HBO’s Michael Lombardo: “Belfast is not the most cosmopolitan of cities to spend half of the year.”

With so much of some Northern Ireland Executive ministers‘ time and effort [and other people’s money! – Ed] focused on exploiting the international success of HBO’s Game of Thrones to promote Northern Ireland overseas, it’s perhaps unfortunate, but refreshing, that HBO’s director of programming, Michael Lombardo, has given an honest answer to a straight question – as the BBC report here.  From the New York Magazine’s Vulture blog

The whole production seems so daunting that I didn’t know if an eighth book would be considered one more obstacle.
No, no. Honestly, I mean, the thought that we would end it [is upsetting] — by the way, there’s so many stories left to tell, I just hope [showrunners] Dan [B. Weiss] and David [Benioff] are still game. It’s a little bit of a personal challenge I don’t think they contemplated when we initially found our location in Belfast, what that meant for them personally … Belfast is not the most cosmopolitan of cities to spend half of the year. [added emphasis]

Are they having a hard time?
I don’t think they have a hard time, but the good news is work keeps them busy, let’s just say that. [added emphasis again]

Let’s, indeed.

[Have any of those NI Ministers actually watched it? – Ed]  I couldn’t possibly comment…

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  • Am Ghobsmacht

    On the tourism thread Gopher (I think) suggested ditching rates for cafes and restaurants.

    I would see this sobering view as a reason to support his idea.

    Granted it won’t fix everything and I’m sure a lot of shops will claim such favouritism is not fair, but, if a lively pub, cafe and restaurant scene can be necromanced then it would have a knock on effect.

  • jagmaster

    It’s always funny seeing Peter Robinson slobbering over Game of Thrones considering the amount of nudity,murder,fornication and sexual violence that’s included in the programme. You would have thought the leader of the DUP which purports to be the moral conscience of Northern Ireland would have nothing to do with it.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Maybe it’s no bad thing if he doesn’t watch it, can you imagine the ideas he would be getting?

    PR: “Mr Weiss, I was watching your show the other day and I have to say I was most taken by yer red haired woman and the Stanis Baratheon chap. A quiet, stoic, no nonsense sort of a fella. I think we could all learn from him”

    D Weiss: “Yes, well, Stanis is a deep and complicated character, quite the pragmatist though…”

    PR: “Indeed, I was most impressed with his policy of burning people who don’t share his religious views”

    D Weiss “……what?!!!”

    PR: “Nothing! Would you like a cup of coffee?!”

    D Weiss: ” Is it from Belfast?”

    PR: “Yes”

    D Weiss: ” Ummm, no thanks, I’ll pass….”

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Refreshing! Of course Belfast isn’t cosmopolitan. It’s barely even a city. No amount of frothy coffee is going to change that. We’re a tiny wee population in a part of the world that is still striving for a rather buttoned-up vision of normality. Good luck being treated as a citizen of the world in a place where many people have a fraught relationship with any kind of citizenship and you can’t throw a stone without hitting someone who knows your ma.

  • Drumlins Rock

    You have to say though that for a ” tiny wee population” ( is that the 400k gerrymander version or the 700k+ metropolitan population ?) ” in a part of the world that is still striving for a rather buttoned-up vision of normality.” (normal’s boring ) “Good luck being treated as a citizen of the world in a place where many people have a fraught relationship with any kind of citizenship and you can’t throw a stone without hitting someone who knows your ma.” ( I hope you don’t mean biblically.) Small Victorian Industrial city on the edge of Europe divided by years of violence, Belfast actually does surprisingly well!

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Absolutely. I don’t think a lack of cosmopolitanism is something we should be beating ourselves up about. It’s just not our style ; )

  • Pete Baker


    And yet, it’s the Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, equally slobbering in this case, who is on record as deploring the baleful influence of TV shows like… Eastenders and Coronation Street.

    “I am not a fan of EastEnders or Coronation Street, but my wife and my children, particularly the girls, watch the programme. I have to say I am absolutely appalled at the level of concentration around the pub in the programmes.

    “I am appalled at the drunkenness that is quite clear for everybody to see and all of that before the nine o’clock watershed when children as young as eight, nine, 10 and 11 are watching.

    “Now I regard that as irresponsible broadcasting, and I think something should be done about it,” said Mr McGuinness.

  • Sp12

    Focus Pete.
    You’re confusing programming that often starts at 7PM on terrestrial TV with late night programming on a premium ‘cable’ channel.

  • To be honest, Belfast irritates me. Especially the so called Cathedral Quarter.
    Incidently the Visitor Centre seems to have given us the Cathrdral Quarter, Titanic Quarter, Gaeltacht Quarter, University Quarter and Shankill Quarter.
    And yesterday I noticed a sign saying Linen Quarter.
    A city with this many Quarters is overdoing things. Four seems about right for Quarters.
    And I note there are Game of Thrones postcards and souvenirs.

    I suppose we should cash in while we can.
    A few years ago I was in Avoca, County Wicklow, where they still sell “Ballykissangel” souvenirs.
    All looks a bit sad when the tourist coaches stop coming.
    But I still have a lot of fridge magnets…if anyone is interested.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    The eagle-eyed will spot Library Quarter and Market Quarter on street signs too.

  • Delphin

    You can’t have too many quarters, I say. Belfast marketing gurus don’t do things by halves you know.

