Travel writers: please stop making this one mistake when you visit Belfast

You wouldn’t go to Venice and assume that everyone works as a gondolier any more than you would go to Amsterdam and assume that everyone works in a window.

I often wonder why, then, travel writers in Belfast not only define the city by its past – a history which had less of a substantial effect on many people than you might think and is of no interest to a much bigger number now – but also make a basic, crucial error in understanding what has gone before.

Like the myth of ‘two communities’ promoted by some media and political interests (quick response: the ‘don’t care’ community forms a happy majority), the use of the terms Protestant and Catholic as shorthand will take credibility from any otherwise well-researched travel piece.

Firstly, the terms Protestant versus Catholic as a way to summarise the Troubles: in my humble opinion, no one committed an act of violence soley because they felt strongly about theology. They may, however, have been passionate about the question of the union, about territory, about gangsterism or personal ambition. The finer points of the Reformation are less likely to have been a major factor.

Glossing over this part can lead to mistakes like an American headline asking if the 2009 dissident Republican murder of a police Constable in Lurgan marked a return to sectarian violence. The officer was Catholic, presumably (although there are no true assumptions here) like those responsible, and the murder had little to do with religion.

Then the use of either religion to describe a pub or area of Belfast, which ignores the huge ‘don’t care’ section of the population mentioned earlier: over 40% of people had better things to do than vote in the last elections, and that’s not to mention our large Eastern European, Chinese and Indian communities (the latter two being very well established over many years) making labels harder to use with fairness and confidence.

In a world where those who shout the loudest appear to call the shots and history is written by the victor, a simple alternative then is – for example – ‘majority pro-union’ for an area or even ‘Republican/ Nationalist’ or ‘Unionist/ Loyalist’ used with caution for groups of people.

Bear in mind also that election results won’t give you a picture of what people in Northern Ireland think due to family voting habits, defensive voting, a forced no-opposition shared-governement system and lack of choice.

Someone who paints you a picture of a country based on Orange versus green may have an agenda for doing so and you’ll find the more people you speak to the more their experiences don’t bear this out in real life. For one thing, the political views of an average person – if they’ll talk about them – may well be much more apathetic and resigned, or else much more complex, than having a simple ‘side’.

If you are keen to give your article authority, ask someone to explain the difference and – even better – brush up on the Scottish independence close-call, the rise of the Northern Irish identity and the consistently low poll for a United Ireland of late. Saying that, we’re having some fascinating local debate about what the latter might actually look like in ‘real life’, with the concept of nationality and almost the Union itself changing fast.

Most of all, bear in mind that we aren’t the Troubles and the Troubles aren’t us. Those mural walls and Trouble-spots have no part of life for hundreds of thousands of people and don’t provide an easy label to the politics or views for those who live nearby.

Belfast has some of the best bars in Europe, a thriving city centre nightlife and an extremely warm welcome. This is the Belfast many of us see and this the Belfast waiting for more people across the world to see.

But Protestant versus Catholic? Two communities? There are about 15 communities on my Facebook on a quiet day. If you must write about an often irrelevant conflict then you’ll need to do a bit more research.

First, have a pint and enjoy yourself. It’s what everyone else is doing.

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  • Twilight of the Prods

    I take your points…..a little. But my gut reaction (lived experience) and my head (rational analysis) does not tally with your descriptions.

    You don’t seem to be describing the country/region I live in.

    Think about how we are all made into individuals/citizens and communities:

    endogamy – currently at about 90%

    Education ages 4-18 – a little over 90% segregated

    Neighbourhoods – inner urban/housing estates/ many large and small towns – high degrees of residential segregation. Even in areas which might appear mixed at ward level -are anything but. But yes there is increasing mixing in middle class areas.

    Churches – obviously affiliated by denomination- some long term ecumenism tho.

    Cultural pursuits – often follow broad national identification (many sports, community festivals, community organisations) but a lot that is community blind or even cross community.

    Workplaces – happily more integrated than they’ve ever been.

