The true heritage

What is it about bars that holds the Belfast heritage better than churches? Fantastic to see that a campaign to save the Rotterdam in Belfast’s old dockland has won at least a reprieve. Together with its ecclesiastical equivalent Charles Lanyon’s very fine Sinclair Seamen’s church it represents a last remnant of a seafaring age that shaped so much of the character of Belfast. Not so successful was the campaign to save – or even shunt elsewhere – the deeply mourned Kitchen Bar, demolished to make way for the new Victoria Square complex. Only for the Catholic church in Sailortown was such a campaign waged for preservation.
What respite from the new monumentalism of Victoria Square would there be without my own favourite, the entirely unselfconscious and quite magical Bittle’s , still perched precariously at the edge of the site? Or the Morning Star in Pottinger’s Entry? Without the Belfast entry, what would there be left of Henry Joy’s Belfast apart from Kelly’s Cellars, still retaining its air of slight menace? And without that, what would remain that’s uniquely Belfast?

The Elbow Room, Cassidy’s a family bar in Bankmore St where Mr Cassidy served you gravely like a sommelier, now long gone, McGlade’s, the el Vino of Belfast, and the Duke of York (name corrected) where Gerry Adams once pulled a pint, all were refuges from the storm for weary journalists in the bad old days. At the pinnacle of course sits the Crown Bar, officially heritaged by the National Trust. But Robinson’s beside it and Lavery’s up the road are just as good or better and survive unprotected.

Even as recession looms, long may these flourish and the others in your own list.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London