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Belfast ! Bilfawst ! So Good I've named it twice.
Belfast in General
Member Name: sidneygee
Belfast in General
Date: 03/02/01, updated on 16/05/01 (341 review reads)
Advantages: The people, most friendly and hospitable.
Disadvantages: Tension because of the 'troubles'.
Operating as a Consultant, I have been visiting a client in the centre of the centre of Belfast since early 1997. I now visit there regularly, on a 4 to 8 week cycle, each visit taking from 3 to 5 days and so I reckon that I now know the city and its people pretty well.
The centre of Belfast is dominated by the City Hall (a photograph of which appears on the dooyoo category site) and, as soon as I leave the building in Donegall Square, where my client is based, I have this very familiar view right in front of me. I now have another client in Belfast, so continued attendance is ensured.
When I first acquired this client in Belfast, my wife, Heather, was none too keen on the idea. She seemed to imagine that Belfast would be like Beirut or Baghdad. However, I had spoken to others who had worked in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland and I felt that there would be little reason to worry as long as I stayed 'out of trouble' (in other words, if I 'kept my trap shut').
Travelling from Edinburgh is a doddle. I travelled once by ferry from Stranraer when i wanted to use the car over there (see the Giants' Causeway and travel down to Dublin - without having to use that fine body of men who serve as Dublin Taxi Drivers), but on all other occasions I have used the British Regional Airways service to Belfast CITY airport (sometimes called Belfast Harbour). This is not to be confused with Belfast International Airport, to the south of the city which also has flights from Edinburgh and the UK.
Anyway, I leave home at 06.20, get a taxi to Edinburgh airport, check in, the plane always leaves on time at 07.10 and we touchdown at 08.05. A taxi or bus will get me to the city hall before 08.45. Oh I wish that I could get to any of my ot
her clients (apart from one in Midlothian) so easily and quickly. The security checks at Edinburgh are just 'standard', except that you go through a 'dedicated gate' (gate 14) with a very suspicious police officer watching you as you go through. At Belfast, you often have to go through two security checks on departure. Your laptop computer has to be demonstrated (and don't pack a clock in the bottom of your case !). Also, a metal belt buckle is sufficient to set off the alarm. Once, I even removed my belt and held my trousers up when I went through (but still get 'frisked' !! - ooooh, they should give that job to the female security ....).
At present, I should say that there is one problem with this manner of travel and that is the aircraft used. They are the ATP twin engined turbo-prop. Now, I have never liked these aircraft and I will be posting the reasons why not in another opinion, but the aircraft being used are well-past their 'Do Not Use Beyond' date. The flights are now often full (on Friday 2 February both the 16.30 and 1920 flights from Belfast were both full booked with potential passengers on a reserve list) and the fare (£255 return) is surely sufficient to warrant something a little more salubrious and larger on this route?
The City airport is situated in East Belfast. Apart from a taxi to the city centre (£6 - £8) there is a rail service (which I have not yet used) and a bus service to the city centre. To reach the bus, you have a 5 minute walk, over the railway line at Sydenham railway station using the pedestrian bridge when you cross the road to the bus stop on Inverary Drive, next to the house with the bright yellow gable-end mural of the UDVF, so that you immediately know that this is "Protestant East Belfast". Up until last year, the mural was a detailed view of "William of Orange" on horseback.
The bus journey (95 pence) is useful to get the 'atmsop
here' of Belfast, seeing the schoolchildren, the shop workers, and the wifies all travelling into the city centre, past views of the large yellow cranes of the Harland & Wolff shipyard. You will see other evidence of 'Loyalist' sympathies with more military-style murals dedicated to the various factions and slogans ("Some gave all but all gave some"), and even kerbstones painted alternately red/white/blue as you pass along Newtownards Road to the City Centre.
Now the discount airline Go has just started services from Edinburgh to Belfast International and I have booked my next visit for £85 return (!).
As I understand it, there is a coach service from Belfast International Airport to the bus station next to The Europa Hotel, at about £8 return, so that can save on costs also.
Now, I don't ever wander far from the very centre of Belfast, so I do get a restricted view, and that only when I am in the city on Thursday evening (for late-night shopping) but what I have seen is slightly disappointing. On the main shopping street leading off Donegall Square North, there is a Marks & Spencer, a Boots, an HMV shop, a Virgin shop, a single Department store and ..... nothing... as you disappear up towards Royal Avenue.
