Sunday, June 3, 2018


Monday, July 25, 2016

                                          In Madrid I met you one day
                                    Thinking things that I could not say
                                    Drinking wine in a tapas bar ……..
    It was one of those hot days in Madrid and I trudged off to work in my suit and incongruous clogs which I had picked up surprisingly in England and not Holland as one might expect.  My hangover was quite dull for 7:30 in the morning and I arrived at school just about on time to give my 8 o’clock lesson.
         How did a young Irish man end up in Madrid when he had sworn (maybe not to God but to someone) never to visit that country again. Well that is another story for another day.
       “Good morning David”, Jenny said in a sort of inquiring tone. She was the co-ordinator of classes for the day and wanted me to reply to see in what sort of a mood I was in so that she could do her job and give me the kind of class I deserved for having such a good time last night.
     Jenny was really English, almost pretty but made up for a turning eye with a good figure and some excellent dress sense.  Is that what one calls it? I was never quite sure then and am still no wiser some thirty years later.
    “Bonjour” I replied to annoy her. As English teachers we were forbidden to speak Spanish, so I always liked to throw in a bit of French.  Not that I was good with languages. I was trained as a scientist but was far too romantic to mix chemistry and sex in one beaker.
“Big night then?” she asked.   “No, just the usual” I replied laconically hoping that she would not see through my eyes exactly how I felt.
Perhaps at this point I should digress to explain just what a night I had.