    ‘The Public Square’ – often neutral, often filled with symbols adhering to one community or the other….and it doesn’t have to be just flags/murals/ or parades that set off triggers

    Shopping – can be neutral consumerism. Can be more complicated if affected by residential segregation.

    Law and Order. Thank God for Patten. Huge advance for everyone. Will require work to maintain.

    Political Organisation – pretty thoroughly communalised. The parties are not just about national identity, but also about communal representation and jockeying. Alternatives are out there for the disenfranchised/non voters – only pull in 10-15%

    New communities – thank God for a bit of difference. But still a very small percentage, and concentrated in greater Belfast.

    …Now think about how much of the above acts to socialise us, to shape our understanding of the world, and to pull us towards two broad communities. The sheer gravitational weight behind them (home, school, neighbourhood etc).There is plenty acting to bond those communities internally, relatively little bridging them.

    There are of course difference within the broad camps…and much of the time these identities are pushed to the back of daily existence anyway – but they are always there ticking over – it doesn’t take so much to make them highly salient at given moments, and for them to iron out internal differences.

    ..I haven’t even mentioned the legacy of the Troubles.

    I’m all for painting a more complex picture of Norn Iron but this pitch is Pollyanna on some really good Ecstacy. You’ve gotta start from where you actually are.

  • Your summary of where we are sounds pretty positive to me bearing in mind where we’ve come from.

    Segregation is a hangover of the Troubles and will, to some degree, reduce over time.

    My point was that it is easy to assume that there are two ‘sides’ when it is my experience that a large number in the middle don’t care much at all.

    Living in a segregated area doesn’t mean a person buys in to either extreme.

    I discovered a while ago that (I assumed) unionist friends are only just unionist with the tiniest possible ‘u’, their unionism being more cultural than practical….yet more people not fitting neatly into orange or green.

  • janefinch01 .

    In March 2015, an employee asked me to do an oral survey re the visitor experience at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum. Even though I don’t have anything remotely approaching a Northern Irish accent, the last question read to me was “Are you Protestant or Catholic?”

    Who asks that question other than someone in Northern Ireland?

  • Hopefully no one – wonderful how many people refused to answer. Church attendance of either type isn’t as high as it was (as far as I know) so the terms probably describe fewer and fewer people.

  • Jack Stone

    But when people go to Venice, they go to see the canals. When people go to Amsterdam, they go to see the the red light district and smoke pot in a cafe. When people go to London, they go to the Tower and Buckingham Palace even though neither place has been relevant since the Glorious Revolution. Las Vegas has some of the most authentic Chinese food anywhere in America but when travel writers write about the place, do you know what they talk about? The Casinos.

    I probably have a much better grasp of this than most of you because I experienced Northern Ireland as a Tourist while studying in Dublin. My parents were from here, sure, but what drew me to Belfast was the idea of living history. I wanted to see the murals and Shankill, the Markets and The Falls. I wanted it to be like Berlin before reunification. I wanted it to be like Tangier before the war. I wanted it to be like Moscow before the curtain fell. I wanted the murals. I wanted to see KAT and Brits Out scrawled on walls. I wanted to drink in sectarian pubs and I wanted to see the peace walls. I got to go to The Crumlin Jail and I got to see the fortified police stations and even some museums like the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum. I got to see Free Derry and the walls of Londonderry. I wanted that part of Northern Ireland that was living history. I wanted to find the clubs where people from Unionist and Nationalist backgrounds mixed like i had heard The Casbah was. I wanted that hope. I got to go to a 12th Parade wearing a Union Jack Tshirt and I got to go to a parade protest wearing a Celtic top. Why would you want to sanitize the place you live when you could have Travel writers write about what makes Belfast special?

    Why isnt there museums and galleries catering to the Troubles and the history of Northern Ireland? Why can’t tourists experience both sides shouting their narrative? I cannot wait until the next time I get back so I can see the Orange Order Museum. This stuff is interesting and your objective should be to highlight what makes Northern Ireland special. Why come all the way out to the provincial backwater that is Belfast? For your long established Cantonese community? No.