Well, perhaps that is going too far - I understand that there are shopping malls close by but I have never had the time or inclination to seek them out. There are also a number of good smaller shops, and in particular a dedicated record shop on Adelaide Street (leading off Donegal Square South) which is always open late. I always examine this at every visit (and regularly buy 'Golden Oldies and Folk CD's at a fraction of the price at HMV or Virgin.). If you are into 'Designer Gear', there is a shop opposite the record shop that specialises in mens' designer clothes, and their Sale offers seem very good. I have bought items for my teenager son at 80% off li
st price in late January/early February and in late July.
Any tips from Belfast residents on other useful shopping experiences will be very welcome.
As indicated in my opinion on Belfast hotels, the quality of the hotel food is variable and where good (at the Europa) is expensive. If you want a good cheap meal, then "Shenanagans" on Adelaide Street fits the bill. It is a pub-restaurant with tables in alcoves on the first floor. A window seat looking out onto the Road is a bonus.
Substantial meals are available from about £5 - £10 and they are served quickly with humour by bright waitresses. Dublin-brewed Guinness can be bought in one pint bottles as a bonus.
Also on Adelaide Street there is the 'Scandia Restaurant' that is a little more expensive than 'Shenanigans', but with similar quality food (unfortunately without the pint bottles of Guinness). This a much more quiet venue than Shenanigans
If you ever just want a snack, then the Linen Hall Library (on Donegall Square North) is not to be missed. Entry is from Fountain Street (off Wellington Street off Donegall Square North) The snacks are very limited (with soup, sandwiches, buns, tea and coffee available at lunch-time), but there is a good atmosphere there, next door to the Reading room (the 'Northern Room). It has been 'refurbished' recently, and that was a mistake - Edwardian mahogany removed and modern 'light oak' effect installed. I am shocked that there wasn't a preservation order on this 'institution', but there are still plenty of paintings on the walls, and framed/unframed prints and map copies available for purchase
I regret the sub-title, but it is a fact of life in the province. Legislation tries to place discrimination on religious persuasion as a heinous crime and I believe that good progress is being made, even in the relatively short time that I h
ave been visiting the city. The building where I work has been bomb damaged on two occasions (well-before my first visit) and a large piece of shrapnel (part of a red-car bomb) is placed as a 'trophy' on my client's desk.
The only time that I have come across first hand evidence of someone being potentially harmed was where a Catholic Manager had (shall we call it) 'a nasty and dangerous chemical' put into his shoes (the older, 'comfortable', pair which he would wear whilst in work). In spite of the police being called in to investigate, no conclusions could be made as to who was the 'culprit', but you can imagine where the greatest suspicion lay ! And this is a real problem that I found - any evil being experienced by anyone being automatically blamed on members of the other religious persuasion.
Whenever there is an 'atrocity' committed, there is an 'atmosphere' in the building. Many of these atrocities do not merit a mention on the 'mainland', but there was a great deal of sadness and tension (on both 'sides') at the time of Omagh. Obviously I refuse to 'take sides', but if I ever had any 'wish list', then the removal of racial and religious intolerance would head the list. Unfortunately, I see no easy answer in Northern Ireland. Sectarian attacks continue in spite of well-intentioned attempted government action and just because we might not hear much about them in the media on the mainland doesn't mean that they aren't continuing. Indeed, with the amount of news about a new round of sectarian unrest occurring in Belfast at the time I was first writing this opinion, and examination of the newspapers issued in Edinburgh whilst I was away makes me wonder if there is 'suppression' of 'bad news from Belfast' in the mainland media.
There are two aspects of Belfast city life which I always find difficult to accept and which are a dire
ct result of 'the troubles'.
Since all of my activities are close to the City Hall, I cannot help but 'notice' the frequent continual 'drone' of the helicopter constantly hovering overhead, obviously engaged in ‘surveillance’. During the day it is mostly stationary right overhead , but during the night and early hours of the morning it operates at a lower altitude (and is hence louder) and there are frequent changes in position (when they are no doubt scanning particular parts of the city centre with their infra-red 'scopes). It always bothers me on the first night, but after that my brain seems to become numbed to the sensation (perhaps because of a build-up of the 'moderate' intake of pint bottles of Guinness at 'Shenanegans').
The general demeanor of the good officers of the RUC. I'm sorry but I cannot get used to the sight of men in a dark green uniform, literally 'swaggering' in the street with a revolver in a holster, swinging at their sides in the manner of the 'Wild West Show'. The quicker that this sight can be (safely) removed from the streets of Belfast, along with the 'snow gates' as I call them*, the happier I shall be.