“Goodie” she said (how I hate that word) “I have a great day set up for you!”    What she meant was I have a favour to ask of you, but what the heck, it means the same thing.  “Penny has taken the day off to go to Toledo or Cuenca and I have entrusted you with her lunch time student.”
    Now Penny was one of the other co-ordinators; slightly plump with real rosy English cheeks. She had taken a liking to me early on. I presumed it was because she found out I played reasonable bridge and was therefore in the same mode (upper middle class) as herself.   She had a good BBC accent and was an extremely good teacher. Her behaviour in bed was well up to scratch.  Unfortunately, I like to have a chase instead of a presentation and I suggested she should try one of my friends. She did, but the foursome never really worked out for reasons obvious to everyone else.  
“Great”, I mumbled.
“You don’t look too enthused” she said making an attempt to sound cool with a bit of modern lingo.
“Oh sorry” I replied. “Who are the students?”
“I think I said student”, she stated, “A certain Señor Cortez, who is the managing director of RNE”. 
I was going to ask who or what was RNE when it was at home.  As my brain had not quite started to function, I passed that question knowing I could ask him later if it seemed important.
    Now the deal at this business school was that the girls got to take their male student out to lunch to further their grasp of the English language in a real life situation. We drones only got to do that when all the girls had already been assigned a student. So today I was going to score a good lunch, Spanish style which meant a good wine and some brandy for afters.
My first few lessons went quite smoothly; a beginner trying to get ahead in the banking division and an air hostess, who I became very friendly with at a later date. Señor Cortez arrived punctually at 10:55 and showed his obvious disappointment at not having his usual Señorita professora.
“Good morning” I started off with. (Well I could hardly say “how’s about you son” which would be a little too Northern Irish for him!)
“Penny not here?” he inquired dolefully.
“Sorry no, “I said. “She has gone to Segovia or Cuenca”.
“Ah yes” he immediately stated, “to see the ……  how do you say it in English; waterfell?”
“Close”, I replied, “Waterfalls”
“Ah yes of course. Waterfalls”, he stated dutifully as the student should always repeat the correct word.  Well that was probably the only mistake he made during the course of the next few hours. He read perfectly out of the Scientific American magazine. Now as I said, I studied science at uni and I thought I would have him in this regard. Not to be. I thought I would get him with the various meanings of “look”.  For example; “look up to someone”, “look through someone”, “look down at someone” etc.   He got me again.  “Da vid” he asked with the accent on the second syllable, “Can you put two of these together? “Can you look someone up and down”?
“Let’s go for lunch” I replied and off we went. Not to the fancy restaurant he would have taken Penny but to a local little Spanish one which was OK by me.
After a few red wines, we both relaxed and we talked about various things. I learned a little about the towns of Pinto and Valdemoro and he learned that I had lived in Andulucia some years earlier. Actually I had lived in a village called Torremolinos.
After lunch and a few cognacs he asked me if I would like to visit Malaga otra vez as he put it. “I am driving down to Granada for the weekend”, he said, “and we could speak English on the way”.  
“Porque no” I stated, just to show him I knew the odd word in Spanish. (I was not so confident in the restaurant and hid behind the notion that we were meant to speak English only!)
“Fantastic” he said without the Spanish o, “I will collect you at 3:30 at the school,” using his impeccable use of the future tense; not always easy for Spanish speaking people who have three ways of describing the future.
Now at this stage I should tell why I would want to go to Malaga for a weekend. It all happened about a week earlier. Penny had found two girls in the park who she thought needed a bit of help. Penny spoke reasonable Spanish and the two girls were somewhat lost. Christina was from Cleveland, Ohio in the States and Annie was from a property just outside Townsville, Queensland, Australia. Annie was quite street-wise but a little naïve. Christina was quite scatty and more than a little naïve. Needless to say they were both very blonde.
               Well Penny had put them right and got them a place to stay in some kind of cheap youth hostel. They had kept in touch with her and she had introduced me to them.
At this stage, I was glad to talk English. I had tried my luck with a few Spanish girls but I always seem to get a headache from trying to concentrate on communicating with them with my very poor Spanish. 
So while Christina and Annie were easy to talk with at the beginning, they seemed a bit shallow after an hour of drinking cheap wine.  They had met in London but decided on a cheap adventure in Europe using their Euro-rail pass. They had tried Amsterdam, Paris and were obviously now in Madrid. I suppose at some stage, I had boasted about my time in the Costa del Sol and they had decided to go there.
                 “What’s the best place to go David in this Costa del Sol?” Annie asked me.
“Well it really depends on how much dinero you have to spend.” I replied. 
“If you have lots of money, then Marbella is the place.  Fuengirola is a bit cheaper. Estepona is average and Malaga is the big city. If you are unsure where to go, then Torremolinos is the place.”
“Did you like living in Torremolinos?” Chris asked me.
It was Chris now that we had known each other for a few days. I felt I was making progress in that regard but I did not see much future.
“I suppose so,” I answered hoping that it did not appear as meaningless as it sounded. “It was really like living in two places.” I went on to explain.
“You see in the winter there were very few tourists.  Well maybe a few from Northern Scandinavia but they stuck to the hotels so you did not often meet them. So, Torremolinos was a great little pueblo where we all mixed in with the Spanish community very well.
“And what about the summer?” Annie asked impatiently. “What was it like in the summer?”
“Well for one thing, it was hot! AND it was overcrowded with tourists.  I personally blame James Michener.” I said.
“And who the hell is James Michener and what has he got to do with it?” Chris asked with an endearing smile I had not spotted before.
“He was, sorry
is an American author.” I replied authoritatively, then realising it was not a good idea to come over too strong with these girls I continued:
