Saturday, 14 May 2011

Belfast Reborn

I've just spent three days in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Of course we've all heard of Belfast, and for all the wrong reasons - for decades it was in the news as a result of its sectarian violence, euphemistically known as "The Troubles".

However, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 put an end to that, and every year of normality since has seen Belfast mature into an attractive small city with some lively nightlife. It's also enabled the city to rediscover its 19th century heritage as a mighty industrial hub.

Here's a few random snapshots which I took of Belfast over my brief stay.

The first pic is the lunch I had on my first day there, in a great old-fashioned pub called Bittle's. On the plate are pork and leek sausages, and "champ" - mashed potato with spring onion. Not only was this a good filling lunch, I saw it on a few other menus over my stay. In fact I started to think of it as the signature dish of Northern Ireland. Went well with a Guinness too.


The Cathedral Quarter of Belfast is threaded by a series of alleyways, for some reason known as "entries". They're atmospheric narrow laneways, often housing classic old pubs. Here's the entry to Pottinger's Entry, named after local lad Sir Henry Pottinger, the first Governor of Hong Kong:


Does the below clock tower look as though it's leaning? Indeed it is. The Albert Memorial Clock was built above the subterranean course of the River Farset, and unfortunately the damp reclaimed ground shifted over time. Incidentally, Belfast took its name from the Farset, being situated on béal feirste, literally the mouth of the Farset in Gaelic...


Having been a busy industrial city in the 19th century, Belfast has many solid commercial buildings near its waterfront. Here's some elaborate decoration on the side of a former seed warehouse that's now the Malmaison Hotel:


To learn more about The Troubles, I took a black cab tour of the remaining sectarian murals and other reminders of the conflict. One of the most moving was the Peace Wall that separated Protestant and Catholic communities, covered with graffiti by visitors from around the world:


Another memorable element of Belfast's past was the SS Titanic, which was built and launched here a century ago. Here are the remains of the slipways down which Titanic and its predecessor Olympic entered the water for the first time:


And here are some pieces from a Titanic chess set, made to order by the creative types at local gallery Open Window Productions:


And finally, the Big Fish sculpture on Belfast's regenerated waterfront. Covered with tiles bearing images of the city's history, it also marked the return of salmon to the adjacent Lagan River after over a century of industrial waste was cleaned up. It's a fitting symbol for a city that's been reborn in more ways than one...


Disclosure time... on this trip I travelled courtesy of Tourism Ireland and Aer Lingus.