Alternative Ulster

Need a weekend away? Jonathan Trew skims over the waves and hits the bright lights and green fields of

Northern Ireland.

The words ‘holiday destination' and ‘Northern Ireland' are not synonymous in most people's minds. In fact. mention Belfast and bombs. bullets and balaclavas tend to be the prominent icons. That’s not the whole picture. yet for those of us who live on the mainland it’s practically the only image that we have of Ulster. This leaves the Northern Ireland tourist industry with something of a problem: they have an excellent country to promote, yet it is also one which has not had the best possible press over the last 25 years. Obviously. to pretend that The Troubles never happened would be ridiculous but they are not the heal] and end-all of Nonhem Ireland.

Since last year's ceasefires a new air of optimism seems to have settled over Belfast and the peace dividend is beginning to make some returns that are having a noticeable effect on the life of the city. Folk are no longer scuttling off the streets come eleven at night. obeying some self-imposed curfew. Now the city centre is thronged until closing time with good natured crowds throwing the black stuff down their throats as though Prohibition was going to come into force the next day. The old system of phoning taxis in advance from specific firms to go to specific parts ofthe city has been replaced with the usual free-for-all which is familiar to late night revellers in every modern city in Europe. Barbed wire and fortifications still disfigure some of the city’s buildings but armed troops on the streets are no longer the regular sight that they were and the peace line which segregated the Falls from Shankhill is open for most ofthe time. Two of the city’s bus firms even run sightseeing tours which take in the murals in the two areas.

All of which means that Belfast is returning to a normalin which is routinely enjoyed by most cities. But normality alone is not enough to bring in visitors. something different is needed. Belfast has a number of tricks

The Crow's Nest on Skipper Street.

up its sleeve to use in its efforts to bring in tourists, and the most potent of these is the people themselves. Just as the Highlands are never mentioned without some reference being made to a ‘warm Highland welcome' and Liverpool can‘t get into print without the words ‘native scouse wit’ making an appearance alongside. the Irish are always described as friendly and fond ofa blether. Unlike most generalisations this one holds water. The bonhomie and sheer friendliness of the Northern Irish is as spontaneous as it is unpretentious and the best way for a visitor to Belfast to appreciate this is to head for the nearest boozer.

The first thing a visitor notices in a Belfast pub is the incredible age range of the drinkers: single octogenarian women sup their halves next to burly dockers and animated students who are barely old enough to be served and they all have the time of day to talk to one another —- something of a radical departure from most of the bars in Edinburgh or Glasgow. As in any city

Now the city centre is thronged until closing time with good natured crowds

throwing the black stuff down their throats.

the range of pubs is diverse, from the easy going spit and sawdust spartan decor of Benny Conlon’s on Waring Street. where they serve the Guinness both chilled and at room temperature. to the Victorian splendour of the gaslit Crown Bar and its stained glass booths on Great Victoria Street. Alongside the large number of traditional bars which drip character there are also more modern establishments such as The Manhattan which caters for the

9 premium packaged lager, chrome and 1 smoked glass set. The gay scene

meanwhile revolves around The Parliament Bar on Dunbar Link and

s A I. o 0?;

The Crown: the best looking but in Belfast


f. m, I t, of 2'

The weekend nights tend towards the spectacular wherever you end up.

Those suffering from a thick head the next morning could do worse than to try and treat it by getting stuck into an Ulster fry-up. This is much like any other fry-up apart from two distinct features it‘s bigger and it‘s served with an amazing variety ofdifferent breads which make for a filling breakfast or a fine brunch depending on the time ofday. Other local specialities include champ well seasoned mashed spuds mixed with scallions and what seems like half of the European butter mountain; it‘s particularly good with the meaty sausages which the region excels in. Try The Kitchen Bar on Victoria Street for traditional lrish pub grub at cheap prices.

An alternative hangover cure would be to grab some fresh air. head up north and visit the Giant‘s Causeway which is especially spectacular by night. Then again. for an adrenalin rush a-go—go take a walk over the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge (as seen on TV!?!) or hit the Oul‘ Lammas Fair at Ballycastle at the end of August fora spot of horse trading. Although, there‘s always the pubs . . . oysters and Guiness, anyone?

Belfast boasts a range of shops that easily rivals Glasgow in terms of choice. All the main high street retailers are there along with several more specialised shops which deal in locally produced goods. A browser's

paradise can be found on Donegall Pass which contains an indoor market

Belfast City Hall a.k.a. the dome ot delight

to oil lamps while the under the sun. right ingredients fora

a good atmosphere. The SeaCat travels be

passenger return tie/re a three day return. Ca

Northern Irish Tourist

I Carrick-a-rode ro

selling most things from rare postcards

Variety Market

on May Street sells everything else

In fact Northern Ireland has all the

weekend away

good food. good drinking and above all

tween Belfast and

Stranraer in 90 minutes. Single foot

ts start at £22for rs and up tofour

adult passengers ean buy a reduced rate ‘Starflight Ifxpress' three day returnfronz £ 70. All passengers are guaranteed a seat. Jonathan 'l'reir travelled (‘ourtesv of .S‘eaC'at and The


p bridge: try l with your eyes closed

88 The List 30 Jun-l3 Jul 1995