I explained to the man in the tourist information office that this was my first visit to Belfast, having avoided it until recently because of the bombs and bullets. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘the good old days!’
I was there accompanying Kajsa to her conference, in the role that wives used to play in the ‘good old days’. I remember attending an academic conference in Sicily years ago which was (I think) exclusively male, though that didn’t strike any of us at the time. (It was about ‘imperialism’, then a rather macho topic.) Many of us had brought our wives, for whom special facilities were laid on while their husbands were doing the serious stuff: coach trips, tea parties, etc. I thought it rather unfair that the same wasn’t done for male partners at this conference: a pub evening, for example.
Still, it gave me time to wander around the city, and entirely to change my view of it: not a bowler-hatted Orangeman to be seen, and the bullet holes presumably all filled in. The people were friendly; and for an afficionado of Victorian architecture Belfast is a treasure-house. I personally rather baulk at the famous City Hall – imperialist architecture at its grossest – but there’s lots of Gothic, and odd variations of curious styles of the kind that give life and a quirky kind of joy to many Victorian cities. The Victorians weren’t all dull grey dogmatic Orangemen, either. If you’re there, visit the Crown pub: gloriously over the top.
Maybe the Troubles had one good effect, which was to prevent the ‘renovation’ of Belfast during one of the worst periods of British architecture.