  • TwilightoftheProds

    Fitz/John has got it wrong. the number of quarters should proliferate out of the centre. We could have a ‘riots quarter’,’overpriced tiny new build quarter’ and a ‘flags quarter’ -we could even have a ‘terrified professionals’ quarter for gated communities.

  • Turgon

    I wonder if part of the problem is the Troubles but not in the way most people think.

    Belfast is actually a pretty run of the mill small / medium sized Victorian era city in the British Isles. Northern Ireland is a pretty run of the mill part of north western atlantic coast Europe. We are not remotely a bad place but we are not that exciting.

    The Troubles have brought assorted famous people to see us and we have had a vastly disproportionate degree of media coverage. As such more people have heard of us (though we grossly overestimate our world wide relevance or even recognition) than would have without the Troubles.

    Because of this over recognition people expect Belfast to be a big important and yes cosmopoletian place when in reality it is not. That is not a bad thing it is simply the consequence of being a small city.

    I am always surprised by how many educated Americans, Europeans etc. know absolutely nothing about us or our supposedly famous citizens / leaders.

    We also delude ourselves that we are important in the scheme of things both because of our relative notority and our isolation. We want to believe we have important citizens and politicians. In reality they are not that famous or important or are famous only for a fleeting moment (eg sports stars). Our politicians are simply minor league regional politicians. Our terrorists were simply minor league thugs.

    Some of our schools are okay but not world leading: not Eton or Harrow. Our universities alright but hardly Oxbridge or Harvard / Yale or Heidelberg. Our top hospitals are okay but not the Clevland Clinic. Our businessmen are good but not Bill Gates.

    That we are not more important is not our politicians nor our own faults. We should not be at all ashamed by this but we need to make sure we are not deluded into believing our own hype. If we try to believe it the likes of this article hurt us much more than if we are, at least in private, a bit more realistic.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I can’t disagree with most of the above points.

    Belfast is small.

    Latte-sipping does not maketh a city.

    Doesn’t mean it can’t try a bit harder though.

    People come from all over the world to visit (relatively) close cities: Dublin, Edinburgh and London.

    From an international point of view Belfast is a mere hop away.

    The effort required to make Belfast that little bit more appealing would not be so mammoth.

    If the cafes and restaurants were given a very specific rate-free criteria (e.g. ‘For Cod and ulster’ chip shop does not count as a ‘restaurant) then we might have a few more businesses spring up out of nowhere.

    Cafes give a city a nice vibe.

    Secondly, do away with rate relief for certain empty buildings so that they can’t be ‘landbanked’.

    What’s the point in having empty buildings?

    If a landlord/developer realises that he’ll be landed with thousands of pounds worth of rates then he’ll either play ball or sell it (or burn it….)

    As for the ‘wee city’ excuse, a run around Europe will show one that size is no obstacle when trying to create a vibe:
    Pec, Groningen, Oradea, Osijek, Split, Galway, they all have various vibes for various reasons but c’mon, Belfast has 2 universities, a ferry port, a road to Dublin, a (just about) intact architectural landscape, some pretty areas, great pubs, nearby scenery and 2 airports.

    Fill up them oul’ buildings with pop up shops, eateries and cafes.
    No skin off the council’s nose.

    OK, maybe a bit too hipster for the locals, fair enough, it’s a working mans’ city but IF we want to sate the appetites of the suited & booted and bring over more tourists then a lot could be done for very little cost.

    How many people here would strongly object to protecting Belfast’s architecture and opening a few more cafes, restaurants and pubs?

    No one loses.

  • Gopher

    I am at a loss to understand why size is quoted as a factor in not being cosmopolitan San Francisco is no bigger than Belfast.

  • gendjinn


    but we don’t have quarters we have neighbourhoods & districts, each with a unique character and it’s own micro-climate.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Indeed Gopher

    Depending what way you look at it, New Orleans is a similar size to Belfast.

    The nearby party town of Lafayette is much smaller.

    Size don’t matter in this context.

    Yes, Belfast is not the centre of the universe, doesn’t mean it can’t try harder though.

    BTW, was the rate relief idea yours?

  • Kensei


    That is a bizarre comparison to make, but I suppose squishing any remotely related point to fit your point is par for the couyse for you – for a start GoT is not on pre-watershed (as much as that concept still applies) and is a fantasy series and so avoids most of the problems of a culture being fixated on drink. In fact, typically drinking a lot is typically portrayed as an attempted escape from problems – see the Hound, Tyrion, Cersei

    But mostly: so feck? If either of them are really appalled by it, I’m glad they can swallow it for once to help the economy.

    Not Petes

    It might just be my imagination but I can recall going to Dublin late 80s / early 90s and it being relatively empty. It always had a larger scale than Belfast but there wasn’t that stark difference you get now, where Dublin is clearly a much more cosmopolitan and busy city.

    Belfast is still on the up and has some advantages over similar sized cities elsewhere – not least that it is Ireland’s second largest city and there aren’t really many proper cities on the island anyway. I expect we’ll gradually become more cosmopolitan in a similar way that Dublin did, allbeit on a smaller scale. I suspect this sort of thing is cumulative, so that the more different types of activities you have, the more you’ll generate. We’ve started form a low base, so it’ll take a bit of time to snowball.

    But we’re never going to be a world city, regardless. Double the size of a city and you’ll get an exponential increase in any given activity – bands, theatre, sports, conferences,. whatever,. But that’s fine. Not everyone wants to live in London or New York

  • Gopher

    @AM Gobsmacht

    i wish it was but I was complaining about passenger duty so you can take the credit. I think it is an excellent idea to inject life into the city.

