• The capital of Northern Ireland endured a turbulent time in the Eighties
  • But it has recovered to become one of Britain’s most intriguing cities
  • The writer, who grew up there, returned ‘home’ to a place fervently reborn 

Forty years ago, Belfast was my home.

A torn city, scarred by the Troubles, which few visited for pleasure.

My return many years later is cathartic and joyful.

Belfast (Gaelic for ‘mouth of the sandbanks’) is a vibrant place.

A brighter era: Belfast - with its City Hall to the forefront - has shaken off the darkness that once framed it

A brighter era: Belfast – with its City Hall to the forefront – has shaken off the darkness that once framed it

And one of the best ways to explore is on a black cab tour. Our guide, Billy Scott, reels off the city’s social and political background, pointing out Belfast Castle, built by the Normans in the 12th century.

We head to West and North Belfast, to the Falls Road, the Royal Victoria Hospital with its wavy railings signifying DNA, the Shankill murals and Crumlin Road Gaol, now a tourist attraction. You can even get married in there.

The Irish love nicknaming landmarks; Billy refers to sculptures as ‘the thingy with the ringy’ (The Beacon Of Hope) and ‘the balls on the Falls’ (Rise).

My favourite area is the Cathedral Quarter, where we meet illustrator Ciaran Gallagher. His 3D mural features George Best, Van Morrison and Rihanna, and faces the Duke Of York bar – a perfect spot to sample some of Ireland’s whiskeys.

After a turn around the Metropolitan Arts Centre, we stroll to the Dirty Onion, one of Belfast’s oldest buildings. Once used to store barrels and crates of Jameson, it’s now a pub with live music.

Plenty of bottle: The Duke Of York is a fine place for a tipple, with no shortage of choice

Plenty of bottle: The Duke Of York is a fine place for a tipple, with no shortage of choice

Here, we brave a music lesson with Rohan Young, accomplished bodhranmaker, performer and teacher. We hit rhythms with wooden sticks on nanny goat skin bodhrans, as Rohan calls the beats for reels, single and double jigs. You can turn up and join in for free.

At the City Hall grounds is the Titanic Memorial Garden and monument — a 30ft plinth displaying the names of the 1,512 people who died on the liner. Nearby is Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction, with nine interactive galleries. Resurfacing, we enter the modern interior of Victoria Square, Belfast’s prime shopping site – where The Dome offers 360-degree views.

I look towards Samson and Goliath – Harland and Wolff’s iconic yellow cranes; St Anne’s Cathedral with its 130ft stainless steel Spire Of Hope; Stormont; and Cave Hill, whose head-like rock was supposedly the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Saying goodbye to Belfast again, I leave certain I’ll return, not least to perfect my bodhran rhythms. 

Travel Facts: Plan your own weekend in Belfast 

Flybe (www.flybe.com; 0371 700 2000) flies from London City to Belfast, starting at £50 return.

Double rooms B&B at Fitzwilliam Hotel (www.fitzwilliamhotelbelfast.com, 0044 28 9044 2080) cost from £180 per night.

More information on the city at www.visit-belfast.com.

 







Courtesy: Daily Mail Online