…Belfast is a bit of a shithole….
…or is it?
I was listening to the radio the other day when they were discussing the British Governments plan to boost tourism to the UK. The presenter was from Belfast and he said that we have lovely countryside, areas of outstanding natural beauty, areas of special scientific interest and you are positively falling over ancient and modern heritage. Yet the tourists want to see the areas of the troubles, where so and so was shot, which areas were blown up etc etc.
To emphasise the point I have an image published in the current edition of the Sunday Times travel magazine special on Ireland. Is it a photo of the sun rising over Belfast, No. Is it a photo of the sun setting on the Giants causeway, No. Is it the food, the people, any number of ancient monuments, castles, valleys, countryside… No. Its a photo of a loyalist wall mural.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and associated city organisations spend a fortune promoting ‘Luxury Belfast’ or come and get engaged in Northern Ireland. Im from here and I didnt get engaged in Northern Ireland. All this is dreamed up by marketing gurus and people getting ‘on message.’ Im sure there are focus groups and people just wanting junkets in the luxury hotels around Belfast. They spend a fortune producing glitzy ads try to attract different demographics whilst ignoring the vast majority of things going on here and what the local people are actually trying to promote.
Im all for marketing and having a message, I preach it to clients often enough but somewhere when promoting tourism you should have people who have actually travelled, and not just a fortnight in Ibiza, Blackpool or Portrush.
Ive travelled on all 5 continents, Ive flown from bucket seat 3rd World airlines where landing was usually considered optional to First Class inter continental British Airways. Ive stayed in all ranges from the ‘Places to stay – top end’ to campsites and youth hostels with fresh blood on the walls. Ive sat on dirty ground eating food from street vendors to silver service personal waiter service in what looked liked a remnant of old collonialism (with the price to match). Ive enjoyed watching puppet street theatre in Prague to candlelit opera in the Tsars summer palace in Moscow.
All a slightly exaggerated way of saying, Ive got about a bit.
In every single place, in every single language, every single person has asked me about ‘the war’.
Thats what Belfast is known for. Whether we like it or not, thats what we should be selling. You cant go to Berlin and not go to the Wall, you cant go to Cyprus and not overlook no mans land, Krakow and not go to Auschwitz. Maybe its because Im from here but I go to every conflict area and hole in the hedge when travelling.
It pishes down here most of the time so I do feel like I should be prosecuted under the trades description act for some of my photos so sell people what they are going to get.
As for the luxury end of the market, I dont know who does their research but when Ive booked luxury Ive done it from home, Ive been picked up at the airport, looked after until Ive went home. Not once have I went from my youth hostel or campsite and picked up a luxury brochure by accident when looking for my best fry in Belfast deal and decided to go to the Merchant or Four Square on the strength of it. Madness.
Last week I went for a walk along the Lagan at night to do some photos, it was a poor night photographically and in the 2 hours I was out I spotted 4 lost looking tourists, wandering around looking, well lost. Any other city in the world with a riverside similar to ours would have a bit of life, street entertainment, stalls, people walking up and down and you could get a fecking cup of coffee after 9pm!
Maybe thats all the tourists we have on a wet thursday night in August in Belfast, maybe they are all at the Giants Causeway, lapping up the Luxury hotels, popping the question down in Fermanagh or helping the locals beat the living shit out of each other in Ardoyne. Maybe they dont want to walk along a still river at night, soak up the maritime heritage, buy a cuppa and a a bit of tat that will sit on the foreign equivalent of a fireplace for years to say ‘Ive been to Belfast’.
I once drove 17 hours straight to get a signed piece of paper to say Id crossed the arctic circle. I was in Bergen with a few mates and it rains there 360 days a year (bit like here) so after 3 days of rain we hired a car and drove north at speed. Thats what tourists do.
Sell them the war tours, sell them the murals, its what we have thats unique in the world. When we have them here sell them Belfast waterfront, Bangor, Newry, Armagh, Derry, Omagh, Fermanagh. Give them the option of going on a tour to the ancient monuments, christian heritage, world heritage sites, inland waterways, surfing holidays, walking holidays, boating holidays, whiskey and drink tours, etc etc, you might even sell the odd engagement ring or persuade people to upgrade hotel for one night. Who knows they may even come back after we have sold them a poncho with the giants causeway on the back of it.
