😎An American in Belfast

As I write this, I am preparing to depart Belfast after a week of wanderings and discoveries.  Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which basically brought to an end “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.  

Northern Ireland  is situated on the island of Ireland and shares it with the Republic of Ireland (a member of the EU) to the south. Northern Ireland belongs to the United Kingdom with strong ties to Scotland. It is only separated by 13 miles of the Irish Sea. There were hundreds of years of traversing those waters for trade as well as religious reasons.  It also uses the British pound and is no longer in the EU due to Brexit. 

The author in front of the Palm House in Belfast, NI

I have discovered in my genealogical research (started by my father) that my father’s maternal family came from Northern Ireland and Scotland which is termed Ulster Scots or Scotch-Irish as it is typically referred to in the states.  The reason for the migration from Scotland to Northern Ireland and then onto Montreal in 1822 was for the right to practice their Presbyterian religion. Watts Cooke Sr. and Lavinia Donaldson Cooke (my 3rd great grandparents) traveled by sea in 1822.  The only reason I know it was that year, since I haven’t found any shipping records, is that Lavinia gave birth to their first child, Amelia Cooke, at sea. What a brave and courageous woman! 

Here are my musings on Belfast:

New city.  Belfast was established as a city in 1888 by Queen Victoria.  This is well after the American Revolution and the Civil War.  It was in the early 19th century referred to as Linenopolis because it was the biggest linen producer in the world.  There is an entire Linen Quarter in downtown Belfast and several of the larger older buildings are known for being a leader in the industry.  Most of the older part of the city is on landfill. Subsequently, the Albert Memorial Tower is actually leaning and has been shored up several times (it’s not as bad as the Leaning Tower of Pisa). The largest shipyard in the world was in Belfast and it was the home to RMS Titanic (yes, that Titanic) and the SS Canberra. After the Good Friday Agreement, tourism is becoming one its leading industries as well as financial tech and technology.  There are castles and fortresses outside of Belfast but the city itself is young and trendy

Eating out.  You can get breakfast until 5 PM in most restaurants that are open.  It’s like having brunch every day of the week.  The big dish here is called a Full Fry which is an egg, bacon, sausage, potato bread, soda bread, pancake, hash brown, mushrooms and tomato (yes…. ALL of that). I have found that if any food item has mayonnaise on it, it’s an obscene amount of mayonnaise; like spill all over your hands, need three napkins, amount of mayonnaise. And usually, you are given one thin napkin to keep yourself tidy.  In most cafes, there’s table service so a server will bring your food after taking your order; but you go up to the counter at the end to pay (so you have to remember your table number, or you might be buying someone else’s food!).  The waiters and hosts in Belfast have been greeting me with “Hey oh.” This is in juxtaposition to the Scottish servers who said “Hou’s it guan”.  Since I really like breakfast, this all day breakfast has been a pleasant surprise. 

Apartments.  I’ve been staying in Airbnbs for my stays as it’s easier to work and I can eat at home when I want to.  The heating in the flats is through radiators, which I haven’t seen since I left New York City in 1985.  It takes hours for the place to warm up but it’s not noisy which is nice. There are no electrical outlets in the bathroom and all light switches are on the outside of the bathroom.  I’m glad I don’t blow dry my hair but it’s still an adjustment. The shower is about the size of a small hula hoop which makes dropping a bar of soap problematic and I’ve had to open the shower door to lean over to pick it up. Every electrical outlet in the kitchen has an on/off switch attached to it; this, makes for a lot of switches for each countertop appliance. I scored at this Airbnb in Belfast because it actually had a coffee maker in this tea centric country.  It’s been a comfortable and interesting stay.

Walking around.  I went on an interesting walking tour of Belfast. That’s really when I realized how relatively young this city is. There are several alley ways in the middle of city blocks that have names like “Joy Way” and “Wilson Way”.  If my guide had not taken me down a few of them, I’m not sure I would have realized their existence. I’m pretty much dazed and confused when I’m walking around by myself and am always looking for crosswalks with “the little green figures” that tell me it’s safe to cross. Crosswalks are pretty confusing because the streets are not a grid, they come together at various angles and a lot of times they are one way. I realized coming home yesterday that I had thought the street outside my flat was one way but there were about 30% of the cars parked in the opposite direction on the same side of the road. This only affirms that I will not be renting a car.

There are tons of places to discover in Northern Ireland and I highly recommend coming to Belfast for a visit. It’s worth if for the museums, markets and gardens but there’s a whole world beyond that as well. I was able to go to the Giant’s Causeway on the very northern end of Ireland and it is a must see.  The fable is that Finn the Giant made a causeway to Scotland.  The stones and pillars are in perfectly formed hexagons and are amazing in that they are not man made.  Come to Belfast to see it all for yourself. 

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