Posted by: ralphmexico | September 18, 2012

ASTRAL DAYS WITH OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH

1999: The year I ran the Belfast marathon on my only previous visit to the city
999: The price in cents of a one-way train ticket from Dublin to Belfast
99: The type of ice-cream I devoured when I stepped off the train
9: The number of reasons I’m about to give as to why everyone should visit Belfast
 
(1) The Duke Of York Pub
Paintings of John Peel and Salvador Dali along the alley-way leading into the pub.  Inside, football programmes from a Brentford trial game in 1946 and a 1947 Dalymount benefit match featuring Stanley Matthews, on the walls alongside the text of “He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven”.  Gerry Adams used to work as a barman in the pub, which is surprising in view of the name of the gaff.  I don’t think Ian Paisley ever pulled porter in “The Randy Leprechaun”.  Get chatting with Paul and Kathleen.  Paul is the biggest Michael Collins fan in the universe.  He believes that my Clonakilty connections warrant a steady flow of Sambuca down my plug-hole.  Kathleen went through a messy marriage break-up, losing custody of her daughter along the way.  The couple are relentless talkers.  Hemmed in like a boar between arches, I’ve got “Beal na Blath Revisited” in one ear and “Eastenders Omnibus” in the other.  Bit of a head-wreck on the night, but a great pub nonetheless.
 
(2) The Shops
A record shop called “Head” delivered “Fed” by Plush for a pound.  I was going to buy a copy for all my dedicated listeners, alas I didn’t have a spare pound.  Plush are an American band led by a maverick genius called Liam Hayes.  He may share a name with a delinquent former Meath footballer, but this Liam Hayes is a wonderful, gifted person.  As I said: “Fed” in “Head” for tiny bread was incred – ible…  I was still grinning like a loon when I sauntered into a second hand book-shop.  Some abstract expressionist had placed “The Van” by Roddy Doyle in the Travel Section.  Using the same exalted logic I checked if there was a book about “The Shankhill Butchers” in with the cookery tomes, or a biography of Minnie Driver in the Motoring Section.  As you do.
 
(3) The Murals
Being a paint salesman in Belfast must be a cushy number.  Banksy wouldn’t get a look in with all the memorials, slogans, eulogies and portraits on the walls of the city.  It was surprising to see how close the Falls Road is to the Shankhill Road.  As an equal opportunity bigot I checked out both sides.  Grim.  Interesting, but very grim.
 
(4) The Crown Bar
Fabulously ornate, with lovely snugs.  Extremely welcoming and friendly.  Gorgeous.  That’s enough about the barmaid who served me.  Belfast’s most famous boozer is a treasure for sure.  Well deserving of all the accolades going.        
 
(5) Queen’s University
This hallowed centre of learning has a touch of the U.C.C’s about its facade.  Impressive grounds, and the Botanic Gardens on its doorstep.  The Lagan flows gently past.  I might return here to do my Doctorate in “How To Concoct A Devilishly Entertaining Blog”.  I already have a Master’s Degree in the subject.  Obviously.   
 
(6) The Surrounding Mountains
No other Irish city offers such a tranquil setting, as the sleepy Black and Divis Mountains lazily gaze down on the streets below.  I was informed that taking a run up to “Napoleon’s Nose” on Cave Hill would lead to a staggering view all the way to Scotland.  “Sambuca Overload With Michael Collins Maniac” (as featured in Point No. 1) put the tin hat on that particular idea.  So it goes.
 
(7) The John Hewitt Bar
A bar that is owned by The Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre.  Named after a nature-loving, Socialist poet; not the match-winner for Aberdeen in the 1983 Cup Winners Cup Final.  “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet” – “Shooby-Doo-Bop” Dixieland jazz was on the menu from some ancient cats who could have been the band on the Titanic except they were deemed “too old” in 1912.  A “refreshed” local with the social graces of a syringe showed me the live lobster she was cooking for dinner that night, before a lady who saw Bob Dylan and Ella Fitzgerald play in the same early 60’s week in the Belfast Opera House sat down beside me.  The locally brewed cider packed a fair ol’ punch.  The jazz remained smokin’, daddy-o.  Charity never tasted so good.
 
(8) “Solitude” & “The Bone” (not the title of a 1978 b-side from The Fall)
The area known as “The Bone” in North Belfast is a catholic enclave sandwiched between the meat of two hardcore protestant strongholds.  The view over the city from The Marrowbone Park is spectacular.  “Solitude” is Cliftonville’s ground near “The Bone”, beside another lovely park.  The stadium was ramshackle in places and pristine in parts.  I had a walk on the artificial pitch.  Which was nice.
 
(9) The Europa Hotel 
Sipped a drink in the Europa bar on the Friday night after Munster played Ulster in Ravenhill.  Mick Galwey stood alongside me at the counter.  The hotel was infamous as the most bombed hotel in the world a few decades ago.  Mr. Galwey was making a fair claim to be the most bombed Munster man on the premises.  He certainly wasn’t standing back from getting his round in.  Assorted egg-chasers were putting in the hard yards with a bevvy of TV3 beauties who were up for the match.  The brave men of Munster were defeated.  They also lost the rugby game.
 
Nine reasons to visit Belfast.  None of them of the Big-Ship-That-Sank variety.  I’ll admit to having a snoop around the Titanic Quarter, however.  No big deal.  You don’t see Liverpool erecting mementos to Andy Carroll, another big, lumbering, expensive, failure that sank at the first sign of strife.  Why does Belfast make such a fuss about something that ultimately was more trouble than it was worth, especially when the place has so much more to offer?  Answers on a postcard please.  You can address it to me c/o Queen’s University… or The Duke Of York… or The Crown… or The John Hewitt… or the Eur (OK, we get the picture – A lone dedicated listener).
 
 
Squeeze The Flask Of Life To The Dregs!!
Ralph Mexico
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Responses

  1. Excellent stuff….top 5 in my opinion

    On Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 5:30 PM, ralphmexico’s Blog wrote:

    > ** > ralphmexico posted: ” 1999: The year I ran the Belfast marathon on my > only previous visit to the city 999: The price in cents of a one-way train > ti”

    • I respect your opinion… I may disagree with your strident hatred of cycling-related posts, but any time you send praise my way I am (in true Cathal Coughlan fashion) 1000% receptive…


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