  • Nordie Northsider

    ‘Four seems about right for Quarters.’ You might be pleased to know, John, that Galway now has a ‘Latin Quarter’. It’s at the bottom of Shop Street. Useless to point out that the Paris district was called that because lectures in the Sorbonne were in Latin.

  • Gopher

    We can be a world city but it will be for things like Golf and sailing and non mainstream sport and pursuits. If our Game of Thrones producers sailed or golfed they would be in nirvana, the problem is once off the golf course there is little to do except drink and we even make that hard for visiting punters.

    What Belfast needs is to increase the volume of people visiting so pursuits like the theatre etc become sustainable the only way to do that is administratively loosen up and build the infrastructure to make it a breeze for people to visit here.

  • Theres always been a kinda hippy-Bohemian feel to Galway.
    But I dont think Belfast lends itself to that kinda thing. As the visiting cast from Game of Thrones is holed up in our local hotels, it would be interesting to know what they think when they watch the News, Spotlight and Stephen Nolan.

  • Kensei

    Good golf courses nearby does not a World City make. But, yes, we should be searching for niches to fill.

  • notimetoshine


    Agreed with almost everything you said but I do have to take you up on your comments about our schools being ok, but no Eton/Harrow.

    Having gone to uni with guys from Eton and some of the other major public schools in England I can assure you the quality and standard of our education in some of our schools is as good as if not better than than Eton. They simply benefit from fame and plenty of money.

    On a more general point, Belfast could be so much more, but I believe the parochialism of NI in general lets it down.

    Belfast has plenty going for it, I just wish we could say the same about our politicians.

  • Gopher

    Sking attracts people from all over the world to the Alps Pyrenees, Denver etc. Bali, Hawaii and Mexico attract surfers from all over the world. Northern Ireland the fact going for it that Belfast is handy enough to most of its Golfing, Sailing and any over niche location. These help make Belfast a world city if it is the entry point rather than say Dublin. I think the construction of a cycle network (though i dont bother myself) away from roads through the countryside is something to be looked at. Cycling is on the up and if Northern Ireland can open up our countryside to cyclists to partake in safety I think we would be on a winner.

  • Yes Belfast has a lot going for it.
    And a lot NOT going for it.
    With half the summer given over to rioting and bickering all year round, the Tourist Board is fighting a losing battle.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Naw, I definitely got the idea from someone else on here, but I can’t find them.

    Ho hum.


    John Mooney

    Alas, this is where it all falls down.

    I suppose we could have cafes, bike trails, attractions and festivals galore but ass soon as ‘carnival season’ arrives, well, all bets are off.

    I was speaking to an aussie woman last night, she told she and her family are off to Ireland soon.

    My first question was “you’re not going in July are ye?!”

  • slanlot

    I can’t believe the Titanic didn’t get a mention in this discussion usually it is put forward as the star attraction when the subject of our international profile is debated.

  • ForkHandles

    “Belfast is not the most cosmopolitan of cities to spend half of the year.”

    Well F*#$% aff then !

    Isn’t this someone complaining that their job has sent them somewhere that is not as nice other places they could think of? Well boo hoo, lots of us have been sent to places that aren’t a holiday resort as part of our job.
    A mate recently had to go to Kiev for a week and I know plenty of people that spend time in shit holes in India and China and I don’t hear them gurning about it…

  • belfastboyo

    Seeing the wanton vandalism of the Ormeau Rd with intimidatory flags. It would very difficult to claim that we were cosmopolitan.

  • ForkHandles

    ‘They’ have recently finished filming here in Abu Dhabi for the desert scenes in the new star wars movie. There are new tax breaks announced to attract film companies here. None of this has anything to do with how ‘nice’ it is here. Movies are a business, location is the attraction and cost the factor. So don’t worry too much about a cosmopolitan comment.

  • ForkHandles

    Regarding tourism, people don’t visit a city or country for its cosmopolitan factor. They go to see the history and culture related to that specific area and country. This should be known to everyone…

  • keano10

    I spend most of my working week in the city centre. There are a few points worth making –
    1. There are too many coffee shops and nowhere near enough restaurants. If I see one more Cafe Nero opening up, I’ll go bananas. They are like an epidemic…
    2. There are’nt nearly enough Walking Tours available. Tourists are always stopping and asking about these. Someone needs to tap into that particular demand.
    3. The pubs in the city centre have now reached the point of extortion. I was in Robinson’s last month and a hen night from Glasgow were giving off buckets to the bar staff about the price of drink. We dont offer nearly the amount of special offers or ‘happy hours’ that other cities do. We need to be more competitive and fair.

  • MYtwocents

    I see the word “Global” above, no posts covering Iraq?.

  • MYtwocents

    .” We dont offer nearly the amount of special offers or ‘happy hours’ that other cities do. We need to be more competitive and fair.”
    much too dear.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Am Ghobsmacht is utterly right about the urban decay that is inevitable with the habitual landbanking of city centre buildings and the tremendous need for an infrastructure of well run and welcoming cafés, restaurants and bars to service visitors and those of us locals who are not attracted by signs offering such cosmopolitan delights as “focaccia frys”. But as John Mooney says “But I don’t think Belfast lends itself to that kinda thing.” You’ve only to look at the tired eateries of Arthur Square to see the truth of this assertion, but the real trouble is that Belfast has been so run down by the developers who were supposed to regenerate the old place. The perfect example is the Creative Quarter, which is the very thing that should have been attracting Dan Weiss and David Benioff to our city.

