loving laganside


I’ve mentioned before that I lived in Dublin at the tail end of the 1970’s and 80’s. I am one of those people who didnt want to get tied down with a house in Sandymount for £30,000, but no bitterness there! I watched Dublin transform from a friendly, grubby, intimate city into the glass and brick international capital it is today. It has obviously gained much in all the materialistic ways, but lost its soul in the process.

I have the same feel about Belfast today. I love Belfast, love the people, the buildings, the intimacy. Unionists, close your eyes, but it reminds me so much of the Dublin I used to know. Funny little shops, dirty little corners, never go without meeting someone you know, and a warmth in the middle of town you are unlikely to get anywhere else. Ironically Belfast has gone from deserted wasteland to thriving city in a very short space of time.

So where do we go from here? Do we slavishly follow the Dublin example, and go cosmopolitan? And if we do, will we have anything other than a folk memory to record the change in this City?

I was at John Baucher’s book launch earlier today, and he has captured the essence of Belfast in a very special way. John’s book is one of the lovliest and most compassionate photo essays I have ever seen, and he treats the Laganside and its changing face with care and humanistic attention. Many of you will know his photos that are posted under the name Moochin Photoman, and sets like Harland & Wolff, Everday Orange etc.

I think we will all wait with bated breath to see how sensitively and intelligently Belfast is developed in the coming years, and whether we nurture, protect and grow the arts community that is the heart of the city.

For a great discussion, and a chance to listen to John’s comments, visit Arts Extra for an interview that took place this evening.

  • mickhall

    Indeed this is one of the conundrums of modern city life, property prices rise, [thus rents] to such and extent that only the multi nationals etc stores can afford city centre prices. All the local flavor of the town center disappears. Recently I traveled the length and breadth of the British Isles and in the end I had no idea what city or town I was in, as most of them looked and felt alike. I could have been almost anywhere, the joy of traveling, seeing new places and sights, experiencing different food was all but gone. As to has sampling the beer of local breweries, almost all multi national owned today, bar the odd micro brewery which sell expensive bottles of real ale.

    When you come to the outskirts the first thing you see is some multi national hyper market, Tesco, Wal Mart/Asda etc and so it goes. A book shop like the one you mentioned fitz, only if your lucky, I have reached the stage that the sight of a Borders or Waterstones cheers me up.

    Oh for the days when I was in London, I and could spend a whole day working around my favorite book shops. I loved Central books in Charring Cross road,[the old store] I used to buy newspapers from progressive movement from the world over.

  • willis

    Miss Fitz

    I have lived in this bloody awful cantankerous magnificent city for a long time and I can assure you it was never a deserted wasteland.

    I have my own treasured memories of dining in Frogities, Chez Delbart and Ciro’s (Nothing to do with the food) and of the shock when visiting female American Journalists discovered the red blood running in downtrodden West Belfast veins.

  • B em used

    I genuinely, honestly thought that you were joking when I first read this post. Belfast is a HOLE. A significant proportion of it’s inhabitants are utter SCUM. “…the arts community that is the heart of the city.” Huh? Which arts community is this? Brian Kennedy? The various third-raters who hang around the John Hewitt? The talentless jokers who exhibit in the Fenderesky? The utterly useless ‘Ulster’ orchestra (trust me – I played in a variety of Orchestras throughout these islands over the years – the ‘Ulster’ are easily one of the most amateurish outfits in Europe)? Marie Jones, Gary Mitchell and the other useless “look at me – I’m Protestant but I’m not a wanker, honest” brigade? The various god-awful chancers who hang around the town murdering Oasis tunes and strumming three chord shite?

    “….a warmth in the middle of town you are unlikely to get anywhere else.”

    Please. Listen to me. You really, really, really need some form of professional help.

    Warmth? So that’s what it is. All of my Southern/English/European friends who come to Belfast and are utterly bemused by the astoundingly high ratio of Spides to humans, the miserable awfulness of the architecture and the general dull hopelessness of the place must be suffering from some sort of warmth-recognition disorder.

