November 08, 2005

A Busy Weekend In Belfast

I think I've recovered now from an excellent, eventful long weekend in Northern Ireland for old Uni mate Martin's stag do.

After dropping our bags off at the Days Inn (nothing special, but fairly new and convenient for the city centre) late on Friday morning we headed round the corner to the superb Crown bar for the best pint of Guinness I've ever had (see photo).

The stout was accompanied by some rather tasty sausages and champ, as recommended by my housemate, which meant that we could ensconce ourselves in one of the snugs. It felt like we had our own private room in the pub, with a bell to summon the waitress to order our food and bring more beer - fantastic!

Given that we spent the rest of the day drinking, I felt remarkably well on Saturday morning - all set for my first day at the races. Down Royal racecourse is twenty minutes drive or so outside of Belfast, so it was a short minibus trip before we were caught up in the excitement of the racing.

However, there was to be even more drama before the afternoon was out. Shortly before the third race, we were all ushered from the grandstand and onto the racecourse itself. From there, we spent half and hour or so watching as the race security and the police searched the area. At that point it was announced over the PA that racing was being abandoned and the police helicopter (which had landed earlier) took off and flew up and down the course advising us to move down to the exit.

As we made our way out of the racecourse there were rumours (later proved correct) that a number of suspect devices had been found, and more and more emergency vehicles could be seen arriving (when we left there were police cars, fire engines, three bomb disposal armoured Land Rovers and a couple of larger bomb disposal vans). However, the evacuation was calm and measured - the main problem for everyone was the gridlock on the road back to Mazetown. We didn't realise until we saw the front page of the local paper the next day just how big an incident it had been.

The evening saw us back to more normal stag do activites - just the general drinking and enjoying the Belfast nightlife. Ordinary, but lots of fun.

Finally, on Sunday there was just enough time for a group of us to take in the open-top bus tour of the city before heading back to the airport. It was a very interesting tour, although it felt a bit different to the similar one that I've been on in Cambridge for in addition to being shown the historic buildings, shipyard where RMS Titanic was built, etc., the tour took us round the areas most visibly involved in the Troubles.

We got to see just how close the two communities are geographically; often in adjacent streets which are separated by Peace Lines - 20-odd foot high fences with gates in them manned by police. The gates get closed at 6pm every day, and are closed for the whole weekend. It was surprising how little of this I was aware of, despite having watched documentaries on the Troubles, and seen items on the news whilst growing up. The murals and a lot of the names were familiar (Falls Road, Shankill Road...) but the Peace Lines and fortifications of the Orange meeting hall and the like provided real food for thought.

It's all still quite recent, so it felt a bit uneasy... voyeuristic almost to be touring through in a sight-seeing bus, down terraced streets where people were just going about their day: coming out of church; washing the car; playing with their friends. But, I did get a much better idea of what Belfast has been through.

Posted by Adrian at November 8, 2005 04:20 PM | TrackBack

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Great write up Adrian. Thoroughly enjoyed myself, despite the goings-on at the racecourse on Saturday.

Was a bit concerned that Belfast might not be an ideal location for a Stag weekend but it was fantastic; Friendly, great pubs and bars, excellent food and rather good Guinness. :)

Think you summed up my feelings about driving through some parts of Belfast in a brightly coloured open-topped bus. Glad we did that though.

Posted by: Andrew at November 8, 2005 04:48 PM

It's the stag here!!

Excellent write up Adrian, think you fully summed up the whole weekend!!

It was a fantastic outing & one which everyone will remember for a long time.

See you at the wedding.



Posted by: Martin at November 9, 2005 07:24 PM

Evocative prose, colourfully describing a great weekend that did justice to a top Stag... Martin. Bombs, murders, Eastern European prostitutes (or were they?!) aside, it was the best couple of days away I've had for ages, spent with an eclectic group of people who were all great company. Right, who's getting married next? See you all at the wedding, Chris

Posted by: Chris Kershaw at November 14, 2005 07:52 PM
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