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With overseas travel looking highly unlikely in the
foreseeable future, people are looking at holidays and short breaks closer to
Jane Shotliff shares her experience of a pre-lockdown city
break to Belfast – where she found quite a few surprises!
I’d not seen so many Union Jacks since William married
Kate. The patriotism was remarkable - even more so given I wasn’t even in
England. There were flagpoles on the porch of virtually every house on this
tidy estate. Yet there were no signs of celebration – just an eerie stillness. Neat gardens - the lack of litter quite remarkable - and
no sign of children playing out in the street. But this was a Sunday morning. Maybe everyone was at
I was in the midst of Belfast’s Shankill estate. It might
mean little to readers under 30, but for those of us who grew up in Britain in
the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Shankill Road, together with the neighbouring Falls Road,
were rarely out of the headlines. This was the district at heart of ‘the troubles,’ as they
were called. The fact that more soldiers died here than in the Bosnian,
Afghanistan and Falkland wars combined seems to have been overlooked by the
British politicians - and press - who referred only to ‘the troubles’ during
more than 20 years of mindless bombings, shootings and cross-party
For many years after the peace treaty was signed in 1998,
Belfast was considered a ‘no go’ area for British tourists - indeed there are
still those who prefer to give it a wide berth. But sitting in the quaint old
Crown pub on a Saturday evening, being regaled with dirty jokes by a trio of
septuagenarians I’d never clapped eyes on before, I got a real flavour of the Irish
spirit - and the ‘craic’ for which it is so well known. Paddy (aka
Kevin) didn’t care what nationality or faith I was. He was just happy to share
the craic and see that I was spending my cash in his country.
Tourism is now taking off in Northern Ireland – in the
past two years, the number of hotels has doubled. This is thanks in no small
part to the popular Game of Thrones series, filmed in a variety of locations around
You can now take tours around the film locations -
there’s even a 66-metre tapestry depicting the series on display in the Ulster
Museum which, when finished, at 77 metres, will be longer than its inspiration
- the Bayeaux Tapestry. Well worth a visit - and it’s free.
On a short break to Belfast, a visit to Titanic Belfast
is also a must. The Irish are rightly proud of this great engineering feat and
the exhibition dwells heavily on the skill and expertise which went into the
vessel’s construction and less on the failings which led to its notorious sinking
on the maiden voyage from Southampton to the USA.
But it was the Black Cab tour that left the most lasting
impression of my weekend in Northern Ireland. Following an IRA raid on the
Northern Bank in December 2004, there were reports of stolen cash being
ploughed into assets such as pubs, restaurants – and black cabs. Some of the
brains behind the daring robbery no doubt dreamed up the idea of the Black Cab
tours, for there are dozens of them at a time cruising round the streets of
Shankill and the Falls. Make sure you
I hadn’t realised that the Protestants still light towering bonfires on Orange Day, burning the Irish tricolor flag at the top - just so the Catholics in the Falls Road can see it above the towering monstrosity ironically dubbed ‘The Peace Wall.’ Nor that this wall – 2.5 miles long and with five sets of gates, is still locked each night at 6pm and closed all day on Sunday, in a bid to keep the two factions apart. And, at 15 metres tall, it is higher than the Berlin wall ever was.
Today, Belfast looks no different to any other city. No lasting evidence of the streets razed to
the ground and houses blasted skywards by car bombs. Just the countless gable
ends with their imposing murals which bear tribute to those who were interred. It’s
a sobering but enlightening experience.
With the help of a pen obligingly supplied by the Irish
black cab driver, I added my brief message to the Peace Wall, joining names
like Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I’d never encountered legalised
graffiti before. But then I’d never been to Belfast - and looked at life from
both sides of the Peace Wall.
EasyJet flies to Belfast International from most UK
airports, including London Gatwick, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh and Manchester.
A night at the Europa Hotel – the most bombed hotel in
Europe – in August costs from £155 per night, Jurys Inn Belfast from £98 per
night and the Titanic Hotel from £125 per night.
A Black Cab tour costs £35 for 90 minutes.
Entry to Titanic Belfast is £19 (adult), £8.50 (child
For holidays to Northern Ireland, please browse
through our recommended partners.
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