In praise of the Europa Hotel

The Europa Hotel is 40 and the BBC are going to do a special programme to mark the official beginning of its middle age. It was famously the most bombed hotel in the world (according to Wikipedia it was bombed 28 times). Practically everyone in Northern Ireland must have been past the hotel and many must have been in it. I have been to a couple of UUP events there years ago; a few work meetings; have had my tea there twice (well dinner actually: it is after all a four star hotel and not in culchie land) and once went for a cup of tea with a fellow blogger. As such I am far from a heavy user of the establishment but to me (the same age as the hotel) it has always been there, a reassuringly constant landmark on the fairly low rise Belfast skyline and a bit less odd looking than the bright yellow City Hospital.

In a way the Europa might be seen as a symbol of Northern Ireland during the Troubles and maybe even a symbol of the victory of the ordinary people over the terrorists. That was not a victory by unionists or nationalists but a victory by the people who were determined to get on with their lives without resorting to shooting; killing or bombing their neighbours and who never supported the violence brought upon society.

Even during the worst days of the Troubles most people were in the process of being born, growing up, going to school, leaving for work or university(or unemployment), having children, growing older, retiring and dying: all of that without wishing or bringing harm on their fellow citizens. Unionists and nationalists may have strongly, passionately disagreed over politics but the vast majority never indulged in violence and murder. Just getting on with it was a means of fighting back and the Europa is in some ways emblematic of getting on with it. After the hotel was attacked time and again the glass was fixed, the damage repaired and the doors reopened: often not to a fanfare but just to normality. That is the way of the best Northern Ireland response to the troubles: not flashy, not especially exciting nor emotional but practical.

It might almost be suggested that that determined, studied normality is what the terrorists of both sides so hated here in Northern Ireland and maybe even one of the reasons why the IRA kept trying to blow the hotel up. It and we refused to surrender to mayhem; refused to accept that we were living in a war zone but rather carried on. Yes there problems even gross and unacceptable ones (and the Europa never had quite the cachet of some other hotels) but society did not collapse and most people resolutely refused to surrender to acceptance of the murderous bigots who claimed to kill on their behalf.

The hotel was not some sort of ecumenical project nor a cross community bridge. It was not a symbol of “let’s get along-ism” as practised by the “Liberal Dissidents:” rather the hotel was and is a symbol of let’s get on with normal life: the prime motivation of most of us here during the Troubles and at some level why we, the normal decent people of all sides and none, won. Happy birthday Europa: despite a much harder life you look better for your 40 years than I do.

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  • When it was being built I was working in East Bridge Street and had a window looking it that direction. It was exciting watching it grow up from day to day. Strange thing is that I have never been in it; most conferences, business dinners etc were on the outskirts of the city, frequently la Mon.

  • pippakin

    If I’m in Belfast its where I stay. Happy birthday Europa.

  • I dont suppose I have ever been in it more than ten times and I have never lived more than forty miles from it.
    Like Mr Canuck I remember it being built and the first time I was actually inside it was the 1973 SDLP Conference.
    I remember thinking just what was a 21 year old from the Falls Road doing in a place like this. And I think it was something every delegate thought.
    It was the first time Id ever really come across local celebs like WD Flackes and a whole boozy bunch from UTV.

    Dammit 38 years ago and we never really lose that sense of not being fully “entitled” at going into places like that. Thankfully the younger generations have more confidence.
    A few years ago one of the broadsheet journos (I think Craig Brown) wrote a final piece about being based at the Europa and he spoke about getting information from Protestant security staff from the Shankill and from Catholic waitresses from the Falls.
    Passed it on Monday afternoon and saw two “bunny girls” and a red carpet outside. God knows what that was all about but it reminds me I must get those photographs I took off my camera.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I find the place a bit overrated generally. I’ve been at a couple of functions in the place, which were fine.

    The bar is nothing to write home about and the nightclub has a reputation for being a bit on the rough side. Now that we have places like the Merchant and other smaller boutique hotels I’m wondering where exactly the Europa’s place in the market is.

  • BluesJazz

    “the nightclub has a reputation for being a bit on the rough side”

    Christ, it makes the Welly Park look upmarket.

    The bar is full of pervy Uncle Andy’s and 55 year old (mutton dressed as lamb) millies.

    Didn’t Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary stay there?