    One of the things I wish for Northern Ireland is that it embrace it’s past. Do you know how much money I’d spend to visit the Maze? How interesting it would be to have both sides laying out it’s narrative and having the opportunity to draw my own conclusions? How many countries have something like that? Sure part of it would be a shrine to terrorism and part of it would be a memorial of the Unionist need to protect order from the criminal terrorists. That is what makes the conflict interesting. God forbid you highlight what tourists want to see. Nobody goes to Venice for the Greek community. Nobody goes to Vegas for the Chinese food. Nobody visits Northern Ireland to see the well established Indian community.

    Look at the Belfast tripadvisor page. Northern Ireland should celebrate what makes it special, but if they did then Northern Ireland might actually attract tourists.

  • People will visit what they want to visit and chose what they want to visit, absolutely. I believe we also see a trade in stag/ hen weekends, conference, sports and concert visitors etc who may or may not have any interest in looking at the conflict stuff.

    My point was more that some travel writers may not see what is beyond the relics and even moreso that assumptions are made about the politics of people living here as well as lazy descriptions used to describe the conflict…if the travel writer wants to go down that road then a little more basic understanding and less stereotyping of people is appreciated, is all. It wasn’t a religious war, there aren’t ‘two sides’ and many people here aren’t too concerned about the matter….there are common mistakes made around these areas so they are good basics to grasp for a travel writer, in my humble view.

    The reference to ethic groups was to show that not everyone fits into orange and green.

  • Zeno

    23% describe themselves as Nationalist
    28% describe themselves as Unionist
    I’d estimate that less that 5% of those people are extreme in their views.
    The rest describe themselves as neither.

  • Jack Stone

    yeah, it is not a shock journalists are lazy, but the fact remains, what is the reason to take that second flight. If you are coming in from Essex or Boston, or Chicago, or New york, What makes Belfast a better destination than Galway, Dublin, London or any of the other places tourists could spend their hard earned money? That is what travel writers are interested in. Sure you have sports but is it the best on the island? Are your concerts better than Dublin? What makes that second flight, or train ride or drive worth the trip? What makes it worth the price of admission? Because that is what the travel writer is interested in, saying that you have hotels too isn’t going to make people read the article.

  • Thank you – my point exactly.

    It is easy for a visiting writer to make it sound as if NI is split in two. The reality is clearly much more complex.

  • Jack Stone

    But, if you looked at the studies as a whole then it would be MUCH more clear to you that it is because people see themselves on a spectrum of Identity, by cherrypicking one question, I feel you over simplify the complex realities of personal identity. For example 37% see themselves as either Irish or more Irish than British while 41% perceive themselves as as either British or more British than Irish. It is a bit like identifying as a Republican or a Democrat in the states, most people wont identify as one or the other preferring to view themselves as independent but when you ask them Which of political party do you feel closest to? then you will get a more honest answer. People do not want to be perceived as partisan even by a questioner. I dont know if there is data on a question like which political outlook do you feel closest to (maybe there is by party) but if you ask questions like that, you will probably get a more honest answer.

  • I might not have explained myself very well – I don’t mind at all that they visit those places, my concern is about people not places: it is the lazy assumption that people are divided into two ‘sides’ in Northern Ireland and that it was primarily a religious war.

    If travel writers are going to dip their toe into the subject – and, again, I really have no objection to them doing so – it grinds my gears a little when they don’t grasp the above two basic starting points as it misrepresents the people of Northern Ireland and what they have been through.

    I’m less concerned where people visit, although ideally I’d like them to see much more than Troubles tourism.

  • notimetoshine

    “Why would you want to sanitize the place you live when you could have Travel writers write about what makes Belfast special?”

    Well considering that our history living or otherwise is exceedingly unpleasant, sanitising the place would be preferable. Glorifying biogtry, violence and murder is hardly a great starting place especially for those who live here.

    Also Belfast may well be an insignificant provincial city, but there are many of those who do quite well out of tourism. Newcastle is a prefect example, with a nightlife much like Belfast’s.