“He wrote this book called “The Drifters” and he dedicated, well not so much dedicated but wrote a chapter about Torremolinos and sort of set up a culture that it would be cool to visit the place.”
      The girls caught the Talgo the next day; bound for Malaga and the camping site just outside Torremolinos.  That was Monday and this was Friday. They should be well settled in I hoped.
Felipe (yes maybe we were friends now after a liquid lunch) did not arrive at 3:30. He did not arrive at 4 o’clock and by 4:15, I had just about given up. He arrived just before 4:30.
“Lo siento hombre!” he greeted me with. “Sorry mate, I just couldn’t get away from the office.”  
We have three Australian girls teaching at the school, so I suppose he must have had one of them recently teaching him.  I just don’t like being called “mate” by someone I have just met.
Off we set out of Madrid towards the South.  He rambled on about tennis and would you believe Politics. Well it was 1976. Franco had died in November the previous year, so Spain was about to get a dose of democracy.
“It’s the first time in my life I have ever voted Dav id and I am thrilled and frightened. Well not exactly frighted, more apprehensive. That is for my country, not for myself. We have too many candidates and no clear leader as yet. Juan Carlos certainly does not want any part of it.”
“Do you like soccer?” I asked hopefully trying to steer the conversation to something less controversial.
“Well believe it or not, I am a bit of a rugby fanatic”, he claimed. “Si, I lived just outside London for a few years and played socially when I was there.   I quite often drive up to France to watch the five nations.”
Now that explains a lot. Firstly, I now understand how he had obtained such a good accent and where he picked up a lot of useful English phrases, secondly, why we seem to get on so well. Rugby comes with a certain culture. Play hard on the field but best friends afterwards.  
We had a bit of a silence for a while; Felipe was probably tired talking inglés and I was just fatigued. The way one gets after sitting in a car for four hours and trying to be polite to someone I did not know that well. Of course he was a client of our school, so I could not let them down AND he might well describe any faux pas to his normally teacher Penny when we returned.
“I think we will stop here for a copa Da vid”. 
“Where are we anyway I asked” in a slightly tired voice.
“This is Manzanares ,  a well little pueblo.  Sorry, a good little village”, he hurriedly replied before I could correct him. “Well we are just about half-way there and I need something to keep me awake!”
He parked his up market Seat (the Spanish version of the Italian Fiat) close to a typical Spanish café that sold most things from olives to cognac and everything in between. He ordered two bocadillos;  cheese for me and ham for himself (the Spanish always like their jamón), and of course two coffees with a little brandy on the side.  We chatted mainly about how poor the English fare was and we were back on the road within twenty minutes.
“David, can you explain to me please about the situation in your country, or is it two countries,” he asked me after we were out of the town lights and after it seemed we had exhausted our trivial topics of conversation.
Now, to be truthful here, I have tried to be apolitical since my venture into politics when I attended university and was getting somewhat bored with my beakers and test-tubes!  Oh what the hell, I will give it a go.
“Felipe,” I started, “I can summarise it in one word.”
“Una palabra, Da vid and what would this informative word be?”
“I am sure you have already guessed it Felipe…. history; maybe a bit like the Jews and Arab situation or even the Basques in Spain.”
“Ah,” he interjects, “I think I get the message. Can I say ‘get the message’, it’s ok in English?”
“Perfecto hombre,” I replied in Spanish for no real reason. I think I was getting tired of this conversation before it had really begun.
“The origins of the problem stretch centuries back to the Anglo-Norman intervention of Ireland in 1167, when England first took an interest in the area. Despite some intermingling of the English and Irish population, the two were never completely united. As a result, two disparate populations, with differing interests, found themselves living in a small island side by side. These differences became more marked during the reign of Henry VIII. His break from Rome placed him at loggerheads with Catholic Europe and introduced religion into Irish politics for the first time.”
“Didn’t he marry one of our own Spanish girls, Caterina,” he ventured to keep himself in the conversation.
“Ah yes,” I replied, “I think she was called Katherine of Aragon.” Of course I knew who it was but being a science major, I did not want to appear too arrogant.
“Can you continue Da vid?”
“Yeah, well it gets a bit difficult here,” I began, “and complicated. Around 1685 King James II, a Catholic, became the King of England following the death of his brother Charles II. The English wanted a Protestant king and were determined to get rid of King James II. They invited the Protestant prince William of Orange of the Netherlands to take the throne which he did.  How are you going Felipe? Are you with me?”
“I presume Da vid that you mean do I understand the story so far?”
“Exactly,” I responded. ”Most Irish people wanted to get the throne back for James and they fought a battle in 1690 just North of Dublin. It was called the battle of the Boyne. The Protestants in Northern Ireland still celebrate the victory to this day and of course this is not popular in the catholic community.”
“I think I saw something on television about that. Is it around the middle of the summer?”
“You are almost correct,” I replied. “We call it the ‘twelfth of July celebrations’. There are lots of parades and the marchers tend to wear these orange sashes.”
“Why orange?”
“Well William, believe it or not was from Holland. He was called William of Orange so I suppose he came from a place called Orange.”
“So why are they still fighting?” he asked me.
“Well, as I said before, it is almost like two different peoples; two different cultures. As well as this, the catholic church, or so I am lead to believe, did not approve of mixed marriages and so there was not much integration between the two sides.”
“Fascinating!” he exclaimed.
“Well hold on Filipe, there is a lot more but I will reserve it for another time.”
And so we both fell silent. Me thinking of all the good times I spent in Belfast and him maybe thinking about what a crazy place Northern Ireland was at the time. Little did we both know that it would get a lot worse before it got better.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rathlin Island and Soccer euro 2016

