Monday, February 23, 2009


My survey says 9 out of 10 Belfastians I meet would describe their city as a "shithole". When people ask me where I'm from and I tell them San Francisco, I get a look of shock and a furrowed eyebrow of disapproval as if, "Why on earth have you chosen to live in a shithole like Belfast?". I tell them that the complexity of Belfast fascinates me and I love the raw grittiness and there is something satisfying about witnessing the rebirth of a city in its early stages of development. I also tell them despite their disbelief, there are actual hidden gems in this city, you just have to dig deep in order to find it.

In response, one incredulous Belfastian retorted...

"That gem you're referring to is called Belfast International Airport and it's where people fly out of this fuckin turd ranch to places like San Francisco."

This statement alone begs the question, "Why are Belfastians so self-deprecating when it comes to their city?". OK, I agree it's not the prettiest city I've seen, but if you take into account the history, you'll admit that it is better now than it was 10 years ago when it looked like the war torn streets of Baghdad.

So, why is it still a shithole when clearly there have been signs of redevelopment throughout the city such as Victoria Square, a £400m shopping and entertainment complex which is the biggest and one of the most expensive property developments ever undertaken in Northern Ireland and the Titanic Quarter which is in the planning stages of transforming its former shipyard land into one of the largest waterfront developments in Europe. Also since 2001, there have been a growing number of tourists visiting Belfast. Frommer's has even listed Belfast as one of the top destinations for 2009:

Belfast, Northern Ireland

In little more than a decade, Belfast has been transformed from fractured city into a hot city break destination, moving fast towards its 19th-century accolade of Athens of the North. Premier Victorian landmarks such as the City Hall, Ulster Museum, and Ulster Hall are reopening in 2009 after being given a makeover. But towering above the city, it's the glass dome of the sophisticated new Victoria Square shopping centre that's the real emblem of the city's renaissance. The army check points that encircled the city centre during the Troubles are a thing of the past; today you can amble along the Golden Mile for relaxed drinks or enjoy Irish music in Cathedral Quarter bars. Try the Laganside for orchestral concerts at the riverfront Waterfront Hall and international cuisine from Teppanyaki at Harbour View to seafood at Tedfords. Or, for the ultimate treat, stay at the luxury Merchant Hotel, sip bubbly among the chandeliers in Cafe Vaudeville's champagne bar and savor Michelin-starred dining at Deanes. - Frommer's

Looks like Belfast is not doing too bad for a shithole.


Jennifer said...

That's somewhat depressing - considering I am coming over for the weekend of March 6th! I'm sure I will totally love it though!

Flippin' Yank said...

I may be generalizing but I find people in Belfast aren't too bad. On the exterior, they may seem aloof and reserved but they're not unfriendly. Although, they aren't certainly the type to walk up to you and say hello and be your best friend. Considering what they've been through for decades and the kind of environment they grew up in, there is still an element of distrust and suspicion with each other and outsiders. And for good reason! I find if you approach them first, they eventually warm up to you, and they become very chatty and friendly. They're just a tough shell to crack.

If you're expecting the same people as you would meet down south in ROI, happy-go-lucky, fun-loving, singing in the streets, have a pint on me, dancing a jig and reel Irish, then you're up for disappointment. LOL! It's a whole different world up North.

If not, then you should be fine. Belfast is fascinating and one of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever see is outside the city (i.e. Giant's Causeway for starters).

Enjoy and have fun! :)

Unknown said...

Its because Belfast is a very big place. A lot of the redevelopment has taken place in the City Centre and a lot of it is great fo rthe city, however for every big redevelopment there are still areas in the city centre which are delapidated and crumbling because at some stage some incredibly wise person had a great deal of the buildings listed and now they're just beyond saving. I was a belfastian for 22 years and eventually moved out of belfast for a change of scenery (and a better life for my daughter) but for me the main reason I think of Befast as a dump (back then and today) is because of all those crumbling, falling down buildings and the outlying areas most of which are destroyed by the very people living in the community, my own included (I lived in east belfast my whole life). Its unfortunate, but just the way it is.

Flippin' Yank said...

When I first visited Belfast, I honestly wasn't very impressed. It looked so depressing and gloomy. I noticed the delapidated buildings as well. I asked my fiance why they just leave it that way and he was like, "Who knows?".

It doesn't seem like anybody really cares about gentrifying and cleaning up the city. As if they still have the mentality, "What's the point? It's just going to get blown up anyway!". Maybe I'm wrong but it's the impression I get from most people I've talked to.

It's a shame, there's so much potential. I guess it will take time.