    On a recent trip to London I picked up the FT report on Creativity and Business. It had an article “Cities thrive only if they allow creative people to regenerate decaying areas.” It contrasted the approaches of a number of European cities such as Barcelona, London, Berlin, Milan, etc, to provide examples of success or failure in such regeneration. The all-important point is, “Creative quarters need time to grow. They need to build infrastructure of different trades, venues, office and workshop spaces and most importantly people who are then able to embed themselves into the fabric of the city.”

    Our cathedral quarter is an almost entirely artificial event, which is why, in common with the other regeneration projects; it is having such a turgid take off. Where you have to squeeze through crowds in Dublin’s Temple Bar the visitor on any day can almost see the ghost tumbleweed roll down the almost empty streets of our own Cathedral quarter. It’s not government or their paid civil service apparatchiks who can make creative communities happen by their intervention. The politicians are in essence the blind man telling the guide dog where to go. These communities happen because passionately committed people develop them around their creative work, and are allowed the freedom of circumstance to do this. Our own embryonic creative quarter, the North Street Arcade, which was developing in the first years of the GFA was burnt out rather than recognised. And when you rip the tentative roots up there’s no guarantee that a plant will re-root simply by being put back in the earth. Cathedral quarter is the ersatz version.

    Belfast was called the “Athens of the North” because it had an engaged business class who became very active patrons for the development of the city’s culture. Many of these people were highly active in antiquarianism and the arts themselves, the most noted late example being Francis Joseph Bigger whose grave memorial was blown up in 1968 at the time of the Civil rights march to Derry, and I’m told the recent replacement has also been blown up.

    The Political classes here are the very last people to restore this balance. McConnell’s anti-Islamic rants have their parallels in the real distaste for Culture and Creativity that is common among these politicians, except when it is being cosmetically dressed up as something else, i.e.: a nice wee earner or a tourist draw. Regeneration is not going to happen this way round, you need to have a vital culture and outsiders will come to participate, you cannot just mimic what has been done elsewhere or culture by the yard.

    Without this participation in cultural regeneration across the entire community (and not simply through politically motivated funding) projects such as the Cathedral Quarter are doomed to wither once the funds that sustain them are really needed elsewhere. The state does not create a culture, creative people do, and this lack is what Dan Weiss and David Benioff are bitching about. They come from the “New World” where the locals have a vital (if sometimes shallow) passion for culture. Dan and David both went to Trinity College, Dublin, and probably expected some of Dublin’s sophisticated cultural scene to begin to appear from the Belfast mud, given time. Fat chance…….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sorry, all:

    “you cannot just mimic what has been done elsewhere or purchase culture by the yard.”

  • Delphin

    Well, a so called TV executive from Tinsel Town USA doesn’t think Belfast is good enough for him and his kind – he should go and get a real job!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sorry, Delphin, but as a Belfast born one time “Movie Mogul” myself, all my sympathy is with Dan and Dave. They would probably have loved the older Belfast before bombs and the Developers wrecked the place, I did, but it’s not “our” place anymore. It’s a developers city arrainged around attracting political funds for ill thought out projects that bring money to the few.

    Someone should take Dan and Dave up to the West Belfast Gaeltacht where something vital and local is actually happening and the tumbleweed quality of the “Hollow City” is notably absent.

    And don’t forget, these boys have rael jobs that pay and sre using them to indirectly putting food on your plate by bringing some actual money into the old place.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear! Should read “these boys have real jobs that pay and are using them to…”

  • Delphin

    I would mostly agree with you Seaan, but HBO are here because it is cost effective for them, and anyway tits and castles in a Yorkshire accent isn’t exactly culture.

  • cynic2

    “It’s always funny seeing Peter Robinson slobbering over Game of Thrones considering the amount of nudity,murder,fornication and sexual violence that’s included in the programme. ”

    Get real. Its an average week at Stormont

  • cynic2

    “I have to say I am absolutely appalled at the level of concentration around the pub in the programmes”

    Maybe someone should blow up the Rovers Return ….hang on though

  • cynic2

    “he should go and get a real job!”

    as should the 3 or 4 000 jobs he supports in NI

  • cynic2

    Someone should take Dan and Dave up to the West Belfast Gaeltacht where something vital and local is actually happening …………

    Self delusion is a terrible thing

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Culture. Delphin, but “not as we know it……..”

    Actually, having been there on the set so to speak, Game of Thrones is still a lot more fun than pipe bands, Scots dancing and Flegs, and post modernism has taught us all to recognise a real attempt at cultural creation anywhere it occurs, even on popular T.V.

    And yeah, cost effective with important breaks from NI Screen is important, but its still a bit of a coup, its still putting some bread on tables here, and I appreciate that some locals with film skills are getting employed (not I, alas!) Such a pity that the crew, in common with anyone with a non-NI accent, or who is gay, female, or different in any way at all, gets a deal of sullen blanking from all too many of our “welcoming” people. Not an unimportant factor in Dan and Dave’s reaction, which is why I took your posting at face value first time around.