  • Miss Fitz

    Mick, I know exactly what you’re talking about! It’s like we’re turning the world into a homogenous plastic fronted monstrosity.

    And you can see it so clearly in Belfast. There are still some of the older shops left, but you can smell the money moving in. The Lisburn Road is full of chiccy bouticcy places, and all expensive, but at least distinctive. I hope you can get a copy of John’s book, it will be a treasure in years to come!

    Willis, I can remember coming through Belfast at 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening, not too long ago, and the streets were absolutely deserted, it looked like a ghost town. Obviously those in the know knew where to go, but on the surface, it was a forlorn looking place.

    Bemused- so when you moving?

  • IJP

    Miss Fitz

    An excellent and thought-provoking blog – very interesting ideas.

  • Miss Fitz

    Thanks IJP, appreciate that.

    You should try and get a copy of John’s book, it is delightful

  • Fraggle

    I don’t like your slur about Dublin losing it’s soul. I’m inclined to support what Bemused said, Belfast is a bit of a dump. The city centre holds very little appeal for me at all and i rarely go near it. The shops are mostly the same chains you get all over, Arcadia etc.

  • Rory

    This is a terrific thread because it causes us to think of what and how we have seen and then demands we examine the “why’s” of that seeing at that moment.

    Neither Belfast, Dublin nor Prague nor Venice are either beautiful experiences or “shiteholes” as of themselves but can be either or both according to our emotional alignment at the moment. The good photographer captures the moment with good honest lack of judgement. But then the photograph itself takes on new resonance, new meaning with the passage of time. I think of that image of the naked girl-child running in terror down a road in Vietnam her body on fire from napalm. What horror – what outrage -what shame. But also simply – what? What in the name of God had we become? What was to be done that we never suffer such guilt again? Well we know what – withdrawal. The child recovered and is today well, a beautiful grown woman yet scarred and we of that time are scarred and recovering too and Don McCullin’s photograph helped us all on the road to health and sanity and is blessed for that.

  • Crataegus

    I am not so enamoured by Belfast and view much of the development with regret. Yes good to see, but it could have been so much better. The spatial relationships are mediocre. There is a lack of overall coordination and vision. It looks like the buildings had been dropped from space. Different heights, styles and materials cheek by jowl. In some cities the diversity of form is interesting and in others useful space is created but in Belfast something is missing. There is no real vision and commitment.

    Looking forward there is a major avoidable problem. In our wisdom we decided to hike up the rates on commercial property; collect rates on empty and unused commercial property, effectively ban all housing in the countryside and increase residential development on brownfield sites from 25% to 60% of the total.

    The effect of this is to make every property with a large garden, every small shop, workshop or office a potential site for residential development and in the main for apartments. Ten years of this and the Victorian Avenues will be plundered and the corner shops destroyed. It’s a real mess and no one seems to want to admit there is a housing shortage.

  • SHAY bolivia co…. AKA CHE

    As a catholic brought up in the Shankill road in 1973….Id say Belfast city centre, has come a long way….(A Pity the D.U.P. Agenda…politics and attitude hasnt changed like the face of a fine irish city like belfast)….Its grand sitting here on a p.c and debating….(actually a joy)….The bottom line is will we have a united Eire….whilst paisley,(or even his son ffs….)is about?….Remember people this kind of debate brought about a sinn fein in Long Kesh….(Thank GOD we can debate and people acting in numbers with the same thought can make a difference)….Thank GOD for people like Adams and Mcguiness….AND GOD BLESS THERE SOULS WOLFETONE AND BOBBY SANDS…. (p.s Miss FITZ we had great debate about D.D….id like to have a chat about that scenario again when you about)…. sorry i didnt stress to much how much belfast has come on in style or culture etc etc….but untill there is a free state….Belfast will not be a free city….(Especially with the paisleys about)….Sorry for being so judgemental…but i dont sit on the fence….just remember without henry the 8th…paisley would be catholic like all of THE REST OF EUROPE BACK IN THE DAY….just food for thought people lol …..missed all you people contacting me , just seems my p.c been blocked for 4 months ffs….was in Germany this week, went in a reichtstagg museum,seen picture of Goering….(sorry swearing miss fitz…lol) FUCK ME IT HE LOOKED LIKE paisely….the comparission was unreal….on a non Gratis or secular point of view, creed colour or faith, shouldnt we all be able to get on in our so called democracy??? i gotta go t.c all i hope Belfast goes from strength to strength…. God bless all…. Che aka SHAY….