               I thought I had witnessed most parts of Ulster when I lived there but the travels of Simon Reeve (viewed on SBS a few weeks ago ) surprised me when he visited parts of the Province that I had not even contemplated. I wonder how many of you have been to Rathlin Island. Yes this was the unusual place where Simon Reeve went with his camera crew.
Of course it is not as well-known as say The Aran Islands off Galway and Doolin. To me it looks very like our own Rottnest but with a very different climate as you can imagine. Rathlin Island lies just 6 miles north of Ballycastle, eight miles long and less than a mile wide it has for many years been considered part of the Glens. Rathlin is the only inhabited offshore island of Northern Ireland, with a growing population of around 145 people, and is the most northerly inhabited island off the coast of Ireland. The reverse L-shaped Rathlin island is 4 miles (6 km) from east to west, and 2.5 miles (4 km) from north to south.
If you would like to visit the island (well why not) a ferry connects the main port of the island, Church Bay, with the mainland at Ballycastle, 10 km away. Two ferries operate on the route - a fast foot-passenger-only catamaran ferry called "Rathlin Express" and a larger ferry, owned by the Scottish Government, called "MV Canna" which carries both foot passengers and a small number of vehicles, weather permitting of course.

In 1306, Robert the Bruce sought refuge upon Rathlin, owned by the Irish Bissett family, staying in Rathlin Castle, originally belonging to their lordship the Glens of Antrim. The Bissetts were later dispossessed of Rathlin by the English, who were in control of the Earldom of Ulster, for welcoming Bruce. What were we meant to say. “Sorry Bruce, you ain’t welcome here!”
Simon Reeve’s documentary highlighted the non-sectarian life on the island due to integrated schools. He also showed how the locals had used their initiative to cultivate seaweed or more specifically kelp which is (apparently) a highly nutritious food.

Simon then visited the area in Antrim where they filmed the “Games of Thrones” and then on to Belfast. Unfortunately, he arrived on the 11th July where he filmed the “goings on” around that time. Enough said. He then left the province for other pastures; Dublin and Wicklow to be exact.
It left me wondering about how many places he could have visited. What a great part of the world we left behind. Well, I am sure you would agree, it was only for some decent weather.
Let’s leave these ramblings for a while. Y E S. We have just beaten Ukraine. Euro soccer if you were doing a wee bit of wondering what I was on about! After a pretty pathetic display against Poland, and lots of criticism about our credentials of being in the competition, we answered with a fine 2-0 win.  Well done lads. By the time you read this we may have just won the event or not but who cares. We got there and had at least one fantastic win.

Now to finish off, if any of you out there have a favourite spot in the Province that you particularly like, write to the Irish Scene on face book and let me know.

I wrote a song (one verse and chorus below) after living in Australia for a few years. It is such a fabulous place but yet there were always a few regrets (which luckily did not last for long) as it is so far away from the other places I had lived in.

               I’m far away far away in Australia, No ties, blue skies in this land
               But still I miss, still I miss the friends I once loved
               I’m so far away in Australia.

               Land of the kangaroo where there’s plenty of sun
               It’s good to live here,  it’s always been fun
               But sometimes I miss the cold and the rain
               The warmth of good friends well you know what I mean.
    You can find the rest of the song using the web page listed below.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          David MacConnell

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bus tour in BELFAST


 When I roamed around the province (Ulster) in the sixties and seventies, I had no idea you could celebrate Christmas in the sun AND on the beach but for the last thirty years or so, I have managed to do just that.  I know some people return “home” at this time of year (from Australia) and from what I hear you all enjoy yourselves; even the colder weather.  I might try it sometime though not in this century.  Ah but I am reminiscing and that brings me back to my bus trip around Belfast; yeah the hap on hap off bus. Well I already told you all about the first half of the trip out to the Titanic Quarter, the Sydenham Road and Stormont. The second half of the trip proved to be much more daring.

We set off from Castle Place towards St. Anne’s Cathedral and the City Hall which like most buildings in Ulster has an interesting history. 
Plans for the City Hall began in 1888 when Belfast was awarded city status by Queen Victoria. This was in recognition of Belfast's rapid expansion and thriving linen, rope-making, shipbuilding and engineering industries. And where have they all disappeared to over the years you might well ask?
During this period Belfast briefly overtook Dublin as the most populous city on the island of Ireland. Interesting enough, (for all my South African readers) the city hall in Durban, South Africa is almost an exact replica of Belfast's City Hall. It was built some 20 years later in 1910 and designed by Stanley G. Hudson, who was inspired by the Belfast design. The Port of Liverpool Building, designed by Arnold Thornley and completed in 1913, is another very close relative. I am not sure this will help you all on quiz nights but you never know.
Our next stop was the Ulster Hall. Built in 1859 and opened in 1862. The hall's purpose was to provide the expanding city of Belfast with a multi-purpose venue of sufficient size to accommodate most acts.  It was designed by William J. Barre for the Ulster Hall Company and was opened on 12th May 1862.  Obviously many famous artists entertained the Ulster public there but for me Bob Dylan was one of my favourites, followed closely by The Dubliners and The Clancey Brothers (not forgetting Tommy Makem of course).   
We then continued on to Shaftesbury Avenue and Queen’s University. We passed the Crown Bar Saloon where I remember having a decent pint before boarding the train for Dublin; once upon a time.  Eventually we headed up Divis Street towards the Internal Peace Wall with its 50 cultural murals.

And so onwards to the peace line situated between the Falls and the Shankill Roads.