    But I owe you personally an abject apology, some of my comments above did not take cognisance of the deeply ludic nature of your earlier posting. Mea Culpa……

    And cynic2, poor Peter has the schizophrenic role of having to play pragmatic world statesman to everyone in that part of the world outside our borders while locally continuing to be the exact mirror of his DUP voters deeply held opinions and beliefs. He has to have an acceptable public opinion on the internationally successful “Game of Thrones”, a “nice wee earner” for the province, even if he has never watched an episode himself. Well, he couldn’t, after all, what would the Pastor think…….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Self delusion is a terrible thing,” and indeed it is!!!!!!

    Ah, cynic2, you should try it before knocking it! “Turas” in east Belfast does a wee card with some Irish phrases and with about ten minutes memorising a few sentences phonetically and you could order a Latte and discover just how welcoming the gang at An Culturlann can be to anyone, from anywhere, making an effort.

    And, as east Belfast’s own Lynda Ervine shows in her excellent presentations, we’re all (no matter what perceived background) using the Irish language grammar anyway in our everyday sentence construction, so its just a wee bit of vocab you’ll need. Plus, as a bonus you get free access to a few thousand years accumulation of one of the great cultures of Europe, something that long pre-dates our own religious and political squabbles, which are of very, very recent origin.

  • cynic2


    To borrow from Forrest Gump “Culture is as Culture does”. I wasn’t having a dig at Irish per se but at the idea that that might be the type of culture that would attract young successful movie producers from the west cost usa.

    Perhaps it would if that was their bag but they might be more interested in the cosmopolitan culture scene of bars, restaurants , theaters and arts events.

    I am personally off this weekend for 3 nights in pubs with Irish music every night and I will love it …but thats me

  • cynic2

    “before bombs and the Developers wrecked the place”

    ….does that include the illiteracy, TB and rickets?

  • cynic2

    “You can’t have too many quarters” ….if you do, do you enter another dimension? Discuss

    Physics 2,.1

  • Delphin

    mmm, maybe that’s why no quarter is asked or given in war, as it could lead to dimensional instability on the battle field, and we all know how dangerous that is.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ahhhhh, cynic2 (at 12.58) but it does!!!!! “Celtic” has been very big in California, hundreds of film people I’ve come across play (usually gut strung — not wire strung, alas) harps and speak Irish with a strong West coast accent. Any Californian Ren Fayre has its strong component of Renaissance Gaels, it’s great fun (if highly imaginative). And An Culturlann fits like a glove……

  • fordprefect

    Really laughing my ass off at Jag! (I skipped through the rest). I was born and raised in Belfast, but if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would leave this place and not even look back! Politicians who can’t agree nor get on with each other, to fuck with this place! (I, along with a good many people here have had it up to the neck with the so-called Piss Process). It ain’t getting us anywhere but it’s lining “politicians” pockets.

  • aquifer

    There is some good stuff going on but finding it seems hard. Maybe I need a new smart phone AKA plug in brain.

    Or maybe the tourism chiefs need to sack everyone over thirty.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Or perhaps everyone under thirty need to sack all our “Chiefs”!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “before bombs and the Developers wrecked the place”

    I sometimes wonder if a suitable slogan for architectural preservation would be:


  • Am Ghobsmacht

    In fact, I’d laugh if I saw “FINISHING OFF WHAT THE LUFTWAFFE AND PROVOS COULDN’T” outside the Dunloe and Ewart offices.

    Not that I’m suggesting in anyway, shape or form that they’re detrimental to the cityscape of Belfast, it would just be ‘funny’ tis all…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hiya Am Ghobsmacht! In the light of your Dunloe and Ewart comment (and I must say also, we all admire their excellent work!), I’d said earlier that “Many of these people [the Belfast businessmen] were highly active in antiquarianism and the arts themselves.” One of the most active was Lavens Mathewson Ewart:

    He was perhaps Frank Bigger’s most influential patron and Ewart’s own extensive Irish Cultural library in East Belfast nurtured an entire generation of local historians and antiquarians from both communities during his lifetime. It now continues in part as portion of the Linen Hall Library Irish Closed Access collection !

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I suppose this rage against the destruction of Belfast all runs in the family! My grandfather commanded an anti-aircraft battery between Belfast and Comber during WWII and I grew up listening to long detailed complaints about the pointlessness of any government that would offer no serious support to those defending their country from air attack.

    This is one of the places where I’m coming from on earlier threads with my endless complaints at politicians using “Ulster’s Service in Two Wars” as a rallying cry. So I can hardly expect our current political gangs to do any better than a Stormont administration in war time, can I?

  • Gopher

    For creative people to flourish you need to generate wealth. Cultural creativity is a luxury and luxury is the most effective tax on wealth. In Northern Ireland our crap culture is kept on life support by government and true creativity is still born because no one has the disposable income to spend on it.

    So the bottom line is we need tourism if we want to have an evolving creative country because there is not enough wealth within these shores to sustain creativity.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hey, Gopher, try reading a bit of Daniel Corkery. “The Hidden Ireland” describes a part of the survival of the Irish language without ‘wealth” in the penal era and Corkery eloquently describes a fictional version of this in the short story “Solace” from “A Munster Twilight.”

