The review of the review. A punter’s view of the Slugger end of year review show…

It had been a while, maybe four or five years, since I was in Hill Street after dark and what a pleasant surprise it was; bustling bars and restaurants, some totally new to me, casting a warm glow and friendly noise onto the cobbled street. I pulled my collar over to fight off the drizzle and saw the dark empty yard of a bar/restaurant specializing in al fresco drinking and dining. Smoking ban or not, it probably wasn’t the soundest business model for a city where it rains for weeks at a time. If I had a ticket rather than a reservation, then Slugger O’Toole Christmas bash would be the hottest ticket in town at least for politicos like myself who see politics, whether the local, national or global variety, endlessly fascinating.

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The Dark Horse was warm, dry, inviting and packed. Belfast’s Twitterati was out in force, grey-haired, well groomed and speaking in grammar school accents. The bar was adorned with old mirrors bearing the logos of long-defunct Irish whiskey brands and an old-fashioned cash register with huge, clunky keys sat majestically on the counter behind the bar. The place was brand new of course, all the tradition was faux, the best that money could buy and the bar area was seemed curiously devoid of optics and spirit bottles – God knows where they brought the drinks from. After four or five gourmet canapés, tasty little devils – none of your cold cocktail sausages or scalding vol au vents here –  I took my ringside seat and waited for battle to commence, except it wasn’t really like that. In fact, it was quite civilised. The panel were perched on tall stools like game show contestants but looked relaxed for all that. Alex Kane was on the far left, physically that is, not politically, with Katy Hayward to his life, Alan, the moderator in the middle with Cathy Gorman-Heenan to his right and on the far right (again not politically) Chris Donnelly. It was a bit strange seeing people you know only from television close up; they always seem familiar but different from what you expect – smaller usually.

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The format was a round-robin where Alan invited his guests to comment on a particular aspect of the year ahead: highlights, lowlights, biggest disappointment, etc. Alex Kane seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. Liberated from the censoring hand of the BBC, he let rip with several busts of industrial language which the crowd lapped up.

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In truth I was impressed. It is good to hear knowledgeable people at the top of their game, speaking in an informal and relaxed setting and if Norman from Bangor or George from the Shankill were there, they kept their peace. We were spared a Nolanesque Christmas panto. Things were going swimmingly until Alex confessed he admired Jeremy Corbyn, not for his politics, but for his convictions. That was too much for Northern Ireland’s Tories, probably all four of them, who were seated nearby – one unleashed a broadside claiming Corbyn admired Mao who was worse than Hitler, an inevitable comparison somebody was bound to make about someone before the night was through. That was enough to kick off the hecklers, but mostly it was good clean fun. If only our friends at Stormont could be so reasonable.

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The night ended with predictions, as informed and probably as accurate as these things can be, and questions from the floor. Reviewing the review, would I go back? Yes definitely. If politics is show business for ugly people I was thoroughly entertained. See you next year.

Sam Thompson is an amateur historian, his latest book is ‘The Lesser Evil: A Political & Military History of World War II 1937-45‘.

Photos by Brian O’Neill

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “The bar was adorned with old mirrors bearing the logos of long-defunct Irish whiskey brands ”

    If I may be a git for a moment what struck me with the mirrors was that they were all (apart from Bushmills) spelt ‘whisky’ as opposed to ‘whiskey’.

    I had a blast, thought it was a great night.

  • Robin Keogh

    Sorry i couldnt get there despite buying a ticket, electioneering is far too time consuming

  • Granni Trixie

    Cathy GH analysis was a breath of fresh air. Whilst AK for instance generalised a view of PR as “brilliant strategist” she took an opposite view listing measures by which to judge The DUP leader/FM historically. Good chairing by Alan and David.

    Although disappointed at winning no ballot (you know you promised me Brian!)I did manage to eat all the yummy canapés on our table.
    Great fun night for anoraks – thanks to all.

  • Brian O’Neill

    The lady who wanted to buy one single ballot ended up winning two prizes! Chance is a funny thing.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Thanks Sam for summing up the night.

    Can I say a quick thank you to:
    -MCE for sponsoring the event
    -Bailies Coffee Roasters Belfast for supplying the ballot prizes
    -Willie Jack and the staff at the Dark Horse for the wonderful venue
    -Alex, Cathy, Chris and Katy for the lively debate
    -Alan and David for doing a great job chairing the event

    And last but not least thank you to all the people who came. Your support will help keep Slugger lit into 2016. We appreciate it 🙂

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Those canapés were epic!

  • Granni Trixie

    But who made the canapes?

  • Brian O’Neill

    Alan. He is a part time chef.

  • submariner

    As a lover of Irish Whiskey I had also noticed this spelling anonomly on mirrors in Boyne The duke of York and the dark horse. It seems that Irish whiskey makers changed the spelling to whiskey around the 1870s in order to differentiate it from the much inferior Scottish product that was flooding the American market.

  • Brian O’Neill

    While it is tempting to start this rumour the canapés were provided by the dark horse.

  • Brian O’Neill

    This is the cake and candles I had bought you Robin. It was extra special and everything 🙁

  • Robin Keogh

    Lol, Stop making me feels so guilty :”-(

  • LesbianLighterFluid

    Hello AG

    Who’s the fella in your display picture? Been driving me mad for ages. Sorry to yourself and the mods for doing this, disqus has no private messaging so I thought I’d just reply to an old post. :$

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    No problem; it’s Dylan Moran as Bernard black in Black Books. 🙂

  • LesbianLighterFluid

    Cheers. 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Good match except Dylan Moran is far, far less witty!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Oh ssshhhtaaappp….