland is literally part of what we are. Sixteen hundred years ago, just after the time of Saint Patrick, it formed part of a sprawling Irish sea-kingdom. It is even named after us. The very name Scotland was originally the Latin word for Ireland, meaning "land of the Gaels". Just as the Romans shelved plans for invading the fierce Irish, they eventually thought the better of expanding into the land of our Gaelic cousins and built Hadrian's Wall as an early form of partition.

So what's to see?

Scotland's two principal cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, lie just a 40-minute train journey apart. And while the many autobiographies of Sir Alex Ferguson and the TV travails of Rab C Nesbitt might paint a picture of Glasgow as "grim up north", the opposite is the case. Glasgow today is booming and, in places, quite beautiful. The city is laid out along a series of broad, long streets, interspersed with elegant squares and family friendly green spaces the size of Dublin's St Stephen's Green. I visited for the start of last month's Commonwealth Games which had the city spruced up.

Cultural links ...

One of the cultural items shared between Irish football fans and those of Glasgow Celtic is the song The Fields Of Athenry, which sounds to some like an echo of ancient folk memory. In fact, The Fields was penned in the 1970s by Pete St John, making it just a few years younger than Flower Of Scotland. Remarkably, Scotland doesn't have an official national anthem. Written by Roy Williamson in 1967, the song has been adopted by Scots as their anthem of choice.

Flower of Scotland ...

And as to the undisputed flower of Scotland. Edinburgh is simply magnificent. Like Dublin, Cork or Galway, the city is eminently walkable, and around each corner lies a new visual treat. The city's wide thoroughfares inevitably bring you to a monumental square where the instinct is to just lounge and admire the surroundings.

That famous festival ...

The weather may be unpredictable in Edinburgh, but there's nothing left to chance when it comes to high-summer fun. In July the annual Jazz & Blues Festival takes over the place and no sooner has the music fest ended than the kings of comedy take over. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the epicentre of Planet Comedy.

Towering above the city is Edinburgh Castle atop the extinct volcano of the Castle Rock. This imposing fortress is Scotland's most-visited tourist spot, and with good reason. It is simply breathtaking, and not just because of the steep climb to get there. Scotland. It's a hoot.

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