    I fully agree that “In Northern Ireland our crap culture is kept on life support by government” and have long called for both an effective policy on Cultural Tourism (the only thing we have to sell that the developers or state-funded wind turbine grafters cannot build over) to properly support private non state directed arts activity and a real grass roots revitalisation of the arts, but in the meanwhile some of us are still attempting to have a real culture outside the door of state-funding’s ignorant kiss of death. Wealth helps but the record of state funding shows that imagination comes first, and without that all the money in the square mile will not help. And imagination is still free.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As an example of non-wealth led self generation of a culture I’d cited the North Street Arcade in a long posting on this thread at 9.31am yesterday morning, where I tried to describe the flaws in the idea of any political body attempting to generate a “creative quarter.” Check it out—

  • Gopher

    Imagination still has to eat Seaan and that is the problem the creative (sic) mouths the Government feeds with grants are not necessarily the best. Very few people are going to travel to Belfast to watch a play, visit a gallery, visit a film festival or listen to some poetry (in any language).

    Northern Ireland has to create a critical mass of visitors that that will sustain quality people engaged in cultural activity (whatever that is) To do that we have use are strong suites which is Golf courses, our Coastline, Lakes, Rivers and Countryside. We also have to be pragmatic which aspects of our History visitors will be interested in and who will be interested in it. For example I dont think many of our historic ruins and hill forts (unless they were on game of thrones) will attract visitors but if we offer hands on archaeology tourism people will pay for that.

    We need museums of the quality of the Titanic one but they have to be something people will actually visit and not white elephants .

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh Gopher “Imagination still has to eat” and don’t I know it! As does my bank manager, if I could find where head office have put him. But without the pre-existence of a rich imagination and all its cultural products there is nothing to attract anyone, and creative imagination does not grow out of tourism, its what draws tourists when its flourishing, like Temple Bar or our own sadly aborted North Street Arcade.

    The reason this is not more recognised is that no one who is actually creative seems to go anywhere else and ask the locals about what they might want to see in Ulster if they visit. The policy formers either draw on what makes people visit other places already (a big mistake, but understandable from the unimaginative) or simply guess, which is what seems to be behind your thinking that no-one wants to come for our almost effaced culture. And rather than offering strong suites our “Coastline, Lakes, Rivers and Countryside” are just about to vanish under enough wind turbines to swamp any potential value our impoverished landscape had to offer before this new fad lobbied its way to dominance and to glean endless subsidies from us all. I’m very green and these 20% efficiency nightmares repel me (and most visitors I’ve spoken to) as much as they repel Sammy Wilson!

    Long stretches in the Hollywood sun mixing with well-off Irish Americans, even those with just a small thimble full of O’Neill blood, will tell you that they want to come because they are “Irish”, want to experience an “Irish” Ulster and do not need “Game of Thrones” sites to attract them. I imagine that the fact that although it has violence, rape, nudity and gay sex, the simple fact that “Game of Thrones” is not actually Irish history is a big plus for Peter Robinson, so no help there.

    And about white elephants, in common with the Navin centre of some years back, the Titanic centre has quite naturally been highly optimistic in its forecasts, so if the entire population of China fails to visit every six months as they have predicted, we are likely to see the rapid decline in visitors that is noticeable this year repeating annually until it truly fulfils the prophesy of last year’s slogan “Our Time, Our Place” and starts relying on us all putting lots of our time into visiting it to keep it open at all. But I was warned in advance, and remember the comments of a number of pre-opening visitors with professional interests in heritage commenting about how few genuine artifacts the centre really had to offer visitors…….ho, humm…….

  • Gopher

    Seaan if out of every 100 people who visit the Titanic museum 5 visit an “Irish” cultural site then that is five more than you would have got normally. the same maths applies to Game of Thrones supporting your vision of “Irish” culture. To get critical mass for your “Irish” culture to become commercial viable you need people to visit here in the first place.

    For example Belfast have been given a piece of the cross in HMS Caroline the only “genuine” survivor of Jutland the most debated Battle in History. It should be the centre piece in an Imperial War Museum Ireland a museum people would actually visit. Try getting that past the executive even if you tell them it will generate visitors to “Irish” cultural sites. Until people get pragmatic about the value of a pound, euro or dollar you won’t get a cosmopolitan city just the Groundhog Day you get now. .

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As I’d said, a lot more real imagination needed alongside, I fully agree, a lot more practicality and pragmatism.

    The problem is we have unrealistic, unimaginative policy formers at all levels, and tourism is the least part of their baleful effect.

  • Gopher

    A web page to follow today on getting to the Giants Causeway from Belfast using public transport with updates

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I dare say the new Runkerry housing developments with hotel and cosmetic golf facility will run coaches from the old town for anyone who still wants to see the Giant’s Causeway “reservation.”

  • Zeno

    I’d like to see a summer market in the City Hall to rival the Xmas Market. Selling local produce and promoting local music.
    I’d like to see a roof, nothing expensive just canvas and balloons covering the Hill St Gordan St and Commercial Court where the Duke of York is. That would be great at night for small outdoor concerts and would keep the rain off!!
    That would all cost next to nothing.

  • “The Troubles have brought assorted famous people to see us and we have had a vastly disproportionate degree of media coverage. As such more people have heard of us (though we grossly overestimate our world wide relevance or even recognition) than would have without the Troubles.”

    The Troubles attracted so much foreign media and so many foreign academics to Belfast and NI primarily for three reasons. First, they took place in a country where everyone spoke English and therefore was easy to interview without interpreters. Second, they took place in a first-world country with modern communication facilities, which is important to reporters needing to get their stories out rapidly. Third, Belfast is a spoke off a major world transportation hub–London, which made getting here easy. Thus it had advantages over, say Montreal, but less culture. The same would have been true of cities in Alabama or Mississippi if the civil rights movement had deteriorated into a terrorist campaign.

