Wednesday, 17 March 2010


It's a special day for the people of Irish extraction because today is St.Patricks Day when enormous amounts of the black stuff is consumed in heady celebrations. We have inherited a fair amount of Irish genes and heritage from my dad's side of the family which explains our uncanny knack of being first on the dancefloor for a jig and having the gift of the blarney.

For me, St.Patricks Day will always be synonymous with working in Belfast in 1998/1999. In my previous ICL/BT life, I along with several colleagues had a long drawn out job upgrading telephony and IT cabling in a huge government office. We were in Belfast during the weekend of St Patricks Day and I don't think my liver has been the same since. Due to having to take over loads of equipment, we hired cars and set off at 4am in time for the Stranraer to Belfast ferry. Once in Belfast, we checked in to the very posh Europa hotel and started the normal 12 hour day. Quick shower, then out for a meal and search for Belfast's nightspots. Belfast then was in the midst of the Good Friday Agreement and there was still an undercurrent of political tension within the city. Walking through the city centre was like a ghost town. Very surreal to see armoured vehicles and a large police presence, but hardly any people. The next morning and it's St.Patricks Day and because of marches and parades, we decided to walk through the city to our office buildings. Amongst thousands of Irish people celebrating and cheering, I suddenly felt something was wrong as people were staring and making a walkway on the pavement in a hushed silence for us to get through. It suddenly dawned on me that I stuck out like a sore thumb because I was wearing a bright orange GAP hoodie. Without thinking, orange is perhaps not the most appropriate colour to wear amongst the swathes of green worn with Belfast pride in celebrating all things Irish. Feeling like a prize prat, I swiftly avoided being lynched by the mob and ran back to the hotel for a quick change of clothes.

Working in Belfast at that time gave you an appreciation of how important the peace process was for Northern Ireland and especially for the people of Belfast. We regularly drove down the Shankhill Road and saw the paramilitary murals on buildings and the barbed-wire walled up streets separating sections of the community. Our hosts gave us specific instructions of the areas and pubs to avoid and not to emphasise our English accents too obviously whilst out on the town. On the whole, we were treated very well and I fell in love with the city and the people who were genuinely very friendly and were more than keen to show us how they could drink us under the table.
And so to our favourite pub.. The Crown right opposite the Europa. It is so architecturally glorious it takes your breath away. The wood carvings inside are said to be completed by the same craftsmen who plied their craft on the Titantic down the road at Harland and Wolff's shipyards. Even in barmen look Edwardian in their dickie bows, waistcoats and white aprons. We spent every night there listening to bands, talking to the locals and drinking huge amounts of Guinness and Bushmills Irish whiskey. Magnificent place. Here's a photo of the booths where some boozy Lancastrians were planted most evenings in an alcoholic stupor and singing very badly about 10 years back. And for another fab place to visit whilst in Belfast, go to Kelly's Cellars. The Irish stew is to die for and theIrish bands are pretty good too...

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