Monday, March 09, 2009


Like last year, Paul and I decided to go away to celebrate our anniversary. This year we decided to go to Belfast and to use the opportunity to meet my cousin, Danny. I'd been emailing Danny for a while now and was really looking forward to meeting him in person.

Paul and I booked the holiday weekend a while ago and I was really looking forward to seeing Ireland (albeit, even if it's only just one city) as well as meeting a member of my family. When both Paul and I excitedly told people that we were going to Belfast for a holiday - as well as meet my cousin - people would ask us where my family was from. It's a fair enough question (although apparently you're not meant to ask people in Belfast) but when both Paul and I answered the question separately to two different people, both times we were both told to "avoid" the area. In particular, I was told by a person from Belfast, that the area was full of "thieves and killers". With such responses from people, I was beginning to think that my cousins lived in some modern day Dickensian slum, having to fight dogs for scraps of food.

It couldn't have been further from the truth.

When Paul and I walked (as well as drove) around the area, it had an amazing community feel and the streets were colourful and vibrant with murals. Maybe it's because Paul and I live in Glasgow, but we didn't feel threatened or scared in the slightest.

By the way, the area was Andersonstown. Just sayin'.

On Friday evening, we flew from Glasgow and arrived about 25 minutes later in Belfast (short flight!) My cousin met us at the airport and took us to our hotel, not before driving us around his part of town though and giving us an impromptu tour of downtown and West Belfast. Afterward we dropped off our bag, my cousin walked us around and gave us another impromptu tour before buying us a drink.

After dinner on Friday, we went for a drink at the Crown Bar Liquor Saloon - one of the most beautiful pubs in the world. Of course, I didn't manage to get any pictures of it.

Saturday morning, before our black taxi tour, Paul and I were in dire need of a coffee at Deane's Deli! By the way, if you ever go to Belfast, you MUST take the black cab tour (and ask for Jimmy!) The tour takes you to both "sides" of Belfast (i.e. the Protestant/ Unionist side of Shankill and the Catholic/ Republican side of Falls Road).

Our tour started by taking us to the Shankill Road area.

Canadian geese chillin' in the Shankill area.

This is a mural of Stevie "Top Gun" McKeag from the UDA, who killed 14 Catholics (hence the nickname). He died of a cocaine overdose in 2000. This mural as well as the following are in the Shankill Road area of Belfast.

Mural of Lt Jackie Coulter from the UDA, who was killed by another Protestant in the UVF
Mural of Oliver Cromwell
Mural of "King Billy", "William the Orange" blah blah blah. If you live in the West of Scotland, or indeed, Ireland, you've probably heard of him (and like me, maybe even sick of hearing about him).

Part of the Peaceline in Belfast. Although these gates are operational, they have never been open.

This is the only part of the peaceline that actually opens to allow people to pass through from one side to the other.

Mural on the Peaceline.

Peaceline and evidence of a petrol bomb

Peaceline on the Protestant side
Peaceline on Protestant side

This is what the same street looked like (above) before 1969

Directly opposite the Peaceline and on the Catholic side is a mural illustrating the August 1969 riots and when Protestants burnt down Catholic homes.

Backyard of a Catholic home, squeezed against the wall.

IRA Phoenix
Clonard Memorial Garden
Mural in West Belfast (Falls Road/ Catholic area) commemorating the ten 1981 hunger strikers who lost their lives.

Mural of Bobby Sands, whose struggle was recently portrayed in the award-winning film, Hunger. You can read Bobby Sands' diary from his hunger strike here

Sinn Fein headquarters on Falls Road

From our previous impromptu tour with my cousin, Paul and I spotted this mural of Pat Finucane (the lawyer who represented the IRA and Bobby Sands). Finucane was murdered by the UDA/ UFF, who were in collusion with the Royal Ulster Constabulary in his assassination. He was shot 14 times in front of his wife and three children.

Apparently this is the door from Bobby Sands' cell when he was in the Maze prison. You can find it in the Irish Republican History Museum.


Mural of Fredrick Douglass on Falls Road. The following murals can also be found along Falls Road. Do you notice a difference between the Shankill and Falls Road murals?

Who are Republicans going to mock and villanise now that Obama is in office? I suggest Stephen Harper!

View of the Peaceline from Falls Road

Ok, I am so jealous of Belfast's St George's Market. Even though Glasgow is bigger than Belfast, we don't have anything that compares to it. Dare I say it but it might even be on par with the St Lawrence Market in Toronto. The only fault of the St George's Market, however, is the asshole who works at the Origin Foods Crepe stand.