  • Gopher

    Tourists want “Troubles” tourism without the trouble that is were the executive fail. A tourist will watch an Orange March and then hop on a Black Taxi to see the Falls. They don’t want to be caught in a bomb scare or a riot whilst doing so.

    I’m disgusted that we have been given “The Open” presently without our executive proving that they can run this place in a stable condition for more than a week. We were gifted City of Culture, the G8, MTV awards and the Giro and they did not alter one single mindset at Stomont.

    Made me sick Peter and Marty at that news conference yesterday totally undeserved. Should have had Rory, Graeme and Darren instead

  • Gopher

    Better still the R and A should have brought someone from the mob at Twaddell and wherever the mob member is bused in from to Ardoyne for the interview. After all its better to interview the organ grinders and not the monkey’s Peter and Marty

  • The Raven

    “In Northern Ireland our crap culture is kept on life support by government and true creativity is still born because no one has the disposable income to spend on it.”

    Frankly, if there was ever a post which says “I don’t understand creativity” and allied to that “innovation” etc, this was it.

    Let’s just run back to our B&Bs and hope for the best. :-/

  • Gopher

    So you prefer culture to be decided by cronyism and civil servants rather than by free market forces including opinion. You will be along time waiting for a renaissance if you believe a devolved government know creativity. Our cultural creativity is the equivalent of Morris Dancers backed by paramilitaries. Personally I prefer a more urbane society and the only way to do that is generate wealth.Tourism is the only way we are going to generate that wealth to sustain “culture” and “creativity” independent of government handouts.

    Rather hope for the best than have the shite that passes for culture here foisted on me with government money

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Regarding the correlation between wealth and arts:

    On a personal note, when I lived in Aberdeen, I found it to be culturally dead.

    I am given to understand that the theatres punch above their weight, but, aside from that I never really felt a ‘vibe’ from the place.

    Aberdeen, as it happens is a very wealthy city.

    It also has a rolling stock of visitors who frequently clash money into the city’s pub and restaurant scene.

    Glasgow on the other hand (admittedly much bigger) is comparatively impoverished (outside of the westend and some southern areas) but I found it to be ‘happening’, there’s always something going onthough maybe you have to seek it out and scratch the surface a bit.

    Even the Gorbals has a good theatre.

    So, I think that perhaps there’s a bit more to it than simply having the money to spend.



    I like your idea



    Who do we have to hassle/blackmail/charm to get something done about the North St Arcade and surroundings?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Am Ghobsmacht, the owner I suppose. That’s the problem, all too often sites under private ownership in central Belfast are far more valuable as development sites than as places to host cultural creatives. I’ve tried above to talk about just why the state cannot simply provide these sites, and “Fait!” culture just happens. “Let’s put on a show!” as Mickey Rooney once said (in fiction!!!!)

    North Street Arcade was a place where the process of cultural location was actually begining, and if it had been left to develop, something like Dublin’s Temple Bar might have perhaps occured with some time and imagination. That stopped dead when the Arcade was burnt out, and though the creative busness people starting to gravitate to the area where offered (at higher rents) Cathedral Quarter by the state, the vital energy of the North Street event disipated. And Cathedral Quarter is sustained by a skeleton of directly (and indirecctly) state funded organisations sited at Hill Street and other places locally, who can pay the prohibitive rents.

    After the war the Poles were so distraught at the destruction of the “old city” quarter of Warsaw by the retreating German army, that they lovingly re-constructed it brick by brick. If you know the “Max in Poland” episode of the old TV series “Capitol City” it’s that re-built “old city” that Max is smootching around. I was there in the 1970s and after and its still almost as woefuly soul-less as the “Georgian” new-build at Richmond by the Thames. The problem we are going to hit is that it’s not just the places, its the actual people who re-vitalise them that makes them exciting. Warsaw “old city” has one of the lowest “vibe’ levels on earth, and although I’d love to see the North Street Arcade re-created, it would have to be for big renters, and it was the very down-at-heal bohemian seedyness of the old Arcade was the reason it was developing as a magnet for our local “cultural creatives” in the way it was, like quite similar places in modern Berlin.

    I like Zeno’s idea too, although I doubt that it would really help the “Marie Celeste” feel of the place in working hours, where the occasional visitor is kicking the tumbleweed away constantly.

    And this tussle between Raven and Gopher, Gopher’s absolutely right about the deadening effect of state intervention, but Raven’s right too, as I’m reading him, about the fact that a culture happens anyway, we all do it, some of us professionally! For as Gillian Welch sings “We were gonna do it anyway/ Even if it didn’t pay….”

    Tourism, parasitically, is helped everywhere by the existence of a vital local culture, but the suggestion that tourism can in any way positively develop that culture is a frightening misunderstanding about what culture actually is. The money tourism generates usually goes to entrepeneurs, not artists, as any of us who remember the old theatre scene in London during the sixties and early seventies can tell you, while we look at the modern scene dominated by big earner productions filling the theatres, their seats filled by tourists who have come to London to see shows with as much creative value as dropped bubblegum.