  • I suspect that Belfast’s pubs are even better than many European cities as they haven’t feel as if they have been ruined by chain-pub, mainstream ownership like some city pubs can: places like White’s and Bittles are real asset while at the other end of the scale Perch, Bert’s Jazz Bar etc etc etc have all you need for a night out to rival most cities.

    I’d prefer that people see that side of Belfast. A Belfast that I love. But Troubles tourism vs non-Troubles tourism wasn’t so much what I was getting at as the lazy summaries of the Troubles that are at times written.

  • Zeno

    23% say they are Nationalist.
    23% Vote Nationalist.
    26% describe themselves as Irish
    30% would like to see UI in their lifetime. So you could probably take that figure as the maximum number of soft Nationalists and it would probably include people from a unionist background and those that claim neither.

  • notimetoshine

    It will always be thus I should imagine.

  • Robin Keogh

    My cousin moved to Dublin from Canada two years ago. She has had five visitors here to see her from her hometown. She has brought them all to diifferent places across the country such as Killarney, Galway, Derry, North Antrim etc. However, she has brought every single one of them to Belfast to experience two things, the Titanic museuam and the Black Taxi tour. For her the that taxi tour is the most intersting thing. She cries every time.

  • Robin Keogh

    Theologically speaking i would say you are correct. Culturally speaking its a different ball game.

  • Zeno

    Have you been to Croatia? They have a museum that commemorates the dead killed by the Serbs. I saw it when I was there but I wouldn’t travel to see it or recommend it to anyone.

  • Robin Keogh

    I have been but only for very brief stops so the beer always took precedent. By the way. Don’t get a swollen head here but i think i should thank you for something. On one of my final assignments I got an A as opposed to a B +. In that assignment (presentation) i had to discuss voter choice in the context of political convergence. Now, over the last few months you have come out with some crazy stuff but your comments regarding the intentions of people who choose not to cast their vote got me thinking. In the presentation I argued that the asumption that the active electorate in any given competition are a representative sample of the entitled electorate is a flaw in our analysis of political culture and society, therefore convergence theory in itself might be flawed. … I wont bore you further, my professor said it was a ‘unique and significant point’ hence the A, so thanks 😉

  • Zeno

    “I argued that the asumption that the active electorate in any given competition are a representative sample of the entitled electorate is a flaw”

    Your Professor is a very intelligent person.

  • Zeno

    Lets go the whole hog Robin and have a death walk for tourists, 3500 ish Coffins stretched out end to end. I think it would be about 4 miles. Just a simple Name ,date of death and who murdered them. Those murdered by republican groups would be coloured green, Loyalist murders would be orange and those killed by the security services can be black. Then we could have 4 miles of Wheelchairs and Hospital beds to represent those maimed in the “Troubles”
    But before it opens to Tourists EVERYONE in Northern Ireland should be made to make that walk.

  • I’d agree, although I also think there is a continuing reduction in people who define themselves by their branch of faith or actively seek out the culture attached to it.

  • Understood – but I’ll stay out of the Troubles tourism debate as it was more a case of some specific problems with representation of people and the past I was taking issue with.

    I’d rather spend a day in St George’s Market and visiting pubs but definitely a case of each to their own.

  • Zeno

    Robin doesn’t live in Northern Ireland ,so his understanding of it is limited.

  • Robin Keogh

    I get that it cuts. Truly i do. But people are attracted to the macabre, its just people.

  • Robin Keogh

    Lol, clearly.

  • Hugh Davison

    Go for it Zeno. You could make a fortune. Lonely Planet would love it.

  • tmitch57

    “and that’s not to mention our large Eastern European, Chinese and
    Indian communities (the latter two being very well established over many
    years)”

    What percentage are the Chinese of the total population? Well under .5 percent I’d wager and the Indians even smaller. The Poles will over time be absorbed into the nationalist population just as Italians like Scappaticci were before them. The Chinese will only become significant if in the future some lunatic politician decides to blame them for all of NI’s problems.

  • As opposed to overall migration, what I was getting at was that it may be lazy for a writer to describe an area as – say – a ‘Protestant area’ – since almost half of people don’t vote and there are pockets of higher numbers of people not born in NI in some areas too.

