I was quite stung by some of the comments on my earlier threads about Laganside. Someone asked me what my interest was in the place, and although I answered, I also gave it a lot of thought. I wondered if perhaps I was wrong and was selling the good people of Ulster a pup. So up I got this morning, pulled on the boots, and went on a day trip to Belfast and Laganside. At the risk of boos from the audience, I have to tell you it was a revelation. I met a friend for breakfast on the Ormeau Road in Graffiti Cafe. They do just about the best breakfast in town at the weekends, and its very relaxing. I wish Belfast restaurants would give you a free coffee refill, but thats for another day. After that, I headed down to the Laganside and caught the 12.30 boat, doing the tour of the Titanic area. The area was buzzing and alive with locals and tourists alike, bustling about or sitting on the benches relaxing. Dozens of people lined up to have their photo taken with the Fish- he symbolises the return of salmon to the river Lagan apparently.
The tour itself was educational and amazing. There may be a political ping-pong over the shipyard, but it certainly represents our industrial past, and a time when people from all over Ireland and Britain were coming to Belfast to work, making it one of the biggest cities in the UK in the 19th century. Sad to see how little care and attention was taking to the dismantling of the shipyard though, everything was just heaped in a big skip and taken away indiscriminately. Furniture, files, drawings, records, artefacts– all discarded prematurely and thoughtlessly.
You get to see all the dry docks, but more importantly, its a great way to see the Lough and the buildings and ships on either side. Have to admit, I was mesmerised by it all. There are some important buildings down there, and some of them are rotting away as we speak, buildings like the Pumphouse which is my clear favourite. It requires money to be spent, but no-one seems to be able to get the finger out and do something to save this gem. They are going to invest 2 billion pounds on this area, there is a moral imperative to preserve the character that remains at present.
After the boat ride, I wandered around looking for the concrete tundra! I didnt find it. Everywhere you look on dry land, there is evidence of care and attention to the tourist and local alike. Mind you, I did see an auld fella peeing like a race horse up against a wall, but that was more re-assuring than alarming.
Next over to the Custom House square for the real treats. I was fascinated by this 3×3 square installation that played a different sound for each square you stepped on. It was magic! As was the water fountain and the fight I picked with some young fellows who ended up chasing me through the water. The only anti dote was a pint at McHughs, sitting in the late afternoon sun with the glinting Orange Royal Mail building and the dappled Cutosm House for a view.
Took a short dander then to the Cathedral Quarter, and was amazed to see such a vibrant cafe culture, with all the cool wans out eating their ciabattas and sipping their wine al fresco. There’s a great statue of Jim Larkin behind the John Hewitt if you havent seen it.
The words I would use to describe the Belfast of today is growing, vibrant, confident and edgy. I now have no truck for the negativity of those who would run the city down, and feel that you could say those things about anywhere if you really wanted.
I guess what made my day was walking down High Street feeling happy and content, and seeing Susanne Breen coming toward me looking anything but happy and content. Perhaps if we were all to keep our eyes cast down, we would never see the magic sprouting up around us. I truly believe Belfast is on the cusp of becoming very cool, and we are well on the way.
Mind you, I had a great guide to the city today- thank you!