Belfast - Béal Feirste

17/03/2014 12:39

The city starts a new cloudy dawn. Good enough weather that will make unnecessary to open the umbrella, though it gonna not be sunny. The Sun, the newspaper, is bent on the lonely table of Caffe Italia. Just past the first page and there are good news. On the third is Samantha, she’s from Manchester and will soon appear in a calendar. The cafe owner diligently serves the breakfast, all homemade. Serve to the sweeper, who wrapped in a reflective vest, was picking pieces of paper and cigarette butts with his skewer. Serve a fortyish secretary who swiftly holds her hot cappuccino between hands.  

Gordon Street, where the coffee shop, is a small street fully bricked. There are brick on the facades of the right and on the left. The disco lights suggest the nightlife. By day seem to get busy in stores and offices. Belfast awake and the hum of traffic invade the streets.

Béal Feirste was once the mouth of the Sandbanks. That means in Gaelic, but is also a dynamic city ever changing. Apart from being a topic is a reality and the proof is in its eclectic architecture that has retained little evidence of its past, some Victorian and Edwardian buildings such as the magnificent city hall or the Albert Memorial clock tower, indispensable reference.

The light was switched on in Belfast in 1895, multiplying the industrial activity of the city. The textile and shipbuilding were the main sources of employment, but not unique. Cantrell & Cochrane, Grattan & Co, Ross's or Royal Belfast Ginger Ale and Aerated Water Works were three major factories of mineral water and soda. Ross's claimed for itself have created the gin and tonic with quinine-laden waters. There was tea, Lipton, and Tobacco, Gallaher's, breweries, Caffreys or McConnell's and Mr. Johnston hits Ann Street with his umbrella shop, and trams rolled along the rails in Castle Junction, where Royal Avenue meets Castle place.

Among the buildings that have survived outside the monumental Guildhall in Donegal Square is the Custom House near Albert Memorial tilted tower. Around the City Hall is the Ulster Hall, former music palace its stage has seen in boxing matches and rock & roll concerts. At the Grand Opera House was acting the great Sarah Bernhardt, while opposite, the Victorian Crown Liquor Saloon, opened the same year that the light arrived, is decorated with a mosaic representing the British crown, which they say, the owner, Republican, wanted to place on the ground to be trampled. Nearby, in Fountain Street, the Linen Hall Library, founded in 1788 is the oldest public library in Belfast. It has the largest documentation collection about the years of the Troubles. Also preserved, bound, numbers of the Belfast Newsletter, country oldest newspaper.

Further north, before reaching the Cathedral Quarter, littered with small restaurants and lively pubs are The Entries. In fact this is the oldest part of the city, the rest was heavily damaged by German bombing during World War II. Here, between High Street and Ann Street is a set of narrow alleys and dark passageways that connect both streets and retain some of the most traditional locals: The Morning Star, Pottinger's Entry, The Globe and White's Tavern.

To the south, in Queen's University neighbourhood are the Royal Botanic Gardens. To the east, Stormont palace, away from it all, hosts Northern Irish parliament. In the gardens, before reaching the entrance stands a statue of Unionist leader Edward Carson who makes an ostentatious gesture. In the distance, could be misinterpreted.

Belfast has changed from the Uí Neill boat tradition throwing his red hand to the newest Titanic Museum. Near the docks which saw its first, single and incomplete journey, have been built a huge museum complex devoted entirely to the ocean liner with a facade clearly reminiscent of the bow built to lifesize scale. Inside is recreated since its construction in the Harland and Wolff shipyard until the last moments to be lived in North Atlantic cold waters.

The Titanic centenary has promoted the old shipyards neighbourhood transformation. In addition to the museum has been built new homes, a shopping complex, the Odyssey Arena and other equipment that have given new life to the mouth of the River Lagan. It has been cleaned to the point that salmon have returned to swim in its waters. A statue representing an enormous specimen of thirty feet long have been called the Big Fish, covered with images and texts related to the history of the city. Near, between the Waterfront Hall and the river, another statue wants to represent a female figure, reconciliation, peace and hope allegory. No irony escapes the Irish, who have transformed it into The Girl with the ball, or The Thing With The Ring.

The city writer Robert McLiam Wilson used it as background for his satirical characters relationships, Protestants and Catholics that thrive in the new environment emerged in the late conflict years. As extremists have no sense of humour the author eventually have been threatened by both sides’ radicals. His novel, Eureka Street, started with a night walk along Lisburn Road.

The years of unrest, The Troubles, passed an expensive bill to Belfast citizens. From 3376 victims caused by the conflict 1647 lived  in the city. Although sectarian violence was focused on east working-class neighbourhoods and between Shankill and Falls Road in the west. Even today seventeen walls split  neighbourhoods that were faced. They are called Peace Lines, and continue to close their doors to traffic at six o'clock. Its eighteen feet high considerably difficult to throw objects or artefacts to the neighbours. The Queen visited Sandy Row, loyalist stronghold, in 1966, and yet are there to fix the memory and believes her portraits alongside the ubiquitous, in the district, Union Jack.

During the worst years the Hotel Europe hosted most journalists covering the conflict. It was a perfect sounding so this four-star hotel located at Great Victoria Street, opened in July 1971, became the property that suffered more bomb blasts at the time, including Beirut, the Lebanese capital, in civil war.

Upon Cave Hill, the hill overlooking the city, is distinguished from Lagan’s mouth to the several spires dotting the skyline, the Cathedral of St Ann and the few buildings that are projected upward. It is noted that there are no winners or losers. Here, the local poet Derek Mahon, said it was the end of every Belfast street. The Hill at the top of every street.

© J.L.Nicolas


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