As our well informed guide told us sarcastically; “All is well here in Belfast. It is one of the safest corners in the world. The peace treaty was signed some 15 years ago. Yet the peace wall was constructed 4 years ago!”  Well maybe they were trying to make up for the infamous Berlin Wall.
We then travelled down the Shankill Road complete with more murals.  Hey we really have some fine artists in the province.

And so back to the centre and the famous Albert clock. Belfast's most prominent timepiece was built from 1865-1870 in memory of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, who died in 1862. Apologies are due here as I had actually forgotten who Albert was. The 43m-high landmark is famous as Belfast's very own leaning tower. Like many structures in the city, it was built on reclaimed land on the River Farset's somewhat marshy foundations and the clock tower currently leans 1.25m to the left or the right if you look at it from the other side! A two-year £multi-million restoration project saw craftsmen working 'round the clock' to spruce up its sandstone, polish its two tonne bell and add gold leaf to its four faces. I always thought that two-faced was bad enough.
It certainly was a whirlwind tour and I am sure if you had ever lived in Belfast and you took this tour, it would bring back many memories. I do hope most of them would be good ones.  And so to my sad end. The guide was genuinly humourous and entertaining but was also somewhat pessimistic. “We are just one bullet away from it all starting up again” he smilingly informed us.  I am so glad to report that so far he has been wrong.  
By the way, I only haped off once and no points for guessing where that was.  My favourite picture I took at the end of the trip in a friendly shop window opposite the famous Europa Hotel; the most bombed hotel in Europe.  Must be the only country in the world you can get a free guinness when you buy a loaf of bread.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Back to Belfast after 40 years.

I remember reading George Orwell’s “1984” in 1965 and thinking would I ever see the year 1984. Well I did and that was thirty years ago. It seems we are all getting a little older. We can only reflect on how lucky we have been. So many of us have left the olde sod for a better life and we were not disappointed.I did a gig last week to celebrate the birthday of a beautiful Irish lass who had just become an octogenarian. She was the life of the party and along with her husband had many stories to tell. Thanks S. and M. for the invitation.   They invoked many memories of happy times I spent “back home!”
One of them occurred quite recently.  Well it was a lovely autumn day (for Ulster) 15 degrees and a little sun. The wife and myself were on our last day in the province before heading down to Dublin and Dubai. We had had a memorable flight from Barcelona to Belfast!
“Why don’t you go on the Belfast bus ride” my wife said to me. I had just left the rented car back to the airport so we were sort of stranded for the remainder of the day.  “I don’t think so” I said. “Remember I lived here for all of my youth.”   “Go on” she insisted, “I went on it yesterday and you might even enjoy it!”   Well in the end I went and I did; enjoy it that is.

It consisted of two parts. So to keep you in suspense, I will describe the first part here and the second in the next blog.       The bus was some minutes away so I chatted to the guide for some minutes in my still-Ulster accent. He looked at me doubtfully when I tried to explain to him I was an Australian.   “Oh yeah?” he said. “And what would yew be doing back here in this neck of the woods?”  I couldn’t think of a suitable reply so I asked him how things were in this neck of the woods.  “Not so good” he remarks.  “Sure we are just one bullet away from it all starting up again.” 
The bus arrived at this time so I happed on.   Well it was described aptly in the brochure as a hap on hap off bus! (Apologies for the accent here) I proceeded to a good seat and was gratified to find that they now have traffic wardens in Belfast. See photograph above. In my day you did not leave your car anywhere near the city centre. Why not I hear you ask?  Well it would probably have been blown up just in case it was a car bomb!  
  And a few minutes later we set off down Castle Place towards the Albert clock, over the Queens Bridge, towards the docks, Harland and Wolff  and the Titanic Quarter which I have already mentioned in detail in previous articles.  Then a long trip towards Holywood and then to Stormont.
Our guide was in full swing by now and even the Japanese and Greek couples (despite their economy) on board were laughing at his sense of humour.  It was not easy to distinguish truth from fiction.   “Belfast has recently been voted the safest city in the world” He boomed through his microphone. “And why is that?” he proceeded.   “Because the criminals of yesteryear are now all in government!” was his rhetorical answer.  Great laughter from the passengers until we realised he was probably not joking.  