As for the waterfront, well there is a recession on but when the titanic quarter is built, and it is already showing signs of life with luxury car makers moving in, then it will be a thoroughfare and with people will come the need for stalls, street entertainment, nightlife etc.
Possibly one of the worlds future ‘best kept secrets’…
Until then, keep selling the troubles, whilst people here still remember what it was.
more Belfast photos here
more Ireland photos here
…well lough really.
As Ive mentioned before Ive recently bought a boat. Ive always wanted a boat, primarily to go sea fishing in so this year I got the opportunity and went for it. The boat itself is almost as old as me but with a bit of elbow grease, some rewiring and tinkering about with the engine Ive a quite usable speedboat….
…well if it didnt bloody rain all the time I might have, so next week its going in to get a custom all over cover fitted. Maybe then I’ll get to take it out more than 4 times in 6 weeks.
The last good opportunity to take the boat out was on the 12th July when my fellow countrymen made a liar out of me with my last posts. Good to see that recreational rioting is getting full media recognition and maybe it will be Northern Irelands gold medal sport in the 2012 olympics.
Having bought the boat and spent a couple of weeks redoing wiring, replacing all the safety gear, polishing and cleaning the boat up Ive been taking a pragmatic approach to taking the boat out on the water. My nephews enthusiasm to see its maiden voyage cross one of the most dangerous stretches of water on this island to Rathlin Island has had to be tempered though. A couple of hours out on Lough Neagh will suffice. Having said that though the first day I took it out I did enough miles to go to Scotland and back and realised that Lough Neagh is more like an inland sea than a peaceful lough. Its the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles and that doesnt say much when you are reading it but out in the middle when the wind picks up you realise what that actually means.
The Lough was said to be formed when Irish Giant Finn McCool took a dislike to his Scottish Giant neighbour and scooped out a large load of soil and stones and threw it at the theiving git as he made off home. Finn missed by a large margin and the large lump of soil landed in the Irish sea and became the Isle of Man. Always a better story than the actual geological history of the lough.
Its hard to get tourist information about the lough itself and Ive recently found out that is because it is owned by the Shaftesbury family. Apparently back in the dim and distant past some English King gave it to another English lord and it has been passed down through their family. Most of the people here thought it was owned by the State including northern Ireland water who take about 40% of the countries freshwater supply from the lough and thats thrown a spanner in the works for privatisation. Hence all the islands are private as Shaftesbury estates own the lake bed and some of the surrounds. One of the islands, Coney Island was purchased and then donated to the National Trust and now Craigavon Council.
So you can get loads of information on the bike circuit of the lough, the canoe trail but very little else about the inside of the lough.
The Lough itself has a lot of interesting features including Coney Island and Rams island with its round tower. Theres also an old World War 2 torpedo testing station which is now crumbling and a nature reserve full of nesting terns and other birds. Seemed a reasonable enough place to test torpedos from the nearby factory in antrim. Just load them up and let them fly across the lough!
Theres a couple of marinas as well, mainly Ballyronan and Kinnego marina and the Shaftesbury connection is probably the reason why a body of water that large is so under utilised compared to other lakes in other countries, certainly the Fermanagh Lakelands have more tourist facilities and information in a much smaller area.
More photo trips will follow now that Ive started to get the handle on this powerboating lark and will start to risk more than a floating compact in an underwater housing
I have to say though that although the idea for the boat was to go sea fishing and to give different photographic perspectives to local landmarks from the sea/water, the idea of just going out into the lough and sitting when the sun shines is definitely appealing.
more Belfast photos here
more Ireland photos here
more transport photos here
more Lough Neagh related photos here
..is a UK general election on May 6th.
Northern Ireland is in a unique position in the UK in that we still vote for MPs at Westminster but we cant vote for the three major parties that usually make up UK governments and official opposition. No we have our own groups of vagabonds and thieves to vote for.
Northern Ireland politics is still very much on tribal lines, you have the green shades (not the eco parties) and the orange shades and the various other small parties fighting out the middle ground.