You see, overall, I thought Belfast(ians?) were friendly (although perhaps not as friendly as Glaswegians but hey, weegies are weird like that) until I dared to ask the douchebag at the ORIGIN FOODS CREPE STAND if there was a cash machine around. Without even looking up from what he was doing he barked, "no" at me. I was so stunned that I just stood there confused as to whether he brushed me off or didn't hear me. He started talking to a woman that was beside me while I just blinked in confusion and disbelief. Again, without even looking at me he snarked, "no! there isn't a bank machine in here". I staggered away and Paul, who only caught the tail end of our one-sided bitch fest, came over to me and asked what had happened.

The guy who works at the ORIGIN FOODS CREPE STAND must have thought I was just another dumb American tourist and therefore worthy of his contempt, right? Get it right up yae, ya bawbag, because I'm Canadian and live just across the water from you in Glasgow.

Victoria Square (shopping mall) in Belfast. Totally hot.

Saturday night, Paul and I went to The Spainiard Pub - a really cool small bar - before having a pint in McHugh's (pictured above).

So this is my cousin, Danny, who is without a doubt, one of the most interesting dudes I've met in a long time. He has some really amazing stories (most of which I won't relay to you, internets. Sorry) and is a genuinely warm and decent human. He's probably one of the coolest family members ever (not including you, Mom, of course)!

Can't you tell how jealous Paul is over the fact that Danny is my cousin? Heh, just kidding.

Sadly, Belfast is still not without its problems as two British soliders were murdered on Saturday night and two civilians were critically injured by a small dissident group calling themselves "the Real IRA" (who were also responsible for the Omagh bombing in 1998 in which 29 people were killed).

Nevertheless, I loved Belfast and cannot wait to get back and enjoy the craic.


Flippin' Yank said...

What an awful scary place! J/K

Although, I live in West Belfast and haven't gotten mugged or killed the last time I checked. As a matter of fact, some guy was chasing me down the street the other other day because I dropped 10 quid on the sidewalk. As for the killer part, um yeah they are around here cuz of the paramilitaries, they are your next door neighbors. Chances are high you'd pass one on the Shankill without knowing it. This is why you don't talk politics or religion to someone you just meet on the street.

As for the rude guy at St. George's that's how they treat everybody not just b/c they think you're American. Because god forbid making them lift a finger outside their job description or even within their job description and interrupt their conversation about their holiday at Tenerife...Customer service is not a forte here. LOL!

Glad you enjoyed Belfast. I hope next time you plan to visit South Belfast, it's the hipper or dare say more normal side of the city.

Jennifer said...

I loved Belfast and can't wait to come back.

I did make it to South Belfast, I just forgot to mention it. We had dinner at Molly's Yard, which is in the Botanics area, I think. On Sunday, my cousin drove us through Stranmills and down Malone road and showed us all the posh houses. He then drove us north to the parliament building and then through East Belfast.

LT said...

So glad you enjoyed our wee city! I feel about it the way you feel about Glasgow. I discovered your blog right after I visited Glasgow (about a month ago). It's a fantastic read -- I thoroughly enjoy it.

I go to St. George's every Saturday that I'm in town and it is a joy. You had a great Belfast experience! Tell your friends!

Come visit again soon and we'll buy you a pint.


Anonymous said...

Good post. Very interesting.

Makes our sectarianism seems mild by comparison.

Jennifer said...

Hey L - Thanks very much! I loved Belfast; had a great time. I'm totally coming back - the sooner, the better!

Jennifer said...

Phil - totally.

Derek Lowry said...

I live in Toronto, close to High Park, I left Belfast in 1967,I emigrated to Canada two years later. I travel back to NI occasionally. I like to read the handful of blogs written by North American now living in NI.(you were mentioned by NICONFIDENTIAL) I'm glad you enjoyed yourself,I like to hear good things about my home town. Did you know Toronto used to be called "Belfast on the Don". The Orange Order ran City Hall up until David Crombie's time. The Eaton and Simpson families both hailed from the wee north.
Its a beautiful sunny day in TO, about 40F,all the snow has gone. This time last year we had huge mountains of fresh snow which fell mid March.
I'm retired and read a lot, I've just started a Rebus story. I know it isn't in Glasgow, its kinda worth mentioning.
Take care,
Derek Lowry

Jennifer said...

Hi Derek

Thanks for your comment. I loved Belfast and can't wait to get back.

Yes, I knew that the Orange Order once had a strong hold on Toronto and civic roles in Toronto. Thankfully, the Order has become almost obsolete in Toronto.