The buildings at Stormont (photo above) he went into in great detail especially about the effect the pigeons were having on the roof and of course the statue of Edward Carson.  “The funeral of George Best was here” our good guide informed us. “Tens of thousands lined the road right down as far as you can see.”  And off we set again returning to the city centre via the Newtownards road.  We passed over the Lagan once again where I noticed a weird sculpture. (Almost as weird as the communist’s statues I mentioned in my last article) It was designed (apparently) to represent the latest progress in peace.   I quote our good guide once again.
“Coming up on the left side of the bus you can see the latest in Ulster art. It was designed to represent the peace process but in usual Ulster humour   - she is known as many things: The Thing with the Ring; The Nuala with the Hula (Nuala a common Irish girl's name); or simply The Doll on the Ball.” Of course he failed to tell us what the real name was.
Above you can see my picture on this fine autumn day of the “Doll on the Ball” from the bus. Back then to the city centre where our guided reminded us that this was just the first half. The second half was much more exciting as we would be travelling to the Shankill and Falls and would be able to see the peace wall and the many murals.  Well it’s back down to earth for me after remembering the cool time (in both senses) I had on the bus. Of course I will reveal all in the next article. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Forty five years ago I picked up Leon Uris’ book “Trinity”. I read the first few pages and scanned a few more. I did not like the idea of an American writing about Ireland. Last month I ordered it from the library and was informed it had been sent to the archives but they did manage to obtain an old copy for me. What a history we had and I am truly disappointed to say that it is on-going.  OK so it is not all factual but it is a reasonable story.   

I have lived a long time out of Ulster but for a bit of devilment, I booked an appointment with my Irish doctor on the 12th July. He is from Ulster, so he knows a bit about a thing or two.  “Happy Twelfth” I greeted him but of course he had completed forgotten or more likely blocked it out of his mind. “I would love if both sides could celebrate together on the same day” he mused.  Some wish that I thought to myself. He really has been out here too long!   And sure enough, they were at it again as I am sure you have heard and I certainly do not want to write about it here.

Now I apologise as I am going to be a little bit of a school teacher here. Yeah, I am going to remind you of my last three articles in case you are in need of a reminder of what Ulster is like now compared with what it was like when you left it. Or what you can look forward to when you next visit it!

Apparently, Lonely Planet, (sorry which planet?) the world’s largest travel guide publisher, (believe it or not)  has placed Northern Ireland in its Top 10 European travel destinations for 2013. (I would love to know how they arrived at that conclusion!)

 “Scenic, historic and on the rise: Northern Ireland is ripe for exploration in 2013”, says editor Andy Murdock, whose piece also recommends the UK City of Culture, Derry~Londonderry, the new Titanic Belfast experience, as well as famous attractions such as the iconic Giant's Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.    (Well, if you read this column regulary, you would know all about these famous places!)


“The UK City of Culture for 2013, Derry~Londonderry  (Can’t we just call it Donder, 3 letters from both names or some such thing for short!) is undergoing a renaissance, with a year full of cultural events and a new 235m pedestrian Peace Bridge over the River Foyle designed to resemble a handshake between the traditionally Protestant and Catholic sides of the city. (No comment here but it sure sounds good!)  Derry~Londonderry is the only surviving walled city in Ireland and a walk around the walls is a must for any visitor,” the piece goes on to say. (Just do not fall off and duck if you here any suspicious noise.)


It adds: “Northern Ireland’s charms extend well beyond the cities (which, coincidentally, fans of Game of Thrones (oops, never heard of it. Is it like Robin Hood?) will know from the lush scenery used throughout the show). The Giant’s Causeway with its picturesque rambling hexagonal columns of basalt spilling into the sea, is connected by an unforgettable 16 km coastal walk along the Causeway Coast to the swaying Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (20 m long, only 1 m wide, bouncing 30 m above rocks and water) with cliffs, islands, beaches, ruins and seabirds along the way.”


The listing caps an incredible couple of years for Northern Ireland, which has received accolades and recommendations for its tourism offering in the travel and mainstream press around the world. (OK, will take your word for it!)

In June the picturesque lakelands of County Fermanagh hosted the ‘most peaceful and friendly ever’ G8 Summit placing the world spotlight on Northern Ireland once again. (Well I ask you, who was going to go to Enniskillen to protest anything!)

And this August the country is braced to welcome over 7,000 competitors and their friends and family to the World Police and Fire Games, as it stages the third largest multisport event in the world. (If you lived there you would know about police and fire …. well wouldn’t you?)

This year over 60 cruise ships – once an unthinkable proposition in Northern Ireland – will dock in Belfast harbour next to Titanic Belfast, which stands at the head of the slipways where the ship was launched and last year welcomed over 800,000 visitors (including yours truly) from 111 countries.  (Maybe Tony could send his boats there…….sorry I won’t joke about that.)

As the first ever UK City of Culture, Derry~Londonderry, the third largest city in Ireland, has also been labelled one of the hottest destinations of 2013 – number four in the world according to a separate top 10 Lonely Planet listing of top cities in the world to visit, and ahead of the likes of Beijing (over crowded) and Montreal (too cold).       (Now I am not sure with what reference HOTTEST means here but the word itself gives us plenty of scope. All I know it was NOT referring to the weather.)

