Birthday in Belfast

photophoto.JPG  hhhI like to read magazines in the bath and I love to travel which meant I presented my hubby with a page torn out of Woman and Home suggesting that we go to Belfast for my birthday (a much safer option than leaving him to choose a gift!). I’d never been to Belfast and after doing a bit of research I created a wish list of places to visit. The much hyped Titanic Belfast visitor centre was a definite ‘hop off ‘on the sightseeing bus tour but two other attractions were higher on my list.

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The iconic memorial mural for hunger striker Bobby Sands.

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A tattered Union Jack flag on a resident’s shed and a lamppost painted in red, white and blue.

I wanted to go on a ‘black cab tour’ of west Belfast to view the mural art and learn more about life for the residents of Shankill and Falls Road before and after ‘The Troubles’.



Barack Obama told a crowd in Belfast: “There are walls that still stand, there are still many miles to go”.

This was particularly relevant to me as only the week before I’d attended the Glasgow Women’s Library’s Mixing the Colours conference which celebrated the work to address the issue of sectarianism. This is a recurring theme in my own writing so I was interested to learn more about Belfast’s history of sectarianism and how the communities are working to stamp it out.

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A chance to make my mark in support of Mixing the Colours.

As Bobby our driver highlighted, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s hero” and it will take time and effort to battle against sectarianism. As part of the tour, we stopped at the Peace Line and Bobby suggested that we join others and write our own message on the wall.



The tunnel that connects the gaol with the courthouse on the others side of the road.


4 wings of the prison radiate from the ‘Circle’.


The other tour I wanted to squeeze into our short trip was to Crumlin Road Gaol. The building, known as ‘The Crum’, first opened its gates in 1846 and for 150 years it was a fully operational prison, only closing its doors in 1996. During its history, the gaol housed murderers, suffragettes, loyalist and republican prisoners.


I’ve just finished reading the excellent book, The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester and this features the struggle of the suffragettes, some of whom were force-fed when they went on hunger strike in jail. This happened in Crumlin Road Gaol as well and the tour really helped bring scenes in the The Hourglass Factory alive.

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Oops! My glass is overflowing again…

Touring a Victorian gaol and a deprived area of a city ravaged by religious and political hatred might not be everyone’s ideal birthday treat but I thoroughly enjoyed my chance to understand more about issues that are important to me (and there was plenty of time for good food and drink too!).

Have you been to Belfast?

9 thoughts on “Birthday in Belfast

  1. I haven’t been to Belfast but looking at that building makes me think maybe I should. Amazing piece of architecture! It sounds as if you had a lovely birthday, Helen. Many (belated) happy returns!

  2. I last went to Belfast in1982 ….a v different city then ….soldiers patrolled the streets etc etc I have often thought about going back …..your post brought back a lot of memories !!!!!

  3. Love this. I lived in Belfast for a year – I did my MA at Queen’s – and I absolutely loved it. (I have friends there and had been visiting since the late 90s.) Took my husband and stepson last year and they enjoyed it too – the Titanic museum is amazing (and I’m not a fan of all things shipwreck). Like you, I also highly recommend the taxi tour, really useful to get an insight into the politics from a local. We’re going back again later this year but without the kid this time; the plan is to try some of the restaurants that have sprung up recently and are getting amazing reviews by the likes of Jay Raynor. It’s quite a different city to the one I first visited.

    • Hi Naomi, How lucky to study at Queen’s. We passed the building on the bus tour and it’s truly beautiful. Yes, the Titanic is a great visitor attraction but the insider’s perspective of The Troubles and the gaol was even better in my opinion. The taxi driver said that the revitalised Cathedral Quarter is now buzzing with great pubs and restaurants so I’m sure you’ll have a brilliant return trip. I definitely plan to go back too as we only scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. Belfast is very like Glasgow so perhaps that’s why I felt a real connection with this vibrant city.

  4. Hi Helen – a very enjoyable post. Glad you had a lovely birthday! I just wanted to recommend that you look out for Paul McVeigh’s debut novel THE GOOD SON, out very soon from Salt. It’s a story set during the Troubles told in an unforgettable child voice and I really think you’d love it.

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