When I was younger I lived in West Belfast which since I can remember has always been green, I bought my house outside Belfast and moved to the most Orange constituency in Northern Ireland. Go figure.
One of these days tribal politics will decrease here and people will be voting on real issues such as the environment minister deciding not to put a temporary bridge linking a thousand or so homes with the rest of the village for a year whilst the motorway was being widened. It would have cost too much apparently but they didnt think of the 1000 or so people who had a half hour each way extra travelling to do for a full year and the number of small businesses that exist on call in or drop past business that virtually disappeared overnight. Remember that at election time guys.
There have been recent boundary changes so now Im in a knife edge constituency where some of the parties have been canvassing since the start of the year. Both main protagonists wanting to get hold of all the new blood in advance.
Northern Ireland has tradionally the highest turnouts for any poll in the UK. I didnt vote once. It was for a european election where the three main incumbents were going to be returned anyway. I think the turnout was low for NI at 60%. When I told my parents I hadnt voted they almost went postal on me. I got the whole ‘people died to get you that vote’ and although thats bandied about quite a lot, here in Northern Ireland it was certainly true within the last generation. When I was born 40 years ago neither of my parents had a vote. Northern Ireland was still a corrupt one party state where election boundaries were redrawn regularly to ensure that one party stayed in power and where business owners (usually one side of the community) could vote on behalf of all their workers ratepayers had the vote rather than tenants. This wasnt just a sectarian thing, it was as much to stop working class protestants from getting a vote as catholics but in the main the Civil Rights Association represented Catholic/Nationalist concerns. Reforms came in in 1972 with direct government rule from Westminster.
Ive voted in every election no matter how small ever since and I encourage everyone to do the same. People complain about their governments and elected representatives and although the conspiracy theorists may have a point about no matter who we elect the result will be the same, unless we get off our arses and vote or protest vote then we may as well talk to the walls.
As a press photographer in Northern Ireland, election time regardless of local council, local assembly, westminster or european is a busy time. Its an endless round of press calls and press conferences, of attending every one under the sun to give balance and meeting lots of politicians and wannabe politicians you thought had died since you hadnt seen them since the last election. People seem to crawl out of the wordwork only to disappear, even if they had been elected. Here in Northern Ireland we have the triple jobbers, those who are an MP and an MLA in the local assembly and who are also local councillors.
Now to be fair the Northern Ireland Assembly has been doing very little as they ignore the water charges, increases in rates, ruining of the economy, strikes, oversupply of empty housing developments, failure to tackle any real eco policies all because they didnt want the other side to control policing. Lets be honest about it, policing would get done regardless of who is in charge. Even if Sinn Fein got policing the first day the minister responsible walked into their new office and got a whole pile of ‘oh shit’ paperwork piled on their desk or email inbox any of the previous arguments would go out the window. Maybe that job sacking council refuse workers wasnt so bad after all.
Yes lads and lasses, welcome to the real world. Its amazing how quickly the fact that we arent concentrating on fighting each other that real politics takes over. The backhanders for land deals, the having affairs with lads young enough to be your son, the dodge land deals and going off to the carribean to see how they deal with wheelie bins rather than going to Dublin or Sheffield all comes to light. To be fair on the Carribean thing, which one of us wouldnt have done it. Its like the expenses scandals, ok I dont have a moat and Id like to think I’d be squeeky clean but if I had a majority of 60k I might just forget my working class routes and socialist ethos and sell myself a plot of land for a tenner, get it through planning permission and build a moat that pirates of the caribbean could be filmed in, plus go to the Caribbean to see if they would film it on the edges of Lough Neagh.
So which bunch of lying, thieving, inconsiderate, money grabbing, self indulgent morons will we vote in next….