    It was the labelling of people and places without a bit of thought first I was taking issue with.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    CJ

    I get where you’re coming from, i truly do, but i wouldn’t be at all hopeful regarding this.

    It would be great if the focus was on the things you highlighted but each area has to play to its strengths and Belfast is starting to haemorrhage some of its assets.

    For example, the pubs:
    Great. So many wee gems. However, how long can this last for with the way rates are going? I read somewhere that a bar in belfast had its rates hiked up by 4-5000 quid a year.
    How many additional sales that translates into I don’t know.

    If that continues the it paves the way for weatherspoons et al.

    Once that pub balance shifts then the tourist board has to place extra emphasis on ‘troubles tourism’ which encourages the culture you are lamenting.

    Architecture: Belfast probably had the chance to protect the Victorian & prewar cityscape and help protect the city from ‘blandisation’, but that boat has probably sailed so anyone who wants a nice intact, pretty city centre would be better off going to other cities.

    So again, the slack must be taken up by troubles tourism.

    Shops; everytime I come home it seems that yet another quirky shop is gone ( even Delaneys has bit the dust and been replaced by a bland coffee franchise and Delaneys was around for as long as i can remember. ..).

    The plan to regenerate north st from what I gather is the usual limited approach of flats & car parks. Who wants to see that?
    The Ulster architectural heritage society has a fantastic plan to regenerate the area but alas it is being ignored (or was last I heard). http://www.uahs.org.uk/campaigns/current-campaigns/royal-exchange/

    So, the more bland and indistinct Belfast becomes then the more it has to rely on the death dollar market.

    Add to that pile the savaging of arts funding, the close proximity of Dublin and the reluctance of certain parties to grant rate relief to anything that doesn’t have a fleg then the options become less and less.

    Belfast is being left behind in terms of redevelopment (look at Glasgow and Liverpool) and its gems and character are being destroyed.

    I’m afraid troubles & Titanic are becoming ever more important as a tourist beacon which in turn encourages this kind of journalism and over simplification that so vexed you.

    I lament this as much as anyone.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    They have a museum of torture in zagreb now…

  • So would plenty of visitors I suspect. I used to dispair in Scotland at the interest some people have in our home was on the morbid side of things (to put it politely).

  • I’ve often said that our wee independent shops and pubs -compared to cities where the pubs feel corporate and faceless – are a huge strength.

    If we’re going to have more Troubles tourism (which would be a shame if that’s all people see as there is much, much more to Belfast) then what I was getting at was that writers who tackle the subject could at least show some very basic willingness to understand (ie, don’t use the terms Protestant and Catholic in a lazy broad-brush way, don’t assume there are ‘two sides’ or assume that everyone cares or did care about the politics behind the Troubles).

    It grinds my gears when a visitor comes to NI with an an over-simplistic agenda to prove rather than a open mind, if they must dip their toe in our murky past at all.

  • Ernekid

    In the case of Belfast. Tragedy+ Time = Tourist attraction

  • That seems unavoidable, the minimum of effort in explaining it properly and not stereotyping people is all I ask from travel writers.

  • Zeno

    He also has claimed to hate all things catholic or irish so be wary of his agenda.

    What ever happened to the playing the man rule?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    But are we a museum preserved in toxic aspic for the consumption of tourists alone? Yes we are fascinating anthropologically because so many of us want to pointlessly preserve our hatred, fear and suspicion but this neglects the fact that we are a living, breathing society that has to move towards a sustainable future.
    “One of the things I wish for Northern Ireland is that it embrace it’s (sic) past.” In reality we let our past embrace us in a prison like bear hug and this means that the interpretation at ‘sites; like museums etc can contain a lot of misleading information, proselytising, oversights and sacred cows. Your argument would be great if there were a pursuit of the truth and balance in all our interpretive centres but there often isn’t.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Tmitch57, you win the prize for ‘Ensure that NI will always be trapped by its past and keep repeating its same mistakes’.
    Why on earth would Poles resident in NI in the 21stC “be absorbed into the nationalist population just as Italians like Scappaticci were before them”? The circumstances and conditions are very different from when Scappaticci’s forebears arrived here. Think about it!
    There is nothing ineluctable about all papes adopting a new national identity in which they have no stake.