  • SHAY bolivia co…. AKA CHE

    P.S miss fitz like to hear your views on the lebanon and israeli issue and the iraq issue….The Irish was demonised back in the day by Imperiallists and land grabbers….seems history is repeating itself….May 2007 for Iran? under the same notion as weapons of mass distruction….In my arm chair theory….(im guessing)….

  • Henry94

    I think Dublin now is far better than Dublin in the 1980’s. It is more exciting wealthier more diverse and altogether more attractive.

    Would anyone seriously want to go back and undo Temple Bar and the IFSC? Get rid of LUAS and rebuilt Ballymun flats.

    Dublin in the 80s was a city losing its young people and now it is attracting people from all over the world.

    What a city must do is accept progress but identify some key things it wants to preserve as well as some key developments it wants to encourage. What Belfast needs is a Fianna Fail government;-)

  • Dan

    Forget cities! Small towns and the countryside are where it’s at IMO.

    Although I prefer Dublin’s Northside for some reason. It seems grittier and has more ‘character’.

  • mnob

    Boys and girls – all this complaining that things were better in the past – its just a sign you’re all getting old !

    Change happens. Some of it is for the better some for the worst. Im afraid you’ll just have to get used to it !

    Take the chain stores and out of town hypermarkets – they are there asa consequence of communication and transport becoming easier.

    The only way to have stopped them would have been to stop communication and transport becoming easier – and we would have suffered as a consequence. Besides – although we all complain about them we’ve all been guilty of slipping off to them on a Sunday afternoon to buy our Japenese branded Chinese built TVs so that we can watch American sit coms on our cheap sofas, havent we ? Couldnt have done that a few years ago.

    I look forward to sitting at the age of 100 waxing lyrically about Currys and the Abbey Centre and how things just arent the same any more !

  • Nestor Makhno

    Yes, mnob, agree entirely.

    Some lamentable things have been done to this city in the last decade or so. (We could start with the Castlecourt monstrosity which I think has not only destroyed the character of the Smithfield market area behind it, but has also seriously damaged Royal Avenue in front. Walk just a few metres north beyond the front door of Castlecourt and you’ll see what I mean. Retail effectively ends – no customers and few shops.) I wonder if Victoria Square will have the same effect on the eastern edge of the centre?

    But having said that – In the mid-1980s things were worse. The centre was a dump.

    We had one small bookshop (Cranes) in the city centre, a few terrible greasy spoon cafes where coffee was usually instant, and not a bottle of balsamic vingear for miles! (However, weirdly, the music stores were much better then. Caroline Music on Ann Street was a treasure trove of great albums – and where I spent most of my generous student grant.)

  • Miss Fitz

    What interesting thoughts and ideas!

    Rory, I think you hit the nail on the head, it obviously has much to do with personal perspective. I’ve been thinking about that idea, and perhaps you could say that your link with a place has much to do with ownership and accesibility.

    When I lived there, I was queen of the land, so to speak! I lived in the centre of Dublin, and did radio and television appearances for Fianna Fail, so there was that buzz about it. My circle of friends included people who have gone on to lead the country, and although there were no signs of it then, we were a good tight group and had fun times. My house mate was Colm Tobin, who used to edit In Dublin magazine, so again you had the feeling of being at the nerve centre of things. And the fact that I had this huge house in Harcourt Terrace rent free, meant that there were always 10 people sleeping on the floors at weekends, again many (all) of who might not like to be reminded of it.