Then I will be certain that the good people (i.e. the majority) really have managed to 'give peace a chance'.
*The gates used for closing off roads in the city centre to create check points or to isolate suspected car bombs look remarkably like those on the roads in Scotland that are designed to prevent traffic from using roads that are known to be blocked by snow in winter.
In spite of their 'troubles' the people of Belfast are invariably friendly, gregarious people who love good company and are generosity to a fault. Every bar that I have been into has resulted in long conversations and a great deal of interest in where I am from, what family I have and what I do All
you have to do to start a conversation with anyone in the bar is to stand next to them and make a few comments to the barsteward. In my experience, that is sufficient with all but the most miserable person.
As a confirmed Welshman when it comes to standing my round ("First to the bar, First in at a fight" is our motto - and I'll fight anyone who disagrees !!!), I doo have problems when dealing with the Belfast Irish who (in my experience, again) when in good company are always more than willing to stand their round.
If you want proof of what I have written here about the Belfast Irish, that part of Father Ted, when Mrs Doyle is fighting (using handbags as weapons !) with one of her cronies as to who should pay for their cup of tea (Put your money AWAY Mrs Doyle ! Oim Paying for the tea !!) describes their attitude exactly.
I should warn those of you do visit the province that the older people in particular are keen to get you to declare your side "Yes, but are yer a Catlick Welshman or a Proddy Welshman" (well perhaps not as blatant as that, but almost). The first question that they often ask is "Well, an what school did you go to ?". In Northern Ireland an answer like "St Joseph’s'" gives the game away immediately. The answer "Barry Boys Grammar Technical School" always confuses them, but they persist in their inquisitiveness.
The creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly caused me some (perhaps ill-placed) amusement.
Whenever I am in Belfast (or in any other city which I visit on business) I buy an evening newspaper. On 9th February 1999, there was a job advertisement that caught my eye and which I have 'dined out' on ever since. The advertisement was for a job with the Northern Ireland Assembly for a person fluent in Ulster Scots to assist in the production of the Ulster Scots version of the Hansard equivalent of the Assembly's proceeding
s. This advertisement was also duplicated in English, and thus allows a proper translation, and it is something that will require more than 1000 words to describe adequately (so I am not dooing it here !).
I have caused many of my friends to almost 'wet' themselves when I have given them a copy and proceeded to recite it myself out loud (and badly) with my "Ian Paisley Shout". Many believe that the advert is a joke and was actually published on 1sr April. However, I am assured by my more sober Belfast friends that it is not something that is joked about.
To just give you a taste. The advert opens with:
"It's noo apen fur tae pit in jab foarms fur tha ontak o Unner-Editor (Inglis an Ulster-Scotch) ....";
"Applications are invited for the post of Sub-Editor (English and Ulster-Scots) ...."
Well, I think you will get the picture from this excerpt.
Apparently, in order to deal with the Republican wishes on the Assembly, I understand that all documentation is duplicated in Gaelic. This upset the 'Loyalist' factions who insisted that all documents should also be produced in what is termed "Ulster Scots". In my opinion, "Ulster Scots" does not qualify as a proper language but only as a dialect (perhaps someone will tell me why I am wrong - if I am) and there now seems to be determined impetus to extend this 'dialect'. Indeed the last time that the Keltic Fiddlers toured Northern Ireland (see my opinion on Violins), their concerts were recorded by Ulster TV to feature in a program dedicated to the "Ulster Scots and their Language".
Anyway, I am getting away from the point here. The point is that it is the UK taxpayer who is paying for this nonsense (with apologies to any Ulster Scots with racial/religious sensitivities). I will also admit that (being a born 'stirrer'), I have given copie
s of this advert to my "more excitable" SNP (Scottish National Party, for those Sassenachs, Welsh and Irish who think that news stops North of Manchester or West of Stranraer). Needlesstosay there are demands that the proceedings of the Scottish assembly are produced in the 'Scots tongue' (which, not surprisingly, has many similarities with "Ulster Scots". However, I sent a copy of this advert to "The Scotsman" newspaper who, I felt certain would be interested in pursuing this as a news item. This produced no response (other than an acknowledgment) leading me to believe even more strongly that there is government influence and pressure brought to bear on newspapers in the UK to suppress news which might cause embarrassment in certain sensitive areas such as Northern Ireland.
And after considering all in retrospect, I would agree that peace in Northern Ireland is a sensitive matter. Perhaps I really should stop trying to take the Michael out of this administrative nonsense.