  • Gingray

    “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

    Zeno, perhaps there is a reason why your cries are ignored. Simple facts have shown you for what you are, it’s verifiable and acknowledged from top to bottom on Slugger. You sir are a troll.

    You have yet to explain why you used the middle rate of tax from the UK to compare to the top rate in Ireland. Not using like for like.

  • Zeno

    When all you have left is name calling and sectarian slurs you lost the argument a long time ago. There is little point in explaining to you what “like for like” means. Get someone else to explain it.

  • David McCann

    Right enough.

    Gingray, if you cannot debate without getting personal then get out. We have rules about playing the man on this site.

  • tmitch57

    Well, Ben, we’ll both know in about another 20 or 30 years–if we’re both around then. But I bet the North’s large Catholic minority played a large role in Poles deciding to immigrate to it–that is if they didn’t simply confuse it with the Republic, which is a Catholic country and probably the most Catholic in culture in Europe after Poland.

  • Zeno

    Thank you.

  • With respect, my gut feeling is that it wasn’t much of a factor…market forces (ie, jobs) being the reason why people came and as far as I know the reason began to leave.

    I don’t see why anything more that access to a reasonable number of Catholic Churches would’ve been sought by those migrants who practise their faith, and that applies to a lot of places in Europe. I don’t see what a ‘large Catholic minority’ offers the migrants beyond this and I wasn’t aware that they have a greater tendency to live in communities seem as Catholic either.

  • babyface finlayson

    Gingray
    Non-voters are by default endorsing the status quo, so it is not unreasonable to say they are to some degree in favour of the Union.

  • Gingray

    Perhaps babyface, perhaps.

    I just think it’s possible that some people can favour a united Ireland without voting for the nationalist parties in elections.

    Scotland is a case in point. The Snp wave came at the last holyrood election, on a 50% turnout. The referendum saw an 85% turnout. The figure for yes and for the snp vote are fairly consistent.

    The fact is neither sinn fein or the sdlp speak for all voters, and assuming non voters will vote against a united Ireland is poor analysis.

  • murdockp

    if the politics is normalised the rest will take care of itself.

    for example the licencing laws are archaic. a European can’t buy a beer or wine drink in a cafe like they can at home and a late night drink you can forget about.

    then when they hear we have anti prostitution Laws that even has a clause about dancing close to some one in a sexual way they must think what an odd peculiar little country where adults are treated like children and controlled by the state.

    welcome to northern ireland comrade

  • Certainly the case that we’d rather hear MLAs figuring out how to get people to Belfast and keeping them there (including licensing etc) than hear about them lurch from crisis to crisis.

  • murdockp

    I agree and given belfast city council has just spunked fifty million of hard earned taxpayers cash on a conference centre and as completion approaches stormont has not updated any laws that will make it a sucess such as licensing or upgraded any infrastructure such as airports or rail links the only conclusion a reasonable person can conclude is we are just incompetent at governance.

  • babyface finlayson

    I agree. I think when a referendum eventually comes minds will focus and many more will vote than normally turnout for elections.As happened in Scotland.
    But by not voting in elections those people are surely saying they are not overly bothered by the status quo at this time,as they must be aware that a significant increase in vote for Nationalist parties would trigger a referendum.

  • Jack Stone

    No, of course not, but you shouldn’t act like the murals should be painted over, the ethnic struggle ignored, and the Maze bulldozed, I don’t think that is for the best. The Soviet Empire was a terrible thing but Lenin’s Tomb attracts millions of tourists every year. While society will change and evolve, to jettison a country’s past is, I think, not good. Northern Ireland is a beautiful, interesting place with a beautiful interesting past. The past does not prevent one from moving on. Ignoring our past will not prevent anyone from repeating it’s mistakes.