  • Gopher

    @ Am Ghobsmacht

    When top acts visit the UK they might do 3 gigs London Birmingham and Glasgow. Aberdeen like Belfast is off the beaten track. Glasgow has a population of 600,000 as opposed to the 212,000 of Aberdeen so it can independently sustain quite alot of diverse activities. It also has two massive football clubs, large and diverse shopping a truly international airport that handles 7 million people a year as opposed to Aberdeen’s 3 ( Aldergrove 4 City 2). The city centre is a breeze to get to from Glasgow Airport.

    The 3 universities in Glasgow contain 3 times the students of Aberdeen’s two

    So the bottom line is in Glasgow whatever show you put on you are guaranteed more people so if your poor and want to be “discovered” in Scotland simple maths means you will do whatever your doing in Glasgow as opposed to Aberdeen and it has the critical mass of people to sustain you. Nobody is going to “make it” in Aberdeen hence it being “culturally dead” So no wealth aint enough you need people and wealth.

    So to paraphrase the Game of Thrones producers think Belfast is a cultural desert and a non cosmopolitan city. It seems obvious that the effects government funding, government administration and our crap culture does not stand up to outside criticism.

    Solution expand the the base of people so that Belfast can evolve its own culture whether that is restauraut, arts (in any language), museum, sports, pubs, etc etc etc. Only way to achieve that is through tourism

  • Gopher

    @Seaan. London is not the West End. Every night in London there are exhibitions, gigs and events. More tourists go to London for the “vibe” than the tourists who go to the West End. The West End lives off that “vibe” and would die without it.

    When people come to Belfast the only vibe is our Morris Dancers are better than your Morris Dancers and your Morris Dancers got more money from the Government than our Morris Dancers. Of course the theatre here is above all that, it demands government money to make the original “Our Morris dancer fell in love with one of your Morris Dancers” play for the 9,947th time

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    I understand why Glasgow is livelier than Aberdeen (truly!), I was just making a comment that wealth is not necessarily the key.

    Population is not necessarily a ‘must’ either, for example I would recommend the Dutch town of Groningen as an example.

    It’s wee, one university and punches well above it’s weight.

    When I said being culturally dead, I wasn’t just referring to the band scene, I meant as a whole.

    So while expanding the population base through tourism might help there’s still other things that could be done too (which would consequently attract tourists).


    Question for locals:

    Does Belfast have an ‘arty’ area as in an area where artists, bo-hoes and what not flock to for the cheap rent and as a consequence ‘gentrify’ the area (I use the term gentrify loosely, to others gentrification means knocking down a few warehouses and building a Tesco, starbucks and an eatery)?

  • Am Ghobsmacht
  • Gopher

    “Does Belfast have an ‘arty’ area as in an area where artists, bo-hoes and what not flock to”

    Yes London

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Gopher, as a thirty year member of the EFSDS and a fan of Cecil Sharp I do wish that you’d avoid the rather surface conflation of our own grim twin-kulture fundees and perfectly innocent Morris dancers, who are a lot more fun when you meet them than flute bands! Next thing you’ll be telling me I cannot wear my Irish Kilt…….

    And while London is not just the west-end, there used to be serious high level professional theatre in the west end within living memory (mine!) Tourists really are not a good thing for any culture, and a serious reliance on them is the sign that a culture has been taken other by sinister vested interests who bluster to the state as real creatives than the actual creative people who initiate cultural change.

    The Falls Gaeltacht, begin by self-funders and still very much within that self-reliance ethos has done as good a job of creating a “people-upwards” culture as you’ll find anywhere here, which is why I’d flagged them before. But there is no reason why it should be impossible to have a broader spread of a multi-faceted culture around the province, if only the strangle hold of the deadly grants system could be got around. Nothing flourishes top down, just try growing a plant that way.

    And hey, Gopher, most of us artists in garrets cannot afford to run over to London every time we want an art fix. the North Street Arcade did the business for a bit, however.

    And AmG, about your questions: I’d feel that a developing creative centre similar to Temple Bar was simply aborted when the North Street Arcade went, as the emphasis then went into the considerably more well heeled venues provided across the state-concept directed Cathedral Quarter.

    And I’m a long term supporter of the UAHS and their excellent work. I’l have to read the PDF carefully, but it seems to be a good start if we really want Belfast to be something other than a Grim Big Place for our long discouraged creatives!

  • Gopher

    Seaan, since your living memory theatre has had to compete with a multitude of digital TV channels and You Tube for performance art. What you are experiencing is a dilution of both talent and audience to the various mediums.Theatre is now only surviving because of an audiences identification with star names from other media forms so the lowbrow keeps highbrow in existence so I would be thankful for it.

    Talent from here invariably crosses the water if it stays it merely runs in the gerbil wheel of our crap culture.Same script, same art, same comment, same messages repeated daily.

    You define tourist in a pretty condescending terms which is not uncommon in Key West we are called “Tourons” . I define tourist as someone who has spent the money and made the time and effort to see this place for themselves. Their reason for visiting vary some are here to train for sporting events some are here to make TV shows some are here to just get drunk. I believe whatever their choice for visiting they get the most user friendly experience and if the proceeds from that help fund your Falls. Gaeltacht, restores HMS Caroline or North Street Arcade so much the better so the next visitors and ourselves will have an improved choice.

    Right now we have spent all our cookies on The Lyric, Windsor Park, Casement and Ravenhill. We will be along time recouping any of that and I’m certain the producers of. Game of Thrones won’t be any less bored when they are finished. Pretty self indulgent waste.