In two week’s time I celebrate my 41st birthday, and one of the places I will be visiting when I head overseas will be my birthplace, Belfast.
This will be the sixth time I’ve returned, to visit my extended family and for the little BGs to get to know their great aunties and uncles, great grandparents and cousins. Mr BG is going along for the whiskey.
Belfast is known for many things, not the least of which is the Troubles, which is the reason why my parents emigrated 40 years ago. There is nothing like worrying about whether or not your husband and father of your newborn daughter will come home from school to make you want to go somewhere where people don’t shoot at you. My dad lived just off the Falls Road when he was younger, and the scars of the conflict still show there as you get closer to the city centre.
Despite that, it really is a pretty city, especially around Queen’s University, and Stormont, the seat of Northern Ireland’s Parliament. I was also struck by how small Belfast is (about the size of Geelong). It’s surrounded by hills, which gives you the sense of the country not being so far away. There is the best science museum W5 which is even better than Scienceworks, the Linen Hall Library and the majestic City Hall.
The last time we visited, Belfast had started promoting its link to the Titanic as a means of garnering tourist dollars. After all, who wouldn’t want to visit the place where they built a ship that sank? Some of the
tat souvenirs were quite funny- a t-shirt with a picture of the Titanic and the words ‘Built by the Irish, Sunk by the English’. I think that may have been trying to appeal to expatriate Catholics!
As I’ve mentioned before, my grandfather was an employee at Harland and Wolff, which was the shipyard that constructed the Titanic. He was one of a handful of Catholics who were employed there, and pretty much escaped a lot of the bigotry and violence that was meted towards Catholics. As such, he was a man more moderate in his political beliefs than other members of the family.
Last year Harland and Wolff celebrated 150 years of business. In recent years the company has focused on ship repairs and re-fittings, rather than construction , and have broadened their portfolio to construct things as diverse as oil rigs, wind turbines and tidal energy turbines. It’s good to know that they have reinvented themselves and providing much needed employment opportunities, and steering away from building ‘unsinkable’ ships.
*Is this a blatant attempt to cash in on the Titanic centenary of its sinking? Probably