We arrived in Belfast last night and settled in to our apartment on St. Anne’s Square, in the heart of the city. The far building is Belfast Cathedral, also know as St. Anne’s Cathedral.
After unpacking, we walked to the grocery store to get supplies for our stay. The streets were filled with young people out for a fun Saturday night. As our guide told us the next day, we were in the heartbeat of Belfast night life. The positive energy was contagious, and I just felt so happy to be here. Looking down Commercial Court, I saw the the umbrella lights outside The Duke of York pub.
If Buildings Could Talk
We started our first full day in Belfast with a wonderful walking tour, If Buildings Could Talk, with Barney Gribbin. Barney escorted us around the city, pointing out historic buildings and sharing interesting stories about them. Much of his information felt like “the rest of the story.”
Barney was a great guide, combining knowledgeable and humor. At the end of the tour, he took a group photo and sent us a copy.
Interesting Buildings on the Tour
The story of the Northern Bank (now Danske Bank) robbery of 25.6 million pounds in 2004 was one of the most interesting. Standing in front of the ordinary looking building, one would never guess it was the site of the largest bank robbery in Northern Ireland and one of the largest in the United Kingdom.The case remains unsolved. The inside scoop from Barney is the police know who did it; they just can’t prove it.
We walked by Ulster Hall where Led Zeppelin first played Stairway to Heaven. Although critics regard the song as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, the Belfast crowds did not like it.
Barney many stories about the history of the Europa Hotel, known as the “most bombed hotel in the world”, after enduring 36 bomb attacks during the Troubles. In 1998, the owner of the hotel hung a huge “Yes” banner on the front of the hotel. He hoped to encourage people to approve the Good Friday Agreement that would end most of the violence of The Troubles. According to Barney, that banner played a huge role in getting a majority to vote yes.
He told us stories about three historic Irish bars, known as the Belfast Triangle, because you can lose a weekend there. I wasn’t sure if the Belfast Triangle part was true or part of Barney’s humor.
Along the tour route, we saw some of the beautiful murals that are all around Belfast. Popular ones, like the one below, may be left up for years.
Less popular murals are whitewashed over and new ones painted. The one below is only a few months old.
Some have powerful messages like The Son of Protagoras by MTO, a famous international graffiti artist, depicting a dove representing peace being killed by opposing religions represented by two red arrows. This mural has been up for at least five years.
Some murals are in new locations. The owner of the building below reluctantly agreed to host a mural and was surprised and pleased to have this beautiful work by a French artist on the side of his building.
The Metropolitan Arts Center (MAC) is on the same square as our apartment. After our tour we stopped for a coffee and wee treat at their cafe and visited the Claire Barclay exhibit. She is a visual artist recognized for producing large-scale sculptural installations.
There are so many highly recommended restaurants on our square that we never need to go farther than a few steps for a great dinner. Tonight we ate at Buba, a Turkish tapas place. Buba is Turkish for baby, and the owners named the restaurant after their daughter. She just turned 18 but is still their baby. I totally get that.