[Feature photo: Giuseppe Milo]
Title: Beyond Belfast, Will Ferguson
The skinny: Offbeat, charming, and filled with humour and insight, Beyond Belfast is the story of one man’s misguided attempt at walking the Ulster Way, “the longest waymarked trail in the British Isles.” It’s a journey that takes Will Ferguson through the small towns and half-forgotten villages of Northern Ireland, along rugged coastlines and across barren moorland heights, past crumbling castles and patchwork farms.
Why you need to read it: Will Ferguson is like the Canadian Bill Bryson. You’re not supposed to make those kinds of comparisons in travel writing, but I just did. He’s one of my writing idols, and I had the pleasure of meeting him last year at the Writers at Woody Point Festival in Gros Morne, Newfoundland and Labrador.
He was sitting next to me. I was clutching a copy of “Beyond Belfast.” Finally I moved close enough to blurt out, “Will you sign my book?!” And we chatted quickly about my own ancestral research in Ireland. The inside of my book says, “To Candice, who knows Ireland well.” I’m not entirely sure if he was mocking me or not. It’s cool, either way.
What I love about Ferguson’s writing is his self-depreciative sense of humour. In his attempt to hike the Ulster Way, he often finds himself in odd situations or meeting weird characters. I won’t spoil it for you. At the same time, he puts out Ireland’s complicated history in an entertaining and clear manner. If you know anything about Ireland’s history, you’ll know this is no easy feat.
If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, this book will get you pumped up for pints of Guinness, blood sausage, and rainy afternoons on the coast.
What I learned: I’m glad I wasn’t the only person overwhelmed by Ireland’s history when I was visiting. It’s complicated. And although I was there to research my family history, I frequently felt like a fish out of water.
I could never entirely wrap my head around The Troubles and everything that happened in Ireland. Neither could Ferguson. “I could walk through bog and forest, city and village, could walk until I had beaten a trough in the soil, but I would never be able to walk my way into an understanding of any of this.”