Don’t blame Belfast

Looking out our window, North Belfast

Looking out our window, North Belfast

Friday: I regarded my socks one last time before dropping them in the trash as if they were something special, some memory tied to them that was important but better left behind. Cut my hand on something packing up the car and it bled, and on our way out we laughed and remarked there’s police in the street, they’re stopping people and checking them, and wearing bulletproof vests, one climbing a ladder onto a roof they’re surrounding, and we sing “Goodbye Belfast” at the stop sign, and remember to look right before pulling out.

Taking the M2 or the M1 or the A24, wherever it points us to get out of here toward Dublin, toward Swords — and as soon as we cross into a new county they start listing the distances in kilometres again and the speed limit, which helps minimise the math and conversions, now from sterling pounds back to euros, leaving Northern Ireland.

We stay up late to watch the news coverage and commentary on the announcement from Westminster to enter air strikes in Syria, two sides of the discussion, then the Northern Ireland point of view, and a representative saying “Coming from Northern Ireland we know about terrorism,” which could be read multiple ways.

It was my mom and step-dad John who gave me a ticket to Europe 20 years ago for Christmas that started my love of travel, and our first time on the tube in London one Friday they stopped the train to announce there’s been a bomb threat, and my girlfriend and I just looked at each other wondering what we should do with no one exiting the train, they just kept on reading their newspapers, looking peeved.

And later I asked our English friends Rob and Paul what it’s all about, the bomb threats from the IRA, and they said they do that every Friday at rush hour — and we won’t live like that, under fear. They looked unchanged by it then, and it would take time for us to learn that attitude in America.

But it’s not fair to blame Belfast for our seemingly small troubles, that started with getting skimmed in Edinburgh but learning about it too late, a week later, in Northern Ireland — apart from being the centre of much of the conflict for 30 years, with arguments over when it actually began in the late 60s, Belfast is also home to the Titanic, with an impressive museum alongside the production studios for HBO’s Game of Thrones, home to Van Morrison and the band Snow Patrol, with a slogan “Get here before the rest of the world does,” as they’re rebranding the city.

But it’s Friday and the sun’s come out and we’re heading south, and it feels like we’re on vacation again — the navigator acted stuck in the 90s misleading us across the M1 and the M2 and so forth, often dead-ending, requiring us to cut across multiple lanes of traffic with bad visibility, rain, hungry kids, me spraying F-bombs, Dawn trying to keep it all together.

We pass a sign pointing to “Brontë Homeland” and have to stop, and learn it’s just the house where the Brontës’ dad lived, they grew up in Yorkshire, and the poor guy lost all six of his kids before he died, five girls and a boy, an alcoholic writer, likely jealous of his sisters’ success, and can you blame him?

There’s a stereotype of Americans who travel through Europe wanting to check off all the countries they’ve seen, just passing through without really seeing anything (‘What day is it, Monday? We must be in Germany.’), and we’ve had that with Charlotte a couple times now, who’s surprised to learn we’ve been in Ireland for almost a week, says it aloud in public, and we have to pull out the maps and atlases to retrace our route, but neither she nor Lily seem too interested. Perhaps it’s a project status report they’re tired of looking at, both making detailed plans for how they’ll redecorate their rooms when we’re back, and I’m finally picking up my memoir again to think objectively about why anyone would want to read it, which is a good place to start, but shouldn’t get in the way.

Urban art, Dublin

Urban art, Dublin

Categories: travel, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. Unsettling resonances going on for you there, being in Belfast with its uneasy relationship with its own wartorn past as our MPs vote to drops bombs in other parts of the world. The world will never be quiet with itself, it seems.
    The Bronte siblings are an interesting bunch. What was the likelihood (even in those times when people didn’t live as long) poor Patrick would outlive all his adult children – unusual even then. And someone should make a film about old Branwell – the psychology of an adored (and the girls thought very gifted)brother outshone by three sisters. Fascinating.
    So, where are you guys off to next Bill?


    • That’s interesting stuff Lynn – I’ll share this with my wife, Dawn. We’re in Dublin now, got in about 24 hours ago, having a ball here in the old part of town in a small, old flat. Reading, piddling, having Guinness with lunch of course, meat pies, all that. Enjoying the softer feel of things here, though not fair to compare to Belfast, which seems the industrial counterpart (would it oversimplify to say Belfast is to Glasgow as Dublin to Edinburgh?). Here until Friday and then to Galway for a week, counterclockwise around the island to Killarney, Cork, Waterford — then over to Chester to visit a dear friend around New Year’s. And then we ‘settle down’ some in England for January…looking forward to that too. Thanks for your comments, “the world will never be quiet with itself” is too true.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Glad you’re enjoying Dublin and a drop of the black stuff. The Southern Irish accent is a beauty, softer than the North. Sounds like a great tour and Chester for New Year? That will feel very English-chocolate-boxy festive – such a pretty town. Are you going to try some Irish whiskey – compare it to the Scotch? I remember loving Jameson’s a long time ago


      • I prefer the scotch as the triple distilled Irish whiskey tastes too watered down for me. But I’m going to try some Green Spot or Red Breast if I can. Also, a wee ragged from the whiskey. Beer is gentler, like the accents here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, the Irish does have a reputation for being softer – which probably suited me, as I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spirits.


  2. I got a ticket to Europe for graduating college. Best gift I ever got.

    The bit about them not knowing where they are makes me sad. It’s understandable though, and not uniquely American, I wouldn’t think. Not at their age, anyway.


    • That saddened me too. Funny how that gift can really be the best. Just got the Low Battery pop-up, burned this damn thing out again cackling on it. More soon, my friend. Enjoy your weekend and hope it was a good Black Friday, so to speak. – Bill


  3. It was the slowest BF I’ve ever seen, which is both good and bad. The world is bonkos enough without elbows to the jaw for a flat screen.


  4. ever see the old film, ‘if it’s tuesday, this must be belgium’ ?


  5. Hey, what’s the flag in that pic? I’ll be flying a flag out there is pregnant with meaning.

    Bukowski has a great poem about how the problem with Americans is that we’ve never had bombs rain down on our cities. Makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

    Your kids will look back with great fondness on this adventure. It’s a certainty! How could they not?! Stop all that objective thinking. That’ll get you nowhere.


    • Good advice about the thinking, which often gets me in trouble from too much or too little. The flag is the flag of Ulster, the Northern Ireland flag. And you’re right, that problem with America. He wrote that pre 911 I’m guessing, I think he died around that time (didn’t Burroughs, Ginsberg and Bukowski all die around the same time?). I could ask Google or Bing but they’re not as interesting.


  6. What? The English didn’t all go out and get assault rifles when there were bomb threats? How did they remain safe? I thought if you didn’t buy a gun the terrorists win.
    We could learn something from that damn stiff-upper-lip thing. (I could be wrong. People tell me I’m wrong all the time.)


    • Many times you probably are wrong, depending on who you’re talking to of course. It’s the first time I experienced that stiff-upper-lip and I admired it.



  1. Don’t blame Belfast | musnadjia423wordpress

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