    I don’t think that one voice should be the only one promoted especially in a free society. Museums, galleries and monuments are important parts of the past. We should preserve that past because it has value. Even historical viewpoints that I do not agree with have merit. Who should define the truth? Who should define the balance? Should we allow anyone to decide which narrative is triumphant? Or should we build a society which allows for a plurality of views. I find the Orange Order makes me uncomfortable but it didnt stop me from attending a 12th parade and it wouldnt stop me from attending that museum. Every historian has bias. Every museum will promote a viewpoint. I think that a collections of viewpoints could be one of Belfast’s greatest strengths.

  • Gingray

    So zeno is allowed to keep telling lies, and trolling blogs without being challenged? Everything I’ve said is fact.

  • Gingray

    Again babyface, perhaps.
    Personally I don’t have any faith that either nationalist party has a clear vision of what a united Ireland should look like, which in itself is off putting.
    I agree completely about the status quo, I’m supportive of it. We had a long conflict and the majority here are pro union, so let’s make it work.
    That doesn’t mean forgetting about a united Ireland, it’s just not the priority. Nor does it mean nationalist parties should ignore it – articulate what they mean to show the benefits, because there are plenty.

  • Gingray

    C Johnston

    A decent, if rose tinted, article but I enjoyed it so well done.

    I think the divides exist, but are experienced less if you are middle class in the greater Belfast area.

    In the west of Northern Ireland the towns and city are still very clearly divided, both in terms of residence and drinking habits. Similarly for north antrim and south armagh/down.

    In north, east and west Belfast it’s the same story, with only really the city centre and the malone/Ormeau area that gives us a mix.

    The bars however are good, although suffer from early closing – we had a run of taking friends from the south and England to illegal drinking venues, which added to the fun. Who didn’t enjoy bx!

  • whatif1984true

    Journalists may not even visit when they write about a city. Remember ,was it the LONELY PLANET guide to a country which was written by a person who had not even visited the country.
    Blame google and laziness and hope that any writer doesn’t notice Stormont and assume that the people we elect are REPRESENTATIVES.

  • A good point re journalists…copy and paste writing would cause the type of problems I was talking about.

  • Thank you for the kind comments, I’m definitely rose-tinted and happily so.

    I’m not sure that people living apart assumes that they have strong views on NI politics, ie writers can’t claim there are just ‘two sides’ when lots of people really don’t care.

    Anyway, your last paragraph gets to a subject that I reckon is a bigger priority for lots of visitors! If we want people to enjoy themselves and spend money then chucking out time needs another look.

  • kalista63

    During the boom, a woman I worked with was talking to the manager of a London based, international company, Habitat, and he told her that they were paring more in rates for their Donegall Place store than they were payiing for their Oxford St, Lonfon, store. That’s just insane.

    As for pubs, until recently, the choice of beers has been totally crap due to the cowardly way people ran their pubs, tying the, to breweries. I remember flying home to Belfast after a loada days in Morpeth (a fantastic town) and walking out of the bus station, crossing the road to get a pint and frustrated and the brown fizz that passed as beer. Back there, it was £2 odd for a pint of Old Speckled Hen, £3 odd for a pint of brown fizzy crap.

    As for this being a post conflict era, I don’t see that when I go to places like Rathcoole or Poleglass. I’ve cemented before on how the former is constantly plagued by the ‘black necks’ as the locals call them. I’ve an elderly neighbour who’s had to move out of his flat because they’re trying to duff him up.

    Much is, rightly, made of not leaving victims and survivors behind but there are also other victims, other survivors who don’t even know that they are. The only time these people get attention is when someone wants to stir things up. People of my age, from Belfast, Derry etc. saw things as a child that a child should never have seen. Some of us, like myself, were dilaced to places that we didn’t like, never settled in.

    Conversely, for every troubles related horror story we have, we’ve a funny one too. They were interesting times. IMHO, the city had a better heart and communities were more cohesive. There was no materialism, no stretched limo/latest IPhone/have to have a car one upmanship. The city center had its own identity, independent stores, often with amazing architecture with knowledgeable staff.