    No matter where you went, you knew someone or someone knew you, and that is where the intimacy came from.

    I quite accept that my memory of Dublin is linked with my relationships there, but I still contend that it was an easier place with less of the edge.

    Fraggle, it was never intended as a slur, I still have great affection for my time there.

    The most important thing of all of course, is why I left! There may have been great fun, but there were few opportunites and all that intimacy could become oppressive. One has to be careful not to let the rose vision become too overwhelming. And the level of poverty I came across in housing estates was appalling, so thnkfully that is part of the past too.
    Maybe Mnob is right, we’re all starting to slide into our dotage and reminisence years…….

  • Cormac

    Jesus H Christ – nostalgic for old Dublin??? Are you nuts?? I grew up there – it was a tip! It seemed to have more tracksuits per head of population than any other city in the world! I couldn’t even go down the local petrol station for sweets without worrying about getting my head kicked in by skangers (and I grew up in a ‘nice’ area so these were all middle-class wannabe skangers, putting on tough Northsoide accents – ‘wazdastaaaaary bud’ one minute and then ‘oh hi mom, yeah I’ll be like totally home for dinner later, ciao’ the next). Seriously, Dublin is far, far better than that which it once was (see, even my grammer’s improved).

    I live close to the city centre, I know my neighbours (hell, I even drink with them sometimes), I’m known (in a good way) to my local shopkeepers and I’m always getting in conversations with random strangers in bars and shops (once again, in a nice way). Dublin is a friendly city, but non-Dubs (ie those from small towns) can be a bit intimidated by it’s size, thinking they’re going to get mugged or beaten up, but if you try and get talking to people, you’ll find they’re pretty friendly (just like Belfast).

    Try talking to someone on a London Tube or a New York subway and see what kind of reaction you get… mind you, we don’t have a similar mode of transport down here, so maybe it’s an underground thing 🙂

  • Jo

    It was a great loss to Belfast when the Four In Hand closed. I have never been over the door since.

  • Garibaldy

    Ryan’s is actually quite good Jo

  • mnob

    Nestor – I must disagree on a must funamental point.

    Makin Traks on High street was much better 🙂

  • clubber lang

    Bemused, did you use to post under the name Bored? I enjoy your posts almost as much as I used to enjoy Boreds before he/she disappeared. Straight talking…but Belfast ain’t all bad, so long as the accent don’t burst your eardrums.

  • Setanta

    Laganside is a mess – third rate architecture, poor planning coupled with unfriendly layout and design mean that I think it adds little to the city.

    If the aim was re-connecting the city to the river then it has failed – when did you last take an evening stroll along the river? What walkways there are don’t exactly feel safe and inviting.

  • Nestor Makhno

    Setanta -‘Laganside is a mess’

    I agree to a certain extent. But remember what the riverside looked like before. The old depressing Oxford Street Bus Station, the Gasworks and the stink of the tidal mud flats. And even if that didn’t put you off, it was difficult to get anywhere near the riverbank.

    The big weakness of Laganside Corp. was its complete capitulation to commerical developers. Whatever civic elements that have managed to creep through have been clearly second to the demands of such developers. The latest being the hideous building opposite Laganside Courts (is it a multistorey carpark?) – that has destroyed the character of Oxford Street and blocked its connection to the river.

    The one civic element that seems to have gone right is Custom House Square which has been colonised by real people (goths, skateboarders,

    It doesn’t bode well for Titanic Quarter which looks like being a commerical free for all.

  • Former Belfast resident

    Miss Fitz – your story reminds me of the Woody Allen joke where he is about to die and sees someone else’s life flash before his eyes.

    I’d have loved to be in Belfast around 100 years ago when it was at its peak.
    But it’s been in a deline for about 70 years or so and the troubles didn’t help.
    The peacetime allowed the city centre to become more welcoming.

