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.

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