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a concerted effort from photographers across the board in the UK to object to the Prince of Darkness (the unelected lord voldemort, sorry mandelson) Digital Economy Bill. A poorly thought out, rushed bill which is supposed to address some of the piracy issues blighting the film and music industry. What this bill proposed amongst other things was to set up a register for photographs which were ‘orphans’ i.e. photographs where the owner could not be traced where after a search was performed, the government would license you this image at ‘market rate’ and then if the photographer was ever revealed (or they found out) they would pass a section of this license fee on. Now this all sounds great but how was the search to be performed was a google search enough, would we have to register every image weve ever taken with a new agency which I assume would charge a fee. What is market rate? Is it microstock rates or what I would charge and how can they license my copyright? In addition to breaching the berne copyright convention this had massive ramifications for overseas photographers who could find their images being licensed legitimately by the British Government. It would have virtually killed the stock photography market overnight (ok maybe not overnight) but it meant you couldnt supply a client with an image without plastering it with watermarks (as on this site). Even then you arent assured that they wont be cut out. Its already a crime to strip out the embedded information in an image for your own commercial gain
, something which a couple of companies have found out to their cost when they thought they were getting ‘free’ images from the internet or stealing them off my clients sites.
A herculean effort was put in by members of the Editorial Photographers in the UK (EPUK)
who set up the stop43
website. MPs were lobbied, met, facebooked, tweeted, called and snail mailed. The Lords were contacted for the first readings and every step of the way, press photographers did what they do best, use their contacts and made things simple for MPs. Examples of what could happen were mocked up and put on the stop43 website
and they were even quoted during the parliamentary debates. With the help of the opposition parties the government finally admitted they werent going to get the bill through and to placate the music and film industry lobbyists they dropped the photography clause and got the bill passed.
During this I actually did some research on my local MP, I just thought he was one of the ones who disappeared between elections. Hes a triple jobber and I dont like his politics and I’ve never voted for him. My research showed he was above average for attendance, above average for speeches and amendments and on all the measure available for MPs he was above average. Hes even sorted out his expenses claims. Overall he appears to be a very good MP and I’ve changed my view on him, even with tribal party politics involved Id say that I could do worse than to re-elect him. I cant say the same about the incumbent MP (from the same party) in the new constituency as hes below average and probably spent too much time chasing the leadership of his party. He may be a good MLA or he may be a good belfast city councillor but hes not a good MP.
I also watched the BBC Parliament channel for the first time ever, watching the readings of the bill. A year or so ago I had a market research person at the house going through TV viewing habits and she asked me if I’d ever watched that channel. I said no and she laughed and said no-one she had ever spoken to had. Well come round next time and I’ll be the first.
Well thats it for another year, St Patricks Day has come and gone. The day when every Irishman or woman or child, or dog, or 2nd cousins twice removed pool cleaners brother once bought a pint of guiness wears green and does lots of ‘Irish’ stuff.
it might be just me but everyone else in the world seems to do St Paddys Day a hell of a lot better than we do. I received emails from friends in Argentina who were dressing in green just to salute me, friends in America were having green pints (blargh!) and saying top of the marning te ye a lot.
In chicago they died the river green (love the line in the film ‘The Fugitive’ ‘why cant they dye it blue then every other day of the year?’), New York had marching bands and we get, well we get some 7th place in years X factor and a load of people dressed up in foam suits pretending to be well known tv characters.
Hence the reason I was not working St Paddys Day for the first time in a number of years. Normally I’m down covering the parade in Belfast or another event in the country somewhere followed by the open air concert but recession and all that, I had to say ‘who?’ when the headliner was announced. This isnt a slight on the concert organisers as they have to get somebody but Im sure there are loads of local bands who would give their eye teeth to get on that bill.
Ok thats the whinging over so leaving the leprechauns, ginger beards, pots of gold and green vodka jellies aside what does it mean to me?
Well when we were kids we’d get up in the morning, put on sunday best with something green on it, get our shamrock pinned to our clothes and head up and watch the parade. The parades seemed bigger then, maybe just because I was only 3 foot high. It was an all day thing and not a mention of Darby O’Gill and the Little People.
This year as I was taking a day off, as after all it is (or well used to be) a public holiday here I decided to do something which is ‘Irish’ to me. Feed my face.
I’d decided on an Ulster Fry or to give it its other term an occupied six counties fry (depending on where you come from) which just has your arteries hardening talking about it. Soda bread, potato bread, eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and maybe some black pudding. Putting beans on this is an english invention so will result in excommunication, execution and just not good form at all.
As for boiled ham/beef and cabbage, the only time Ive had this was in America. My hosts decided to cook something ‘Irish’ for me. I know we were poor when we were kids but we werent that poor
Besides which you cant beat a nice plate of champ (potatoes, scallions, butter). Cabbage is just rank!