The Editors Footnote was as follows:


In June Australian’s outshone European markets to become the third highest ranking international visitors to the Titanic Experience – after UK and USA!


I wonder how they derived that piece of info.    Maybe it was my accent but they never asked me where I came from!  
“Sure we know where you come from we lad.”   I quietly sneaked my Aussie passport back into my pocket where it belonged.

David MacConnell

Sunday, June 30, 2013

       A good friend of mine who lived in Northern Ireland some time ago once remarked to me. “Sure it was something terrible to live there (N.I) in the 60’s. We never went anywhere in those days.”  Now I did not entirely agree with him but I have to admit that I was only in Enniskillen twice and that was only because I was going to Galway and Enniskillen was on the way.

Well you all probably know by now. Enniskillen is now on the map. Yeah the Big Map!  On June 17th – 18th they hosted the G8 talks.  (“Well thank God he’s going to write something politically orientated” I can hear Fred say. Fred is the editor as if you didn’t know by now. He’s almost as famous as Gerry   em   em  what’s his name!)

Well politics in Ulster for me when I was young was very basic. It was black and white. It was orange and green. You were one or the other! I wonder if it has changed. Those that did - marched.  Those that didn’t - stayed at home and watched those that did on the television!     Was this marching why they chose Fermanagh as the location of the 2013 G8 summit?  Let me tell you a LITTLE about it.

The Group of Eight (G8) is a forum for the governments of the world's eight wealthiest countries. The forum originated with a 1975 summit hosted by France that brought together representatives of six governments: France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, thus leading to the name Group of Six or G6. The summit became known as the G7 the following year with the addition of Canada.  In 1997, Russia was added to the group which then became known as the G8. The European Union is represented within the G8 but cannot host or chair summits.

There can surely be no better location for a summit of world leaders seeking to make decisions that affect the harmony and sustainability of the world in which we live than The Fermanagh Lakes; home to places that have been used for reverie and contemplation for hundreds of years.