    Despite the recent improvements there is a long way to go. The city centre is for practical purposes too large (look at the number of empty office buildings) and some of the areas around the city centre could do with cleaning up.

    I think that Belfast people are not that proud of their city (civic pride they call it) which can be improved over time.
    People also don’t like spending time in Belfast (look at the bus queues in Gt. Victoria St. station right now for example.
    The lack of real jobs for a lot of young people (e.g. look at the numbers of students from the Universities who haveto leave NI to find a job in their chosen field) means a lot too

    Like anywhere, you can think that Belfast is a great exciting place to live or you can think that it is not.

    All i can say is that i don’t regret leaving.
    But i don’t regret spending my time there either

  • Setanta

    Nestor Makhno,

    I generally agree with you – “missed opportunity” is a very good description of the whole Laganside project. The only public building worth note is the Waterfront Hall – and that is architecturally average and no more than a municipal theatre. Custom House Square is a success but is still disconnected from the river by a busy road and more dubious development.

    Laganside is cursed with poor commercial buildings that would not be out of place in a retail park or aiport business park.

    The vision of creating landmark public buildings and spaces that had been succesful in places like Bilbao in the Basque country to Salford, Gateshead, or Glasgow has been sadly absent here.

    The plans for Titanic Quarter look ridiculous – the typical developer’s opening gambit aimed at getting as much development density as possible before it will inevitably be trimmed back by the planning authorities.

    Any chance of civic leadership on this or will our representatives be won over by a few fawning words and a tray of prawn sandwiches?

  • Former Belfast resident

    Remember that the Waterfront Hall is a large loss-leader (or white elephant) and maybe the smartest thing to build in the area is a large multi-storey car park – it is probably the only thing that will break even.

    The Titanic Quarter’s plans do look terrible – i don’t think that Belfast needs either the housing or the offices and i am sure that if it goes ahead the archetecture will be a monotonous collage of brick and glass ‘plazas’ with no signature theme to make belfast look anyway different from cities.

    What would be a smart move would be moving the NI football stadium from the planned location at the maze to the titanic quarter.
    it would be better if it was by central station or in Ormeau Park but instead it won’t be.

    (Coincidentally one reason against the Maysfield site was because it does not have good transport links – big cheer for NIR)

  • B e mu s ed

    Clubberlang – indeed I was once ‘Bored’. I have become like some sort of furtive paramilitary on-the-run. The moderators of this site seem to take particular umbrage at my posts and have caused me to now take to changing my name (and indeed the way that I even spell my name) in order to get around their banning mechanisms (you’ll notice similiar puerile nonsense when you try to write the words bigo t, bigot ry, scu m etc. etc.)

  • B em used

    See…

  • Having been in Dublin for the first time in ages recently, it really struck me just what a dump Belfast actually is. Walk down O’Connell street and compare it to Royal Avenue – worlds apart. There were far, far fewer spides too, but I don’t think we can bulldoze them and replace them… As for Laganside, some of the stuff that’s been thrown up is nothing more than an eyesore, eg. any of the flats along the river.

  • TheGreyhound

    Dublin has “lost it’s soul in the process”. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Soul?? I don’t get it. Maybe I’m a bit out of synch with this terminology or maybe it’s just a lazy description because you couldn’t think of another bland remark.
    Anyway, I’m not sticking up for Dublin but having grown up there I can tell you it was one miserable, poor place. And that was just the ‘burbs. The city centre was drab and dangerous.
    Now? It’s not too bad. Still has its fair shower of miserable gits but it’s not too bad all the same…
    (and I don’t own a gaff by the way)

  • Bem use d

    As I keep saying mook – most of our problems in Belfast are directly related to the truly staggering ratio of spides to humans within the city. Until we start encouraging these animals to get sterilised and fuck off to Larne/Craigavon/the bottom of the sea then we’re really just window dressing.