Now traditionally St Partricks Day is in the middle of lent when all good Catholics of the Irish persuasion decide to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days in the desert fasting by giving something up and supposedly donating the money saved to good causes. I know a lot of people who gave things up for Lent but the money saved to good causes seems to be a bit hit and miss. Theres also the non-smokers who give up smoking etc but they arent fooling anyone.
Now Im sure its in canonical law or vatican council 2 or somewhere that God has given all us good folk living in his good green land a day off lent. So if you are off the drink you can drink yourself stupid from midnight to midnight on the 17th March, eat chocolate, puff your brains out or whatever. If its not a strictly written rule its an unwritten rule somewhere, it might even be on one of those stone tablets down at newgrange. Party on!
I went down to the local bakery shop to get some proper bread not that machine fed stuff you get in the supermarkets when I saw a real blast from the past, the Belfast Bap. The Belfast Bap has its own special place in history. It was supposedly invented by Belfast Baker and Philanthropist Barney Hughes. Of course my dad told me the folklore as a kid how Barney Hughes produced bread cheaper than anyone else during times of need for Belfast people, most notably during the Great Famine. Of course as with all stories my dad told it as if he knew Barney himself, which I wasnt really surprised at. A half hour walk into the city would take 2 hours because my dad knew absolutely everyone. The fact that if he did know Barney Hughes personally, Barney would be known for old age rather than a baker as he would be 170 by the time I was 10. When we were in primary school breakfast consisted of part of a belfast bap or large scone, buttered and a glass of milk then kicked out to school. At the time Belfast was covered with bakeriers, Hughes, McErlanes, Peter Pan, Ormo etc etc etc. So going round to the local home bakery to get a bap and next door to the wee shop to get real butter, not that low spread rubbish I was weaned onto by countless well meaning girlfriends isnt a bad way to spend St Patricks Day morning.
Locally you have the option of going into town to join the now cross community parade, heading down to Downpatrick to see St Patricks Grave or heading up to Slemish Mountain in county antrim and being rescued by mountain rescue as you attempt to negotiate the pilgrimage slopes 4 months before you really should try to climb the mountain. Croagh Patrick in county mayo has a better idea, they wait until the end of July before carting people off the mountain on stretchers.
St Patrick was a big lad with a big beard who was kidnapped from wales/england (he wasnt english – trust me)/french/spanish by the romans/gauls/pagans/vikings/irish and brought to dublin/belfast/ballymena and sold as a slave. He definitely tended goats or was it pigs or maybe sheep on slemish mountain and whilst he was there found the shamrock which represented the holy trinity and escaped back home. Im not sure if the shamrock or the pigs or goats helped, history isnt clear on it. He then decided to try and convert all these pagan irish to christianity, something they have become a bit expert on since and have even exported it a lot themselves. Somewhere between this and dying and being buried under a big rock in downpatrick he kicked all the snakes out of Ireland. What the snakes did to him is unsure but he could have got rid of the big spiders and those horseflies as well while he was at it.
Wearing my green combats I decided just to sit on my backside at home and enjoy my bap. One of these days I’ll make it down to Downpatrick to see their parade or even down to Dublin where they are currently flying in bands from the USA for the parade as local ones are probably too busy ‘drowing their shamrock’. I love it the way we have so many different ways of lying about going out and getting drunk.
Ive spent a couple of St Patricks Days away from home, most notably on a skiing holiday in the French Alps where a group of 19 of us were staying in one hotel and I broke out the tin whistle and started playing. It was a bit like the pied piper where it attracted every irish person (or people calling themselves irish) from 10 miles in every direction. The musical interlude wasnt helped by someone sending a taxi for a guy from Dublin who was working in a chalet 6 miles away who could ‘play the guitar a bit.’ Being the masters of understatement this could mean anything from having seen a guitar once to sending a taxi for Jimi Hendrix. It turned out it was more the former and so we played the same 3 songs he knew over and over again all night. Nobody seemed to care and to be honest I gave up trying to put my fingers over the whistle holes after about 4 green vodka jellies….
..maybe next year I will go to New York after all.
More St Patricks Day Images here