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1993: Visit to Belfast

I love to travel, the further and more off the beaten track the better. In the past few years, my wanderings have brought me to Panama, Poland and Vietnam. Not exactly hotbeds of US travelers, and there were some that could not quite understand why I wanted to go to such places.

In 1993, I went to Belfast. With the outbreak of quasi-normalcy that followed the Clinton-brokered " peace process " Northern Ireland gets its share of tourists now. It got damned few of them in 1993. But it got me.

The trip started when my no-good friends Tony and Emil joined me to visit Mark, who used to work with us in New York. Mark had sinced returned home to Dublin, and was a newly-married respectable citizen in a new housing development in Leapardstown, Dublin. We caroused around the Garage, Lily's Bordello, the Goat, the Norseman, Gogarty's , Johnny Fox's , and many other watering holes, and I actually broke off to peek at the museums and such. A few days of this madness, and I needed a break. I jokingly suggested that we take a run up to Belfast. To my astonishment, Tony and Emil thought it was a great idea.

Mark thought it was the worst idea anyone had ever had. He thought it foolish, reckless, an insane idea. It was as though you told someone you were taking your next holiday Fallujah, or Mogadishu. When he asked what the hell we wanted to go there for, we smiled and said we were going to Belfast because " we heard it was a party town! "

We took an early train out of Connolly Station. The worn out old train rumbled up north, and a few hours later we were in Belfast. We wandered around Donegall Road. The downtown area looked like a normal city you'd find in England or Holland, except for the fact that grey armored cars passed by every so often, with armed soldiers peering out of them. This was not the worst of the " Troubles " but it was not good either.

We decided to walk up to the Falls Road. I was the instigator, Tony was game, but with each step forward, Emil was less and less enthusiastic. The continuing stream of armored cars did not help his confidence. We passed a hospital I think, and we arrived at Falls Road.

I was happy we had reached it, but Emil was ready to head right back to the train station, and Tony was starting to get nervous by this point. I said that I was happy to leave too, but as there was a pub right there, we should at least stop in and say that we had a drink in the Falls Road.

We bellied up to the bar, filled with older guys and a box for donations to a Catholic charity on the bar. Three Guinnesses, please.

The Guinness was lovely. I was marveling at the feat of seeing the famous Falls Road, Emil looked out the front window. Another armored car passed by, with the soldier and his gun appearing at eye level. Emil lost it. He said we were stupid for going to this goddamned place and that we should leave right now. I said that it would be a shame to travel all the way to the Falls Road and not finish our pints, so we drank them, very quickly, and we left the bar.

We would have taken a bus to the train station, but didn't know which one to take, we could have taken a taxi, but did not know if we could trust them. So we walked back down the road into center city. Emil was not happy, and the sun was heading down. And the last train for Dublin was leaving soon. We had visions of being stranded for the night in a city that would doubtless be the scene of wild firefights, and bombings, and where there probably were not any hotels.

Well, we made it to the train, and made it back to " civilization " in Dublin. Mark and his wife told us we were out of our mind for making such a trip, but we assured them that it had indeed been a " party town " just as we had thought. We retired to the Goat for further discussion.

Next: 1997 trip to Derry and Belfast

just think if you had talked to the locals they would have set your mind at ease.
I had just returned to Northern Ireland in 91 and was still there if i had been there i would have bought you and you friends a drink.
the hospital would have been the royal vic.
you would have walked past divis flats on your walk famous in their time.
was wondering did you see the euopa the most bombed hotel i think it's in the guiness book.

A nice memoir.

The lansdscape Im sure might not have looked terribly different or you in 97, but perhaps you thought the atmosphere had changed? Interested to know. I wish I could like Guinness, it just makes me sleepy :)

My parents are from NI, and they were going to return to Belfast after my father retired. Unfortunately he retired in 1969. They made one exploratory trip in 1970 and never went back. My own son got to visit Belfast in 2004, but he liked his trip to County Clare in 2005 better.

I think I'll go to your other blog and tell you about my last visit to Brooklyn (great pizza)!

I've been to Belfast twice now and just loved it. I was lucky though to have a friends cousin to show us a good time. If you think the falls was scary. You should try the Ardyone Fleadh Cheoil.

Oh, my next trip up there was much better.

And the 1993 trip would have been just fine had we known someone, or even failing that, if poor Emil had not been so scared.

I'll try to write the second journey tonight.

William

I did walk past the Europa on the second visit. I had heard of its dubious honor...bet that they are happy more peaceful days have come.

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