Belfast: A City of Contrast
Belfast is a city of contrasts from political beliefs to buildings. Our city tour pointed out some of those differences as we viewed important buildings, wall murals, Stormont, a pub, and the shipbuilder’s cranes Samson and Goliath.
First of all, who or what are Samson and Goliath? Those are nicknames for the two Harland and Wolff Shipbuilder’s cranes, gantry (hoisting) cranes. The cranes rise (Samson) 348 feet and (Goliath) 315 feet. Both span a width of 459 feet. Between the two of them, they can hoist a ship in Belfast’s dry dock (the world’s largest) weighing 1600 tons or somewhere over 3 million pounds. They look the same except for height.
When Harland and Wolff began building the Titanic hull in 1909, Samson and Goliath did not exist. They used huge scaffolding instead. The shipbuilders launched the Titanic hull from the Belfast dry dock in 1911 and it took another year to outfit the liner before it was ready to sail.
Located outside the Belfast City Hall, the bus stopped at a memorial to those who died in the Titanic disaster.
Another photo stop was Stormont, a Parliament House located on the Stormont estate. Beautiful green grounds encircle the building and roads stretch a half mile or more leading to or from the House.
A statue of Lord Edward Carson, an Irishman who served many political offices, filled the center of a roundabout. He led the opposition Unionist parties beginning in the early 1900s and defended the Marquess of Queensberry against a criminal libel suit filed by writer Oscar Wilde. The statue was erected while Carson lived, a rare occurrence.
Our tour bus drove alongside walls of political murals. Most were concerned with “The Troubles,” an apt name for the political upheaval which divided Ireland, religions, politicians, unions, and more.
The Civil War costs many lives, including some depicted on the murals in grey, depressing tones. Other depictions included guns, gas masks, and fighting. One mural honored ten fallen rebels. Rolls of barbed wire clung to the top of the wall. At our last stop, we stood across from a hotel which survived at least eight bombings during the civil unrest.
There are architectural contrasts along the streets. The 1895 Grand Opera House is beside a modern partly glass building. Down the street, the 1906 City Hall with its turquoise domes looms over lower buildings of various eras.
Our last stop before heading for the ship and lunch included a half–pint of Guinness in The Crown Liquor Saloon. Since opening time was noon, wrought iron gates kept early arrivals from entering. I felt like I broke some law as our group slipped in a side door.
The saloon opened in 1826 as the Railroad Tavern. Patrick Flanagan, son of the second owner, studied architecture. He traveled the world and liked what he saw. He made the pub what it is today – a tourist attraction of Victorian era architecture and Italian decoration.
Enclosed booths, called snugs, seat probably six. The story goes that women weren’t allowed in pubs. On rare occasions a woman accompanied her husband anyway. He hid her in a snug while enjoying his drinks with friends around the bar. Or, he hid his mistress within a snug.
Patrick hired Italian tradesmen, brought to work on the city’s churches, to moonlight in his saloon. They laid the tiles, etched the glas
swork, stamped the tin ceiling, and carved the wood. When sun beams through the stained glass windows, you
feel you are in a church rather than a bar. The windows also protected drinkers from outside peering eyes that looked to see who might be inside.
On the end of one barrel behind the bar, a sign read “No football garments.” Of course, football in Ireland is soccer. I asked a waiter why. He said the garments caused arguments.
No tourists wore football garments which could flare an Irish temper.
Our next port: Liverpool, one of England’s football capitols.