    When o hit the booze heavil, for 18 months, it was in the post agreement boom years, with every Froday depositing the EasyJet crowd, hen & stag parties and I got to know (yes, that way too ? ) a lot of the regular victors. Without exception, the reason they all gave for returning was one reason & one reason only……the people. Sure, the younger ones like the clubs but the others liked the ordinary bats. Not your Irene & Nan’s and other cool places but your Robinson’s or Kelly’s. The ones that I stayed in contact with stopped coming over, it became to expensive. While Dublin caught on to their mistake, ripping the hole out of customers, we continued and got worse.

  • whatif1984true

    About time someone opened a fake illegal shebeen for the visiting americans with a spare pig and chicken plus sawdust and old people playing spoons and fiddles with their donchers on.

  • whatif1984true

    Any thoughts on what a truly ‘representative’ line up at Stormont would look like.

  • whatif1984true

    Writers go for stereotypes which is ok when you think that the millions who go to the Costas do not go for culture but the stereotypes are still used in the actual tourism advertising. None of it is reality.
    In Sri Lanka they have men on poles fishing-very photographic.
    In China there are the men fishing with cormorants.
    In the OMO valley people paint their faces and bodies with fantastic designs.
    In Cuba old woman with garish makeup and huge cigars pose in Havana.

    None of this is real it is all staged for tourist cameras with money expected for every shot.

    The tourists will go and take those shots and maybe think they saw the ‘real’ side of a country.
    Tourism and reality are 2 parallel concepts which never meet.

  • Casey Aspin

    I’m an American living in Belfast who hosts many American visitors. Unfortunately, I’ve had many visitors in July when there are bonfires higher than many buildings in Belfast. How to explain? In an era of dystopian scenarios tied to climate change, how do you explain burning ever more and ever higher bonfires in the name of “culture”? My cousin and his wife wanted to take a black taxi tour and I joined them, with trepidation. In the Short Strand area, we saw people cleaning up broken glass and paint thrown across the wall in the wee hours of that morning from a bonfire zone on the other side. Widows, children (our driver lived nearby and knew them all) picking up glass and scrubbing their front doors. What would that do to your image of Belfast? I don’t care how “isolated” these tribal feuds are, tolerating bonfires in interface areas and murals dedicated to paramilitaries is seen as creepy and upsetting by people from other countries. My cousin stayed at the Fitzwilliam–a block away was one of the highest bonfires in Belfast. Nothing like putting out the welcome mat. I love Belfast, too, but I don’t think denial will get us anywhere.

  • Thank you, appreciated but my main concern was that travel writers were overestimating how many people are involved or interested in – let’s say – old-fashioned NI politics.

    The bonfires are certainly hard to ignore at that time of year, but you have to go past a city centre full of people who really don’t care to choose to take a black taxi showing the further end of things.

  • Really interesting, thanks. The proper old pubs are the first thing about Belfast I brag about….and I remember saying exactly the same as you’ve pointed out re Dublin.

    When I go to other cities I see chain pubs and no character, we have incredible old pubs on our doorstep. Would be great to see them protected and encouraged.

  • Stranger things have happened. I always laugh when I see Irish theme pubs in…Ireland.

  • whatif1984true

    The ones abroad are even stranger, Ailse in Wonderland and the irish who would frequent them are stranger still.

  • ted hagan

    Just a small point. There are two sides.

  • ted hagan

    There aren’t all that many great bars in Belfast. The Crown doesn’t really count because it’s a tourist pub. The Kitchen bar was the best of them, once upon a time.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh, yes, and I’m ancient enough to remember the Spanish Rooms on a weekend evening with over thirty feet of rough cider in glasses packed deep behind the bar, and even Kelly’s Cellars when it was being Kitchy for us locals………

  • Will McConnell

    “Some of the best bars in Europe” LMAO. Are you talking about Lavery’s or the Bot? Have you been to Europe? What a joke.

  • Casey Aspin

    It would be interesting to find out from cruise boat operators what percentage of their clients take each of the tours offered.