Belfast is so very near to Dublin in the Southern Ireland and yet so far. What that? Well, the mentality of the Northerner compared to the Southerner is miles apart, in almost every way. Where the Dubliner and the rest of the population in the south are laid-back, witty, fatalistic and not-so-terribly efficient in whatever they do, the Northerner is uptight, serious, strongwilled and highly efficient in his/her basic nature.
We used to be simply awed by the state of the roads as soon as one crossed the border in Newry over to the Northern Ireland. One could really put the boot down from here on the motorway and be in Belfast in a jiffy! Marvellous. The state of the roads in the Republic were – and still are in parts – such that the journey even though not that long in miles or kilometers took a lifetime!
The very first time I went to Belfast was just four days after arriving in Ireland. There was a family funeral there. In Ireland it is of utmost importance to be there and to support the people that have had the sadness of death in the family. People go by the hundreds into the funerals and it is normally considered an excusable reason to take time out in the middle of one’s working day to attend a funeral.
One thing that used be so great to do in Belfast was the shopping. The difference between the Irish Punt and the Sterling was not that big, sometimes they were even on par. Nowadays the Euro has lost the plot to the Sterling and it is far too expensive to go shopping there anymore!
We would go to the north a lot even at the height of the violence, another name for it is the ‘Troubles.’ Rather an odd name for such a traumatic and highly dangerous time. We had both relatives and friends living in there. Some of them still do. Then when the so called ‘Peace Agreement‘ came in 1998 we took the train there from Dublin a good few times. Otherwise previously we would have gone by car to Belfast.
First of all we parked the car at the Europa Hotel and had a cuppa there before walking to the stores. Where would be good to shop? Well, the Castle Court Shopping Centre is big and has plenty of various kinds of stores in it. In those days before many of the British High Street stores such as Argos, Boots, Debenhamns, etc. came to the south they were only in the north so hence our trekking there. Also the Queen’s Arcade is a very expensive but beautiful small shopping mall at the heart of Belfast. The city is not big at all. Here is a map of the city centre. To tank up we would go the Cafe Paul Rankin at the Fountain Street. It used to be nearly the only one of its kind ’til quite recently. This cafe served the most delicious food – every time it was a winner.
There were not many cultural things that we did then because of the Troubles. The people did not move about that much then to nightspots or restaurants as they did in the south. Now it is different.
Tis for now. Riihele xx.