Belfast Born author, Gerry McCullough, takes us on a short tour…
of one of the jewels in Ireland’s crown. Long a favorite of world tourists, Ireland offers many facets, each a delight. And now on to Belfast.
First of all, let me, as the politicians say, declare with an interest. I was born and brought up in Belfast, and lived there until my first marriage. And indeed after it, for I was still a student at Queen’s University, Belfast, when I married, and so I continued to live in the city for a while. And I love it! Really love it!
My memories of Belfast are all happy ones. Taking the bus down to the city center on Saturday mornings to the tree lined city centre when I was in my early teens, and drifting from bookshop to bookshop, buying, eventually one book with my week’s pocket money. Being taken to the pantomime at the Opera House when I was much younger, and dreaming my way through the evening. Meeting the boy I was in love with (then!) in the Botanic Gardens and walking hand-in-hand through the rose gardens, breathing in the wonderful scents of spring.
A very unhappy time
Belfast went through a very unhappy time a while ago. A time when it was considered dangerous to go there, and tourists virtually disappeared. A time when people who lived outside Belfast practically never went there. The streets were dark and empty at night. And yet, even then, the danger only lurked in a very few parts of the city. Most of Belfast was actually safe enough.
Now, with the peace, suddenly it’s Belfast’s Second Spring. The danger has gone. Belfast is bustling with new life, with new hotels and shops, with a blossoming of restaurants, theatres, clubs, and venues for music. And along with that, there’s an upsurge of creativity, so that the city is bursting with up-and-coming poets, novelists, singers, actors, painters, sculptors, and the lot. It’s an exciting time to live here. And a great time to visit.
Where should a visitor go?
May I suggest that the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast is well worth a visit? It’s a place crammed (like Dublin’s Temple Bar) with venues where you will find Irish music and other music, poetry readings, plays, art exhibitions, and more.
This is a picture of the Cathedral Quarter’s Commercial Court, only one of the lovely cobbled streets in the area, showing the frontage of the Duke of York, where you’ll find music, Guinness and good food. My publisher used this picture darkened down to night-time lighting, as the cover for my second Angel Murphy book, Angel in Belfast: the 2nd Angel Murphy thriller (Angel Murphy thriller series) Some of you may recognize it. Wander round the Cathedral Quarter and you’ll see interesting graffiti, the Mac Theatre, and more restaurants and pubs than you could believe. Oh, and the Cathedral is St. Anne’s, where you’ll find healing services and great classical music.
MacHugh’s Bar, on the outskirts of the Cathedral Quarter, at the foot of High Street, is said to be the oldest in Belfast. It serves great food, and on a Sunday afternoon you’ll find a session going on there. A session is an open event where anyone who brings an instrument, and is willing to join in, does. The focus is on Irish folk music. If you like Irish music, you’ll love this.
You won’t want to miss the Botanic Gardens with its marvelous domed glasshouse and rose gardens. The gardens are next door to Queen’s University in South Belfast, not far from the city centre. There you can visit the portrait gallery and see a portrait of the Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney. You can have a first class meal at Dean’s at Queen’s.
Within a stone’s throw of Queens is the Crescent Arts Centre, where they put on just about everything, including plays. I saw a stage version of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath there recently. And across the road is Bookfinders, a brilliant secondhand bookshop which no one should miss. On Friday evenings there are poetry readings, also prose. I read from Belfast Girls my first book, not long ago.
The Lyric Theatre, sited on the banks of the river Lagan, has a marvelous view of the river from the bar. The area is reminiscent of Stratford on Avon. The plays in the Lyric are typically Irish: Brendan at the Chelsea and Brian Freel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come. I’m in contact with them about putting on a stage version of Belfast Girls. (If I ever get round to finishing writing the play!) It would be wonderful if I could make it happen.
The Opera House is opposite the Crown Bar, a Victorian gothic style pub with great food and atmosphere, much praised by John Betjeman, the late British poet Laureate.
You won’t want to miss the Titanic Building. Here you can imagine yourself on board the Titanic. or back in the Belfast shipyard where the Titanic was built. Fascinating stuff! As you can see from the photo, the building is shaped like the prow of a ship.
The Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim Coast is the eight wonder of the world with its hexagonal stones. The story goes that the giant Finn MacCool, Ireland’s equivalent of Hercules, built it as a bridge to Scotland, but it was destroyed by storms and so only reaches partway across. Finn is also credited with lifting a lump of earth to throw across at a Scottish enemy, so the gap was left which is now Lough Neagh, and the clod of earth landed halfway, and is now known as the Isle of Man. Well maybe!
If you come, have a great holiday! There’s nowhere like Ireland for relaxing. I’ve only scratched the surface here with places you’d love to see.
Gerry McCullough, born and brought up in Northern Belfast, is an award winning short story writer with a distinguished reputation. She has had approximately sixty short stories published, broadcast, or collected in anthologies. In 2005 her story Primroses won the Cuirt Award (Galway Arts Festival) and she has won, been short listed, and been commended in a number of literary competitions since. Gerry lives in Conlig just outside Bangor. She is married to singer-songwriter, writer and radio presenter Raymond McCullough, and has four children.
Gerry’s first novel, Belfast Girls was published by Night Publishing in 2010 and has been in the overall top 100 bestsellers list on paid UK Kindle and at Number 1 in Women’s Literary Fiction. Danger Danger is her second romantic thriller, published by Precious Oil Publications. Her first two thrillers, Angel in Flight: an Angel Murphy thriller and Angel in Belfast: the 2nd Angel Murphy thriller (Angel Murphy thriller series) begins the series featuring Angeline Murphy, the strong-minded Belfast Girl.