Why Irisheyes are smiling
Lee Lixenberg takes a tour of Belfast city centre and finds a city revived after years of turmoil
THERE WAS a sayi n g d o i n g t h e r o u n d s a mong battle-hardened people of Belfast during the height of the Troubles in the 1970s and ‘80s, which went something like this: “Anyone who isn’t confused here, doesn’t really understand what’s going on.”
Today, a confident new Belfast is emerging from the fog of battle and tourists are returning in droves to spots once made famous for all the wrong reasons.
As the guide on my open-top bus tour succinctly put it: “Buildings are now going up — where once they’d be blowing up.”
Taking the bus tour from the city centre is a great way to find your bearings — especially if, like me, you are a first-time visitor.
It takes in all of the well-known landmarks — from the stately Stormont parliamentary buildings, with their impressively sprawling and landscaped grounds, to former paramilitary fiefdoms along the Falls and Shankhill roads, complete with their murals of republican and loyalist icons.
Along the way, the bus passes a landmark which pretty-much sums up the new Belfast and its relationship with the past.
The famous yellow Harland and Wolf cranes, Samson and Goliath — once centrepieces of a bustling dockyard where the Titanic was built — now act as markers for a new, multi-million pound science park and technology complex called, perhaps predictably, The Titanic Quarter.
This new centre is just along the River Lagan from another product of the millions of pounds of investment now being pumped into Northern Ireland in the wake of recent peace agreements. This is the 2,000-plus seat Waterside Hall which is developing into a major international entertainment venue — attracting everyone from Amy Winehouse and The Proclaimers to Nana Mouskouri and The Ulster Orchestra.
One of the good things about visiting Belfast at the moment, before the corporates get too strong a foothold, is that the city boasts more than its fair share of intimate eateries, niche shopping outlets and idiosyncratic attractions.
The main shopping district starts near the Belfast Eye (the city’s own version of London’s embankment tourist
The Belfast Eye and the main shopping district: the city boasts more than its fair share of intimate eateries