Just down the road from the Lough Erne Resort is Devenish Island where St. Molaise founded a
monastery in the 6th Century. With one of the finest round towers in Ireland, the Devenish monastery is emblematic of the significance of Lough Erne and its environs for learning and spirituality.    The area is rich with heritage and history and also provides a sensational backdrop to fishing and water sports for the increasing number of tourists who seek out Fermanagh.
The talks will take place in the Lough Erne Resort,  a five star hotel, spa and championship golf course situated on a 600 acre estate between Castle Hume Lough and Lower Lough Erne.     The resort boasts a banqueting hall and two championship golf courses.  Ideally located only minutes from Enniskillen town centre and St Angelo Airport for private jet arrival, the resort is within a 2 hour drive of Dublin International Airport, Belfast International Airport (Aldergrove), Belfast City Airport (George Best), Sligo and City of Derry Airport as well as Belfast & Dublin ports.  In Irish terms that is remote.
Lough Erne Resort has 5 helipads for helicopter arrivals, or arrivals by seaplane on Castle Hume Lough, which the resort buildings directly overlook.  I must bring my helicopter the next time I visit. A team can arrange transfers to the resort whether you require a chauffeur driven car, limousine or car hire. Bicycles and small cars are not encouraged.  Sorry only kidding.   The 18th hole by the shores of Lough Erne is only a par three. But from the Championship tee, 228 yards from the green, it is totally intimidating.  (Well not for me I should add. It is not on my bucket list to drive off any Championship tees on any course!)    Hit it right, the ball goes into the water and sinks into the lough; go left and you could brain an unsuspecting imbiber on the terrace; too short or too long, you are in the reeds; even a near-perfect shot can embed itself in a gully. Frankly, all the options look horrible.
If the Group of Eight presidents and prime ministers who gathered on Monday at the Lough Erne resort have a moment even to look, they might see this as a metaphor for the political choices they face. To stand the slightest chance of making a viable decision and executing it well, they need hard heads, soft hands – and a lot of luck. But that is one thing we Irish seemingly have. (Well, I am not so sure nowadays)
Lough Erne is an appropriate venue in another respect. The reality of this sumptuous-looking setting is all too similar to most of the countries the leaders represent. Beneath the surface luxury, the operation is broke. It went into administration two years ago and is up for sale for a knock-down £10m. The purpose of the G8 summit may be unclear to most people including me before I started writing this article. Now it is just hazy. But apparently it is clear enough to the people around Fermanagh!  It is the biggest property marketing exercise in history …Honest!
Lough Erne must be the second-most improbable setting in the 38-year sequence of these events. I have forgotten what the first one was. The South Pole maybe or the top of Mt. Everest! Even a few years ago, the political atmosphere made this border region feel too dangerous for any world leader – most golfers too accept those with handicaps over 30.  But a local entrepreneur had a vision: a five-star resort in the middle of nowhere. This vision subsequently turned out to be a nightmare. In late 2008 it became reality, just as the Irish and global economies caved in. Less than two years later the bankers pulled out of Ireland, north and south, and called in their loans. Now how mean was that?
Architecturally, the place is a bit forbidding: a grey mix of Scottish baronial and army barrack. But it has two matchless advantages: the lough-side scenery and the warmth of the locals. Ulster people may well be the friendliest on earth (except  of course to each other). Apparently people there are ridiculously trustworthy, or so I have been told. That trust includes the local belief that this struggling area will somehow gain some benefit from this shindig.
There have already been some pluses: a few road improvements;  beefed-up broadband and 3G coverage; and a major wash and brush-up for Enniskillen. “There’s not a painter unemployed for 200
miles round,” it was reported. There weren’t many painters for 200 miles around anyway, I thought
  to myself. They are all in Australia! It’s great to be a cynic these days. “It’s 26 000 miles from Perth to
Enniskillen! “ I sang and reminded myself of the recent article about Donaghadee.  (Oh get on with it
man I can hear you say….   Sorry!)
You couldn't get more Ulster when it comes to food for this famous event.  Chefs at Fermanagh's Lough Erne Resort have been working on the menus for four months. Yeah a long time to write out a menu!     On the Friday before the great event, the last details were still being finalised at the luxury resort. Extra equipment has been bought, new uniforms brought in and all the resort's kitchen utensils upgraded. (Who told me that?  And new teaspoons!)   Staff in Lough Erne's four kitchens have undergone around 100 hours additional training each. It begs the question what they knew before doesn’t it?
Exactly what the G8 leaders will eat is being kept secret …perhaps because they are still working on the menu as I mentioned above.  A range of up to 25 dishes – including vegan and vegetarian delicacies – will be offered…. and accepted one hopes.
The ingredients will be drawn from across Ireland – except, perhaps, for the lemons. (What   No Irish lemons. I am sure I’ve seen a few when I was there last!)  Comber spuds, Glastry ice-cream from Co Down and fresh fish from Donegal's Killybegs port are all expected to appear on the menus – beside cheeses from Fivemiletown, beef from Lisnaskea firm Kettyles, (if I only knew what they were) and black bacon and corned beef from Enniskillen's renowned butchers.
Local delicacies will include yellowman ice-cream with a dulse garnish, (I honestly never knew that was a delicacy!)  Toomebridge eels with a sweet red onion marmalade and local oatcakes. (What no Irish stew or Guinness pie?)
And, of course, the Ulster fry with black and white pudding. (Well I would hope so!) Thank goodness there was no gammon steak and pineapple on the menu. It used to be in ALL the menus and it was why I left Ulster 40 years ago!
The choice for the venue was made partly on security grounds. The resort is largely surrounded by water; six miles of fence and thousands of policemen will do the rest of the job. But David Cameron appears to be making another statement: that here is an area transformed from a war zone into a holiday destination.
As is customary, the protesters  at the G8 will be trying to draw attention to various issues but the main themes for the locals are likely to be youth emigration and fracking. No, you don’t have to reread that.  I wrote Fracking!
Plans for fracking near the border village of Belcoo are drawing strong opposition. But against that, there is not much in Belcoo, although there is an Italian deli with an enticingly open door. It’s fake, or so I was told but it is the best of several that have gone up on vacant shops in the vicinity. Who is it designed to fool, though? Maybe a passing Italian prime minister, or the locals pointing at a non-existent prosperity? This is Ireland, and one can never be quite sure who is kidding whom or if they are actually kidding at all! If Ulster was in the South, we could just blame it all on the “Celtic Tiger!”
Still, Fermanagh should enjoy the fun and attention. They would bring out the flags, except that this is Ulster, and the flag (that new four lettered word I mentioned a while back) you fly – Union Jack or Irish tricolour – is a provocative statement. The council wants them taken down instead. Have you ever asked someone to take down his flag? Things could get nasty!
Now if you want to know what actually happened, well I will let you all Google it for yourselves. The headlines are not so different from what I hinted at above.  One sure thing, the leaders of the G8 countries will not be reading this article and even if they did, I am sure they would not understand it.  I know you will.  As my Irish friend from that well known school in Sorrento would say, “Sure it’s as clear as mud!”