  • pippakin

    My there are such discerning non clients…

    Its comfortable, its central, the staff are good and everyone knows where it is.

    Mutton dressed as lamb? As if someone who would say that would know the difference.

  • Rory Carr

    “I…have had my tea there twice (well dinner actually: it is after all a four star hotel and not in culchie land)”

    One of the great delights of the better hotels throughout these islands is the availability of afternoon tea, sometimes billed as ‘cream tea’ and served with a variety of delicate finger sandwiches and a selction of scones and cream cakes and may be accompanied by a bottle of champagne if one is feeling expansive.

    Champagne tea at the Ritz in the West End was always a treat for my wife and daughters when a birtday came around and one that is not even all that expensive. My wife and I always enjoy a champagne tea at the Grand anytime we are in Brighton. A great standby for hungry northeners in the Fifties and early sixties was The Gresham in Dublin which then served a splendid afternoon tea with endlessly refilled pots and ever replenished plates of sandwiches and cakes – and all for half a crown !

    In any case ‘tea’ is not as you seem to imply a “culchie” low grade hotel misnomer for ‘dinner;’ nor is dinner in a 4 star (or any other) hotel in a city (or anywhere else), a posh name for ‘tea’. They are simply two separate meals, tea in the afternoon and dinner in the evening

    A midday meal is usually referred to as ‘luncheon’ often nowadays vulgarised as ‘lunch’, which hardly matters very much as relentless, brutal capitalist greed has all but done away with this most important custom in civilised society.

    Of course things may have been ordered differently in the more outlandish reaches of Fermanagh among the heathens and barbarians. In London a visitor from the country can, for a fee, avail himself of the services of a ‘hostess’, a well dressed young woman of good taste and refinement who will escort him round the better watering holes and steer him gently into the correct mode of behaviour in each establishment. I am quite sure that you would be able to obtain a similar service in Belfast next time you visit. It should make the experience a little less arduous and help you avoid such gaffes. I am told that it is perfectly possible to specify a blonde, a redhead or black, white or Asian but I am not so sure if you can order up a ‘Catholic redhead ‘or ‘Asian Presbyterian’, or whatever but who knows, I understand that Belfast is an enterprising city these days. Any way, good luck !

  • BluesJazz

    Rory Carr, another of your alter ego’s Anthony?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Dalrymple

  • andnowwhat

    A friend and I ended up staying their for the night in the big snow of 2001. Luckily, we had a couple of bottles of Southern Comfort on us and had a great night.

    A bit of a waste being with a bloke but Happy Birthday Europa.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Some might say that that’s where the understanding – if that’s the apt word – that people in London, Bristol, Dublin or Cork – of the conflict emanated from; after all, any number of fleet street journalists saw very little else of the city other than the Europa bar and from their taxi window to/from the airport.

  • keano10

    Comrade,

    I agree. It’s a dive. Rooms are basic and that bar downstairs is a grip…

  • I think its a cliché but an unfair one that journalists never leave the bar in the best hotel in Belfast or Bierut. Certainly the presence of “star” Journalists from London, benefitted so called “drivers”, a handful of people from Ballymurphy or Shankill etc who could get journos in and out of hot spots with…ahem……ease.
    The thing that always bothered me was seeing the London “star” on the News and then seeing a local reporter on local knews stand in the same spot and speak exactly the same script to camera. Often wondered was it just written by the locals and the Londoners appeared to actually know what they were talking about.

  • Framer

    And they booted out the gays who had kept the Whip and Saddle bar alive during the worst times when our future government appeared to have stopped bombing the place.

  • hugodecat

    I’m a bit of a fan of the Europa, as far as large conference hotels go its nice and friendly,

    Some rooms are basic others are the highest standard you will find in Belfast.

    The food is good even at very large events, the bar is no more expensive than any other hotel bar and I believe that the Nightclub closed several years ago (its now an exhibition hall which they gave to Belfast Pride for a fortnight this year for the festival – so not as anti-gay as they might appear?)

    What makes it a good place to be is the people. some of the nicest staff in Belfast – it might explain why so many of them have been there for so long

  • MickT60

    I remember the day of the opening, there was some git on the news,he stated ” this is not a hotel for local people or working class it is a hotel for a visiting dignitary from europe to meet business people”.
    When I heard that clown state that, I said it won’t be there long.