Faces of Belfast, Northern Ireland

I was in Belfast a couple of years ago for a job and was able to enjoy a weekend off, riding rented bicycles through the countryside along the tow path with my client, stopping along the way at various ruins, graveyards, churches and yes, of course, pubs.

I love this face, enjoying a pint (or two) in the late morning (so were we, so who’s to judge!). The lighting was dim but great (maybe not perfect, the shadow on his left eye is stronger than I’d like and this was shot at ISO 1600), but he was more than happy to throw a toothy half-grin my way.

Clientele at a pub in Drumbeg, outside of Belfast, Northern IrelandClientele at a pub in Drumbeg, outside of Belfast, Northern Ireland @ April 2009 | Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III & 50mm ƒ/1.2L @ ISO 1600, ƒ/2, 1/125

The Black Cab Tour of Belfast

For £25, you can hire a car for a guided tour of Belfast and be escorted into some of the neighborhoods you wouldn’t likely stroll into on your own. It’s an incredibly interesting and educational experience, and I’ll endeavor to recount the tales accurately here, but honestly our driver, Tom, crammed over 100 years of history and knowledge into our heads in just over an hour’s time, and so some of the details may be missing here.

UPDATE: I wrote the above paragraph on the train the day of our tour, and a month later have come back to it. If I recount stories now, I’ll butcher them to death, so instead I’ll just share the photos, and advise you to visit Belfast, take a Black Cab tour, and as for a man named Tom. ‘Cause you know, there’s only one cabbie named Tom in all of Belfast. I’m sure of it.

This is one of the many famous murals found in Belfast. Click the photo to open the gallery and see many more.

The Red Hand Of Ulster

This is the Peace Wall, built to separate the Republican and Loyalists. It was nearly torn down, as The Troubles appear to be mostly over, however the local residents voted against it, essentially saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It’s safe to say the peace is tenuous, and there’s no point making it any more fragile.

Peace WallThis is the nearly exact opposite side of the same wall. Here you can see homes rammed right up against it, and the massive fence built not only above the wall, but also over the back patios of the homes, protecting them from any molotov cocktails or the like that might be lobbed over the wall.

Homes bordering the Peace WallThis picture shot through the cab window as we drove by… a little girl in pink playing at the base of the wall, the monster fence rising behind her, a permanent fixture in her young life.

A young girl in pink playing in her driveway at the base of the Peace Wall

On one side of the wall, visitors are invited to write a message for history.

San Francisco says – keep the peace, Belfast! 4/26/2009

As usual, click on the photo above to open the gallery to more pictures.

The Belfast Towpath

With a rare full-day off on the trip to Belfast, my client and I hired (rented) bikes for a day and took the Belfast Towpath (bike-path… don’t ask why it’s called a towpath… that’s what people seem to call it yet we only saw one sign with that name and no one being towed) from Belfast towards Lisburn, called The Lagan and Lough Cycle Way http://www.nationalcyclenetwork.co.uk.

The Lagan and Lough Cycle Way in BelfastThe path was an easy ride, mostly flat with only baby hills, and followed the river. The scenery was green, green, and green, with the occasional splash of yellow or red to break up the green. The trees were green, the shrubs were green, the grass the hills the fields were all green. It was, as I may have mentioned, quite green. Unfortunately the sky was a blinding shade of matte-grey, rendering nearly all photos as drab and flat as English toast. We spotted a cemetary along the way and had a respectful look around.

Cemetary in Drumbeg

We got as far as Drumbeg, or more specifically a pub in Drumbeg, about 10 miles down the road, and stopped in for a pint. The locals were far more colorful than the sky, entertaining us with tales of local sites and why they drive on the left side of the road (apparently it has to do with having available your sword-arm to meet oncoming aggression. Which probably weeded out the southpaw population quite rapidly).

A local at the localThe ride back was surprisingly quick; fueled by pints and salt-and-vinegar crisps, we indiscriminately shoved young children and old ladies off the path towards lunch, stopping at The Docks for a leisurely lunch of salad, veggies and chicken.

Some feckin’ crisps

Upon returning to Belfast, we headed toward the Titanic Quarter. This is where, as you may have cleverly surmised, the Titanic was built. We found it surprising that they are so proud of this ship that they named an entire quarter after it, instead of naming it the Olympic; a ship also built by Harlan & Wolff, of equal size to the Titanic, that served for many many years for both civilian and military needs before finally being retired and scrapped in 1935. But as they Irish say of the Titanic; “she were just fine when she left here. An English captain and a Canadian iceberg brought her down”. So there. It’s also curious that the two largest cranes in Europe, both here in Belfast, are named Samson and Goliath—biblical figures both brought down by much smaller foes. Someone should have a word with the City of Belfast marketing department. Anyway the Titanic quarter is under amazing development, with apartments and hotels popping up everywhere. Construction was so great there we really couldn’t get anywhere to see anything. Pity, but good to see the city growing. With The Troubles essentially over, investment money is pouring into the city, and the only explosion is growth. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Samson… or maybe Goliath

A little shout-out to the stellar bicycle hire company we used, called Bike Dock www.bikedock.com. They had awesome service, fair prices, and were very kind indeed.

Bike Dock, the bike hire shop we used

As usual, there are more photos in the gallery if you click on any of the images above.