Police stood behind bunkers and military tanks surrounded the City Hall. Street lights were caged in chicken wire so rocks couldn’t break them. We were on our way to the ferry in Larne just north of the city and driving through Belfast was unavoidable. The war was winding down and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It wasn’t long after the ceasefire was declared. I always wanted to go back some day but I’ll admit I wasn’t in any hurry. Oddly enough, as the ferry was pulling away from the dock that day there was a beautiful rainbow over the city.
Today is a different story. The tanks and the military are gone and the grim feeling that went with them.
There is construction all over the city. Always a good sign for visitors, six new hotels on the rise. The sidewalks are busy with people. At night the city is just as lively with pubs and restaurants everywhere. And there’s music pouring out of those pubs every night. Let’s face it, a highlight of any trip to Ireland is a night in an Irish pub.
That said, the big deal in town is the Titanic Museum.Voted one of the leading tourist attractions in the world in 2016, it's a must see. The architecture of the museum stands out in the city skyline. It’s very modern but tells the old story behind the famous British passenger liner. The details are fascinating, describing life in Belfast at the time the Titanic was built and the lives of the workers in a multimedia display. Near the end of the tour you’ll actually feel some of the drama surrounding the final moments of that great ship and the 1500 passengers that died when it sunk. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll love it, if you haven’t seen the movie you’ll love it.
But the museum isn’t the only reason to visit Belfast. Plan an extra day to head north a short distance to the Giant’s Causeway, a geologic phenomenon that created some 40,000 hexagonal columns from the earth that according to the Irish imagination resembles a giant’s walkway. Nearby is the Bushmills Distillery where whiskey has been made for over 400 years. (The tour ends in the tasting room!)
A short drive away is the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge suspended 100 feet over the crashing waves and yes you can walk across if you have the courage. Along the way is the beautiful Irish countryside where the 2019 British Open will be played at the Royal Portrush Golf Club.
There are memorials to the “troubles” and they are fascinating but their purpose is to educate and remember those that died in the conflict. While there are still high walls between some of the neighborhoods, the younger Catholics and Protestants work together to build a new Belfast
I didn’t see a rainbow this time but the pot of gold is there, in the city.